Hen harriers are one of Britain’s most threatened birds and are famed for the adult’s mesmerising and dramatic ‘sky dance’, which the male performs as it seeks to attract a female.
The discovery of a recent nest on the National Trust’s High Peak Moors in the Peak District is something to celebrate, and Trust General Manager Jon Stewart has worked closely with the RSPB and the Peak District Raptor Monitoring Group to support the monitoring and satellite tagging of the young chicks.
“We were delighted to learn of this nest” said Jon Stewart, the National Trust’s General Manager for the Peak District. “The hen harrier has been one of the most persecuted birds of prey in Britain for many years and we have set out on a mission to work with others to create the conditions for the harrier and other birds of prey to thrive once again in the uplands. Healthy bird of prey populations are at the heart of the Vision we have for our land in the High Peak and in recent years the results are overall encouraging. We hope this will be a beacon of light for improving the fate of our birds of prey and providing the healthy natural environment that so many people care about and want to see”.
In 2013 the National Trust published its High Peak Moors Vision, which put at its heart restoring wildlife, including birds of prey, and involving people in the care of the moors. Since then harriers have bred in 2014, 2018, 2019 and now 2021. Along with another successful breeding in 2006 on Trust land, these are the only successful breeding documented records of harriers in the Peak District.
The conservation charity leases much of its High Peak moorland for grouse shooting and all shooting tenants have signed up to actively support the Vision. Over the last few years as well as the hen harrier, there has been breeding success for other species in and around the National Trust’s moors such as the peregrine falcon, merlin, buzzard, goshawk and short eared owl.
Jon continued, “The National Trust have worked with our partners including the Peak District Raptor Monitoring Group and our tenants to give the birds the best chance of success. We have also worked with the RSPB and specialists on satellite tagging the young chicks so that we can monitor movements and learn more to inform the conservation of this very special bird. I hugely appreciate the commitment and efforts of everyone involved and the care taken to avoid unnecessary disturbance. We’ve managed to enable these birds to successfully raise young with the minimum of fuss. There is a great sense that we all want this to work not just for these birds now, but as a symbol for the whole future direction of our uplands.”
“A few years ago success felt like young harriers fledging on our land. Sadly in 2019 two satellite tagged young harriers raised on the High Peak Moors, we called Arthur and Octavia, stopped transmitting suddenly not long after they had left National Trust land. This illustrates how fragile the recovery is of this precious bird of prey. We want to see uplands richer in wildlife and beauty, widely enjoyed and providing huge public benefits. Given the trials that face them now that they have fledged from their nesting site, we need to think of ultimate success being when these young and many more like them come back to the Peak District as adults to successfully raise young themselves.”
Over the coming months The Trust and RSPB plan to share the progress and journey of one of the birds that has been satellite tagged and she has been named Maia*.
Howard Jones from the RSPB said: “We are delighted to hear that Maia and her siblings have successfully fledged the nest in the Peak District. It is always with a mixture of joy and trepidation that we watch young hen harriers like these venture out into the wider world, as the threat of them being illegally killed once they leave the nest sadly remains. Satellite tagging continues to prove persecution to be the number one factor supressing the hen harrier population in England.”
*A note on the name: In ancient Greek mythology, Maia is the Earth goddess of springtime. She is also one of the Seven Sisters, who make up the constellation of the Pleiades. We hope Maia the hen harrier will be a star too.