Num­bers of hen har­ri­ers con­tinue to fall

The Oban Times - - Outdoors -

THERE are now es­ti­mated to be fewer than 500 breed­ing pairs of hen har­ri­ers in Scot­land, writes David McPhee.

The lat­est na­tional sur­vey of th­ese birds shows that hen har­rier num­bers have fallen by nine per cent in Scot­land since 2010. Over the past 12 years, the num­ber of breed­ing pairs has dropped by 27 per cent.

The fifth na­tional hen har­rier sur­vey was car­ried out in 2016 by the RSPB, Scot­tish Nat­u­ral Her­itage (SNH) and the Scot­tish Rap­tor Study Group, along with a range of other UK part­ners, and cov­ered the whole of the United King­dom and the Isle of Man.

In Scot­land, the re­sults re­vealed a drop in breed­ing pairs to only 460, com­pared with 505 pairs from the pre­vi­ous sur­vey in 2010.

The UK pop­u­la­tion is now es­ti­mated at 545 breed­ing pairs.

This is the sec­ond suc­ces­sive de­cline in the Scot­tish hen har­rier pop­u­la­tion.

Known for their ma­jes­tic sky­danc­ing rit­ual, hen har­ri­ers are one of the most threat­ened birds of prey in the coun­try.

In­de­pen­dent re­search has iden­ti­fied il­le­gal killing as one of the main prob­lems, along with a chang­ing cli­mate and the loss of heather moor­land and other suit­able nest­ing habi­tat to com­mer­cial af­foresta­tion and over­graz­ing.

Scot­land is still a ma­jor strong­hold for hen har­ri­ers – it is home to 80 per cent of the UK pop­u­la­tion.

The West High­lands con­tinue to pro­vide a home for the ma­jor­ity of Scot­land’s breed­ing har­ri­ers – es­ti­mated 175 breed­ing pairs, while Orkney and the He­brides were the only ar­eas of the coun­try to show a slight in­crease in the num­ber of th­ese birds.

Ac­cord­ing to the sur­vey, sim­i­lar hen har­rier de­clines have been wit­nessed in all other parts of the UK as well.

In Eng­land, hen har­ri­ers are on the brink of ex­tinc­tion as a breed­ing species, with the pop­u­la­tion fall­ing from 12 pairs in 2010 to only four pairs last year.

Mean­while, Wales saw the num­ber of pairs fall by more than a third over the past six years, from 57 to 35, and North­ern Ire­land recorded only 46 pairs in 2016 com­pared with 59 in 2010.

Hen har­rier breed­ing pair num­bers are fall­ing in Scot­land. Pho­to­graph: Mark Ham­blin (rspb-images.com)

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