Gamekeepers across England are reporting bird of prey success stories with the headline news that hen harrier breeding figures for this year are at their highest on record.
Numbers released by Natural England (Thursday 3 September) show that 60 hen harriers have fledged this summer season.
According to Natural England, 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.’
Liam Bell, Chairman of the National Gamekeepers’ Organisation, said:
“Conservation work is the cornerstone of a gamekeeper’s work.
“These fantastic hen harrier numbers are a direct result of gamekeepers working in partnership with Natural England and other bird and conservation charities which show just what can be done when we work hand-in-hand. There will be many a happy gamekeeper around the country today hearing this news.”
Stephen Murphy, manager of the Hen Harrier Recovery Project at Natural England, said:
“These successful breeding figures are a testament to the work of forward-thinking estate managers, gamekeepers and the conservation organisations who we work with across the uplands.
“Our hen harrier work is carried out in partnership with others who join us in celebrating this year’s success. We want everyone to have the opportunity to see these majestic birds in our skies over the coming years. We still have a lot of work to do to make that happen, but we are committed to helping this magnificent bird recover.”
A summary of bird of prey success stories from gamekeepers can be found below but the full report with more information and photographs can be found on the NGO Blog
Case studies: bird of prey success stories
Forest of Bowland, Lancashire – hen harriers and peregrine falcons
On the 15 July this year, it was confirmed that there were seven nests. One with seven chicks was sadly predated by a fox and two more nests failed for unknown reasons but it is also thought that these were also predated. In total, 12 harriers fledged with more chicks still on the ground.
Keepers in the Forest of Bowland have also been monitoring a peregrine nest site that caused concern due to its easy accessibility. The hen peregrine set up home on the ground to rear her four chicks: three females and one male.
Peak District, Derbyshire – merlin, peregrine and goshawks
The latest figures from the Dark Peak show 15 successful merlin nests producing 50+ fledged chicks, six successful peregrine nests producing 14 fledged chicks and seven goshawks producing 17 young.
A further two historic nest sites have been used this year in the Dark Peak. Both nested and chicks successfully fledged. Both nest sites were within 70 yards of what, in a normal year, is one of the busiest footpaths in England, but due to Covid-19 lockdown and the lack of visitors using the footpaths they have successfully reared and fledged young.
Yorkshire Dales – merlin and hen harriers
In the Yorkshire Dales, there is a large-scale merlin study which is in its fourth year with some great success. This will spread across into Nidderdale in spring 2021.
Jack Orchel, Coordinator of the Yorkshire Dales Merlin Project, said:
“Since 2016, a group of moorland gamekeepers has been monitoring Merlin nest sites on several estates in the Yorkshire Dales National Park. Participants in this British Trust for Ornithology (BTO) licensed study, led by an experienced Merlin researcher, found 19 ground-nesting pairs in 2020 of which 16 bred successfully and reared at least 52 chicks. The mean brood size per successful pair was 3.25 young. This raptor conservation project has identified more than 30 heather-dominated moorland areas where merlins have nested during the past 5 years.”
At least two nests of harriers, using brood management, have been used a second year running helping to spread harriers out across the Dales.
There has also been some great work getting children out to help build owl and kestrel boxes which have been put up across the Dales and we work with local raptor groups to who ring and monitor both species.
Wiltshire – barn owls, kestrels, sparrow hawks and buzzards
A gamekeeper in Wiltshire has been putting up nest boxes across the estate with records going back 20 years. This year, barn owls, tawny owls, kestrels, sparrow hawks, buzzards, red kite, peregrine and hobbies are among the birds of prey that successfully co-habit, and breed, on the estate. Each year, the British Trust for Ornithology ring the birds.
The full report on the hen harrier breeding numbers from Natural England can be found here.