TWENTY two hen harrier chicks have fledged from five nests on the United Utilities Estate in Bowland, the RSPB has reported.

This is the second year in a row that hen harriers have nested successfully at the East Lancashire site, after 13 chicks fledged from three nests in 2018.

Following six years of little or no consistent breeding success in the Forest of Bowland, conservationists are now hopeful that this could mark the start of the return of these rare and beautiful birds of prey to an area once considered a stronghold for them in England.

The RSPB says hen harriers are on the verge of disappearing as a breeding bird in England owing to ongoing illegal persecution associated with driven grouse shooting. Scientific research published in March this year, based on data from Natural England, showed that 72 per cent of satellite-tagged hen harriers were considered or confirmed to have been illegally killed, and were 10 times more likely to die or disappear over grouse moor than any other type of land use.

Last year there were only nine successful nests in the whole country.

Since early spring, RSPB’s staff and volunteers, together with United Utilities, their shooting and farming tenants, and the Forest of Bowland AONB, have put everything into protecting and supporting the five hen harrier nests on the Bowland estate. However, hen harriers are known to travel widely, and concern still remains for the birds once they leave the estate.

However, the Moorland Association says it is backing the ‘Hen Harrier Recovery Plan’ and introduced a brood management plan.

On August 11 the Association attended a Hen Harrier Day in Derbyshire.

Representative Amanda Anderson said: “Grouse moor owners signed up for this scheme and by doing do signalled their commitment to help bring back our harriers.

“We support Hen Harrier Day and we hope that everyone who champions the restoration of the species will recognise that there is a tremendous amount of goodwill and partnership working going on to make the brood management trial a success.”

The RSPB added that prior to fledging, a number of this year’s chicks 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. Members of the public can follow the progress of two of these – young male, Apollo, and female, Cyan – as their journeys will be added to the LIFE project website at, in the coming weeks as they leave their nest areas.

Sadly, like many of the UK’s hen harriers, those satellite-tagged in Bowland have not always met with happy ends. In 2012, Bowland Betty died from an injury resulting from a shot gun wound and in 2014, barely two months after leaving their nests, Sky and Hope disappeared without trace when their tags suddenly and inexplicably stopped transmitting within a few miles of each other. Tragically, two of the young hen harriers tagged in Bowland just last year have already died or disappeared in suspicious circumstances – Thor’s tag stopped transmitting near same the location as Sky and Hope, and River’s body was found in North Yorkshire, lodged with two shot pellets.

James Bray, RSPB Bowland Project Officer, said: “I feel really proud to have been involved in helping these chicks to fledge. The RSPB team of staff and volunteers, United Utilities and their tenants have all worked incredibly hard to make this season a success and we all want to see them thrive. It has been such a joy to see this small local population grow from three to five pairs over two increasingly successful years, having endured two terrible years before that, without any nests at all.

“The increase this year is likely to be a combination of many factors but sensitive management of the estate, ensuring plenty of good nesting habitat, and the fact that hen harriers nested successfully last year, will both have helped. I live in hope that one day soon we’ll see a return to the 20-30 hen harrier nests that were a common sight in Bowland in the 1980s.”