Despite a record breeding season for hen harriers in England, criticism has been levelled at gamekeepers for the birds? localised success.

This week, English Nature (EN) released its latest breeding figures for 2006 and the Forest of Bowland, in Lancashire, is again the most successful breeding ground. Forty six fledglings were hatched out of 12 nests on the Lancashire moors, but EN and the RSPB are concerned that 60 per cent of nesting attempts have failed on moors not closely monitored by the organisations. Birds have disappeared, traps have been found, birds have been found poisoned and, in some places, found with shotgun wounds.

There were 22 breeding attempts, resulting in 12 successful hen harrier nests producing 46 birds ? the highest number of fledglings since the project began in 2002. Despite this, Dr Mark Avery, the RSPB?s director of conservation, commented on the disparity in breeding success. He told ST: ?That?s a damning statistic and the hen harrier?s status is, frankly, an embarrassment for a country that is so proud of its natural heritage.?

A spokesman from the National Gamekeepers? Organisation (NGO) was surprised at the tone of the report. He told ST: ?We noted a marked difference between the positive tone of English Nature’s press release and the extremely anti-grouse moor spin put on the story by the BBC. The NGO will be making a formal complaint to the BBC regarding this issue.?