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Blog Post: Exciting times: Hen harriers the next generation

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We've received more brilliant news this week - in her first ever breeding attempt, our Northumberland female, Finn, is successfully rearing one chick at her nest in Southwest Scotland! The discovery was made by specially trained and licensed staff following up on Finn's welfare.  Finn's offspring - a single, large but still downy chick hidden in the heather. (Image: RSPB)  Hen harriers don't always breed in their first year, in fact historical records estimate only between 8-30% of first year birds make the attempt. And often when they do, the risk of failure is greater due to inexperience or laying infertile eggs. So although a single chick may not seem like much, for our young Finn, it's a fantastic achievement.  All being well, we expect that Finn's chick will fledge in the next 7-10 days.  Finn herself was named after teenage conservationist and blogger, Findlay Wilde, who together with energy company, Ecotricity, sponsored Finn's tag. As you can imagine, he was utterly delighted to hear the news. Findlay said: "I'm delighted to be able to shout from the roof tops about Finn's first successful breeding attempt.  She has proven to be a very determined bird since fledging last year.  Successes like this are treasures for everyone to enjoy and talk about, as silence will not protect these amazing birds of prey. Hen harriers are on an incredibly difficult journey, just like the one Finn's chick is about to set off on. There needs to be vision and foresight to ensure that more birds like Finn get the opportunity of life" Finn and her three siblings in their nest in Northumberland, July 2016. (Image: Martin Davison) Andrew Miller of the Northumberland National Park, heads up the Northumberland Hen Harrier Protection Partnership*, which watched over Finn and her siblings as chicks last year. Andrew said, "It's wonderful news and so gratifying to see one of our birds not only surviving well but contributing to the next generation of hen harriers. It's been fascinating to watch her progress and this is further proof that hen harriers in England and Scotland aren't isolated from one another. I wish her and her chick well and have my fingers crossed for plenty more successful breeding seasons to come."  It's absolutely true that what happens on one side of the border has the potential to influence the population as a whole. That's why this year, the Hen Harrier LIFE Project has been fitting satellite tags to more hen harrier chicks, across a wider geographical range than ever before. More on that to be announced in the coming weeks, so watch this space... --- *the Northumberland Hen Harrier Protection Partnership includes Northumberland National Park, Forestry Commission, Natural England, Northumberland Wildlife Trust, RSPB, MoD, Northumbria Police, and the Northern England Raptor Forum (NERF).  For more information about the Hen Harrier LIFE Project, visit www.rspb.org.uk/henharrierlife,  and follow us on twitter @RSPB_Skydancer .   

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Blog Post: Guest Blog: Stunning hen harrier chase on Isle of Man

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Peter Christian is a birdwatcher and photographer with a keen eye for detail. Here, he describes how he was lucky enough to capture an incredible photographic series of a hen harrier in pursuit of a meadow pipit, providing a rarely glimpsed view into lives of these extraordinary birds. All photographs are kindly reproduced with Peter's permission and remain his copyright.  As a keen birdwatcher and hobby photographer on the Isle of Man, it's thankfully not too uncommon to encounter Hen Harriers. On a walk on an upland track recently however, I witnessed something I've never seen before.  Initially distant in the valley below I spotted the unmistakable presence of a male Hen Harrier. A striking bird to say the least. What's more, it was hunting a Meadow Pipit - wow!  They looked to be heading my way, so I grabbed the camera and tried to capture something of it.  I was surprised at the sheer agility and perseverance of the Harrier in its efforts to catch the Meadow Pipit. At one moment they were quite close to me but I found it almost impossible to focus the big telephoto lens on them. As they climbed and dived moving farther away I persevered and got a burst of frames away.  I hoped these would at least capture something of this life and death pursuit.  As they disappeared further out of sight I put the lens down and reflected on something special. Then, as photographers usually do, I flicked through the images and hoped I'd at least have one or two that weren't blurry! To my surprise I'd actually managed to capture something of it. Not the best shots I've ever taken, but a Hen Harrier hunting, it doesn't get much better.  I have a feeling that the Pipit escaped that day, it looked like it found cover, but I'll never know for sure.  For more fantastic photography, follow Peter on Twitter    @manxmannin . Such encounters are increasingly rare on mainland Britain, where last year’s National Hen Harrier Survey revealed a 14% population decline since 2010. By contrast the Isle of Man population of this threatened bird appears to have been holding steady over the last few years. Neil Morris of Manx Birdlife, explains the history and importance of hen harriers to the Isle of Man. In 1977, the first Hen Harriers bred on the Isle of Man in Glen Rushen plantation. Numbers climbed to a possible all time high of 51 pairs in 1998. More recently, breeding censuses indicate the population has fallen from this peak to a (perhaps) stable 30 'nesting attempts' per annum. This represents approximately one nest per 7.4 sq miles, which compares to just four pairs in the whole England (50,000 sq miles compared to the island's 221 sq miles). Clearly, Hen Harriers like the Isle of Man; and the island's community likes its Hen Harriers! In a recent fundraising drive through the Groundwork Trust and Tesco's 'Bags of help' scheme, Manx BirdLife received 57,000 'votes' to support Hen Harriers. The second-placed charitable cause received 37,000 votes. But we must not be complacent. Research is needed to understand exactly why the island offers such a stronghold for the species, and to ensure the potential risks to its continued fortunes are understood. It's a salutary thought that if the brood management plan proposed by Natural England were implemented in the Isle of Man, then we would be required to remove up to 27 out of our 30 nests (i.e. 90%). The island’s continued interest in its birds and other wildlife is crucial to their protection. Peter’s fantastic series of images will do much to help keep Hen Harriers uppermost in the community’s hearts and minds. Following on from the successful satellite tagging of young Manx female, Aalin, last year, two more hen harrier chicks have been tagged on the Isle of Man this summer and we can’t wait to share their journeys with you. Keep watching this space for further updates and be sure to follow us online at www.rspb.org.uk/henharrierlife or on Twitter @RSPB_Skydancer .  

