Lottery Funding provided to help Hen Harriers on England’s Uplands.

[singlepic id=250 w=318 h=450 float=left]2011 skydancers given wings. Heritage lottery fund backs innovative upland bird of prey project. The Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) has awarded the RSPB a grant of over £300,000 to help secure the future of the hen harrier as a breeding bird in England (see note 1). This grant of £317,700 will help fund “Skydancers”, an exciting and ambitious four-year project aimed at protecting and conserving nesting hen harriers in the English uplands.

“Skydancers” differs from other bird of prey protection projects as it will not only deliver direct conservation work but also an innovative programme of community activities on an unprecedented scale. An important part of Northern England’s upland heritage, hen harriers are graceful birds of prey, best known for their aerobatic spring courtship displays, known as skydancing, and the spectacular passing of food from males to females while in flight.

Sadly, this spectacle is all too rare a sight in the English uplands owing to the ongoing illegal killing and disturbance of hen harriers (see note 2). A recent government-commissioned report – the Hen Harrier Conservation Framework – suggests that there is enough habitat for over 300 pairs in England, yet last year there were only seven successful nesting attempts (see note 3). The majority of these were on the United Utilities estate in the Forest of Bowland, in Lancashire, which remains this bird’s only English stronghold..[singlepic id=251 w=318 h=450 float=right]

Beginning in the autumn, “Skydancers” will work with volunteers across existing breeding sites in Bowland, Cumbria and Northumberland to protect and monitor any nests. A Skydancer Engagement Officer will work with RSPB staff and partners to develop and deliver a comprehensive programme of events and activities in these areas, aimed at enthusing and educating schoolchildren and local people about these remarkable upland birds.

The project will also enable the RSPB to listen to the views of local stakeholders such as land managers and work with them to enable a greater understanding of issues surrounding hen harriers, with a view to developing better ways to conserve them in the future.

[singlepic id=252 w=318 h=450 float=left]Ivor Crowther, Head of the Heritage Lottery Fund in the North East, said: “We are delighted to be able to support this project which will see these fascinating and rare birds put back on the map. Our natural heritage is something we should be very proud of and do our best to look after for the future and this project does exactly that. ”Amanda Miller, the RSPB’s Conservation Manager for Northern England, said: “It is fantastic that the Heritage Lottery Fund has stepped up for nature and given us the opportunity to build a greater awareness of this magnificent bird of prey and our wonderful British uplands. “We are really looking forward to forging strong new partnerships with local stakeholders to help conserve Northern England’s hen harrier population, as well as strengthen our relationships with our existing partners such as United Utilities and the Forestry Commission.

Notes: 1.

Using money raised through the National Lottery, the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) sustains and transforms a wide range of heritage for present and future generations to take part in, learn from and enjoy. From museums, parks and historic places to archaeology, natural environment and cultural traditions, we invest in every part of our diverse heritage. HLF has supported more than 30,000 projects allocating £4.5billion across the UK. Website:

Notes: 2.

The hen harrier is a red-listed species of high conservation concern. It is also listed as a Species of Principal Importance in England under Section 41 of the Natural Environment and Rural Communities (NERC) Act 2006.

Notes: 3.

The Hen Harrier Conservation Framework was published by the Joint Nature Conservation Committee (JNCC) in February 2011.

Notes: 4.

A survey last year found 646 territorial pairs of hen harrier in the UK and the Isle of Man, with 489 of these in Scotland.

18 comments to Lottery Funding provided to help Hen Harriers on England’s Uplands.

  • nirofo

    So that’s why the RSPB doesn’t want any outside interference, they don’t want anybody who knows too much to get in the way of their latest money making scheme!!! Now you know the real reason why NWRPG have been refused Schedule One disturbance licences for Bowland and UU estate, we had a similar thing happen to us in the far north of Scotland a few years ago.


    • Skydancer

      My thoughts exactly, as soon as I read this I realised the real reason behind Natural England’s treatment of valued field workers. Keep them out of Bowland by restricting their licenses, in that way the public will be less likely to be told about nest failures. This is an outrage and should be exposed now where ever possible.

      Now I am sure everyone reading this new article will understand completely why Natural England were so eager to dismiss the evidence of poor field practices and licence breached undertaken by RSPB volunteers enclosed within the “Suppress the Truth by Shooting the Messenger article”.

  • Mike Price

    Can’t help but feel they would have been better to support the UK’s raptor groups with funding for projects to benefit all of our protected raptors, all the work is done for free so 100% of the funds would have been invested in the protection of the birds.

    A couple of stealth camera’s, continuation of the DNA scheme and more satalite tagging and/or radio tagging and monitoring, would of been a massive deterent to anyone wishing the birds harm

  • What a waste of money to give to this organisation – the harriers will never feel (or see)the benefit of it in the long-term. These people are good at pleading poverty and the begging bowl appears to be out once again from a supposedly multi-million pound organisation – do they ever spend any of the members hard-earned money on conserving harriers and other birds, as this is what this body is supposed to stand for?

