Fears that England’s most endangered breeding bird of prey is on the verge of extinction have been renewed as a fourth hen harrier has disappeared from a nest in the Pennines. The Police and RSPB are appealing for information regarding the male bird, which vanished on 23 May from the RSPB’s Geltsdale reserve. The female, who was no longer receiving food from the male for incubation, abandoned five five eggs that were in the nest.
Wildlife campaigner Mark Avery has now called for driven grouse shooting to be banned, as many conservationists fear that the recent spate of hen harrier disappearances are linked to the management of grouse moors, the game bird being a prey species for the hen harrier.
“Nobody knows what’s happened to these four birds but these disappearances just don’t happen in a normal hen harrier family,” said Avery, the RSPB’s former conservation director. “There should be about 2,600 pairs in the UK and there are 600-800 pairs. The reason that there are so few is because of persecution and the only people interested in persecuting hen harriers are people who run grouse moors.”
Organisations representing grouse moor owners (including You Forgot the Birds, fronted by former cricketer Sir Ian Botham) want a system of brood management introduced by the UK government. This would involve raising grouse chicks in captivity before releasing them into lowland areas, thereby reducing predation by hen harriers. However, attempts to introduce a brood management system are being blocked by the RSPB, who argue that the grouse industry must first prove that it is not persecuting hen harriers.