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Best breeding season in decades for marsh harriers at National Trust’s Wicken Fen - National Trust

Juvenile marsh harrier ©Richard Nicoll
Juvenile marsh harrier ©Richard Nicoll

At least twelve marsh harrier chicks have successfully fledged at the National Trust’s Wicken Fen Nature Reserve in Cambridgeshire, making 2020 the most successful breeding year in decades.

At least twelve marsh harrier chicks have successfully fledged at the National Trust’s Wicken Fen Nature Reserve in Cambridgeshire, making 2020 the most successful breeding year in decades.

Rangers at the reserve witnessed four nests of chicks successfully fledging over the past few months, two of which had been built in an area usually busy with visitors.

The harriers’ success is thought to have been helped in part by the extended period of lockdown across the country, which saw emboldened wildlife moving into places that would normally be busy with human activity.

A fifth nest is likely to have also fledged chicks, but its location meant staff were not able to fully monitor numbers.

The news comes as a welcome boost to marsh harrier populations, which are classified as Amber on UK conservation lists.

Despite there being only 400 nesting pairs in the UK, the species has made a positive recovery in recent years. In the 1970s, following years of habitat loss and persecution, there was believed to be just one nesting female in the whole country.

Marsh harriers are the largest of the harriers and are identifiable by their long tails and “V” shaped wings when in flight. Rangers at the fen first spotted a male with striking colouring on the Sedge Fen area of the reserve in the spring, and later spotted the bird performing aerial food passes to two females, making it clear that there were two nests in the reed beds.

Since then, a series of stunning images by photographer Richard Nicoll has shown the juvenile birds taking to the skies and catching food from their parents in mid-air.

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