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Delight as 13 hen harrier chicks fledge in Bowland

The third Bowland nest. Photo by James Bray, RSPB.
The third Bowland nest. Photo by James Bray, RSPB.
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Thirteen hen harrier chicks have fledged on the United Utilities Estate in Bowland.

This is the first time that hen harriers have nested successfully in the Forest of Bowland Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty since 2015 when a single chick fledged.

Since early spring, RSPB staff and volunteers have been working with United Utilities and their tenants to protect the three hen harrier nests on the estate.

In addition, two pairs of peregrine falcons are successfully fledging seven chicks between them and five pairs of merlins fledging 19 chicks, a species for which the Forest of Bowland is nationally important.

Hen harriers breed on hills and moors, and are best-known for the male’s breath-taking courtship display known as skydancing. However, they are on the verge of extinction as a breeding bird in England owing to ongoing illegal persecution associated with driven grouse shooting.

Prior to fledging, chicks in Bowland were fitted with satellite tags, which were provided by the RSPB’s EU-funded Hen Harrier LIFE project. This will allow RSPB conservation staff to continue to monitor the progress of the birds once they have left Bowland.

James Bray, the RSPB’s Bowland Project Officer, said: “I feel really proud to have been involved in helping these chicks to fledge. My team, United Utilities and their tenants have all worked incredibly hard to make this season a success. It has been such a joy to watch these young birds flying around the estate after having to endure two terrible breeding seasons without any nests at all. While I’m excited to see where these birds travel to after they leave Bowland, I can’t help feeling nervous about their future.”

Chris Matthews, head of sustainability at United Utilities, said: “We are delighted to see the return of hen harriers to the Bowland Estate. It shows that the management of this important gathering ground for good quality water supplies is providing habitat for harriers to flourish. Key to this is working in partnership with all those with an interest in the land and I look forward to continued constructive engagement.”

County Coun. Albert Atkinson, Chairman for the Forest of Bowland AONB Joint Advisory Committee, said: “This really is fantastic news.”