Hen harriers breed on grouse moor in Peak District National Park

Press release from the National Trust, 3 July 2018:

Welcome return of the skydancer to the High Peak

One of Britain’s most threatened birds, the hen harrier, has bred on the National Trust’s High Peak Moors in the Peak District National Park, for the first time in four years.

The four chicks are said to be in a ‘healthy condition’ after hatching just a few days ago on land managed by the conservation charity.

[Photo of the 4 hen harrier chicks from National Trust website]

The hen harrier is one of the most special birds of the British uplands and is famed for the adult’s mesmerising and dramatic ‘sky dance’, which the male performs as it seeks to attract a female.

We’re delighted to learn of this nest” said Jon Stewart, the National Trust’s General Manager for the Peak District.

The hen harrier has been one of the most illegally persecuted birds of prey in Britain for many years and we have set out on a mission to work with others to create the conditions for the harrier and other birds of prey to thrive once again in the uplands.

We hope this will be a positive model for improving the fate of our birds of prey and providing the healthy natural environment that so many people care about and want to see”.

In 2013 the Trust published its High Peak Moors Vision, which put at its heart restoring wildlife, including birds of prey, and involving people in the care of the moors.

The conservation charity leases much of its High Peak moorland for grouse shooting and all shooting tenants have signed up to actively supporting the Vision.  As well as the hen harrier, initial signs are promising this year for other species such as the peregrine falcon, merlin and short eared owl.

It is critical the birds are now given the space and security to rear their young without the threat of disturbance or worse.” Jon continued, “The Trust will be working with its partners and tenants to give the birds the best chance of success. We are also working with the RSPB EU-funded Hen Harrier LIFE project to fit satellite tags to the chicks so that we can monitor their movements and learn more to inform the conservation of this very special bird. There is a great sense from everyone closely involved that we want this to work not just for these birds now, but as a symbol for the whole future direction of our uplands.  Uplands that are richer in wildlife and beauty, widely enjoyed and providing huge public benefits.”


This is very encouraging news indeed. It’s early days, of course, but the fact the harriers have been ‘allowed’ to settle for a breeding attempt is a vast improvement in this part of the Peak District National Park, where two years ago we reported on an armed gamekeeper using a decoy hen harrier in what was widely believed to be an attempt to attract in, and then shoot, any prospecting hen harriers (see here).

As a direct result of that video footage, the National Trust bowed to public pressure and pulled the lease from the shooting tenant (see here) and earlier this year new tenants were installed on several moors in the area (see here).

Let’s hope these chicks are ‘allowed’ to fledge, without any brood meddling from Natural England, without being stamped on by neighbouring gamekeepers, without the adult male being shot while away hunting, and without the nest receiving any disturbance from well-intentioned birdwatchers.

It’s also good to see that if they do fledge, the chicks will be satellite-tagged by the RSPB’s Hen Harrier LIFE Project and not by Natural England, so we might just get some information about their fate.


6 Responses to “Hen harriers breed on grouse moor in Peak District National Park”

  1. 1 The Fire General
    July 3, 2018 at 11:55 am

    Good news, but I’d rather see the NT not allowing the despicable ‘sport’ of driven grouse shooting on its land at all, what with all the other well documented ills that moorland management for this ‘sport’ brings.

  2. 2 Nigel
    July 3, 2018 at 3:15 pm

    Fantastic news for a change, I just hope they survive!

  3. 3 Andrew Kelly
    July 3, 2018 at 4:58 pm

    Good to get some good news. EU funded tagging – I wonder if Michael Gove will sign up to continue that?

  4. 4 Ros berrington
    July 4, 2018 at 4:56 pm

    I am very happy to hear this news.However,I find it very hard to accept that the National Trust can be so delighted on the one hand,whilst still allowing driven Grouse shooting on their land on the other.The correlation between D.G.shooting and the disappearance of our Hen Harriers is beyond question.Come on National Trust,take a stand.You will not have my support or many others until you do.

  5. 5 matthew dalby
    July 5, 2018 at 12:25 pm

    Given that some NT land in the High Peak Moors area is not managed for driven grouse shooting, I wonder if the birds are actually nesting on a grouse moor. Obviously the location of the nest can’t be made public, but once the chicks have fledged will the NT say if the nest was or wasn’t on a driven grouse moor?

  6. 6 Iain Gibson
    July 6, 2018 at 3:13 am

    Far be it for me to put a damper on what is good news locally, but it’s hard to appreciate the positive spin when one pair of harriers returns to the Peak District National Park. The current status of Hen Harrier in the UK, especially in England and parts of Scotland, continues to be a national disgrace. We often speak of a single persecution incident as being the tip of the iceberg, which is almost certainly the case, but one pair returning to the High Peak is hardly a sign of wider recovery of the species. It’s realistic to speculate that the male might ‘disappear’ while away from the nest on a hunting trip, but that doesn’t imply that the female and her young are safe. There appears to be a notion, often shared by birdwatchers and gamekeepers to some extent, that harriers remain faithful to and don’t venture far from the nest vicinity. The truth is that as the chicks grow in the nest, the female will frequently fly off some distance to hunt for prey. Then within two weeks of the young fledging, they too start to wander over a far wider foraging range. The whole family, especially inexperienced juveniles, are then at risk from the keepers’ gun. As autumn sets in and the birds disperse widely, not just on moorlands, they can all become susceptible to being shot by gamekeepers and ‘marsh cowboys’ alike. My point is that while we should be encouraged by every nesting success, we must remain alert to the fact that harriers are under threat all year round, wherever they may roam. To most of those familiar with harrier behaviour this might seem obvious, but I can’t help but notice that not all conservationists are aware of their partial migrant status. Just like SNH seems to require educating about those ‘marauding’ flocks of immature Ravens, which travel far and wide in search of optimal food supplies, including high field vole populations. The Perthshire Raven cull could in effect be creating a sink situation, which could easily lead to culls being extended to far wider areas. As a supposedly intelligent society, we have a lot to learn. As harrier conservationists, we have only really just started the process of restoring the species, thanks mainly to the many key activists, RSPB, Raptor Study Groups, and RPUK.

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