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Figures released by Natural England show another rise in the population of hen harriers in England. 141 chicks fledged successfully this year, making this yet another record year for the species

Figures released by Natural England show another rise in the population of hen harriers in England. 141 chicks fledged successfully this year, an increase on last year’s 119 chicks. 2022 had marked a record year, as this was the highest number of fledging chicks for a century. 2023 has seen yet more chicks, making this yet another record year.  

There are now more hen harriers in England since they were lost as a breeding species around 200 years ago. The data marks a decade of population growth for this very rare bird. As recently as 2013, there were no successful Hen Harrier nests in England. 

In 2023, 54 nests were recorded (up from 49 last year), of which 36 were successful. This represents an average of 3.9 chicks per successful nest. Northumberland had the highest number of nesting attempts, 17 in total and the highest increase on the year before where 9 nests were recorded. The Yorkshire Dales and Nidderdale area also remained a stronghold with 15 nests recorded in 2023. 

While the Natural England report on the hen harrier successes did reference the Hen Harrier Action Plan, what it failed to note was the important role that gamekeepers are playing with regards these population increases. 

The Hen Harrier Action Plan, published by Defra in 2016, set out a number of actions to increase Hen Harrier numbers. The plan was developed by Defra in conjunction with the National Gamekeepers' Organisation, National Parks UK, RSPB, Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust, and the Moorland Association. 

The action plan includes a number of actions which help hen harriers to thrive and which are carried out by gamekeepers such as nest monitoring, diversionary feeding, and providing a safe habitat in which they and their chicks can thrive. As ground-nesting birds, hen harriers are extremely vulnerable to predation, so an active predator control regime is equally as important as providing suitable nesting habitat through good vegetation management, both of which are carried out by gamekeepers. 

The fledglings recorded this year includes 24 brood-managed chicks, taken from six nests on grouse moors and reared in a bird of prey rearing facility before being released as juveniles into suitable habitat in the north of England, close to where they originated. Brood management is one of the elements of the Action Plan that has made the most difference for the hen harrier. It has so far added a total of 58 chicks to the wild population to date, some of which have gone on to breed in the wild themselves. 

Notes to Editors:

The National Gamekeepers’ Organisation: The National Gamekeepers’ Organisation (NGO) represents the gamekeepers of England and Wales. The NGO defends and promotes gamekeeping and gamekeepers and works to ensure high standards throughout the profession. The National Gamekeepers’ Organisation was founded in 1997 by a group of gamekeepers who felt that keepering was threatened by public misunderstanding and poor representation. Today, there are 13,000 members of the National Gamekeepers’ Organisation.  www.nationalgamekeepers.org.uk

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