A few posts ago, I was celebrating the fact that a chick from the first year I helped to protect the Glaslyn osprey nest (2012) had successfully returned to the UK for the first time. It was, for me, a reason to be very happy and proud that I had played a small part in helping this to happen – many others, and the osprey itself of course, can take much more credit!
However, this joy has now been tempered somewhat.
On one protection shift this year, I took along a friend, Jack (fellow wildlife enthusiast, womble tsar, long range cyclist, unstoppable camera-trapper and very poor whisky drinker), to show him what we do. He seemed to enjoy himself and hopefully will come along again next year.
Over the course of the summer, Jack got a job with the RSPB on their (now award-winning) Skydancer project doing the same role that the volunteers undertake at Glaslyn, but for hen harriers rather than ospreys. Based in the Forest of Bowland in north Lancashire, Jack spent many nights watching over a hen harrier nest from within a hide. Whilst there, Jack got some great views of wildlife in general as well as the hen harriers themselves. Unfortunately not all of the locals were friendly and many a night was spent fending off the unwanted advances of overly insistent midges (an experience I know all too well!).
In England, hen harriers are even rarer than their fish-eating cousin raptors and no pairs successfully bred in the country at all last year. So it was with some relief that three nests managed to fledge chicks this summer (two nests in Bowland and one in the Lakes). However, it was with great sadness and extreme anger that I heard today that two chicks from the Bowland nests have disappeared. They were fitted with trackers, which have both now fallen silent. The trackers are very reliable and it is highly unlikely that one of them, let alone both, will have failed whilst the birds were still alive. The most likely explanation is that both birds have been killed and probably at the hands of man. Whether this can be blamed on their nemesis, the gamekeeper, we may never know, but if I were a betting man…
It just goes to show that the collective will of many does not always overcome the selfishness of a few. It also shows that the hard work of species protection teams is still of importance in the fight against our fellow humans who will not let a little thing like legal protection get in the way of their destructive hobbies.
I don’t often see hen harriers (obviously, I suppose) but when I do, it’s usually pretty memorable. No other sighting I’ve had, however, can beat seeing a male harrier mobbing a wolf; and I even got a snap! In the photo above, the wolf is in the centre, on the track, while the light-coloured spot above and to the left is the harrier (it is, honest – they were at least a mile away after all!)