Rare hen harriers nest at Geltside

Hen harrier in flight Image copyright RSPB images
Image caption The hen harrier is one of the most persecuted birds of prey in the UK, according to the RSPB

A pair of rare hen harriers are breeding at a nature reserve in Cumbria, experts have said.

The news that five eggs have been spotted at Geltsdale comes amid fears 2016 could be a "poor year" for the "intensively persecuted" species.

Earlier this month the RSPB said only a handful of nest attempts had been registered so far this year.

The charity said if the eggs hatch, they would be the first chicks at Geltsdale, near Brampton, for a decade.

In 2006, a pair nested at the site, fledging two young.

Steve Westerberg, site manager at RSPB Geltsdale, said: "We're delighted that we have hen harriers breeding on the reserve once again.

"It's an incredibly nerve-wracking time, but we're crossing our fingers that we'll see fledged young in a few months time.

Image copyright Rspb images
Image caption In the breeding season hen harriers are found on heather moorlands of Northern England

"Staff and volunteers are watching the nest around the clock to prevent unnecessary disturbance, and we have spoken to our neighbouring estates about the birds so they can play their part in helping to ensure that the birds are safe when they leave our reserve to hunt."

Last year, a pair bred at Geltsdale but the nest failed during the incubation period after the male vanished while hunting away from the nest and the female abandoned her eggs.

Hen harriers are the focus of a government plan to increase their numbers across moorlands in England.

According to the RSPB and Natural England hen harriers are particularly at risk from systematic persecution including snaring and shooting as well as disruption in areas managed for rearing red grouse or game-birds.

In April, a video emerged apparently showing an armed man using a decoy bird to attract a hen harrier in the Derbyshire Peak District, while in May, a man was caught on camera setting illegal pole traps on the Mossdale estate, near Hawes, North Yorkshire.

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