Blog Post: RSPB Hen Harrier LIFE Report

We have now released our RSPB Hen Harrier LIFE project report. The report provides more information about the project, including outlining the existing threats to hen harriers, what we have done so far to address them, our major achievements over the past 5.5 years, and our recommendations for the future. The Hen Harrier LIFE project has been a resounding success – we’ve protected over 100 nests and 150 winter roosts, tagged over 100 birds, catalogued 328 bird crime incidents, shown how moorlands can be managed sustainably, talked about the issues facing hen harriers with nearly 13,000 people and raised awareness of this beautiful bird. The success of the project has been in the partnership work across Scotland, England, Wales, Isle of Man, Northern Ireland, Republic of Ireland, and France. We have collaborated with landowners and managers, conservation organisations, the police, community groups and people who monitor and protect birds of prey. We would like to say a particular thank you to the Northern England Raptor Forum and Scottish Raptor Study Group, whose members have donated thousands of hours of their own time to help us to protect and monitor hen harriers on the hills. The key finding of this project is that the main factor limiting the recovery of the hen harrier population continues to be illegal killing associated with management of moorlands for driven grouse shooting. These findings add to an overwhelming body of independent scientific evidence that shows illegal killing is prevalent across the UK. Self-regulation of the UK’s grouse moors has failed. We recommend a licensing system is implemented, underpinned by effective monitoring and enforcement, which would hold grouse moor owners to account to show they are managing their land sustainably and legally. Sanctions imposed by magistrates for wildlife crime are currently inadequate and do not act as a deterrent to those who would commit wildlife crimes. We would like to see stronger sentences imposed across the UK, and for the introduction of a vicarious liability legislation across the UK, as it is currently only in place in Scotland. It is vital that we continue to engage communities who live and work in the uplands, and work in partnership with local police forces to encourage the public to recognise, record and report wildlife crimes to the RSPB Investigations team, or to their local police force. We also need joined-up conservation action on the ground, through development of a coordinated European Species Action Plan, to understand the reasons for the hen harrier population decline across this wider range and take action to address key threats. There is much still to do, and although the Hen Harrier LIFE project is coming to an end, the RSPB will continue to work hard to secure a better future for hen harriers. We will be making sure our project findings reach those in a position to take action to protect hen harriers and ensure that our uplands are managed legally and sustainably, for the benefit of everyone. Read the report below to find out more. You can also help us by sharing this report with as many people as you can – the more people that know about the problems facing our hen harriers, the louder our voice to call for the changes they need.

Comment on The colour ring code

An interesting and informative blog from Jack, Cathleen. Can one of you look at this post please I’ve not seen anything from the Skydancer team to say that many have been lost unless I’ve missed it. https://community.rspb.org.uk/wildlife/f/all-creatures/205735/rspb-satellite-tagged-hen-harrier-vanishes-in-suspicious-circumstances-in-the-north-york-moors

Comment on Hen Harriers in Birdcrime Report 2018

I am having a hard time with your figures. The RSPB press release said that crime incidents in Scotland had doubled in 2018 but the map in the appendix and the interactive hub both have the figure 12 for both years? Now in this blog you write that the 2017 incidents were 68 in 2017 but the interactive hub has 78. I am sure there is an explanation for all this but please could you be more clear in your press releases. I am just getting more and more confused. I wrote to my MSP quoting that doubling claim and had to retract it when i couldn’t back it up with facts. It doesn’t look good.

Comment on Meet the class of 2019

In case people are concerned that these are all the birds which the RSPB has tagged this year, in past years they have tagged many more birds which are not added to the LIFE class. I hope that this is the case this year, although I’d prefer that all birds taken in hand were satellite tagged, giving us a better insight into the lives of the birds. Let us hope that some of them survive long enough to breed. It’s a hard life for uk Hen Harriers.

