Earlier this year one of our regular followers submitted the following question to Natural England regarding the future of the hen harrier in England:
The question was:
What future has the hen harrier in England? As it is now extinct as a breeding bird what does Natural England propose to do or does a review not cover the species is it too controversial due to the complete failure of the past recovery project.
A response from Adrian Jowitt Principle Advisor at Natural England to my question has been enclosed below:
We would welcome comments from our followers, for example does what Natural England propose go far enough? Is there any point in conducting further talks with the shooting fraternity? After all it has now been a decade since these talks were initiated, and the result after hundreds of thousands of pounds of tax payers money spent, we are left with one viable pair of hen harrier in the Lake District National Park.
Adrian Jowitt reply:
Firstly we are aware of rumours that the single Hen Harrier nest in England this year has failed but these have turned out to be incorrect. At the time of writing those overseeing the monitoring of this pair report that the nest is still active and indeed chicks have now been ringed and fitted with satellite tags.
As you will be aware Natural England have worked on Hen Harriers through the Hen Harrier Recovery Project since 2002. The initial findings of this monitoring and research work have been published in a report which is available on our website:
Further work will be published in the future as part of an ongoing PhD project. This work has helped to clarify the main factors responsible for the current poor status of the Hen Harrier population, as set out in the report. Work involving the use of radio and satellite tags has demonstrated just how mobile this species is and has shown that it will be necessary to provide favourable conditions for this species over a wide area in order to effectively protect the population. The protection of a small number of isolated sites is unlikely to be sufficient because the birds face threats away from these sites when they are hunting for food or moving between areas used at different times of the year.
Natural England has and continues to monitor the small population in Northern England and study the movements of the remaining birds, we are also committed to the Environment Council dialogue process which involves key stakeholders with an interest in Hen Harriers and grouse shooting and seeks a solution that will allow the current population to increase. Natural England contributes to the Langholm Moor Demonstration Project which seeks to trial potential solutions such as diversionary feeding of Hen harriers during the breeding season. This approach has shown considerable promise in limiting the predation of grouse and so reducing the conflict between Hen Harriers and driven grouse shooting but further research is required.
You specifically asked about what the future for the hen harrier in England was. The elements of the recovery project outlined above have all now started to yield results in terms of the evidence about what is required and possible solutions/ways forward. No one single solution is likely to bring about an upturn in the fortune of Hen Harriers on its own and therefore a recovery plan will need to have a number of different components. This is a very live issue and we are currently working with Defra to agree a plan of action that incorporates some of the outputs from the existing work and looks to take forward some possible solutions. We remain confident that it is possible to put a programme of work into place that can result in positive outcomes for the hen Harrier.
Adrian Jowitt Principle Advisor at Natural England