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Blog Post: When the Sun Shines on a Moorland Field Trip

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What a busy few weeks it has been! Darting around the country, playing with puppets, constructing moorlands from playdough, refereeing Skydance Olympic competitions... Don’t get me wrong, I’m not complaining. Popping into primary schools to deliver hen harrier workshops and assemblies is a lot of fun. Occasionally, though, I feel especially lucky to have my job. I’m speaking about those days when the sun shines on a moorland field trip.     Towards the end of May the primary 4/5 class from Finzean School joined me in an upland area of the Forest of Birse in Aberdeenshire to find out more about the hen harrier and the moorland as a habitat after my visit to their primary school earlier in the month. And what an excellent day it was too. We scoured the skies with our binoculars, and the moorland vegetation below for invertebrate life and interesting plant species...     ... and made recordings of a variety of living creatures with varying numbers of legs, investigating the unusual that we encountered along the way, including animal skulls and insect cocoons...       We enjoyed creating some mini moorlands to take home...       ... and concocted moorland healing potions with magical properties in an attempt to help the hen harrier thrive in this habitat again. Sometimes going about my day just doesn’t feel like work at all! The only thing that could have added to the trip would have been to see the hen harrier above, going about it’s day too.   To find out more about our work to raise awareness and secure a future for hen harriers in our hills, visit www.rspb.org.uk/henharrierlife or follow us on twitter @RSPB_Skydancer .      

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Blog Post: Happy hen harrier family

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Great news for a Friday - a recent routine check of DeeCee's nest in Argyll, carried out by RSPB staff under full appropriate licences, has revealed a healthy brood of five chicks! Hen harrier DeeCee's healthy brood of five chicks. Can you spot the tiny youngest in the middle?  You'll need to look really closely to spot them all. Like many birds of prey, hen harriers lay their eggs a day at a time and they hatch consecutively in the order in which they were laid. This means that the eldest of DeeCee's chicks has at least a five day's start on the youngest, and being bigger, is able to gobble up the lion's share of the food that the adult male brings to the nest. Field voles are a vital food source for hen harriers throughout the breeding season but numbers of voles naturally vary widely from year to year, often showing what's known as boom and bust cycles. This size difference in the chicks is nature's way of ensuring that even in years of few voles when there's a shortage of food, the eldest chicks have a good chance of surviving and fledging successfully.  Fortunately, you'll be pleased to hear that DeeCee has very sensibly chosen to nest in an area which, at the time of the visit, seemed bursting with voles and small birds like meadow pipits, so with any luck, there'll be plenty of food to sustain all five of her young brood.  DeeCee as a newly satellite-tagged chick alongside her siblings. (Image: Brian Etheridge)  All being well and with permission from the landowner, we'll be returning in a few short weeks to fit the eldest chick with a satellite tag to match its mum's. It will be fascinating to see if this young harrier follows in the footsteps of its parent or whether it does something different entirely. Watch this space...!  For more information about the Hen Harrier LIFE Project, visit www.rspb.org.uk/henharrierlife or follow us on twitter @RSPB_Skydancer

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Comment on Hen harrier Class of 2016: an update

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I'm so pleased that some of the birds are still with us. Lets also hope that the recent events in Scotland will reduce the persecution there, but be prepared for that not to happen. Can I also ask those in Scotland to write to their MSPs to ensure the law is changed to allow  video evidence in court.

