Author: Cathleen Thomas

Blog Post: Hope for hen harriers? Reflections on 2019

As we reach the end of 2019, Hen Harrier LIFE Project Manager, Dr. Cathleen Thomas, looks back over the year. Those of you that regularly follow the fates of hen harriers in the UK will know that it’s a real roller coaster of a journey, and 2019 has certainly had its fair share of ups and downs for our Hen Harrier LIFE project team. We started the year with the suspicious disappearance of one of our longest lived birds, and a favourite of the project team, DeeCee. We tagged DeeCee on a nest in Perthshire in 2016 and we’d followed her life closely. Her tag suddenly stopped transmitting near the border of Angus and Aberdeenshire on 28 January 2019. A follow up search revealed no sign of the bird or her tag, and neither have been seen or heard from since. Earlier in DeeCee’s life, we were really pleased to see her successfully raise a brood of chicks in 2017 and you may remember we tagged two of her offspring, named Sirius and Skylar. Sadly, the devastating disappearance of DeeCee was quickly followed by the suspicious disappearance of her daughter Skylar in South Lanarkshire on 7 February 2019, resulting in the end of DeeCee’s blood line. All that time and effort gone into raising chicks and trying to establish the next generations of hen harriers gone within a week. (Top) DeeCee on the nest as a chick in 2016 (Bottom) Her daughter Skylar on the nest in 2017 We then lost more birds from the class of 2018. Two hen harriers died in unknown circumstances, one in Scotland and one in France. Despite ground searches being made, we could not locate the birds or their tags. In both these cases the tags continued to transmit after the birds’ deaths so whilst we do not know exactly what happened to them, we do not think there was anything suspicious about their deaths at this time. We reported the suspicious disappearance of Vulcan on 16 th January 2019 near Calstone Wellington in Wiltshire in an area that was a heavily-managed pheasant and partridge shoot. Vulcan and his tag have not been seen or heard from since. In April, we lost another bird in France to natural causes, closely followed by Marci and Rain whose tags suddenly stopped transmitting in suspicious circumstances. Marci disappeared on 22 April 2019 and was last recorded in west Aberdeenshire in an area managed intensively for driven grouse shooting. Rain disappeared over a grouse moor on 26 April 2019 in Nairnshire. Neither Marci nor Rain were located during searches and they have not been seen or heard from since. Just as we started to head into the breeding season for 2019, enjoying the sights of hen harriers skydancing, pairing up and nest building, we were devastated to discover two birds were victims of crimes. River was tagged in Lancashire in 2018. We last heard from her tag in November 2018, in North Yorkshire on a driven grouse moor between Colsterdale and Nidderdale. RSPB Investigations and North Yorkshire Police searched the area but there was no sign of the bird or her tag. In April 2019 the tag battery recharged and the team were able to locate her – she was found dead on Ilton Moor and subsequent investigations revealed her body contained two pieces of lead shot from a shot gun. Rannoch was tagged in Perthshire in 2017. We last heard from her tag in November 2018, when she stopped moving in an area of moorland between Aberfeldy and Crieff. Despite two ground searches we hadn’t been able to recover her body or her tag. In May 2019 the tag battery recharged in the spring sunlight and transmitted more accurate location data, allowing the team to locate her. The post mortem report from SRUC veterinary laboratory said: “The bird was trapped by the left leg in a spring trap at time of death. Death will have been due to a combination of shock and blood loss if it died quickly or to exposure and dehydration/starvation if it died slowly. Either way the bird will have experienced significant unnecessary suffering.” With only 20% of our hen harrier population remaining, every single illegal death is absolutely devastating for the population – it’s not just Rannoch and River’s loss that we mourn, but all the future chicks they could have raised. (Top) Rannoch found dead in a spring trap (Bottom) River recovered with two pieces of shot in her body Over the summer, the project team worked hard to monitor and protect this year’s nests. Thanks to the fantastic partnership working with landowners, agents and managers, raptor workers and statutory bodies across the British Isles, we monitored over 30 nests across England, Wales, Scotland and the Isle of Man. In Scotland we monitored a range of nests and observed reasons for failure, this year including predation, disturbance and bad weather. In England it was a similar picture with continuous days of wet weather just as chicks would have been getting ready to fledge the nest. Hen harriers nest on the ground so waterlogging of nests amongst the heather can cause the chicks to become cold and die of hyperthermia. We were proud to be involved in protecting nine nests across England fledging 33 chicks. You’ll probably know that we should have a breeding population of around 320 pairs of hen harrier in England, based on estimates of food and habitat availability, so whilst these nests represent just under 3% of this total, with the perilous position of our English population, I hope you can understand why every single bird that successfully fledges from its nest is something to celebrate. Our team in Bowland worked round the clock to protect five nests there (an increase of two from 2018), resulting in all 22 chicks that hatched fledging from their nests about a month later. Northumberland continued to be a stronghold for hen harriers for the fifth year running, with three successful nests fledging nine chicks. We were also pleased to see repeat nesting success on the National Trust’s High Peak Moor, with one nest. We tagged over 30 hen harriers during the summer of 2019, and the bulk of this work was carried out by just one of our taggers, showing that there are no bounds to how dedicated people are in protecting this species. Once the hard work of coordinating monitoring, protection and tagging was over, we waited to see how our class of 2019 would fare. The autumn of 2018 was a really difficult time, with nine tagged birds disappearing in suspicious circumstances in a 12 week period. However, 2019 has so far proved to be a little different. We recently reported on the suspicious disappearances of Ada , Thistle and Romario , whose tags suddenly stopped working near Allendale, in east Sutherland and between Tomintoul and Grantown-on-Spey, the latter two over grouse moors. We also reported on the discovery of the body of another untagged hen harrier on a grouse moor near the village of Wanlockhead in Scotland, whose post mortem revealed it had been shot. We also lost birds in natural circumstances, including Xena tagged in the Peak District, Marvel tagged at NTS Mar Lodge and Angharad tagged in Conwy who all died of natural causes. All in all, it feels like it’s been a tough year for hen harriers. There were a lot of confirmed or suspected criminal acts against the birds at the start of the year, and we fear for how the class of 2019 will fare. Although the LIFE-funded portion of our Hen Harrier programme will finish on 31 st December, we will continue our hen harrier work, including monitoring our tagged birds. Watch this space for more updates in the New Year!

