Trial reports ‘significant’ success in breeding Hen Harrier

Natural England has licensed the fifth year of a key research trial which aims to test a technique to help restore the Hen Harrier population. The brood management program explored the possibility of transporting chicks from the nest to a specialized facility and releasing them into the wild.

SINCE the start of the trial there has been significant progress in the breeding success of Northern Harriers in the wild with 224 fledged chicks.

Last year was the most successful breeding season in 50 years, with 84 chicks hatched from 24 successful nests. Three of the successful breeding attempts were made by harriers that were young and whose brood had been managed the previous year. The range expansion of the Northern Harrier has also been very encouraging, with successful nests in Northumberland, North Yorkshire, County Durham, Cumbria, South Yorkshire and Lancashire.

In 2018, the first year of the program, 34 chicks fledged from 9 successful nests. Each successive year the numbers have increased, with 46 chicks fledging in 2019 and 60 chicks fledging in 2020.

In the five years preceding the program, only 51 chicks fledged in England.

Brood management is one of the actions of Defra’s Northern Harrier Action Plan, launched in 2016. The ‘trigger’ for brood management to consider is two active nests within 10 km l each other.

In these circumstances, a request is made to remove the eggs or chicks from a nest, rear the chicks in a specialized raptor facility, and then release them as juveniles in an area of ​​suitable habitat in northern Australia. England, all under strict supervised licensing conditions. by Natural England and a project committee.

Only five broods to date have been managed in this way. Yet the knock-on effect of permit availability for everyone appears to be changing attitudes towards birds of prey that eat the chicks of other popular moorland birds, including black grouse, curlews and lapwings. Breeding Hen Harriers in captivity reduces the impact of predation locally, and the purpose of the trial is to test whether this can change attitudes and improve survival rates of Hen Harriers across the England.

Moorland managers in the north of England are helping with the Hen Harrier’s action plan by reporting nests, providing extra food for adult birds and monitoring winter roost sites.

Natural England fieldworkers (licensed by the British Trust for Ornithology) fit satellite tags to birds to track their migration patterns, range and future survival and breeding behaviour.

John Holmes, Chairman of the Brood Management Project Board, Natural England, said: “The brood management trial has been a key part of the Defra Hen Harrier Action Plan, alongside feeding diversion, surveillance and intelligence enhancement to detect and prevent persecution. The trial was conducted under strict license conditions and we have gathered a good set of data on brood-managed birds as well as attitude change research to inform future approaches to Northern Harrier conservation. -Martin.

Mark Cunliffe-Lister, chairman of the Moorland Association, said: “We are delighted to see a substantial improvement in the breeding success of Hen Harriers and the expansion of their range in the highlands of England, grouse moorland playing a key role in enhancing fledgling. rates. Brood Management has provided a blueprint for the delivery of a sustainable, well-dispersed population of Northern Harriers, for the benefit of Northern Harriers, sustainable heathland management and all who love to see our highland wildlife thrive .

Henry Robinson, Chairman of the Hawk and Owl Trust, added: “It is wonderful to see Northern Harriers thriving in the wild with a little help and human intervention. This would not be possible without the participation of all partners. The time and dedication of everyone involved has yielded great results.

Jemima Parry Jones, CEO of the International Center for Birds of Prey, brood management licensee and raptor expert, said: “After being skeptical of the project initially, it has proven to be much more effective. than I had dreamed. It is an honor to work on this revolutionary project which is clearly working, with no welfare issues and excellent survival rates. It could be argued that brood-managed birds are even healthier than those not involved in the program. Good fledging rates provide a platform for these beautiful birds to continue to expand their range in England and have already resulted in their successful breeding in the wild, further contributing to the population increase.

Adam Smith, Upland Research & Policy Advisor, GWCT said: “The brood management program provides essential evidence to inform policy on adaptive management not only for Northern Harrier but also for a number of other vulnerable species. Ultimately, projects like this are key to ensuring the sustainability of our highlands and providing a net benefit to biodiversity.

At the end of the trial, the Natural England Board and its Scientific Advisory Group will assess the success of the program and inform the next steps for the conservation of the species.

Organizations working together to support Hen Harrier recovery include: Natural England, Defra, RSPB, Forestry Commission, Moorland Association, United Utilities, National Trust, Hawk and Owl Trust, International Center for Birds of Prey, Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority, Northumberland National Park Authority, Peak District National Park Authority, Nidderdale & Forest of Bowland Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty, Northumberland Wildlife Trust, Game & Wildlife Conservation Trust, local police forces and the National Wildlife Crime Unit, various estates and their representatives, and individuals, including landowners, farmers and academic researchers.