Details of 4th English hen harrier nest revealed

Older female hen harrier credit T Birch Derbyshire Wildlife TrustA press release has been issued to announce the discovery of a fourth active hen harrier nest in England this year.

The nest was discovered on National Trust land in Derbyshire’s Upper Derwent Valley in August and was found to contain five healthy chicks, which have now fledged.

Read the full press release on the Peak District Raptor Monitoring Group’s website here.

In part, this is a good news story. In fact, in part, it’s a very good news story. These are the first hen harriers to successfully breed in the Peak District in eight years, and ironically, the nest site wasn’t far from the location of the Hen Harrier Day gathering on 10th August; had it been better weather, we might have had the rare opportunity to see one of the adults flying overhead. That would have been quite something!

What makes it a very good news story though are the circumstances of the nest discovery. According to the press release, the nest was found and then reported by someone called Geoff Eyre. This name might ring a bell for some readers – Mr Eyre was the shooting tenant on the National Trust’s Howden Moor in 2011 and had employed gamekeeper Glenn Brown, who was subsequently convicted of operating an illegal cage trap on the moor. Mr Eyre, who was not implicated in the criminal activities of his gamekeeper, was nevertheless at the receiving end of some less-than-complimentary comments by the judge at Brown’s trial, including the following:

I found Mr Eyre on occasion to be evasive in his evidence. He seemed reluctant to give a direct answer to questions. He is a man who clearly distrusts RSPB officials and singled out Mark Thomas [RSPB Investigator] in particular. He cites the issue of the dead falcon in 2006 as the basis for that together with a vague assertion of misleading press releases. He told me that the results of the post mortem of the dead falcon in 2006 had never been released to him although he had paid for the investigation and then had to concede that he had not in fact done so“. [To read the full judgement notes from the trial click here].

Why is this relevant now? Well, Mr Eyre reported this year’s harrier nest to the recently-formed Peak District Bird of Prey Initiative – a partnership of organisations including the RSPB (as well as the National Trust, Moorland Association, Natural England and the Peak District National Park Authority) which was established in 2011 to try and address concerns about unnaturally small raptor populations in the region. That’s got to be seen as very welcome progress and an indication that trust can be rebuilt, at least in some circumstances.

So why would we consider this only partly a good news story? Well, that depends on your perspective. If you look at this successful breeding attempt at a local scale then of course, it’s excellent and very welcome news  and ALL the partners involved in the monitoring and protection of the nest deserve recognition for their efforts. But what about at a national scale? This successful breeding attempt brings the grand total of known breeding harriers in England this year to four pairs. Not three, as we had previously thought, but four.

Count them. One, two, three, four.

Four successful pairs in the entire English uplands which have been estimated to have the capacity for 330 pairs.

Those four pairs represent just over 1% of the estimated potential hen harrier breeding population.

That’s a lot of ‘missing’ hen harriers. 98-and-a-bit% of the English hen harrier breeding population is ‘missing’.

That’s not a figure we think to be worthy of celebration.

However, according to DEFRA’s response to Mark Avery’s petition to ban driven grouse shooting, “It is encouraging to learn that there are four hen harrier nests this year which have chicks, given that in 2013 there were no known hen harrier fledglings in England“.

Encouraging‘? How about embarrassing? How about shameful? How about an apology for failing this so-called protected species?

Some of this year’s fledglings have been fitted with satellite tags – will their journeys be made public, including those whose signals un-mysteriously stop transmitting when the birds visit a driven grouse moor? It’s been 12 years since Natural England started tracking hen harriers (partly paid for by us taxpayers) – we’re still waiting to see the full results.

 Photograph of one of the Peak District hen harrier chicks by T. Birch (Derbyshire Wildlife Trust).

9 Responses to “Details of 4th English hen harrier nest revealed”

  1. September 4, 2014 at 10:22 am

    Great piece of news regarding a 4th breeding pair of harriers in England this year – very well done Geoff Eyre for reporting this finding.

  2. September 4, 2014 at 2:01 pm

    ..and its always worth remembering that hen harriers are partial migrants..there must be many scottish bred birds which end up dead on english grouse moors, for your breeding figures to be so low…[and yes, of course we have our own severe harrier persecution problems on scottish moors too!]

  3. 3 Ash
    September 4, 2014 at 5:43 pm

    This is great news so lets us be happy & hope it remains so!

  4. September 4, 2014 at 6:22 pm

    Geoff Eyre has set a splendid example for other moorland managers. Congratulations!

  5. 5 secret shooter
    September 4, 2014 at 7:16 pm

    Just so that I don’t end up with a bad reputation, have to say that I am in complete agreement with the sentiments of this blog. Yes I agree there are not enough breeding hen harriers in England, yes many thanks to Geof Eyres for reporting the breeding pair and well done to everybody involved in the Peak District Bird of prey initiative. Really good news story and one I hope can be repeated in the future.

  6. 7 Me
    September 8, 2014 at 10:33 pm

    Do we really need to attached “trackers” to our endangered Raptors.I just feel we’re playing into the hands of the low life who kill Raptors and other wild life all for the sake of making sure the ‘freaks’ can have a jolly good day out betting on who will blast the most defenseless birds out of the sky as they flee from their cover in the heather.

  7. 8 keen birder.
    September 12, 2014 at 10:00 am

    Of course we do need to put trackers on them,to find out where they move to, where the trackers come to a sudden end, where they birds return to, communal roosting, and finding and watching their nests if they survive to breed. It has been done with cuckoos, woodcock and ospreys revealing useful information.

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