Chicken Harriers Feather in Record Numbers in Northern England

Chicken Harriers Feather in Record Numbers in Northern England

The largest number of rare harrier puppies for over a century has spread across northern England.

The government conservation agency Natural England has recorded 119 abandoned nests in Durham, Yorkshire, Northumberland, Cumbria and Lancashire.

However, they remain England’s most endangered bird of prey.

Agency president Tony Juniper said the progress made last year was “very encouraging” but the birds still face illegal persecution.

“Despite this year’s success, we clearly still have a long way to go to see the number of harriers really recover to where they would naturally be without illegal persecution – with many birds sadly still missing,” he said.

“We are committed to continuing to work with our partners to reduce persecution rates and achieve permanent, long-term recovery.”

chicken harrier puppies

Feathered birds grew wing feathers big enough to fly

Chicken harriers were once found in the highlands and lowlands of Britain, but since the 1830s they have become exceptionally rare.

They have been protected since 1954 but still face illegal persecution because they prey on red partridge chicks to feed their young, putting them in conflict with commercial hunting properties.

In 2013, no cubs successfully fledged, prompting warnings that they were endangered in England.

Since 2016, when only eight chicks fledged, there have been six successive years of increase, with 49 nests registered in 2022, of which 34 were successful in producing chicks.

chicken harrier

The National Trust announced reproductive success earlier this month

The majority of nests – 18 – were recorded in Bowland in Lancashire, with nine in Northumberland, 10 in the Yorkshire Dales and Nidderdale, seven in the North Pennines and five in the Peak District.

The feathered chicks include 13 taken from four moorland nests to protect game birds.

They were bred as part of the brood management test, which aims to change attitudes among the heath community and reduce persecution.

The test is part of a government action plan published in 2016 that also includes issuing permits to allow feeding harriers to prevent them from attacking grouse.

chicken harrier

Harriers feed their young with the partridge chicks that shooting farms raise for the sport.

Natural England is working with the National Wildlife Crimes Unit to improve how police and other organizations can work together to combat the persecution of birds of prey.

Bird charity RSPB said it welcomed the record breeding season but pointed out that the birds were still under threat and urged the government to act.

“The risk of these young birds being illegally killed after leaving the safety of their nests remains very real,” a spokesperson said.

“That’s why we are asking the UK government to provide resources to support harrier conservation and ensure that existing wildlife protection laws are better enforced.”

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