Blog Post: One hen harrier found dead and tagged birds Thistle and Romario disappear in suspicious circumstances

The RSPB is appealing for information following the discovery of the body of a hen harrier found to have been shot and the suspicious disappearances of two young satellite tagged hen harriers. A member of the public found the dead female bird on a grou…

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.

Blog Post: The colour ring code

Assistant Investigations Officer – Jack Ashton-Booth – from the Hen Harrier LIFE Project, talks us through the secret to uncovering a hen harrier’s history. The seasons have turned, and the autumn skies have grown big, blue and crisp. As our hen harrie…

Blog Post: Hen Harriers in Birdcrime Report 2018

Every year our investigations team release a report listing the crimes against birds of prey in the UK. Last year, in the Birdcrime 2017 report, we revealed that there had been 68 confirmed incidents of bird persecution. Sadly, in 2018, that has increa…

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 2017, 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.

Blog Post: Joy at new English hen harrier chicks is tempered by spectre of illegal killling

The Hen Harrier LIFE project team are delighted to announce that we have been involved in protecting and monitoring nine successful hen harrier nests in England this year, with the successful fledging of 33 chicks. This marks the continuation of a small increase in hen harrier breeding success in England and we hope this progress continues, as the hen harrier is one of the UK’s most threatened bird species. In addition to those supported by the team, a small number of other hen harrier nests were successful in England this year. We look forward to public confirmation of this year’s total hen harrier breeding season numbers from Natural England in the near future. Northumberland hen harriers have now made it five in a row, with 2019 being the fifth year they have successfully bred and raised chicks, making it the most consistent nesting place in England for this rare bird of prey. Nine young have fledged from three nests on Forestry England and nearby private land. Originally six nests were located, and we had hoped we might surpass last year’s total of 11 fledged young from three nests, but unfortunately it was not to be. Two broods of chicks were lost in the spring due to the very wet weather, which would have soaked the nest and made the young chicks too wet and cold to survive. Another brood of chicks was lost to natural predation by a fox, which is unfortunate but is one of the inevitable risks facing ground nesting birds. The success of hen harriers in Northumberland is supported by a combined effort from the Northumberland Hen Harrier Protection Partnership, which consists of a team of people from Forestry England, RSPB, Northumberland National Park Authority, Natural England, Northumberland Wildlife Trust, Ministry of Defence, Northumberland Police and local raptor experts. We are all proud to work together to find and monitor the nests. Gill Thompson, Chair of the Northumberland Hen Harrier Protection Partnership said: “It is great to see hen harriers nesting and fledging young successfully in Northumberland for the fifth year in a row. Thanks to the team from all the organisations that worked hard to locate and watch the nests. It was particularly satisfying to see a tagged bird breed in Northumberland after we had watched her during the winter elsewhere in the county. Let’s hope the class of 2019 fair just as well.” In Bowland, 22 hen harrier chicks have fledged from five nests on the United Utilities Estate. This is the second year in a row that hen harriers have nested successfully at the East Lancashire site, after 13 chicks fledged from three nests in 2018. Following six years of little or no consistent breeding success in the Forest of Bowland, we are now hopeful that this could mark the start of the return of these rare and beautiful birds of prey to an area once considered a stronghold for them in England. The success of hen harriers on the United Utilities Estate in Bowland is also supported by a unique partnership. Since early spring, RSPB’s staff and volunteers, together with United Utilities, their shooting and farming tenants, and the Forest of Bowland AONB, have worked hard to protect and support the five hen harrier nests on this estate through close monitoring, diversionary feeding, habitat management, and careful avoidance of disturbance. Matt Upton, Catchment Manager for the United Utilities Bowland Estate, said: “I would like to thank everyone involved for their continued conservation efforts. All the hard work and dedication has paid off again this year and it’s a real joy to see these magnificent birds of prey are one again choosing to make Bowland their home. In the Peak