Blog Post: Meet the class of 2019

After a long summer, Dr Cathleen Thomas, Senior Project Manager for the Hen Harrier LIFE project is delighted to introduce you to the hen harrier class of 2019! It’s been a busy time for the project team this summer, protecting and monitoring hen harrier nests across England, Scotland, Wales and the Isle of Man. We’ve tentatively watched as our tagged birds have taken flight and once they leave their nesting area, we’ll be adding twelve of them to our website, so you can follow their progress. Keep watching for updates to the map at RSPB Hen Harrier LIFE and see how they’re doing. But for now, here’s your first glimpse of this year’s hen harriers! Apollo Apollo is a male hen harrier, tagged in the Forest of Bowland, one of 22 chicks to fledge from five nests in this area in 2019. Our team worked round the clock to protect the young birds. Cyan Cyan is a female bird, tagged in the Forest of Bowland. She and her siblings fledged from the United Utilities estate, who strive to achieve a balance between encouraging public access and protecting water quality, wildlife and habitats. We have been working in successful partnership with UU for years. Tornado Tornado is a young male tagged in Northumberland. He fledged from a nest in a national nature reserve, on land owned and managed by Forestry England. We’re very grateful for the support of the Northumberland Hen Harrier Protection Partnership, who helped us to protect and monitor Tornado’s nest, particularly those at Forestry England and Natural England. Ada Ada is a young female who fledged from a nest in the Scottish borders along with her two brothers. We look forward to seeing her journey unfold as she leaves the national nature reserve and heads out into the world. Oscar Oscar is a male hen harrier who, along with his brother, fledged from a nest that is part of the small hen harrier population remaining in the Scottish borders. We are very grateful to the Lothian & Borders raptor study group who monitored the nest and arranged for us to tag the chicks. Marko Marko is a male hen harrier who fledged from a nest on the National Trust for Scotland’s Mar Lodge Estate. This is the fourth summer that we’ve tagged young birds at Mar Lodge, and we’re incredibly grateful for the team’s support. Sheba Sheba is a female hen harrier tagged on a privately owned estate in Argyll. It’s the first time the landowners have seen hen harriers, and they’re just as excited as we are to follow her progress. Mary Mary is a female hen harrier who fledged alongside her sister from a nest on the Isle of Man. We’re very grateful to the staff at Manx Birdlife and the Isle of Man government for helping to monitor the nest and allowing us to visit it. Maye Maye is a female bird tagged on the Isle of Man. We’re worried because the Manx population of hen harriers is declining and we’re not sure why. We hope that by tagging Maye and other Manx birds we can better understand what’s happening to them and help the government and Manx Birdlife to protect them. Gryf Gryf is a male hen harrier who fledged from a nest in North Wales. His name means ‘strong’ in Welsh. Angharad Angharad is a female bird who fledged from a Welsh nest. We’re incredibly grateful to our colleagues and volunteers at RSPB Cymru who kept an eye on the nests for us, as well as the landowners who allowed us access. We hope to understand more about the lives of these birds.

Blog Post: Tagging success in Scotland this summer!

Our project team have fitted more than 10 young hen harriers with satellite tags this summer in Scotland. We have worked hard this summer to tag birds from the Scottish Borders up to the Scottish Highlands, with the generous support and assistance from of a variety of partners, volunteers, landowners, their managers and staff, and licenced taggers from the raptor conservation community. One of this year’s Scottish youngsters (image courtesy of Steve Downing) Hen harriers are one of our rarest and most persecuted birds of prey. The satellite tags allow us to follow the lives of the young birds as they strike out on their own. The last British Isles hen harrier population survey in 2016 put their numbers at just 575 territorial pairs, an overall significant decline of 24 percent since 2004. Estimates suggest there should be over 1,500 pairs of hen harriers in Scotland alone, yet only 460 pairs were recorded in 2016. Before tagging could take place, we monitored hen harrier nests across the country to understand more about how their breeding success varies year to year and why nests sometimes fail. The information gathered from birds tagged in previous years has revealed important information about how they spend their first few years of their lives. Two of the birds tagged in Scotland last summer headed over to Ireland for the winter before returning this spring, and one of the chicks tagged this year is the offspring of a female tagged in a previous year by the project, providing an opportunity to follow the species through two generations. Tagging also reveals some worrying turns of events, with some birds either suddenly or inexplicably disappearing or being illegally killed – almost always on or close to grouse moors. Earlier this year RSPB Scotland appealed for information on the disappearances in areas managed for grouse shooting of two birds tagged by the project – Marci, tagged in 2018 at Mar Lodge and last recorded in the Cairngorms National Park near Strathdon, and Skylar, tagged in 2017 in Argyll who disappeared close to Elvanfoot. In May this year, Rannoch, tagged in 2018, was found dead in an illegally set spring trap on a Perthshire grouse moor. Dr Cathleen Thomas, Senior Project Manager for Hen Harrier LIFE, said: “It’s a real privilege to work with and follow the journeys of these incredible birds of prey and the sight of one of them skydancing never fails to take my breath away. “However, very few people get to experience such a spectacle as the British Isles are missing 80 percent of the breeding hen harriers they could support. These birds face enough natural challenges in their first few years of life trying to avoid predators and learn how to hunt without the added pressure of illegal killing, shooting and trapping by humans. “With Scotland being the stronghold for the British hen harrier population, tagging these young birds here and understanding what is happening to them is crucial for our efforts to create a more secure long-term future for the species.” An independent enquiry commissioned by the Scottish Government is currently undertaking a review of the environmental impact of grouse moor management and possible options for regulation. RSPB Scotland is calling for licencing of the industry to be introduced to bring an end to the continued illegal killing of birds of prey, including hen harriers as well as golden eagles, red kites and others, which is threatening some of the country’s most iconic species.