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Blog Post: Hen harrier Class of 2016: an update

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As I sit at my desk with every window in the office open and the sun beating through the glass, it feels as though the year has abandoned any thought of Spring and skipped straight to Summer. Long may it last! It’s also a reminder (as if I needed one) that we are rapidly approaching the thick of the hen harrier breeding season, and my thoughts are naturally with our five remaining satellite-tagged females from 2016. What will these young birds, barely even a year old, make of their first true summer and will they survive to see another autumn? The news of a hen harrier shooting allegedly witnessed in broad daylight only weeks ago, near Leadhills in Southwest Scotland, has done little to calm my nerves. For now however, I am delighted and hugely relieved to say that all five birds are alive and doing well. Not only that but against all the indications of their youth, at least three of our females are now confirmed breeding, with a fourth seemingly not far behind! Harriet – a history-making young bird as one of the first hen harriers in living memory to fledge from the National Trust for Scotland’s Mar Lodge Estate, Harriet spent all winter in the Lake District but come Spring, clearly felt the pull of home. She returned to Mar Lodge briefly in April but has since gone wandering around the East of Scotland. When the data from her tag showed she had started sticking tightly to one area of Perthshire, we sent the team to look for her on the ground and sure enough, she is now sitting on a full clutch of eggs! ( Image: Shaila Rao ) DeeCee – from a private estate in Perthshire, our DeeCee never showed much inclination to leave the familiar ground of the Cairngorms. That was until all of a sudden in April, she started yo-yoing between there and the west coast of Scotland, making day-trips to Jura and Mull and back again. This incredible behaviour serves to show just how far and how quickly hen harriers can travel, and how unpredictable those movements can be. She has now settled somewhere in the middle, in the mainland area of  Argyll & Bute, and once again when our team went to look, they found her sitting on a full clutch of 5 eggs! ( Image: Brian Etheridge ) Finn – our one remaining English bird, Finn left Northumberland very shortly after fledging and has made a steady westward tour of the Scottish Borders, ultimately settling in South Ayrshire for the winter months. Unlike DeeCee and Harriet though, it would seem she didn’t need to travel quite so far to find an attractive breeding site, as in the last couple of weeks, she has been discovered sitting on a nest with eggs in an area of Southwest Scotland! ( Image: Martin Davison ) Aalin – this Manx beauty is proving a source of endless fascination as the first harrier officially to have been recorded leaving the Isle of Man for mainland Britain. She was spotted at a local nature reserve in Warrington in November, before making her way south to spend the winter over an area of farmland in Shropshire. The last of our hen harriers to forsake her wintering grounds this Spring, Aalin has only just recently moved across into North Wales. We wondered if she could be getting ready to make the leap across the water and back to her island home but it seems she may have found a reason to stay... as she’s been spotted dallying with a grey male over some very suitable looking habitat. Will she stay or will she go? Watch this space...! ( Image: Sean Gray ) Wendy – from Coulport MOD on the West Coast of Scotland, Wendy was the most sedentary of all our tagged harriers over winter, making herself very comfortable on the Isle of Mull from October right through until April. Of course she now seems to be making up for lost time and is apparently the only one of our young birds still determined to wander, though still no great distances. Most recently, she has been spending time in an area just to the west of Loch Lomond and the Trossachs National Park. ( Image: John Simpson ) Normally when people ask me about first-year hen harriers, I’d say they don’t usually breed in their first year but it can certainly happen. Donald Watson, the eminent hen harrier scholar himself, noted proportions of first year hen harriers breeding in a population ranging from 8-30%. However that three, possibly four, out of five of our tagged birds have had the opportunity to breed in their first summer does seem remarkable. Given the sensitivities of the breeding season and the need to protect the locations of both our nesting females and any other nesting hen harriers that may be in the same areas, we have temporarily stopped updating the maps on the Hen Harrier LIFE Project website . I’m sure you can appreciate the need for this and rest assured, you can still get the latest updates from our tagged birds on this blog and on twitter @RSPB_Skydancer . Thanks to generous funding from LUSH cosmetics through the sales of their Skydancer bathbomb, this summer we have plans to fit satellite tags to hen harriers across a wider range of places than ever before – from Wales to Orkney, and as many places in between as possible! If we’ve learned anything so far, it’s that hen harriers travel widely and unpredictably, so if we want to protect them in one area, we need to protect them wherever they may be. I look forward to resuming our usual schedule of updates in the autumn, when with any luck, we’ll have a whole new cohort of young hen harriers ready to share their exciting journeys with you. In the meantime, stay tuned to this blog and twitter - who knows what the next few months will bring?  Watch this space... --- To find out more about the Hen Harrier LIFE Project, visit www.rspb.org.uk/henharrierlife

