Hen Harrier chicks fledge in North Yorkshire


Eight Hen Harrier chicks have successfully fledged on two grouse moors in and around the Yorkshire Dales National Park, making it the second year running the park has held breeding harriers.

Five of the youngsters were bred on a grouse moor estate in the Nidderdale Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, which borders the national park. As well as this rare positive development in Yorkshire, five other Hen Harrier nests have been enjoyed success on grouse moors across Derbyshire and Lancashire. Some of the chicks have been satellite-tagged by Natural England.

Rob Cooke, Natural England Director, commented: "Natural England is very pleased to see these Hen Harriers, which our volunteers have been monitoring alongside estate staff, fledge. We are pleased to see moorland estates playing their full part in the Hen Harrier Action Plan."

Mr Cooke's praise for moorland estates playing "a full part" seem to sharply contradict with Natural England's own findings in a recent study, which concluded that Hen Harriers in England suffer from abnormally high levels of mortality compared to populations in Orkney and mainland Scotland – and the most likely cause of this is illegal killing on and around grouse moors.

Sonya Greenwood, from the Yorkshire Dales Moorland Group, added: "It's tremendous news that the Yorkshire Dales National Park is seeing breeding success for the second year in a row and this is testament to the commitment by gamekeepers to play their part in restoring Hen Harrier numbers."

However, not all gamekeepers seem committed to the idea. The news follows developments surrounding an adult male Hen Harrier that died after it was caught in an illegally set spring trap on a Scottish grouse moor, as well as a satelitte-tagged female that was found shot on a grouse moor in the Nidderdale area, where five of this year's youngsters have fledged. North Yorkshire is particularly ill-reputed when it comes to raptor persecution and the fact that harriers are fledging on moors nearby to those on which they are still being found illegally killed is a great worry to some conservationists, highlighting the complexity of the problems that the species faces from certain factors of the shooting industry, who continue to consider it acceptable to systematically persecute birds of prey such as Hen Harriers.

One of the nests of Hen Harrier chicks in the Nidderdale AONB (Moorland Association).

Amanda Anderson, Director of the Moorland Association, said: "Our members are delighted to be reporting breeding success of Hen Harrier chicks on their grouse moors. We have been working closely with Natural England to help restore Hen Harrier numbers and they have been very supportive of our efforts.

"Growing the harrier population is a goal shared by many with the countryside at heart and there are many initiatives underway to help make that happen."

However, Ms Anderson's positive words will only hold substance if the English Hen Harrier population actually grows in the coming years – something it has failed to do now for some time. A recent report suggested England has enough habitat to hold 300 pairs of breeding Hen Harrier, yet the species continues to flirt with the status of extirpation within the country.