A better year for Hen Harriers in England – not a good year

Photo: Gordon Yates. Hen Harrier on Skye
Photo: Gordon Yates. Hen Harrier on Skye

The ‘government report’ mentioned in yesterday’s awful Telegraph misconstruction of a story has turned, as I said it would, into a Natural England press release (copied below)(Telegraph fail).  And the criticism of the RSPB has turned into … well … nothing (Telegraph fail).

It’s interesting that two of the successful nests are on FC land in Northumberland  (although I had heard that earlier in the year) – I thought we were going to be told that they were all on grouse moors! Apparently not (Telegraph fail).

And I understand that RSPB staff were involved with guarding several of the nests that were successful – so the 6-0 story in the Telegraph was completely untrue wasn’t it (Telegraph fail)? Maybe if they had checked their facts they wouldn’t have made such a complete mess of it. Maybe they will print a prominent correction? Maybe they shouldn’t just swallow YFTB press releases without talking to people who know what they are talking about?

It’s good that this is a better year for Hen Harriers isn’t it. They often do a little bit better in the years running up to and during a national survey (scheduled for next year) – funny that.  But if these birds nested in Lancashire, Durham (that’s good), Northumberland and northwest England that means that there are none in the North York Moors National Park, Yorkshire Dales National Park (although maybe some of that is in the mysterious NW England) or the Peak District National Park.  Our National Parks are under-performing very badly for wildlife, and the rest of the north of England still is missing over 300 pairs of Hen Harriers.  It’s a better year for Hen Harriers in England, not a good year.

Still, it seems there were 10-12 pairs of Hen Harrier attempting to nest in England this year which is back to where we were about a decade ago. But, let’s be positive, the English Hen Harrier population only has to increase by 400%, or quintuple in numbers, before brood meddling will be on the table as far as the RSPB is concerned.  A few more years of progress and we’ll all be getting along swimmingly. It might only take five years or so – that’s not long to wait is it? Or will we see Hen Harrier numbers sink next year, or more likely, the year after the survey year?  If the Moorland Association’s Robert Benson had said, ‘I’ve persuaded our members all to look after Hen Harriers because we would like to get to 50-60 pairs as soon as possible so that we can be given the enormous concession of brood-meddling some time in the future’ then that would make it a good year for Hen Harriers in England because it would be a sign of things to come – perhaps.

In the notes to editors (which I haven’t bothered to copy below) NE provide a link to their excellent 2008 Hen Harrier report (under a Labour government, before they were emasculated).  This report is well worth re-reading for the insight it gives into two things; the plight of the Hen Harrier and the plight of Natural England. Both are struggling against the forces of darkness.

Also, for nerds like me, the editor’s notes of the NE Press Release get the name of their own report wrong; not very wrong, but wrong. Its title is ‘A Future for the Hen Harrier in England?‘ but the ‘?’ is omitted in this press release.  It’s clear that there is still a very big question mark over the future of the Hen Harrier in England – but also over the future of grouse shooting in England.  Ban driven grouse shooting – sign the e-petition please.

I’m interested to know how many of the 18 fledged Hen Harriers were satellite-tagged (see Inglorious p253). When I find out, I’ll let you know.




Natural England press release:

Hen harrier breeding season set to be most successful for five years

Figures from the 2015 hen harrier breeding season show it is on track to be the most successful year since 2010.

Despite poor weather throughout the breeding season, there are six successful harrier nests fledging 18 new chicks. An additional seventh nest – which was close to fledging young – unfortunately failed late in the season, due to natural causes.

Hen harriers remain the most endangered breeding birds in England. News of this year’s successful nests follows the disappearance of five male hen harriers, which resulted in the failure of their nests.

Rob Cooke, Natural England’s Director of Terrestrial Biodiversity, said: “Six nests is a small number, but it is actually more than we have seen in total over the past three years – which is a significant and positive step forward. Obviously we need to see many more pairs of these iconic birds nesting successfully and we are actively looking at how we and our partners can build on this positive outcome in the future.”

The nests range across the north of England, in Northumberland, Lancashire, County Durham and two in north western England. Dedicated staff from Natural England, Forestry Commission, RSPB and the Moorland Association have worked tirelessly with volunteer raptor workers, landowners and their staff to help bring about these results.

Chairman of the Moorland Association, Robert Benson, said: “Grouse moor managers have played a significant role in protecting nests and this year’s success, which is very welcome. However, we need to do more for hen harriers. With government help, via a Hen Harrier Action Plan, numbers and the spread of nests next year could be even better, buffering the effects of poor weather and predation.”

Fledged chicks are being fitted with satellite tags by the RSPB EU funded Hen harrier LIFE+ Project and by Natural England, and their progress closely monitored. Satellite tag technology is improving rapidly and these latest tags will provide even more detailed information on how birds move around the landscape and the factors which currently limit the population.

RSPB Board spokesman Stuart Housden said: “Whilst we’re very pleased some hen harrier chicks have fledged successfully this year, we must recognise there remains a long way to go to secure the species’ future as a breeding species in England. Harriers are still absent from vast swathes of suitable habitat, and are highly vulnerable to illegal persecution. Until this is addressed there is little prospect of a sustainable population in England’s Uplands.”

Tom Dearnley, Forestry Commission Ecologist, said: “We are thrilled there have been two successful hen harrier nests in Northumberland.  We hope that this will mean many more successful years for breeding hen harriers on land the Forestry Commission manages. This success highlights the habitat value to the species.”



7 Replies to “A better year for Hen Harriers in England – not a good year”

  1. An excellent piece. I have already started sharing and will be including a link to it in a post on aspiblog soon. By the way, an epic fail is standard for the Telegraph – a correction if they bother with it will tucked out of the way on a centre page in tiny print.

  2. The Independent Press Standards Organisation has published these editorial guidelines:

    i) The Press must take care not to publish inaccurate, misleading or distorted information, including pictures.

    ii) A significant inaccuracy, misleading statement or distortion once recognised must be corrected, promptly and with due prominence, and – where appropriate – an apology published.

    I would like to know how the Telegraph demonstrated such care for the facts when publishing this libellous rubbish. Just writing “is expected to” and then claiming that the actual report defied expectation can’t be a defence. Otherwise you could just write that in front of any ludicrous statement. The intention to mislead is clear.

    1. I’ve already made a complaint to the IPSO https://www.ipso.co.uk/IPSO/makeacomplaint.html

      No harm in trying! I’d love to see a law which required corrections and retractions of stories to be published with equal or greater prominence to the original article, e.g. ridiculous Sun headlines would have to be corrected with a headline, etc.

      If you were really cynical you could imagine a grand conspiracy to bump off only those male harriers roaming from RSPB protected nests this summer, in order to fabricate evidence against them and launch an anti-RSPB media campaign whilst making grouse moors look a tiny bit better by comparison. But only if you were really cynical…..

  3. I will be making a complaint to IPSO – please can as many people reading Mark’s post as possible do likewise?
    The Telegraph’s latest piece cannot go unanswered.

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