Help con­serve our per­se­cuted birds of prey

Macclesfield Express - - THE LAUGHING BADGER - SEAN WOOD

AS spring ap­proaches, the RSPB is call­ing on ea­gled-eyed wildlife fans who en­joy walk­ing in the Peak Dis­trict to keep a look out for hen har­ri­ers, one of Eng­land’s rarest birds of prey.

And this, hard on the heels of my piece last week about bird of prey per­se­cu­tion. It’s great news, the more peo­ple on the hill, the more chance there is of walk­ers spot­ting the birds, and hope­fully those that would de­stroy these ab­so­lute beau­ties may have sec­ond thoughts, although ex­pe­ri­ence tells me that old habits die hard.

The na­ture con­ser­va­tion char­ity has re­launched its Hen Har­rier Hot­line in the hope of find­ing out where these birds might be breed­ing, so here’s your chance to join in. In par­tic­u­lar, can I en­cour­age the mem­bers of the Glos­sop Bird­watch and Wildlife Facebook group to do their bit? This group, for me, is one the best lo­cal so­cial me­dia pages, full of en­thu­si­asm and some crack­ing pho­to­graphs. This week alone has seen pho­to­graphs of barn owls and brown hares, and some won­der­fully evoca­tive re­ports of re­turn­ing lap­wings and curlews.

At this time of year, the male hen har­rier per­forms his courtship dis­play known as sky-danc­ing, in­volv­ing a spec­tac­u­lar se­ries of swoops and som­er­saults. If he is for­tu­nate enough to at­tract a fe­male, he then proves his worth as a mate by pass­ing her food of­fer­ings in mid-air.

Sci­en­tists es­ti­mate there is suf­fi­cient habi­tat in Eng­land to pro­vide a home to around 300 pairs of breed­ing hen har­ri­ers.

But last year there were only three suc­cess­ful nests in the whole coun­try.

Hen har­ri­ers are in trou­ble largely be­cause of on­go­ing il­le­gal per­se­cu­tion. This is be­cause they some­times eat red grouse, which can make them un­wel­come on moors man­aged for grouse shoot­ing.

This type of shoot­ing re­quires huge num­bers of red grouse and some game man­agers feel they need to il­le­gally kill or dis­turb har­ri­ers to pro­tect their busi­ness.

Amanda Miller, con­ser­va­tion man­ager for the RSPB in north­ern Eng­land, said: “The past few breed­ing sea­sons have been dis­as­trous for Eng­land’s hen har­ri­ers and sadly there ap­pears to be no let up in the il­le­gal killing and dis­tur­bance of these mag­nif­i­cent birds.

“If we can find out where these birds are breed­ing, we can de­ploy spe­cial­ist staff to pro­tect the nests, thereby giv­ing them the best chance of suc­cess.

“We can also fit them with satel­lite tags en­abling us to track their move­ments once they have fledged.”

Male hen har­ri­ers are an ash-grey colour with black wing tips and a wing­span of just less than a me­tre.

They are some­times known as ghost-birds be­cause of the pale colour of their plumage.

Fe­male hen har­ri­ers are slightly larger, are owl-like in ap­pear­ance, and have a mot­tled brown plumage, which cam­ou­flages them when they nest on the ground.

They have hor­i­zon­tal stripes on their tails, giv­ing them the nick­name ring­tail and a patch of white just above, on the rump. The Har­rier Hot­line num­ber is 0845 4600121 (calls charged at lo­cal rate).

Re­ports can also be emailed to hen­har­ri­ers@

The Laugh­ing Badger Gallery, 99 Platt Street, Pad­field, Glos­sop

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