Excitement and nerves after thirteen hen harrier chicks fledge in Bowland

The third Bowland nest. Photo by James Bray, RSPB.
The third Bowland nest. Photo by James Bray, RSPB.
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Thirteen hen harrier chicks have fledged on the United Utilities Estate in Bowland.

This is the first time that hen harriers have nested successfully in the Forest of Bowland AONB since 2015 when a single chick fledged.

Hen harrier female bird arriving at nest with heather sprig, Langholm Moor, Scotland June 2010

Hen harrier female bird arriving at nest with heather sprig, Langholm Moor, Scotland June 2010

Since early spring, RSPB staff and volunteers have been working with United Utilities and their tenants to protect the three hen harrier nests on the estate.

Further good news from the United Utilities Bowland estate this season included two pairs of peregrine falcons successfully fledging seven chicks between them and five pairs of merlins fledging 19 chicks, a species for which the Forest of Bowland is nationally important.

Hen harriers breed on hills and moors, and are best-known for the male’s breath-taking courtship display known as skydancing. However, they are on the verge of extinction as a breeding bird in England owing to ongoing illegal persecution associated with driven grouse shooting.

Although experts estimate there is sufficient habitat in Northern England for at least 300 breeding pairs, last year there were only three successful nests in the whole country.

Some of the hen harrier chicks

Some of the hen harrier chicks

Prior to fledging, chicks in Bowland were fitted with satellite tags, which were provided by the RSPB’s EU-funded Hen Harrier LIFE project.

This will allow RSPB conservation staff to continue to monitor the progress of the birds once they have left Bowland.

Unfortunately, like many of the UK’s hen harriers, those satellite tagged in Bowland have not always met with happy ends.

In 2012 Bowland Betty died from an injury resulting from a shot gun wound and in 2014, Sky and Hope, both of which had fledged in Bowland that year, disappeared in suspicious circumstances when their tags stopped transmitting suddenly and inexplicably.

James Bray, the RSPB’s Bowland Project Officer, said: “I feel really proud to have been involved in helping these chicks to fledge.

“My team, United Utilities and their tenants have all worked incredibly hard to make this season a success.

“It has been such a joy to watch these young birds flying around the estate after having to endure two terrible breeding seasons without any nests at all.

“While I’m excited to see where these birds travel to after they leave Bowland, I can’t help feeling nervous about their future.”

Chris Matthews, Head of Sustainability at United Utilities, said: “We are delighted to see the return of hen harriers to the Bowland Estate. It shows that the management of this important gathering ground for good quality water supplies is providing habitat for harriers to flourish. Key to this is working in partnership with all those with an interest in the land and I look forward to continued constructive engagement.”

County Councillor Albert Atkinson, Chairman for the Forest of Bowland AONB Joint Advisory Committee, said: “This really is fantastic news. This result is a testament to the great partnership work of the RSPB staff and volunteers, United Utilities and their farming and shooting tenants. We will all keep our fingers crossed for these birds as they leave Bowland.”