Ten hen harrier nests recorded in Yorkshire Dales

File pic of a hen harrier.

Ten pairs of rare hen harriers have successfully nested in the Yorkshire Dales this year.

Natural England says there 119 hen harrier chicks have fledged from nests across uplands in County Durham, Cumbria, Lancashire, Northumberland and Yorkshire in 2022 – a record number.

This is the first time in over 100 years that more than 100 hen harriers have been added to the English population.

Officials say this shows real progress in efforts to protect and restore their numbers.

Hen harriers were once found across upland and lowland Britain including throughout many English counties. However after 1830 they became exceptionally rare breeding birds in England due to persecution, which was made illegal in the 1954 but continues in some places today.

The hen harrier now is one of England’s rarest breeding birds of prey.

Hen harriers are one of Britain’s most distinctive birds with a characteristic owl-like face and stiff facial feathers that direct sound toward their ears to enable them to hunt more effectively.

Natural England chair 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.”

This is the sixth successive year of increases, following a low in 2016 when only eight chicks fledged.

There were 49 nests recorded in 2022, of which 34 were successful in producing chicks.

Lancashire remained a stronghold, with 18 nests recorded in Bowland, and there was also a cluster of territories in Northumberland (nine nests). There were 10 nests across the Yorkshire Dales & Nidderdale region, seven in the North Pennines, and five in the Peak District.

Officials say this represents an encouraging increase in numbers across their range compared with the recent past, when only a few pairs nested each year, mostly in Bowland.

The total number of chicks includes 13 birds taken from four nests on grouse moors, reared and released as part of the Brood Management Trial.

This aims to test whether this technique can influence attitudes among the moorland community and reduce persecution, as well as contributing healthy adult birds to the population. Brood-managed birds from previous years also bred successfully, with five birds producing 10 chicks between them in 2022.

Natural England is involved in a number of initiatives to help ensure hen harriers recover including through the Hen Harrier Action Plan published by Defra in 2016.