Campaign to protect Forest of Bowland hen harriers

Bl�naid Denman, the RSPB's newly-appointed Skydancer Engagement Officer
Bl�naid Denman, the RSPB's newly-appointed Skydancer Engagement Officer

WITH its key breeding ground here in the Ribble Valley, the hen harrier – also known as the Skydancer for its spectacular courtship aerobatics – remains England’s most threatened bird of prey.

Now, in a fresh bid to highlight its plight, the RSPB has recruited a community engagement professional to inspire local people about the hen harrier.

Blánaid Denman has been appointed “Skydancer Engagement Officer” as part of the conservation organisation’s new project, Skydancer, to protect and promote the conservation of hen harriers across their breeding areas in Northern England.

Hen harriers are graceful birds of prey, best known for their aerobatic spring courtship displays, known as skydancing, and the spectacular passing of food from males to females in flight.

Sadly, this spectacle is a sight in the English uplands as hen harriers are on the brink of extinction as a breeding bird. The situation is so critical that last year, there were only seven successful breeding attempts, five of which took place on United Utilities’ estate in the Forest of Bowland.

A recent government-commissioned report, the Hen Harrier Conservation Framework, estimates there is enough suitable habitat in the English uplands to support more than 300 breeding pairs, but illegal killing and disturbance has kept numbers perilously low.

Over four years, Skydancer will focus on nest protection and community engagement activities around the Forest of Bowland, RSPB Geltsdale and North Tynedale, Northumberland.

Blánaid will work with RSPB colleagues and partners to develop and deliver an inspiring programme of events and activities in each of these areas, educating and enthusing school children and local people about these remarkable birds.

“Hen harriers are an important part of our natural heritage and it is vital we help the English population recover before it is too late,” said Blánaid. “If this species is to have a future in the English uplands, we need to work with and inspire the people that live with this remarkable bird on their doorstep.”

Skydancer will also include sharing experiences and demonstrating the latest management techniques for hen harriers with land managers and sports shooting interests. As hen harriers predate red grouse, the project will involve listening to the concerns of upland driven grouse moor managers to gain a greater understanding of the issue and identify potential opportunities.

Blánaid added: “We strongly believe the most effective way to conserve hen harriers in future is to find a way they can co-exist, rather than clash, with driven grouse shooting. We hope the Skydancer project will play a role in finding a long-term solution to this problem.”

Skydancer is funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund, United Utilities, SITA Trust and the Forestry Commission.