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Hen Harrier Satelitte Tagging

Hen Harrier 34Hen Harriers are subject to persecution on grouse moors and Hawk and Owl Trust is involved in satellite tracking Hen Harriers as part of a study into these amazing birds. Photo by Luke Delve.

Hen Harriers are beautiful and truly iconic birds of our upland habitats. There are between 500-600 pairs in the UK, but only a tiny handful of these birds are breeding in England. All the English birds nest on moorland, most of which is managed for grouse shooting. Without doubt one of the main reasons for this shockingly low number - on a habitat that should support many more breeding birds - is illegal persecution.

The Hawk and Owl Trust believes that something needs to be done immediately to help prevent Hen Harriers going extinct as breeding birds and, as such, is supporting the DEFRA Joint Hen Harrier
Recovery Plan which aims to tackle the problem of illegal persecution by removing or diverting the source of conflict:

1. Law enforcement, prevention and intelligence
2. Ongoing monitoring of breeding sites and winter roost sites
3. Further research on the movement of Hen Harriers using satellite tracking
4. Diversionary feeding of Hen Harriers to reduce predation on grouse chicks
5. Engagement study about reintroducing Hen Harriers across suitable habitat in England
6. Trialling the temporary movement of Hen Harrier young to aviaries and subsequent release (also known as brood management)

Although the Trust is an active member of the DEFRA group, we are only directly involved in one of the six elements of the plan: the continued research into the movement of Hen Harriers using satellite tracking.

As part of this recovery plan Natural England, on behalf of the Hawk and Owl Trust, satellite tagged two juvenile female Hen Harriers from the Scottish borders named ‘Rowan’ and ‘Sorrel’. Sadly, Rowan was later found dead in Cumbria and had been almost certainly deliberately killed. Sorrel on the other hand continues to roam, and breed, and we publish updates on her tag in our news section. Each satellite tag is set on a 10:48 pattern. It will transmit for 10 hours and then recharge in daylight over the next 48 hours. The tag was paid for by a private donation.

The outcomes of all six elements of this project will be monitored carefully and methodically analysed. At the end of the fixed-term trial government will take the levels of persecution during the trial period into account when deciding on the next steps. At the moment, we believe that these six actions represent the best hope for an increase in the numbers of Hen Harriers breeding in England, but the Trust has a long and distinguished history of adapting to changing circumstances and, should a different solution present itself, or the current situation change, then we will act accordingly in what we believe is the Hen Harriers best interest.

Naturally, we would expect some natural mortality, as is the case with any group of young birds in the wild but, if it is found that any of the tagged birds is interfered with by any of the moorland management representative organisations, then we will withdraw our support and resign from the DEFRA group.