The National Trust is celebrating two successful hen harrier breeding attempts in the Peak District National Park this year, in what it describes as ‘the most successful year for hen harrier breeding in the Peak District for over a decade‘.
Here is a press release issued by the National Trust this morning:
National Trust records most successful year for hen harrier breeding in the Peak District for over a decade
Seven hen harriers have successfully fledged from multiple nests on National Trust land in the High Peak, making 2022 the most successful year for hen harrier breeding on land cared for by the conservation charity in the Peak District for over a decade, despite two nest failures earlier this year.
[Hen harrier chicks, photo by Tim Melling]
The National Trust, RSPB and Peak District Raptor Group have been working closely together to encourage more birds of prey to live and thrive in the Peak District, by protecting birds currently living there, whilst also creating rich feeding and nesting grounds.
Work undertaken by the Trust includes cutting heather to allow a more diverse range of moorland plants such as sphagnum moss, bilberry and cottongrass to grow, which helps attract the different insects and small mammals which the birds rely upon for food. The charity is also working closely with tenants to ensure their land management practices support the vision for more birds of prey in the area.
Craig Best, General Manager of the National Trust in the Peak District said: “A great deal of work has gone into encouraging more breeding pairs of these majestic birds to the Peak District, so this is brilliant news.
“The presence of the birds indicates a plentiful and healthy food source, which shows the work we have done so far to improve the landscape is starting to provide ideal conditions for different species to thrive. However, we want to see more of these important birds of prey in the High Peak, as they play an important role in creating the right ecological balance in the landscape. That is why it is crucial that we continue to work together to achieve our aim of growing the population of birds of prey in the area and doing everything we can to prevent persecution.”
Mark Thomas, Head of investigations at the RSPB said:
“Despite the suspicious loss of two hen harrier nests in this area earlier in the season [Ed: see here] we are delighted that further pairs have bred successfully and raised youngsters. This is a validation of the National Trust’s Moorland Vision, and a testament to the partnership work being undertaken to ensure hen harriers and other species flourish in our uplands. Hen harriers are protected by law – yet a government study in 2019 identified criminal persecution by humans as the main factor suppressing the UK hen harrier population. The Dark Peak is sadly one of the worst areas in the UK for raptor persecution, for this reason we will be keeping a close eye on the continuing survival of the chicks that have been tagged this year.”
To help monitor the birds progress and to aid understanding of the species, the birds have also been fitted with tracking tags by the RSPB and Natural England. The National Trust also works with the local Raptor Monitoring Group.
Mike Price from the Peak District Raptor Monitoring Group said: “A mild winter, good prey availability and the fine weather during the nesting period have no doubt all contributed to what appears to be a successful year for breeding Hen Harriers both locally and nationally. It is another step along the journey to get a self-sustaining breeding population of Hen Harriers established in the area. Now the birds have fledged, the birds will face further threats, so we need to continue to work together to remain vigilant and do all we can to protect them.”
Visitors and local residents can help with conservation efforts by staying on footpaths and keeping dogs on leads during ground nesting bird season, which lasts from the beginning of March to the end of July.
When two nests inside a National Park are deemed a cause for celebration, and they amount to ‘the most successful breeding year for over a decade‘, you get a good idea of just how dire the situation is for hen harriers inside a National Park that has sufficient habitat and prey to host many, many more pairs.
The last time two hen harrier nests were successful on National Trust land in the Peak District National Park was back in 2006, fledging ten chicks. But those two nests were only ‘successful’ because a team of 40+ volunteers provided 24-hour-round-the-clock protection and supplementary feeding after the two breeding males ‘disappeared’ in suspicious circumstances (see here). Shockingly, they were only the second and third pairs to nest there in 140 years!
The National Trust was praised in 2016 when it terminated the shooting lease on one of its moors after video evidence emerged of an armed gamekeeper laying in wait next to a decoy hen harrier, presumably with the intention of luring in a live harrier and shooting it at close range (see here and here).
But despite that bold move by the National Trust, the suspected persecution of hen harriers in this National Park continues.
In 2018, a young satellite-tagged hen harrier called Octavia ‘disappeared’ in suspicious circumstances on a privately-owned grouse moor in the Peak District National Park (here).
In 2021, a displaying pair of hen harriers ‘disappeared’ in suspicious circumstances on another privately-owned grouse moor in the Peak District National Park (see here).
In February this year, another satellite-tagged hen harrier ‘disappeared’ in suspicious circumstances on another privately-owned grouse moor, neighbouring the grouse moor where Octavia vanished 4 years earlier (see here).
In May this year, two active hen harrier nests were abandoned on a National Trust-leased moor after the suspicious disappearance of two more breeding males, leaving ten eggs to chill and die (see here).
So actually, the news that two hen harrier nests have been successful this year on National Trust land inside the Peak District National Park goes against all the odds and for that, the National Trust, the Peak District Raptor Monitoring Group and the RSPB deserve to celebrate. However, as is emphasised in the National Trust press release, the seven fledglings are still not safe and face ongoing threats both inside the National Park and beyond.
Let’s see how long it takes before they feature on this sobering list of 70 (so far) hen harriers illegally killed or vanished in suspicious circumstances in the UK since 2018.
UPDATE 24th August 2022: Excellent BBC regional news coverage of hen harrier persecution & conservation in Peak District National Park (here)