One of our rarest birds of prey is being thrown a lifeline through a new proposal to reintroduce the hen harrier Circus cyaneus to a site on Salisbury Plain in Wiltshire and the NGO is firmly committed to ensure the projects success.

The southern hen harrier reintroduction project in Wiltshire is being co-ordinated by Natural England on behalf of Defra and follows a lengthy battle to save this bird from extinction in the north of England.  This latest project is the culmination of a six-point recovery plan for hen harriers initiated by the Department for Environment, Farming and Rural Affairs (Defra), which includes the reintroduction of birds to locations in the south of England.

Countryside organisations such as the National Gamekeepers Organisation (NGO) will play an important role in supporting the project and Nick Stiff, Chairman of the Wiltshire branch of the NGO will sit on the steering committee.  Nick will be joined on the committee by local farmers and landowners, who will influence, advise and share best practice to help reverse the decline of these precious birds.

Nick Stiff from the NGO said, “The southern hen harrier reintroduction project in Wiltshire is a very exciting project. This is a pivotal time for the hen harriers, and we hope that in the near future we will see this fantastic bird of prey soaring above the hills and valleys of Wiltshire and surrounding counties.  It has been a long journey to get to this stage but we believe this collaborative approach will give hen harriers the best chance of recovery on a national basis.”

Hen harriers have suffered catastrophic declines in their natural habitats on moorland areas in Britain, with persecution being cited as a factor in their decline. However, last year hen harriers had their most successful breeding season in England for over a decade.

Liam Bell, National Chairman of the NGO said, “The NGO is firmly committed to end illegal persecution.  It has no place in modern gamekeeping and as a group, we are working with Natural England to ensure the success of this reintroduction project. We have already seen a dramatic rise in other birds of prey such as buzzards and red kite and we have learnt to work in harmony with them and the same will apply to hen harriers.”

Over five years the project aims to reintroduce up to 20 birds a year from donor sites in Spain and France, where arable habitats are similar to those in southern England.   This will be the first year that birds will be reintroduced but as Natural England recognises the birds are very vulnerable to natural hazards and so it will take a while to ensure that a healthy population is established.

Natural England recognises that this project is not an easy option because the birds  are notoriously poor survivors in their first year with natural mortality affecting about seven out of every ten birds. However, they have carried out extensive feasibility studies in order to do everything possible to save these majestic birds from extinction, especially as the hen harrier is one of our top avian predators and they form an important part of our eco-system..

Unfortunately, not everyone agrees that this is a good idea.  The RSPB for instance, is opposed to the scheme, and will not support the reintroduction project in Wiltshire, despite having previously reintroduced other rare birds of prey such as red kite.

Liam Bell, said, “We are all extremely disappointed not to have the collaboration of the RSPB in this project, Working together with a wide range of organisations is the only way we will save this species.”

He continues, “It behests us all to give these birds a fighting chance.  Gamekeepers have an important role to play in helping to deliver the hen harrier action plan, which at this early stage highlights how collaboration between a wide-range of organisations can lead to extremely successful outcomes. Our wildlife is a crucial part of our national identity and we care deeply about protecting this vital species for future generations to come. We look forward to the day when they take their rightful place with other spectacular birds of prey across the country.”


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.



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