Hen harrier breeding season 'very poor' says RSPB

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

It is set to be a "very poor" year for hen harriers, with only a handful of nest attempts so far, the RSPB said.

The "persecuted" birds are the focus of a government plan to increase their numbers across moorlands in England.

The charity said "human interference" could be a factor for the lack of nests and cited a recent incident involving an armed man in the Peak District.

Raptor Persecution UK, a conservation group, said the plan was not working and the RSPB should withdraw support.

Image copyright AP
Image caption Conservationists claimed a piece footage showed an armed man with a decoy hen harrier

The action plan, launched in January by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) and supported by organisations including the RSPB and the Moorland Association, was set up to revive the bird's fortunes.

It followed the disappearance of five male hen harriers from sites in Lancashire and Cumbria, in 2015, leading to the collapse of nests.

The hen harriers' predation of grouse has been a source of conflict on moors used for shooting, but there was hope the diverse partners could come together and reverse the decline.

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

However, several incidents have led some conservation groups to suggest that little has changed.

In April, a video emerged apparently showing an armed man using a decoy bird to attract a hen harrier in the Derbyshire Peak District.

In May, a man was caught on camera setting illegal pole traps on the Mossdale estate, near Hawes, North Yorkshire.

In both incidents hen harriers had been spotted in the area.

Image copyright RSPB images
Image caption The RSPB said bad weather and fewer vole numbers could also be factors in the poor number of nest attempts

A spokeswoman for Raptor Persecution UK said: "There has been clear evidence that illegal raptor persecution is continuing.

"The RSPB should withdraw its support of the Hen Harrier Action Plan and join the increasing call for a ban on driven grouse shooting."

Martin Harper, the RSPB's conservation director, said it was too "premature to change tack" and hoped by the end of the season there might be progress.

Image copyright RSPB images
Image caption The hen harrier has the nickname Skydancer due to its mid-air aerobatics

Amanda Anderson, director of the Moorland Association, which supports grouse shooting, said the organisation was committed to the successful breeding of hen harriers.

"We have joined voices with conservationists to condemn all wildlife crime and will continue to do so," she said.

Year Nest attempts Successful
2005 19 15
2006 22 12
2007 23 14
2008 19 10
2009 12 6
2010 12 7
2011 9 4
2012 1 1
2013 2 0
2014 4 4
2015 13 6
2016* Unknown Unknown

*The RSPB said there were only a handful of nesting attempts so far in England this year.

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