Comment on Joy at new English hen harrier chicks is tempered by spectre of illegal killling

Cathleen. Good stuff. Though please don’t forget to thank private landowners, farmers, land managers, gamekeepers, foresters et al who are working, often behind the scenes, on keeping sites secure, controlling predators, managing other recreation users and land use operations (harvest, tree felling) etc.Especially as long term conservation can only succeed through collaborative partnership efforts.

Blog Post: Hen Harrier Day 2019

If you’re wondering how you can support hen harriers, why not pop along to a Hen Harrier Day event? Hen Harrier Day returns this month for the fifth year running with one main event taking place on 11 August at Carsington Water in Derbyshire, hosted by Wild Justice. There will be a range of speakers including Chris Packham and Iolo Williams, as well as members of the Hen Harrier LIFE project team. The event is family friendly and open to everyone, with lots of different activities planned to keep you entertained, including storytelling and puppet making. You can find out more information here . In support of Hen Harrier Day, there are also three other events planned, all of which will be attended by the project team, so do come along and say hello. Tomorrow, 3 August, in Perth, Scotland, the Revive Coalition will be hosting a one-day public conference to explore the impacts that grouse moors have on birds of prey and animal welfare, our environment and natural landscape. The event is free to attend, but please do book a ticket here if you’d like to go. On 10 August, there will be a Raptor Persecution Awareness Raising Day hosted by the Northern England Raptor Forum (NERF) at Goathland Community Hub in North Yorkshire. The event will be attend by the volunteer raptor workers from NERF, North Yorkshire Police, Operation Owl and the RSPB, who are happy to chat to you about the issues affecting birds of prey and their commitment to bring illegal persecution to an end. You can find more details here . Also on 10 August, the RSPB will be hosting a Birds of Prey Day at our Saltholme reserve, where lucky visitors recently got to spot a hen harrier for themselves. This will be a family friendly day, with activities and talks from those passionate about protecting our birds of prey. If you want to know more about what we’re doing, you can find details here . The aim of these events is to highlight the plight of hen harriers and other birds of prey, with a show of public support for ending their illegal persecution, which is largely linked to management of moorland for grouse shooting. Hen harriers are a key species in our moorlands, but sadly, they are becoming an increasingly rare sight in the UK as hen harriers are continuing to decline. A wealth of evidence including Government reports show illegal killing as the primary reason the population remains in trouble. A recent study concluded that 72% of tagged hen harriers were either confirmed or considered very likely to have been illegally killed on British grouse moors and that the likelihood of hen harriers dying, or disappearing, was ten times higher within areas predominantly covered by grouse moor, compared to areas with no grouse moor. There is enough habitat for over 2,500 pairs of hen harriers in the British Isles but the 2016 hen harrier breeding survey revealed that there are only 575 territorial pairs left, down by 87 pairs from the last UK survey in 2010. Just four of these were in England, where the population remains on the brink of local extinction. It’s not just hen harriers which are facing threats on intensively managed grouse moors. Many protected birds of prey and other species are being killed illegally and other damaging practices are widespread, such as the burning of internationally important carbon-rich peatlands. As a result of the ongoing managed burning of peatland habitats in the uplands, carbon is being lost into the atmosphere, making the UK Government’s ambition of achieving net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 ever more challenging. Why not come along and support us and our partners to spend a day with like-minded people, raise awareness of these problems and find out what we’re doing to address them?