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New record number of hen harrier chicks

Conservationists are celebrating another record hen harrier breeding season in England’s uplands.

Figures published by Natural England show that 119 hen harrier chicks fledged in England in the 2022 nesting season, which is the highest number ever formally recorded and is reckoned to be the highest in 100 years. (Read hen harrier chick numbers soar on managed moorland.)

Hen harriers were at one time a widespread bird across both upland and lowland Britain, however agricultural intensification and persecution reduced the population very significantly. This year’s figures represent the 6th consecutive year of increase in harrier numbers from a low of just six chicks fledged in 2016.

Ground nesting birds

Hen harriers are ground nesting birds and as well as the diminishing problem of persecution, they are very vulnerable to predation and to bad weather. This year a total of 49 pairs nested across the North of England of these 34 nests fledged at least one chick.

Lancashire’s forest of Bowland remained a stronghold for the species with 18 nests, however nests were located from from the Peak District to Northumberland. The good news that hen harrier numbers were rapidly rising was welcomed by most parties involved with harrier conservation.

Natural England Chair Tony Juniper said: “It is testament to the dedication of the volunteers, landowners and staff from all our partner organisations who work so hard to protect, support and monitor these vulnerable birds.”

BASC’s head of uplands Gareth Docherty was more direct in his praise, saying: “The shooting community and gamekeepers have a big role to play in the continued recovery of hen harriers. This is because grouse moor habitats consistently provide key favourable habitats for hen harriers alongside other priority species.

“We would like to recognise and congratulate the hard work of the gamekeepers and hen harrier specialists. Not only are they driving the recovery of the hen harrier, but are bucking the trend of species declines.”

The dwindling practice of illegal harrier persecution remains a problem for the species and Tony Juniper acknowledged there was still work to do. Tony said: “Despite this year’s success, we clearly still have a long road to travel to see hen harrier numbers truly recover to where they would naturally be without illegal persecution.”