Nearly 120 rare hen harrier chicks have fledged in England this year, the highest number for more than a century, England’s conservation agency has said.
Natural England and its partners recorded 119 hen harrier chicks successfully fledging from nests across uplands in County Durham, Cumbria, Lancashire, Northumberland and Yorkshire. A fledgling is a young bird that has grown enough to acquire its initial flight feathers and is preparing to leave the nest and care for itself.
It is the first time in more than a century that the number added to the population has exceeded 100 young birds, the agency said.
But conservation experts have warned that work needs to continue to tackle the illegal persecution of England’s most threatened bird of prey, which hunt red grouse chicks to feed their young, bringing them into conflict with commercial shooting estates.
Hen harriers have been protected since the 1950s.
The Natural England chairman, Tony Juniper, said: “It is very encouraging to see the progress made this year on the recovery of this majestic species, tipping the numbers fledged to more than 100 for the first time in over a century.
“It is testament to the dedication of the volunteers, landowners and staff from all our partner organisations who work so hard to protect, support and monitor these vulnerable birds.
“Despite this year’s success, we clearly still have a long road to travel to see hen harrier numbers truly recover to where they would naturally be without illegal persecution – with many birds sadly still going missing.
“We are committed to continuing to work with our partners to drive down persecution rates and achieve a permanent long-term recovery.”
Hen harrier breeding populations in England reached a nadir in 2013, when no chicks successfully fledged.
After eight chicks fledged in 2016, there have now been six successive years of increases, with 49 nests recorded in 2022, of which 34 were successful in producing chicks.
Lancashire remains a stronghold for the birds, with 18 nests recorded in Bowland, while there were nine nests in Northumberland, 10 across the Yorkshire Dales and Nidderdale, seven in the North Pennines and five in the Peak District.
A spokesperson for the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds said: “We welcome the news from Natural England that this year hen harriers have had their most successful breeding season and are proud of the contribution our teams have made to this success through nest protection, habitat restoration and monitoring efforts.
“However, the risk of these young birds being illegally killed after leaving the safety of their nests remains very real. That is why we are calling on the UK government to provide resources to support the conservation of hen harriers and ensure that existing wildlife protection laws are better enforced.”