Book review: The Hen Harrier’s Year by Ian Carter & Dan Powell

For anyone who wants to learn more about the life history and ecology of the hen harrier, but has been put off by dry, academic scripts, this is the book for you.

Ian Carter has done a wonderful job of assimilating the scientific knowledge about the hen harrier and presenting it in such an engaging format that you’re left deciding whether to turn the page or grab your coat to go in search of this precious species.

The book’s title is an accurate reflection of the content, explaining what the hen harrier is likely to be doing during each month of the year. The text is beautifully and copiously illustrated by Dan Powell’s watercolours, with additional field notes from Dan.

No book about the hen harrier would be complete without a commentary on the illegal persecution it suffers at the hands of the grouse-shooting industry and Ian provides a good overview of this with a whole chapter entitled ‘Conflict on the Grouse Moor’, cleverly sandwiched between the months of June and July when young hen harriers should be fledging and dispersing had their parents not been targeted by the gamekeepers.

As an aside, prior to this book the main text available for those seeking to learn about the hen harrier was Donald Watson’s classic Poyser monograph, published in 1977, where he, too, wrote about the illegal persecution wrought on this species. It’s very telling that 45 years later, the carnage continues and at such a scale that Ian’s figures on it are already out of date:

Since 2018, more than 50 birds have been killed or have disappeared in suspicious circumstances (based on reliable data from their tags)” (p.99).

Presumably Ian wrote this text in 2021. One year later and the current number of hen harriers known to have been killed or to have disappeared in suspicious circumstances is 72 (see here).

I’ve followed Ian on Twitter for several years and have admired his clarity of thought and reasoning. This book mirrors that style and he writes with the understated, gentle authority of someone who’s not only read widely, but has also spent time in the field. His description of the ‘appealing ritual’ of attending a communal winter roost in search of harriers in December (p.145-147) will resonate with those who have congregated on the bone-chilling edges of saltwater mashes and fens in the hope of catching a glimpse of the elusive grey ghost.

The Hen Harrier’s Year by Ian Carter and Dan Powell is now available from Pelagic Publishing (here) for £26.

3 thoughts on “Book review: The Hen Harrier’s Year by Ian Carter & Dan Powell”

  1. I too like Ian’s writing and have several of his previous efforts including the Red Kite’s Year, which I thoroughly enjoyed. So I have ordered this latest book both for those reasons and as many will know my obsession with Hen Harriers, I’m sure it’ll be an interesting read.

  2. Will be getting this book as someone you really like Hen Harriers and all types of Harriers and a winter roost watcher I am always looking to learn more about Hen Harriers.

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