Perspective required as National Trust celebrates two successful hen harrier nests in Peak District National Park

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.

ENDS

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)

10 thoughts on “Perspective required as National Trust celebrates two successful hen harrier nests in Peak District National Park”

  1. It would be churlish to contrast the two successful nests with the total number of nests that should have fledged young in that area this year, wouldn’t it? Go on, be churlish!

  2. About time too ! The NT has frequently looked keener on the relatively trivial income from shooting leases than it’s conservation duty.

  3. Further perspective. Seven fledglings from two nests. Great work.
    But how many are the ‘multiple’ nests they speak of? Could be three or thirty three.
    Figures please NT. Presumably the local raptor group will also know the number.
    Glad they have all been tagged…….although they didn’t include the word ‘all’. Was it all? Very ambiguous wording and we know these tags are expensive.

  4. No doubt we will soon get the Bullshit about how they have made sure Harriers are doing well on grouse moors from the tweedy brigade. We all know that is they are in many ways still the problem and certainly where just a few years ago. We need to ask them how many private estates without brood meddling had successful nests. Given that most successes are on Forestry land, United Utilities land in Bowland with RSPB wardening, tenanted land elsewhere and land with brood meddling, so exactly how many private estates without fiddling or feeding are contributing to these successes, few I suspect.

  5. There was a very sobering report on the news today- Dugong’s are now extinct in China despite all the conservation work taking place right across the world to protect endangered species.

    This should be a wakeup call for humanity and in particular politicians who are empowered with the ability to introduce legislation which can offer real protection to rare and endangered species.

    It is absolutely absurd that in the UK we have created National Parks for the protection of the environment, habitat and wildlife and yet criminal activity within those National Parks goes virtually unchecked resulting in the illegal persecution of Hen Harriers, Golden Eagles, Goshawks and other bird of prey species.

    There has been a lot of research into the plight of the Hen Harrier, and the fact remains illegal persecution remains one of the biggest threats they face.

    It is inexcusable that politicians are not listening to the science and enacting meaningful legislation to properly protect Hen Harriers (and other birds of prey), especially within National Parks, AONB’s etc.

    The fact that every year satellite tagged Hen Harriers (Golden Eagles etc ) go missing in circumstances which indicate foul play should be enough to suspend game shooting on the suspected rogue estates within the vicinity of where the bird went missing.
    There really does have to be real momentum to remove these rogue estates, as their existence really isn’t fair to those landowners who are genuinely working to protect nature.

    (As proof- I was out on the moors yesterday, and despite a grouse shoot taking place I still saw Red kites, Buzzards, Kestrels and possibly a pair of Hen Harriers- too far away to positively id – but their behaviour was consistent with Hen Harriers- so this appears to show that a well managed estate where criminal activity is not tolerated can play a vital part in nature recovery)

    If a person is convicted of illegal persecution against a Harrier, or any other “Red” listed bird then the minimum sentence should be 3 years in prison, with a lifetime ban on possession of firearms.
    ( I would also enact legislation to properly protect Curlew’s and other red listed birds- so if a person through careless or reckless acts destroys a red listed birds nest- they would go to prison!)
    Do we have to drive these birds to extinction before we wake up and realise that continuing as we are is no longer acceptable?

    What has happened to the Dugong in China should be a reminder to us all, that this planet isn’t solely for the benefit of humans and their irrational greed for consumerism, economic growth and expansion.
    Nature has intrinsic value. Value that needs properly protecting.
    Conservation work is one side of a coin.
    The other side has to be severe penalties for those who commit acts which undermine that conservation work through deliberate, reckless or careless behaviour.
    There is no excuse in 2022 for any species to go extinct.
    Some amazing scientists have studied most of the worlds wildlife, and have explained in very simple terms, terms that even the most dim witted politician can understand as to what needs to be done to properly protect these species.

    So in my mind 2 successful Hen Harrier nests in the Peak District National Park is not something which should be celebrated, but should be a reminder of the woeful state of one of the Uk’s most endangered birds, and the fact that politicians the length of breadth of the country have persistently failed to do anything about it!

    1. “It is absolutely absurd that in the UK we have created National Parks for the protection of the environment, habitat and wildlife and yet criminal activity within those National Parks goes virtually unchecked resulting in the illegal persecution of Hen Harriers, Golden Eagles, Goshawks and other bird of prey species.” and

      “It is inexcusable that politicians are not listening to the science and enacting meaningful legislation to properly protect Hen Harriers (and other birds of prey), especially within National Parks, AONB’s etc”

      So, did you respond to the recent comprehensive Government consultation on future legislation for our National Parks, AONBs etc?

  6. Successful partnership working shouldn’t be judged on the number of hen harriers that fledge in any given year, but on the number of fledglings that go on to fledge their own chicks. It’s irrelevant how many birds fledge if the vast majority of them are illegally killed in their first year.

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