Hen harrier hysterics
I was privileged to spend a cold snowy evening with Gavin Craggs from Natural England (NE) watching hen harriers roost on a grouse moor in North Yorkshire. Gavin makes a good brew and most importantly really knows his stuff where harriers are concerned.
For the best part of three hours we watched Frank, a NE tagged male harrier, and three ringtails (juvenile birds) come into their roost. During our wait, we had a flyby from the local barn owl and talked in-depth about raptor politics.
This was a quiet count for Gavin who has watched up to 15 harriers come into roost at this location this winter. In a clear signal that spring is approaching, these birds are dispersing to their summer nesting areas so the numbers at this location are expected to start dropping off.
Improving hen harrier conservation status
Hen harriers have become probably the most politically charged bird in the UK and it was refreshing to listen to Gavin and learn about his work on the ground. A proper straight–talking lad from the North East, Gavin’s main aim is to improve the hen harrier conservation status and to work with anybody who is willing to help.
He has already built up an excellent relationship with the gamekeepers on this moor and is working with them for the long-term benefit of the winter roost site. We were in agreement that raptor persecution has been a problem within the shooting community and while improvements can be seen there is more work to be done.
There is also a new bird hide currently under construction to enable more people to see this majestic bird. Additionally, more exciting plans are in the pipeline to help the public engage with the hen harriers at Swinton Estate.
Finding common ground
As we sat in near freezing conditions, we agreed that there is a feeling of change and optimism. Finding common ground between organisations and communities on the ground which for so long was so devolved has never been closer.
After the recent zero tolerance joint statement made by BASC and other key shooting and landowner organisations it is time to make sure we support the shooting community with positive actions and not just words, ensuring raptor conservation is a key priority of grouse moors. Building relationships on the ground with people like Gavin and gamekeepers allows hen harriers the space to thrive in our uplands and further afield.
It is also about giving hen harriers a kickstart through supporting the NE hen harrier brood management programme. Read the latest step by NE to support rare and endangered bird species here.
Brood management forms part of the larger DEFRA Hen Harrier Recovery Plan which focuses on not just raptor persecution but the causes. BASC is fully supportive of the plan.
Swinton Estate is a key part of the brood management project and fingers crossed this creates a positive example for others to follow. They said:
“Swinton Estate is proud of the work it has done in partnership with Natural England to increase the numbers of hen harriers in our area. Brood management will allow this success to be replicated in a much wider area.”
As the hen harriers disperse to their summer breeding grounds, I look forward to hearing of their progress and visiting Gavin as he continues to work on supporting this species.