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Blog Post: Guest Blog: Join Bo the hen harrier at Cloudspotting Music and Arts Festival 2017

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Originally from London but a resident of Lancashire for 17 years with a love of the surrounding countryside and wildlife, Helen Ficorilli is the Programme Director of the Cloudspotting Music and Arts Festival, which has taken up residence in the Forest of Bowland over the last seven years. Here she tells us why a female hen harrier has this year been taken up as the emblem for this annual event.    Cloudspotting Music and Arts Festival returns to Gisburn Forest within Forest of Bowland AONB for it’s 7 th outing for the last weekend of July.  More pocket sized than boutique, this unique festival has captured the imagination and support of regional and national plaudits which include The Guardian, The Big Issue, Radio 6Music DJs and the high number of returning family audiences.  In a location managed by the Forestry Commission England, Cloudspotting has the support from the FCE and the Arts Council to bring high level quality arts engagement into the forest, an area of traditional low arts representation. Home to some of the most stunning scenery and delicate wildlife habitats in Britain we have always encouraged our audience to explore the surrounding forest and engage with the local wildlife.  This has led to us incorporating environmental issues into our activities programme to deliver important ecological messages of responsibility to an ever-increasing family audience. In 2016 Bowland AONB brought their Bowland Hay Time project to the festival and ran workshops, activities and discussions about the importance of wild meadows to support the animals and insects who inhabit our festival location.  These animals include wild birds and from that our Birds of Bowland Project began to take wings... So why a Hen Harrier? We wanted to make birds that are native to Bowland a focus for our festival this year and we needed to recruit someone to help promote this.  After research and discussions with the RSPB, Bowland AONB and Forestry Commission we realised that the Hen Harrier, although not alone on the endangered list, had the highest profile and its recent loss from the local area has gained the most notoriety.  Just the fact that there was a national project dedicated to the survival of this extremely rare and beautiful bird of prey made their profile even more attractive.  Threatened with extinction this bird has a national network of supporters who scour the skies and nesting locations hoping for a rare sighting of this bird.  The Hen Harrier whose Latin name means “circus” has a magical awe surrounding it, an almost mythical existence; and a festival, a temporary world of escapism seemed like the perfect place for a Hen Harrier to be spotted. We immediately commissioned local illustrator and sculptor Kerith Ogden to bring the Hen Harrier to Cloudspotting.  Our brief was to create an image which we could use throughout our promotional activities of the festival.  An image we could use with our logo but with a tribal imagery all of its own.  When we saw the initial drawings we were blown away by the grace and beauty of our bird and we needed to give her a name.  But it had to be the right name.  A few options were bounded about which included Hetty, Jen and even Rhythm (….is a sky dancer!) but the overall obvious choice was Bo.  Bo after our location, the beautiful Forest of Bowland and Boudicca another formidable female warrior.  Have you met Bo yet? Since then, Bo has become another member of the Cloudspotting team. Visually appealing, she has featured on all our promotional materials including flyers, posters, website, social media, banners etc.  Bo will also feature at the festival where we will reveal the second commission of Kerith, Bo the parade puppet lantern.  A huge 3D version of Bo with lights and a whopping flapping wingspan of 3.5m.  Bo will tour the festival site leading our rhythmical bird themed parade, dance the night away to our local reggae band Jeramiah Ferrari and finally take her nesting position in the Village Green for the remainder of the festival.  Learning through play Working in partnership with the RSPB and other activities/arts associates, our Birds of Bowland project has developed immensely to weave throughout our weekend activities programme.  Inclusive, engaging, educational and creative our arts package includes Bo and her other feathered friends involved in a variety of activities.  These include the opportunity to join the Cloudspotting Choir.  Rehearse throughout the weekend to perform Three Little Birds from the main stage on Sunday afternoon.  Join other crafters for regular knit’n’chirp sessions to knit your own Bo.  Leave the festival for a trek through the forest on our sculpture trail where you will discover 8ft bird; or be a part in the creation of a huge piece of community art adding colour to our huge canvas Bo.  These are just a few of the linked activities and workshops available; for more information please visit our activities page on our website . But our work with Bo doesn’t stop there.  We are so taken with Bo she will feature on artwork for future Cloudspotting events.  We have already been asked to tour Bo and the community developed artwork from the festival to regional galleries and libraries where we will produce narrative to support the images and continue to deliver the messages of the RSPB to support our local wildlife so that we can all live together, harmoniously in our modern world For more information about Cloudspotting Music and Arts Festival 2017, please have a look at our website or visit our facebook page.    