    The lottery fund would have been better off giving the money to the NWRPG, who are more dedicated to conserving these birds than the RSPB. Anyway, I thought lottery funding was only to be given to worthwhile projects like hospitals and vital medical treatment etc. etc. rather than giving it to a waste of space organisation like the RSPB? All they ever do is tell the public when it suits them, that harriers or corncrakes etc. are declining instead of using their initiative to conserve and look after them in the first place.

    You do not need the RSPB to tell people that harriers in particular are in decline – people have been consistently telling them that for a decade and what do they do or take on board – absolutely nothing !

    The Hen Harrier is one species that they themselves have done nothing for and washed their hands of decades and I doubt if they will start now as they might offend their posh residents on these estates and I hear they still tip their hats to them when they meet up with them. They have certainly stitched up the NWRPG good and proper – the real protector’s of Bowland’s Hen Harriers! What vile people !

  • paul williams

    I find this use of public money astonishing and would hope that at the end of the four year period with no increase in Hen Harriers to show for all this money spent, the RSPB will have decency to refund the full amount. After running for almost ten years, Natural England’s Hen Harrier Recovery Project, costing hundreds of thousands of pounds of TAX PAYERS money down the drain, has resulted in fewer Hen Harriers on England’s uplands compared to when this initiative began.

  • che of bowland

    Take the money, take away NWRPG’s license, new thatched roof at Titchwell Marsh, job done! How are the RSPB going to succeed where Natural England have failed so miserably.

  • Paul Risley

    I think its brilliant they’ve got this grant and I’m not disrespecting the NWRPG by saying this. If it weren’t for this group and the work they do in publicising the persecution that has taken place in Bowland there would be no Harriers there today. I also don’t believe for one minute that any of these guys are going to stop watching and reporting what goes on in Bowland just because they cant monitor the actual nest itself. That said and I know that most of you are anti RSPB and I’ve said this before, But I do think that the only way forward for Hen Harriers in Bowland now is by publicity and making them an attraction in the same way Osprey’s, Sea Eagles, Red Kites and City centre Peregrines have been treated. The money is there for them now to do a proper job, monitor the nests 24 hours from one centre, satellite tag the young, contact surrounding Estates and introduce diversionary feeding to stop conflicts of interest, put hides near these feeding stations for photographers. Incidentally, I was made aware of this web site by a birder who after reading about the work of the NWRPG was furious at the lack of involvement in Bowland by the RSPB. Surely this is a far better situation now for the Harriers than if they hadn’t received this money.

    • Skydancer

      Paul, your comments make a valued contribution to this on-going debate; let us just hope that the £317,000 given to the RSPB and the way it is used makes a difference. That said no one should forget Natural England’s Hen Harrier Recovery Scheme which has been in operation throughout the last decade has been a total flop despite the hundreds of thousands of pounds already spent. All pre-existing harriers which were located on the RSPB reserve at Geltsdale have now disappeared completely because of their persecution on the surrounding grouse moors. It is very important that no one is allowed to forget there are less breeding harriers on England’s upland now than before this project began.

      Making the harrier an attraction for the public like the peregrine, osprey and red kite is all well and good, but it would be suicidal to encourage hoards of people into any harrier territory to watch this magnificent raptor on its home turf in the breeding season. Harriers need piece and solitude not dozens of bird enthusiasts walking over the moors at such a critical period as this could do more harm than good. Diversionary feeding is not really an answer, it’s only a stop gap and really does nothing to address the real issues of persecution which is the main reason harriers have already disappeared from 99% of England’s grouse moors. If the current difficulties are to be resolved once and for all it will be essential to reach a satisfactory understanding and accommodation with moorland shooting estates in order to counter the persecution taking place first. Althought a sound idea, no amount of money spent on education is likely to turn the present situation around. In this case it’s really not the public who need educating, such a programme would be better directed against the persecutors instead. The facts are very simple in this equation, just like oil and water, red grouse and harriers do not mix. Moorland estate owners are not prepared to accept harriers on their grouse moors any time soon and any harriers that have the misfortune to enter private estates will continue to be shot on sight.

    • nirofo

      Quote: “making them an attraction in the same way Osprey’s, Sea Eagles, Red Kites and City centre Peregrines have been treated”

      You mean the attraction of the poisonings, trapping, shooting and any method you can think of to persecute these Raptors. Come on, get real, what difference has the handfull of publicly accessible Raptor watching sites made to the continuing murder of our so-called legally protected birds of prey in their isolated nesting areas where the only rule of wildlife law is via the gun and the bag of poison.

      The only thing this will achieve is a few extra pounds for the RSPB to use for their high profile visitor centres, where they can hoodwink the visitors with their vastly superior birding knowledge and sell their overpriced trashy goodies to people who don’t know any better.

      I could go along with this if the RSPB weren’t such hypocrites, they put it across to the general public that they are the saviours of our birds, whilst at the same time condoning the the continued slaughter of our Raptors via the estates etc, and championing the building of windfarms in environmentally sensitive sites under the misguided belief that they are environmentally friendly.

      The mind boggles !!!