District, two hen harrier chicks fledged from a nest in the High Peak Moors in the Peak District National Park. This also marks the second year in a row that hen harriers have nested successfully on this National Trust-owned land, after four chicks fledged from one nest in 2018. Again, the key to this success has been partnership work between the National Trust’s ranger team, their shooting tenants, the Peak District Raptor Monitoring Group, Natural England and the RSPB. The success of the hen harriers in this area is very much seen as a symbol for the future direction of the uplands. Jon Stewart, the National Trust’s General Manager for the Peak District, said: “The hen harrier has been one of the most persecuted birds of prey in Britain for many years and we have set out on a mission to work with others to create the conditions for the harrier and other birds of prey to thrive once again in the uplands. We hope this will be a positive model for improving the fate of our birds of prey and providing the healthy natural environment that so many people care about and want to see. We know how fragile any recovery of hen harriers is. We want to see uplands richer in wildlife and beauty, widely enjoyed and providing huge public benefits. For this to be a reality we need to see birds returning in following years to breed”. Prior to fledging, a number of this year’s chicks were fitted with satellite tags and colour rings by the project team. What is crucial now is that the strong, positive partnerships continue with landowners, land agents, their tenants and gamekeepers to help to continue to protect these young birds as they leave their nests and fly around the country, to ensure that they remain a key part of the future of a growing hen harrier population. One of this year’s hen harrier chicks, whose nest we have helped to protect and monitor (image by Steve Downing) Hen harriers are on the verge of disappearing as a breeding bird in England owing to ongoing illegal killing associated with driven grouse shooting, and they aren’t doing much better in the rest of the British Isles. Scientific research published in March this year, based on data from Natural England, showed that 72% of satellite-tagged hen harriers were considered or confirmed to have been illegally killed on British grouse moors, and the birds were 10 times more likely to die or disappear over grouse moor than any other type of land use. Chris Corrigan, RSPB’s Director for England said: “We are fantastically proud of our team having played a role in the successful fledging of 33 hen harrier chicks this year. However, this success is tarnished by the clear evidence that illegal killing of this rare bird of prey continues with little sign of it coming to an end. This must change. We should have over 300 pairs of hen harrier in England, yet shockingly only nine pairs have successfully bred here this year and this species remains on the brink of local extinction. If all of this year’s chicks were to survive and breed, it would more than double the current English population. However, in our tagging study under the Hen Harrier LIFE project, none of the chicks we tagged in England in previous years are still alive: to date over half of them have died or disappeared in suspicious circumstances. The pervasiveness of illegal killing means many of this year’s young hen harriers will not get the chance to raise a family of their own and so the population continues to decline. Until something is done to stop illegal killing it is hard to see a bright future for this year’s chicks.” In Bowland, in 2012 a tagged hen harrier named Betty died from an injury resulting from a shot gun wound and in 2014, barely two months after leaving their nests, Sky and Hope disappeared without trace when their tags suddenly and inexplicably stopped transmitting within a few miles of each other. Two young hen harriers tagged in Bowland in 2018 died or disappeared in suspicious circumstances – Thor’s tag stopped transmitting near same the location as Sky and Hope, and River’s body was found in North Yorkshire, lodged with two shotgun pellets. In Northumberland three tagged hen harriers named Finn, Athena, and Vulcan, all disappeared when their tags stopped transmitting in suspicious circumstances in March 2018, August 2018 and January 2019. In January 2017, Northumberland-born Carroll was found dead with two shotgun pellets lodged in her body. Octavia and Arthur who were tagged as chicks in the Peak District in the summer of 2018 both disappeared when their tags stopped transmitting suddenly and inexplicably in August and October 2018. We believe grouse shooting needs to change, that’s why we are calling for licencing of grouse moors. This will ensure they’re managed sustainably and legally, to secure a future for the next generation of hen harriers before we lose them altogether.