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Blog Post: Another shot hen harrier… how many more?

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This is not the news I wanted to wake up to. Just weeks after the Crown Office discontinued a high-profile case against a former gamekeeper for the alleged illegal killing of a hen harrier despite clear video evidence, another hen harrier shooting has come to light. Police Scotland issued an appeal this morning, for information relating to the lethal shooting of a hen harrier near Leadhills, South Lanarkshire. You can read the response from RSPB Scotland here . Fortunately and exceptionally, “a number of witnesses” have apparently come forward but whether that’s enough to secure a prosecution remains to be seen. After all, if video evidence , clearly showing a hen harrier being shot out of the sky and its body retrieved by a man with his face in full view of the camera, isn’t enough to secure a conviction or even a court case, it’s hard to know what burden of proof is necessary. The message seems to be that those who wish to illegally kill our protected birds of prey can continue to do so with impunity, knowing that even if their alleged crimes are caught on film, they’re unlikely to be held to account. Still of film footage taken on Cabrach Estate, Morayshire in June 2013, showing a man removing the body of a recently shot hen harrier. Despite this, police are now appealing for CCTV evidence in this latest case. Anyone with any information at all should contact Police Scotland on 101. A hen harrier illegally shot and killed in 2013 and another in 2017... It goes without saying that any hen harrier shot is one too many but with four years between them, could these just be random isolated incidents? Not when you start filling in the blanks... January 2017 – hen harrier Carroll found dead in Northumberland of natural causes having previously survived being shot October 2016 – hen harrier Rowan found shot dead in Cumbria September 2015 – hen harrier Lad found with “injuries consistent with shooting ” in the Cairngorms April 2015 – hen harrier Annie found shot dead near Leadhills, South Lanarkshire June 2013 – video evidence recorded of a hen harrier being shot dead on Cabrach Estate, Morayshire, and a man retrieving the body June 2012  – hen harrier Bowland Betty found shot dead in the Yorkshire Dales Body of a young male hen harrier, Lad, found with "injuries consistent with shooting" just months after fledging. And that’s not to mention the number of satellite tagged hen harriers which have suddenly and unexpectedly disappeared – most notably in relation to recent events,  Chance , who vanished in May 2016, just a few miles from where Annie was found shot and near to where this most recent shooting has been witnessed. These are not isolated incidents. Collectively, they reveal a very clear picture of how protected birds of prey continue to be treated in some areas of our uplands, particularly where there is intensive grouse moor management. As I said in my last blog, our ability to uphold the law is only as good as our ability to enforce it and we are working hard to insist these issues be addressed by the public authorities as a matter of urgency. In the meantime, together with the Raptor Study Groups and wider conservation community, we will continue to monitor and protect our hen harriers wherever possible. Satellite tagging is providing an unprecedented window into this world and through the Hen Harrier LIFE Project, we plan to tag more hen harriers in 2017 than ever before. Whatever happens next, we will be watching. To follow the fortunes of our remaining satellite tagged hen harriers and find out more about our work to protect these stunning skydancers, visit www.rspb.org.uk or follow us @RSPB_Skydancer .    

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Comment on Alleged hen harrier shooting case dropped

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I am absolutely appalled at this decision. Someone in the criminal justice system has decided that the RSPB may not monitor raptor nest sites in Scotland, but if they do and detect criminality, that even viewing of a criminal act that this evidence can not be used in court. I have written to all my MSPs and although I was not able to be reasonable in my screed, I shall persist and if necessary meet each one to get a face to face response.  The organised criminal activity of driven grouse shooting has people in many places prepared to assist those who break the law, and the law needs to be changed to make this loophole closed to the organised criminals and their supporters. I shall draft a proposed change to the law to show how simple this would be. I believe that the RSPB should do the same. I would urge RSPB members in Scotland to contact their MSPs

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