In preparation for this year’s breeding season, the RSPB is looking to hire six people to work as part of an overnight nest protection scheme for any hen harrier breeding attempts in northern England.
It’s a pretty sad indictment that in 2017, even with the Government’s so-called Hen Harrier Action Plan in place, hen harrier nests still need 24-hour protection to stand any chance of being successful. And even with this round-the-clock nest security, the birds are still vulnerable to being killed while away from the nest on a foraging trip – five breeding males ‘disappeared’ in 2015 while away from their nests, resulting in failed breeding attempts.
The six roles are expected to be located in Northumberland, Cumbria or Lancashire, with the tiniest of tiny chances of also being in Yorkshire and Derbyshire (don’t hold your breath). But let’s be honest, given the grouse shooting industry’s abject hatred and intolerance of this species, and the wide range of options available to them to ‘get rid’ (shooting, pole traps, decoys, poisoning, gas guns, banger ropes, baited spring traps, inflatable screeching scarecrows, nest burning, ice cubes placed on eggs, putting terriers in to nests, chick trampling), with little prospect of being caught, we’ll be lucky to see any breeding attempts this year away from Forestry Commission (Northumberland) and RSPB (Cumbria) land.
And if we do see any breeding attempts away from these safe areas, the chances are those nests will be subjected to brood meddling (due to begin this year) so any eggs/chicks will be removed, reared in captivity and then released back in to the uplands just in time for the opening of the grouse shooting season. Their chance of survival? Virtually nil. Hopefully they’ll all be fitted with satellite transmitters and hopefully the public will be allowed to see these birds’ movements, although the reality is that this information, if being handled by Natural England, will be kept secret and away from public scrutiny.
At least we know that if any hen harriers breed successfully again this year on Forestry Commission and /or RSPB land, that the nests won’t be subjected to brood meddling and that the offspring will be fitted with satellite transmitters by the RSPB (paid for with funds raised via LUSH Skydancer bathbombs) and the public will be kept updated via this website on what happens to those young birds.
The closing date for applications for the role of Overnight Nest Protection staff is 27 Feb (next Monday).
Hen harrier breeding attempts in England, 2005-2016 (data source: RSPB)