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?

Blog Post: Five nests and first flights at Bowland

RSPB Bowland’s Project Officer, James Bray, talks us through Bowland’s 2019 breeding season, the excitement of 5 rare hen harrier nests, and conditions for the volunteer team as they brave the hills! For decades the Forest of Bowland was the most important site for breeding Hen Harriers in England. So much so, they were formally adopted as the logo of the Forest of Bowland Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB). In some years it was the only place in England that Hen Harriers bred, so their recent temporary loss as a breeding species* was particularly keenly felt by those with an interest in bird of prey conservation. 2018 was the best breeding season for Hen Harriers since the population crashed in 2012. We waited with baited breath for how 2019 would pan out, particularly as we know that a high percentage of young Hen Harriers disappear on driven grouse shooting estates across the country each winter ( see here ). My team of staff and volunteers, together with United Utilities staff and tenants, put everything into monitoring and protecting the birds when they’re here, but hen harriers travel widely and we can’t control what happens when they leave. Many of the chicks that fledged and left Bowland in 2018 did not survive the winter. It is therefore tremendously exciting to announce that we now have chicks in five nests , and some those chicks have already taken their first flights . Photo credit: Young hen harrier chicks in nest – Mick Demain. As we have done in every year since the RSPB started working in Bowland at the start of the 1980s, our team of volunteers and staff have been monitoring and protecting the birds on the estate since the start of Spring, in partnership with the landowner United Utilities and their farming and sporting tenants. In 2018 we had to deal with baking hot conditions (some members of the team took to lying in streams to cool down), whereas this year the weather has been a bit different. Warm calm spells have been rudely interrupted by spells of rain and cold wind, but our staff and volunteers have coped very well with the conditions. Left: Keeping out of the rain and wind – Paul Thomas. Right: The United Utilities estate is also important for a range of other red-listed species such as Ring Ouzel, Cuckoo and Curlew – Mick Demain. The harriers don’t appear to have been affected unduly by the weather either. We have been lucky that whilst there has been heavy rain, the downpours have been relatively short-lived, allowing the males plenty of time to hunt and feed their mates and chicks. It is amazing how quickly the season passes. It does not seem long ago that the beautiful grey males were skydancing over the hills in successful attempts to attract mates. Now, some of the chicks are taking their first flights. For people who have spent every day of the last few months watching over the harriers, this is such a special moment. We still have plenty of work to do to get through to the end of the season as well as to work to ensure that this year is the continuation of a recovery back to the population levels of the 2000s (over a dozen pairs nesting each year) and the population level that the Forest of Bowland Special Protection Area is designated for. Photo credit: One of the nesting females – Jack Ashton Booth I would like to say a huge thank you to the RSPB’s team of staff and volunteers who have put in a huge amount of work to monitor and protect the harriers so far, as well as to United Utilities staff, and their tenants for their amazing support for Hen Harriers and the RSPB’s work to protect them. A final word – we would implore people who are visiting Bowland to look for its amazing wildlife to stay on the paths and tracks during the breeding season to avoid disturbing nesting birds. All of Bowland’s wonderful wildlife can be seen without stepping off a track. * Harriers failed to breed in 2012, for the first time since they recolonised Bowland in the 1950s and didn’t return until 2015 when only a single chick was successfully reared from 7 nesting attempts. Hen Harriers then remained absent as a breeding species for a further two years until 2018.