Natural England(NE) and the RSPB on 2 November announced the worst breeding figures for hen harriers in England since monitoring began, claiming that its status as an English breeding bird is now at risk.

According to NE, a harsh winter and a possible shortage of prey in spring meant some pairs failed to breed, while those that did had fewer chicks. Additionally, a press release issued on behalf of NE, the RSPB and BASC continued to berate shooting interests for past misdemeanours, stating: “While there is no evidence of illegal killing or nest destruction associated with this year’s breeding failures, illegal persecution has led to today’s critically low breeding numbers and patchy distribution.” Others involved in the uplands assert that there have been no cases of persecution against hen harriers in England for several years.

On Monday, NE also announced that this year a pair of hen harriers was successful in rearing a chick in a cereal field in southern England. The news was encouraging for those who argue that the hen harrier is not exclusively a bird of the uplands and that there is scope for reintroductions or relocations to other parts of the country.

Dr Tom Tew, chief scientist for NE, said: “This isolated nesting site in southern England is a massive leap from the hen harrier’s recent restricted distribution. Single birds occasionally loiter around suitable habitat in the early spring but rarely attract a mate.

“Though this was just one pair, their success hints at the potential for the hen harrier to be re-established in southern England, though this would not mean giving up on hen harriers in the uplands.”

The rest of this article appears in 4th November issue of Shooting Times.

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