07/05/2015
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Three male Hen Harriers disappear from Bowland

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Sights such as this male Hen Harrier collecting nest material remain extremely rare in England, as the species teeters on the edge of extinction. Photo: Andy Hay (rspb-images.com).
Sights such as this male Hen Harrier collecting nest material remain extremely rare in England, as the species teeters on the edge of extinction. Photo: Andy Hay (rspb-images.com).
England's tiny breeding Hen Harrier population has suffered another huge setback with the disappearance of all three adult males this spring, and shooting interests are suspected to be responsible.

The RSPB has received confirmation that three male Hen Harriers have disappeared from active nests in the Forest of Bowland, Lancashire. The disappearances have happened over the last three weeks, with the male at one nest disappearing three weeks ago, and males at two other active nests not being seen since last Thursday. 

Fortunately, a juvenile male appeared at the first nest almost immediately and was accepted by the female, so thankfully one clutch has been saved. However, the other two nests have not been so lucky: in the absence of males to provide them with food, the hungry females were forced to abandon their eggs or face starvation, resulting in the failure of both nests.

All three of the nests affected are on the United Utilities Bowland Estate. Conservationists including the RSPB have a historically good relationship with the water company, United Utilities and their shooting and farming tenants, built up over decades of partnership working. The United Utilities estate has for many years been the Hen Harrier's only remaining colony in England.

Male Hen Harriers disappearing while part of an active nesting attempt is exceptionally unusual.  A 2008 Natural England report entitled A Future for the Hen Harrier in England? found that this phenomenon was virtually never recorded in most habitats, but nearly 70 per cent of nesting attempts which failed on grouse moors did so because an adult disappeared. However, catching those responsible is hard without witnesses and evidence.

The RSPB has asked that anyone who thinks they may have information relevant to the disappearance of the three harriers to contact the local police via 999 if the crime is happening immediately, or 101 to report information on crimes which have already occurred.
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