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Natural England records best hen harrier breeding year for two decades

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Four young hen harriers with downy feathers are pictured in a grassy nest on the ground.
The success has been down to a number of factors including high numbers of voles which are a key food source, good weather, and strong partnership working

There is coverage in today’s Guardian, the i, METRO the Yorkshire Post and the Bradford Telegraph of our announcement that Natural England has recorded the best year for hen harrier breeding in England since Natural England’s hen harrier recovery project was established in 2002.

The BBC R4 Today programme (at 08:09) also covered the news, noting that earlier this summer, 60 chicks flew from almost 20 nests in Northumberland, the Yorkshire Dales, Cumbria and Lancashire.

Natural England puts the success down to a high number of voles, which are a key food source, along with dry weather and coordinated conservation efforts with other organisations and landowners.

Hen harriers were once found across upland and lowland Britain including throughout many English counties, however after 1830 it became an exceptionally rare breeding bird in England due to raptor persecution, which was then made illegal in 1954.

Although persecution is thought to be the main factor limiting hen harrier numbers in England, other factors including the suitability of local habitats and food availability are also significant in some areas.

Tony Juniper, Chairman of Natural England, said:

2020 has seen the best breeding season for England’s hen harriers in years and I thank all those who’ve helped achieve this wonderful result, including landowners and managers, campaigners, conservation groups, police officers and our own Natural England staff and volunteers.

Despite the great progress there is though no cause for complacency. Too many birds still go missing in unexplained circumstances and I urge anyone who is still engaged in the persecution of these magnificent creatures to cease at once.

Hen harriers remain critically endangered in England and there is a long way to go before the population returns to what it should be.

Natural England’s Hen Harrier Recovery Project was established in 2002 to monitor hen harriers and work towards improving their numbers in England. Natural England is involved in a number of initiatives to help ensure hen harriers recover including through Defra’s hen harrier joint action plan.

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