North York Moors identified as home to ‘Red List’ birds of prey including the rare hen harrier

A survey conducted by the Moorland Association, which represents grouse moors across one million acres of moorland in England, has revealed a high level of endangered birds on land managed for grouse shooting.

By Louise Perrin
Friday, 29th January 2021, 3:35 pm
Updated Friday, 29th January 2021, 3:38 pm
Mature hen harrier
Mature hen harrier

Hen harriers, one of the most at-risk birds of prey in the UK, are being recorded on at least half of grouse moors in England, including the North York Moors, and a government-led action plan is in operation to help boost the population.

The Defra-led Hen Harrier Joint Action Plan, which was developed by a number of organisations including the Moorland Association, last year saw the most successful breeding season for hen harriers for 35 years.

Sixty chicks fledged from 19 nests across Northumberland, Yorkshire Dales, Cumbria and Lancashire in summer 2020.

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Hen Harrier

Twelve of these nests were on land managed for grouse shooting fledging 40 chicks.

Nearly 100 chicks have now fledged since the plan was launched in 2016.

As recently as 2013 there were no successful nests at all.

Spaunton Moor, Ryedale, is home to 15 of the 21 species of UK birds of prey and owls.

Estate staff regularly see kestrel, buzzard, peregrine, barn owl, tawny owl, goshawk and sparrowhawk and sometimes see merlin, hen harrier, short-eared owl , long-eared owl, red kite, hooded crow and raven.

Buzzards are so common that 116 separate sightings of different birds were recorded in October 2020.

Twenty years ago barn owls were a very rare sight and now they are common, partly due to the barn owl nesting boxes provided by the keepers.

Moorland Association members are also actively involved in a brood management research trial to establish if it is possible to rear hen harriers in captivity and then release them to become successful breeding adults in the English uplands.

Thirteen chicks have successfully fledged so far under the trial.

The survey of Moorland Association members also revealed that curlew, which is globally threatened and one of the UK’s most at-risk birds, and lapwing were recorded breeding on almost all of moors (90%).

Last year, gamekeepers also reported other birds of prey, including peregrine, nesting on grouse moors.

More than 100 grouse moor managers took part in the survey and half reported hen harriers on their land. Merlin were recorded on 70% of moors.

Mark Cunliffe-Lister, chairman of the Moorland Association, said: “Our commitment to help recover the hen harrier population to ‘favourable conservation status’ is working -- as more and more of these charismatic birds are now being seen on the land we manage, coupled with the remarkable increase in breeding success.

“This survey shows that hen harriers, other birds of prey and waders are all flourishing on our carefully managed moors, bucking trends of plunging decline elsewhere.

“There can be conflict between birds of prey and game birds but leading the way with practical knowledge, expertise and innovation, we are demonstrating that we can attain a sustainable balance for our remote uplands and boost nature’s recovery.”