A partnership backed by landowners has launched a fresh initiative to encourage the public to report sightings of the hen harrier, one of Britain’s finest birds of prey.
The ‘Heads Up for Harriers’ group, set up by the Partnership for Action Against Wildlife Crime Scotland (PAWS) - of which Scottish Land & Estates is a member – made the call as the work to encourage breeding of the birds continues.
There are estimated to be around 500 breeding pairs of hen harriers in Scotland, the vast majority of the UK population. Last year saw five Special Protection Areas (SPA) designated for hen harrier producing 30 successful nests in 2014.
One of the Special Protection Areas includes the Langholm Moor Demonstration Project - now is in its eighth year – which had 10 harrier nests fledging 47 young on Langholm Moor last year.
And this year, five rural estates have agreed to have nest cameras installed, to help better understand the reasons behind nesting success and failure.
This work continues as Heads Up for Harriers group encourages members of the public to report ahead of a specialist national survey planned for 2016. More information on how to report a sighting can be found on the Heads up for Harriers website:- http://www.gov.scot/Topics/Environment/Wildlife-Habitats/paw-scotland/what-you-can-do/hen-harriers
Douglas McAdam, chief executive of Scottish Land & Estates, said: “The Heads Up for Harriers Project is engaging all sectors of the uplands, including land owners and managers, conservation organisations, ornithologists and where necessary enforcement organisations. This initiative builds on other projects such as The Langholm Moor Demonstration Project, which is the main test bed for new management techniques which will help to ensure long term security for the harrier alongside other moorland management objectives and where landowners are playing a leading role.
“This year, five of our members in different parts of Scotland are working with SNH staff to use time lapse nest cameras to try to discover reasons why harrier breeding attempts are prone to failure. It is by working together in such projects that we can secure the future of these special birds.”
Tim Baynes, Director of the Scottish Moorland Group, said: “There is some terrific work underway to support the hen harrier, much of which is being actively supported by action on the ground from estates and land managers.
“We have seen some great success in projects involving estates last year but this initiative - asking for reports of sightings of hen harriers - is one that everyone can get involved in. From bird watchers to mountain climbers to land managers, everyone can help provide a valuable source of information on hen harrier populations prior to the proposed national survey next year, and we would ask our members to help us build this national picture of hen harrier numbers across Scotland.”
Professor Des Thompson (Scottish Natural Heritage), Chair of the Heads Up for Harriers Group, said: “Several national surveys of hen harriers have found they are faring well in some areas, but declining or absent all together in others. In some places, there are no harriers at all because of persecution and a range of other factors. Working within PAW Scotland, we’re trying to develop a clearer picture of the distribution of harriers, and the work needed to improve their prospects.
How to identify and report hen harrier sightings
Hen harriers are large birds of prey found mainly in moorland areas throughout Scotland. The male performs a spectacular, acrobatic courtship display which, together with the graceful and seemingly effortless flight of the birds, have earned them the nickname, ‘Sky Dancer’.
Male hen harriers are distinctive, with a pale, ash-grey colour, black wing tips and a wingspan of just less than a metre.
Female hen harriers are slightly larger, with an owl-like face and mottled brown plumage, which helps to camouflage them when they nest on the ground. They have obvious horizontal stripes on their tails.