Chris Packham and Megan McCubbin will be hosting 2020’s Hen Harrier Day – which this year has moved online after uncertainties about whether previously booked hosting locations would be available (or even whether lockdown would have ended).
Launched with several concurrent events (including the famously rainswept event in the Upper Derwent Valley in the Peak District organised by Dr Mark Avery), Hen Harrier Day began in 2014 to raise awareness of the persecution these spectacular birds face on grouse moors. Deliberately held on the weekend closest to the start of the ‘Inglorious 12th’, Hen Harrier Day has always aimed to help put an end to wildlife crime and the wider abuse of the uplands associated with shooting birds for ‘sport’.
Medium-sized raptors (about the same size as the much more familiar Common Buzzard or North America’s Red-tailed Hawk) Hen Harriers are perhaps best known for their acrobatic ‘skydancing’ mating ritual. It’s a ritual that fewer and few of us will be privileged to see though because Hen Harriers are one of the UK’s rarest birds of prey. Almost lost as a breeding bird in England, this once widespread beautiful bird has declined across the UK because of illegal persecution on grouse moors: in the UK they are unfortunately restricted to breeding on moorlands, many of which are privately-owned shooting estates in our so-called ‘national parks’ (some of which, like the North York Moors and Peak District NPs in England and the Cairngorms NP in Scotland are now notorious as raptor persecution hot spots).
Why are they so heavily persecuted? Hen Harriers (like all birds of prey) are fully protected in law via The Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981, but while they feed largely on voles and small birds like Meadow Pipits, they will also feed on Red Grouse chicks – especially where grouse are reared in the atypically high numbers typical of grouse moors. And estate owners will simply not allow the loss of grouse to anyone or anything that hasn’t paid to kill them.
There is actually habitat available for thousands of pairs of Hen Harriers across the whole of the UK, and enough room for over 300 breeding pairs in England alone. Studies have shown though that 72% of young satellite-tagged Hen Harriers (ie birds fitted with lightweight satellite tags used to track their movements) will disappear in ‘suspicious circumstances’ (essentially legalese code for ‘killed’) on grouse moors in northern England (especially during the first few months of the “Inglorious” grouse shooting season in August, September and October). Video and images of illegally killed adults are widespread on the internet.
Hen Harrier Day 2020
Hen Harrier Day 2020 will take place on the 8th August and run across several social media channels including YouTube, Twitter and Facebook. The programme will include expert talks, short films, competitions, challenges, music, art and more, featuring leading writers, artists and conservationists.
Chris Packham said: “I am delighted to be hosting Hen Harrier Day Online and look forward to enthusing audiences new and old about these iconic birds. I have been involved in Hen Harrier Days ever since the first one in the Derwent Valley in 2014, and I am delighted to see the event flourishing despite the tragedy of Covid-19.
“I am looking forward to a great day helping raise awareness of this wonderful bird and its terrible persecution on driven grouse moors. I will be talking to inspiring young people, great experts and many others who want to see urgent change in our uplands so that hen harriers can continue to be part of these landscapes.”
Megan McCubbin said: Hen Harrier Day 2020 will be a virtual event like no other, filled with science, art, music and the conservation of one of the UK’s most iconic birds of prey.
“It’s a day to celebrate the Hen Harrier’s glory, but also to highlight the environmental injustices of driven grouse shooting and illegal wildlife persecution. I am thrilled to be hosting it this year from the New Forest where we will be talking to the experts and encouraging our audiences to get involved so that hen harriers can safely soar across our moorland for generations to come.”