  • Another saying, the proof will be in the pudding! When it comes to getting grant money especially of this size organisations have to come up with very good proposals, they pay people very good money to do the proposals, who have probably never witnessed Hen Harriers in the UK and in current conservation terms what a superb subject the Hen Harrier is for the RSPB to use to raise funds like this. As much as I think publicity can be helpful again the RSPB only want the publicity for their brand, to recruit members to make money! I’ve said this before groups like the NWRSG do this stuff for the species not their pockets.

    With regards this “Skydancer” plan, why not put the money to good effect working on feesible solutions for Hen Harriers, and that starts with landowners not tourists!

  • John Miles

    I think the education program should go ahead but I would like to see Langholm as the main area that is used. Those that have been to this area will know that all you have to do is draw up in your car by the road side and scan the moor next to the road to see these birds. The car acts as a hide and there is no need to walk any distance from the car. This amount of money [£300,000] is peanuts compared to the £3.5 million of tax payers money being used at Langholm. Forget the border. Harriers are being killed on both sides of the country fence. An income has to filter down into the local community and wildlife will create far more money than shooting ever will and its possible to do so for 12 months of the year.

  • DEAN

    Firstly, thanks to Paul Risley for bringing this debate to where it needs to be.
    Jimmi,all charities need high profile fund raising opportunities.The more they can bring in, the more they can do.I don’t understand why you think the RSPB should operate any differently.
    The article makes it clear that the project is designed
    not just to develop an education programme,but also to protect and monitor nests and to work with land agents.I think it’s an excellent initiative and I wish it well.

  • paul williams

    RE:- Paul Risley post. You are absolutely spot on,I will still be monitoring all birds of prey in Bowland without disturbing them, and i will be monitoring how many actually fledge together with those which disappear each year. I will also report all bad fieldwork and excessive nest visits; but will anyone be listening??? We all still live in a democracy and as far as I am aware each person has the right of a “Freedom of Speach” and the right to express their views.

  • Trapit

    So another piece of the jigsaw falls into place. This has been in the planning for a long time, and shows again the deceitfulness of the RSPB. As a gamekeeper I would far rather deal with straight talking people like NWRPG and others of their kind of whom I have met quite a few. Any new initiative to help the Hen Harrier to exist with shooting estates is to be welcomed if lessons have been learned from passed failures. However excluding the very people who have worked tirelessly to protect these birds and supply reliable data to the once grateful RSPB for over 40 years is not the way forward.

    Fund the propaganda exercise from your own millions RSPB and leave the money to more deserving causes!

  • Dean, I understand how the charity works but don’t understand why it has taken so long to take action when it relates to Hen Harriers. I also think an education programme is needed but not by trampling over heathland searching for a sensitive breeding bird with public.

    There are organisations who do the same if not better raptor related work who are from what I can see being hampered by some high profile organisations. Why not spend the 300k on setting up a strategy alongside the raptor study groups? Or is that the holy grail?

  • Paul Risley

    Having been away for a few days it was interesting to come back and see the different views on this, skydancer made a good point on diversionary feeding being a stopgap and when I first heard about it being used on Langholm in the first trials I had similar reservations, however reading the info currently on the Langholm website they reckoned there were 86% fewer Grouse chicks taken back to Harrier nest’s by using this method. Langholm proved without doubt that if we want to increase Harrier numbers we can do, unfortunately it also proved that too many Harriers can make a Grouse moor unprofitable and if that happens shooting ceases, the Gamekeepers leave and Harrier numbers and other upland bird species numbers dropped eventually because of increased competition and predation from foxes and corvids. This must be the fear for modern keepers that if one pair of Harriers nest on their land the following year might bring more pairs, eventually resulting in their land becoming unviable. Would it be possible to trans locate young harriers in the way White Tailed and Golden Eagles and Red Kites have been relocated in this country, releasing them in areas were grouse shooting isn’t so prevalent, we have less than 10 pairs at most in England with supposedly enough sites for around 300 pairs, surely some of these sites must be safer than Bowland, and if some kind of population density agreement could be made between shooting groups and conservation groups could be made this would be beneficial to all concerned. It could lead to reintroducing Harriers into areas were they once nested plus giving Gamekeepers the knowledge that a pair of Harriers displaying over their land isn’t the beginning of the end, just a thought!

  • DEAN

    Morning Jimmi,
    No I don’t know why the RSPB have taken so long to tackle this either.However I see no reason why the RSPB should not be competant at running their education programmes.If the sea eagles,peregrines and ospreys are examples of an ineffective,bungling RSPB,then the sooner we add HH to that list the better!

  • John Miles

    Paul, interesting thoughts! A bird table for hen harriers is no better than a pole trap now banned. Once the birds take food from these what is stopping the real food being replaced by poison bate! The modern estate do not want to loose 1 Red Grouse before the shooting season that is why majority of birds of prey are removed just in case!

    The Langholm project would be better creating the best habitat which heather is not. It would also be better increasing the visitor numbers to add real money into the local economy. Work at Geltsdale [not RSPB] is the most interesting habitat management project happening at the moment, with cattle the only domestic stock being used. We wait to see what the next ten years produce.