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A record-breaking year for hen harrier breeding - Defra and Natural England

Natural England has recorded the best year for hen harrier breeding in England since Natural England’s hen harrier recovery project was established in 2002, with 60 chicks fledged from 19 nests across Northumberland, Yorkshire Dales, Cumbria and Lancashire in early summer 2020.

The success has been down to a number of factors including high numbers of voles which are a key food source, good weather, and strong partnership working between Natural England, RSPB, Forestry Commission, the Moorland Association, United Utilities, the National Trust, and others.

hen harrier nest with chicks (Photo credit to Stephen Murphy, Natural England.)
Photo credit to Stephen Murphy, Natural England.

Hen harriers were once found across upland and lowland Britain including throughout many English counties, however after 1830 it became an exceptionally rare breeding bird in England due to raptor persecution, which was then made illegal in 1954. The hen harrier is now one of England’s rarest birds of prey.

Hen harriers are one of our most distinctive birds, with a characteristic owl-like face and stiff facial feathers that direct sound toward their ears to enable them to hunt more effectively.

This year’s success means that 141 hen harrier chicks have fledged over the past three years alone. Natural England’s Hen Harrier Recovery Project was established in 2002 to monitor hen harriers and work towards improving their numbers in England.

Although persecution is thought to be the main factor limiting hen harrier numbers in England, other factors including the suitability of local habitats and food availability are also significant in some areas.

Natural England is involved in a number of initiatives to help ensure hen harriers recover including through Defra’s hen harrier joint action plan.

These include:

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