An un­steady re­turn

Bird Watching (UK) - - Conservation Hen Harrier -

The first Na­tional Survey, in 1989, es­ti­mated be­tween 578 and 700 breed­ing pairs in Bri­tain and the Isle of Man. In 1998, there were 570 ter­ri­to­rial pairs. By 2004, there was a 41% in­crease to 806 pairs – the high­est num­bers of har­ri­ers in Bri­tain for over a cen­tury. By 2010, the lat­est survey un­cov­ered an 18% de­cline, to our cur­rent pop­u­la­tion, give or take, of 662 breed­ing pairs. Right now, there are more har­ri­ers in Bri­tain than the late 19th Cen­tury and more than 20 years ago, but fewer than 10 years ago. Ac­cord­ing to the BTO’S review ‘Hen Har­rier pop­u­la­tion in­for­ma­tion’, “Hen Har­rier dis­tri­bu­tion ap­pears to have been broadly sta­ble dur­ing the past 20 years; over­all, breed­ing oc­cu­pancy at the 10km scale has in­creased by 29% over the past 40 years”. At the same time, rel­a­tive abun­dance has de­clined across most of Scotland and Eng­land. Har­ri­ers do not face Bri­tish extinction – but they are not re­colonis­ing much of Bri­tain. In many cases, num­bers are also sup­pressed where birds do still nest. To see what’s hap­pen­ing, we need to look first at range. In the lat­est survey, 76%, or 505 pairs, were in Scotland and Isle of Man. There were 59 pairs in North­ern Ire­land, 57 pairs in Wales, 29 on the Isle of Man but just 12 in Eng­land. This last num­ber has fallen since, with zero breed­ing pairs in 2014. Key refuges for har­ri­ers re­main those last out­posts – Orkney, the Uists, In­ner He­brides and Ar­ran – and ex­pan­sion has oc­curred in ar­eas of true wilder­ness or deer es­tates, such as north and west High­land and Ar­gyll, with de­creases in south and east Scotland. Be­tween 2004 and 2010, the last survey shows a 49% drop in the Isle of Man pop­u­la­tion, a drop of be­tween 24% and 49% across main­land Scotland, and a 33% in­crease in Wales. We’ll get to grouse moors in a minute, but let’s look first at what’s lim­ited har­ri­ers on the fringes of their range – the refuges that grouse shoot­ing can’t reach.

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