Bowland Hen Harrier chicks tagged

One of the freshly-tagged Hen Harrier fledglings on the Bowland Estate. Photo: Jude Lane.
One of the freshly-tagged Hen Harrier fledglings on the Bowland Estate. Photo: Jude Lane.
Hen Harrier chicks have been fitted with high-tech satellite tags as part of a new RSPB initiative to help conserve England’s most threatened bird of prey.

The chicks, which are approximately four weeks old, are currently being raised in a nest on the United Utilities Bowland Estate. The site is traditionally the stronghold for the nearly extinct English Hen Harrier population, and the RSPB has worked with the water company and its shooting tenants to protect the birds there for more than 30 years.

The Hen Harrier nest is the first successful one in England since 2012, and one of only three in the whole of England this year. Chicks produced in the other English nests – one of which is also on the United Utilities Bowland Estate – will be fitted with satellite tags, too, when they are big enough.

The satellite tags were supplied by Natural England and fitted by Stephen Murphy, the Agency’s lead adviser for Hen Harriers. He commented: “The lightweight satellite tags weigh just 9.5 grams and are solar recharging, giving them an operational life of at least three years. They are fitted to birds on the point of fledging using a lightweight Teflon harness backpack design. This is where technology can really aid conservation as there is no better way of gaining an insight into the complex dispersal of these iconic birds.”

RSPB Bowland Project Officer Jude Lane is responsible for monitoring the harriers. She said: “Once the birds have fledged, we will be able to follow them and gain valuable information about where they hunt, roost and – with a bit of luck – breed. The more we can learn about these amazing birds, the more we can do to help their numbers recover.”

One of the Bowland Hen Harriers having its tag fitted. Photo: Jude Lane.

The tags will also help provide evidence of any illegal activity against the birds. A 2011 government-commissioned report revealed that there should be at least 300 pairs of the species across the uplands of England, but that ongoing illegal persecution was limiting their numbers. In 2012, a dead Hen Harrier that had been tagged in Bowland was discovered in North Yorkshire as a result of tracking work undertaken by Natural England. Post mortem analysis carried out by the Zoological Society of London revealed that the bird – nicknamed 'Bowland Betty' - had been shot.
“I was absolutely gutted when I heard about Betty," said Jude. "I really hope that these tagged chicks don’t meet a similar fate and that they live a long and productive life.”

The RSPB’s monitoring work in Bowland forms part of Skydancer, a four-year RSPB project aimed at protecting and conserving nesting Hen Harriers in the English uplands. The project is funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund with a grant of £317,700, and United Utilities, with additional support from the Forestry Commission. Skydancer has reached the finals of this year’s National Lottery Awards in the Best Education Category. To vote for the project visit: www.lotterygoodcauses.org.uk/awards/education.

On Sunday 10 August – two days ahead of the opening of the Red Grouse shooting season – hundreds of people will be taking part in a series of events across the English uplands to raise awareness of the plight of the Hen Harrier. Read about this campaign in August's Birdwatch, on sale 24 July.
For more information about the project, visit www.rspb.org.uk/skydancer.
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