Over 100 Hen Harriers take flight in England for the first time in a century | Conservation

Nearly 120 rare hen harrier chicks have fledged in England this year, the highest number for more than a century, the English conservation agency said.

Natural England and partners have recorded 119 Hen Harrier chicks successfully fledging from nests across the highlands of County Durham, Cumbria, Lancashire, Northumberland and Yorkshire. A baby bird is a young bird that has grown enough to acquire its initial flight feathers and is preparing to leave the nest and take care of itself.

It is the first time in more than a century that the number added to the population has exceeded 100 young birds, the agency said.

But conservation experts have warned that work must continue to tackle the illegal persecution of England’s most endangered bird of prey, which hunts willow ptarmigan chicks to feed their young, bringing them into conflict with commercial shooting ranges.

One month old hen harrier chicks in the north of England.
One month old hen harrier chicks in the north of England. Photograph: Owen Humphreys/PA

Hen Harriers have been protected since the 1950s.

Natural England Chairman Tony Juniper said: “It is very encouraging to see the progress made this year in the recovery of this majestic species, pushing the number of fledges to over 100 for the first time in more than 100 years. ‘a century.

“This is a testament to the dedication of the volunteers, landowners and staff of all of our partner organizations who work so hard to protect, support and monitor these vulnerable birds.

“Despite this year’s success, we clearly still have a long way to go to see Northern Harrier numbers really return to where they would naturally be without illegal persecution – with many birds sadly still missing.

“We are committed to continuing to work with our partners to reduce rates of persecution and achieve long-term permanent recovery.”

Hen harrier breeding populations in England reached a nadir in 2013, when no chicks managed to fledge.

After eight chicks fledged in 2016, there have now been six successive years of increase, with 49 nests recorded in 2022, 34 of which have successfully produced chicks.

Lancashire remains a stronghold for birds, with 18 nests recorded in Bowland, while there were nine nests in Northumberland, 10 in the Yorkshire Dales and Nidderdale, seven in the North Pennines and five in the Peak District.

A spokesman for the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds said: “We welcome the news from Natural England that this year Hen Harriers had their most successful breeding season and we are proud of the contribution of our teams to this success through the protection of nests, restoration efforts and habitat monitoring.

“However, the risk of these young birds being illegally killed after leaving the safety of their nests remains very real. That’s why we’re calling on the UK government to provide resources to support the conservation of Northern Harriers and ensure that existing wildlife protection laws are better enforced.

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