Saturday, 1 May 2010

The Hen Harrier.

Hen Harrier female with young at the nest thanks to Peter Guy.

I consider myself very fortunate to have met and got to know many people like Peter Guy with whom I share the same passion for wildlife and who have given me permission to publish such excellent images like the one above of the female Hen Harrier at the nest with young.

Its rather tragic that the Hen Harrier carries with it such a sad history as one of Britain's most persecuted birds. The development of game-shooting estates around slightly earlier than the mid 19th century led to a direct conflict with grouse and pheasant interests and it is around this time that the decline sees to have set in. A combination of ground-nesting and site fidelity made the birds easy targets, make no mistake about it, serious efforts were made to eradicate the Hen Harrier especially across much of the upland grouse moors, and by 1900 they are believed to have been restricted to Orkney, Outer Hebrides, and Ireland according to the First Breeding Atlas, but during the two World Wars when keepering was in decline the reduction in moorland management allowed the heather to grow tall enough for successful nesting, and increased afforestation of the uplands led to young plantations which were also suitable for nesting sites. The Second Breeding Atlas revealed the colonisation of the Isle of Man, but at the same time the Hen Harrier had disappeared from other parts of GB and Ireland and the reasons for these losses differ, changes in agricultural practices in some areas, and in others the maturity of afforestation both of which led to changes in habitat with a loss of deep ground cover needed for nesting.

There was a systematic persecution on grouse moors in Scotland and England and productivity in this habitat was significantly below that of unmanaged uplands, and in England where almost all of the birds were on grouse moors the evidence was that the persecution continued and there is no doubt that Hen Harrier numbers were constrained by illegal killing of breeding birds.

Perhaps if I decide to do another piece on the history of the Hen Harrier and following some up to date research I may well find some positives to address regarding this magnificent creature which many birders I have spoken to recently who have trundled up the Langden Valley in the Forest of Bowland have enjoyed spectacular views of this equally spectacular bird. Meanwhile, such a sad story to accompany such a beautiful image.

Thanks once again for the photograph Peter I really appreciate it.

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