Encouaging breeding season for English Hen Harriers


Natural England (NE) has revealed that 2022 was the most successful breeding season for English Hen Harriers in more than a century.

A total of 49 nests were recorded, of which 34 were successful. No fewer than 119 chicks fledged, making it the first time in more than 100 years that three figures of youngsters have left the nest.

NE said it "showied real progress in efforts to protect and restore their numbers".

Lancashire remains the stronghold for Hen Harriers in England with 18 nests in the Bowland region, as well as nine in Northumberland. There were 10 nests across the Yorkshire Dales and Nidderdale region, seven in the North Pennines, and five in the Peak District.

The 119 juvenile Hen Harriers to fledge in England in 2022 is the best result in a century (Andreas Gullberg).

Some of the 15 nest failures were subsequently investigated by police, said NE. On a number of occasions, the same pair re-nested after a failure, and the total also includes polygamous groups where one male has several nests. The number of actual breeding pairs will therefore be smaller than the number of nests.

The total number of 119 fledglings this year includes 13 brood-managed chicks, taken from four nests on grouse moors and reared to fledging in captivity. All 13 were released as healthy fully grown birds, while brood-managed birds from previous years also bred successfully (five individuals produced 10 chicks in 2022). In its press release, NE stated: "A formal assessment and evaluation of both the practicalities of this technique and its role in changing attitudes to hen harriers will inform a decision on its future role."

This year, Hen Harriers nested on landed used for forestry, water quality improvements, carbon sequestration, amenity, nature conservation and driven grouse shooting.

NE field staff lead on liaison with privately owned grouse shooting estates, working in partnership with those land managers that are encouraging Hen Harriers to nest successfully alongside their wider estate management for grouse and other wildlife. NE staff also organise the monitoring and tagging of these nests, and provide support and guidance on diversionary feeding and brood management.

Natural England field staff have fitted satellite tags to 18 of this year's fledglings to learn about their movements and causes of any deaths. The total includes 12 Moorland Association-funded tags fitted to brood-managed birds and six tags fitted to nestlings from wild nests (named Jenny, Bernie, Craig, Reuben, Penelope and Nicola). Together with the 14 birds tagged in previous years that are still alive and transmitting, NE is now tracking 32 birds.

Six tagged birds monitored by NE have been lost since March 2022, either confirmed or presumed dead. In March, a 2021 brood-managed bird was found to have been suffering from symptoms of respiratory disease and tested positive for avian influenza. Of the other satellite-tagged birds, at least two are being investigated by the police, while one is suspected to have been predated by a Northern Goshawk.

NE concluded: "Some elements of this Hen Harrier recovery work have remained controversial, but we remain committed to strengthening our partnerships to tackle persecution and effectively support Hen Harrier recovery. This increase in breeding numbers in 2022 is really encouraging and we would like to thank all those who are working to support a continued increase in breeding Hen Harriers."