IT HAS been a record-breaking year for hen harrier breeding in England, with 60 chicks reported to have fledged from 19 nests earlier this summer.

Since the establishment of Natural England’s Hen Harrier Recovery Project in 2002, this year has seen the highest number of new chicks recorded, which has been attributed to a number of factors including high numbers of voles, good weather, and strong partnership between stakeholders.

Hen harriers have become increasingly rare due to raptor persecution, lack of suitable local habitats and food availability and are now one of England’s rarest birds of prey.

“2020 has seen the best breeding season for England’s hen harriers in years and I thank all those who’ve helped achieve this wonderful result, including landowners and managers, campaigners, conservation groups, police officers and our own Natural England staff and volunteers," said chairman of Natural England, Tony Juniper.

“Despite the great progress there is though no cause for complacency. Too many birds still go missing in unexplained circumstances and I urge anyone who is still engaged in the persecution of these magnificent creatures to cease at once.

“Hen harriers remain critically endangered in England and there is a long way to go before the population returns to what it should be.”

This year’s success means that 141 hen harrier chicks have fledged over the past three years alone.

Dr Adam Smith of the Game & Wildlife Conservation Trust (GWCT), added: “This is a very promising result for a pragmatic conservation project. Management options for bird of prey conservation rather than just legal enforcement is very forward thinking approach. The GWCT has studied the very real tension between harrier conservation and grouse shooting for over 30 years. Until this managed approach was adopted - at no small risk to the reputations of all involved - there was a damaging deadlock," he stressed.

“If this trend can be maintained and hen harrier conservation status further improved, whilst supporting the red grouse management that best delivers our unique heather uplands, it will be a real breakthrough for practical, working conservation.”

A high proportion of this year’s chicks have been fitted with satellite tags, which will allow Natural England to monitor the progress of the birds as they move away from their nest areas.