Hen Harrier | ‘Epic journey’ not the real story

A recent article in the Lancashire Telegraph – reprinted below – is interesting, and perhaps not for reasons that are immediately obvious. We already know that Hen Harriers regularly make the ‘epic journey’ across the Channel, for example, and we already know that the crossing is dangerous. No, what is particularly striking is that a journalist whose social media feed doesn’t ordinarily feature wildlife (that’s an observation, not a criticism in any way) is covering an RSPB press-release and taking ‘ownership’ of a bird on behalf of a county which the vast majority of its residents (if they’re typical of everywhere else) won’t have even heard of…

That may be making an unfair assumption – the Hen Harrier is featured in the logo of the Forest of Bowland AONB after all – but it’s still heartening (though perhaps typically partisan) that a local paper has taken a story about birds from Lancashire and Wales, and turned it into a ‘local interest’ article.

Partisan or not, though, anything that encourages local residents to think about Bowland’s harriers as ‘theirs’ is a very welcome step forward. Hopefully it will encourage an interest in the birds and – having learned more about them – a desire to protect them.

Which is where the article becomes (in our opinion anyway) even more positive. For longer than anyone here can remember, journalists have felt obliged (or have been ‘persuaded’) to print mealy-mouthed excuses for raptor persecution given by the shooting industry. Every report, every item, every piece of writing that mentioned the illegal killing of Hen Harriers on grouse moors carried a statement in ‘response’ from a land owner or a gamekeeper’s representative – but not this one. And it is so much the better for it.

As the article plainly states, with no counter-attempts to justify or deny, Hen Harriers are rare and ‘their population declined by 24% between 2004-2016 in England, largely due to human persecution‘. That is the fact no matter how hard shooting lobbyists and propagandists attempt to colour it.

Having said that, Bowland’s harriers have been inexcusably and deliberately picked off for decades to ‘protect’ shooting industry profits. We’ll know that the local media have really understood that when they start talking about why – even though harriers have been making long journies like these for millennia – a bird making it from Lancashire and back TWICE has actually managed something really remarkable: not because it has made several sea-crossings, but because it has survived the guns and the poisons lined up against it at home…



Hen harrier makes epic journey from Lancashire to Spain

A TWO-year-old hen harrier has become the first Lancashire bird to migrate over 1000 miles to Spain where he has spent the past two winters.

Apollo, a young male, was fitted with a satellite-tracking device before he fledged from his nest on the United Utilities Bowland estate in 2019.

The satellite tag has allowed scientists at the RSPB to follow his incredible journey, taking him all the way to Extremadura in the west of Spain where he spent his first winter in 2019/20.

Apollo then flew back to Bowland the following spring, returning to breed with a young female just a few miles from where he himself had hatched.

Apollo then repeated his journey to Spain in autumn 2020, following a dead-straight line to the exact spot in Extremadura – a landscape of steppes, forest, and farming between Lisbon and Madrid, and one of the most biodiverse places in Europe.

Meanwhile, Apollo’s brother Dynamo, who was tagged at the same time, hasn’t ventured more than 50 miles from Bowland.

James Bray, Bowland Project Officer at the RSPB, said: “Initially we believed that most of our tagged hen harriers stayed in the British uplands all year-round.

“However, it’s become clear that around 10 per cent of birds cross the English Channel for the winter, some bound for France and a few for Spain. None of the tagged RSPB birds that travelled to Spain had made it back to the UK, until now.

“Clearly Apollo’s Spanish wintering ground has everything he needs, but how these birds find their way back to the exact same spot, almost 1000 miles away, with such precision, remains a wonderful mystery.”

Hen harriers are rare, protected birds of prey that breed in upland areas of the UK. Males are grey with black wingtips and around the size of a gull. Their population declined by 24% between 2004-2016 in England, largely due to human persecution.

Sophie-May Clarke, Lancashire Telegraph, 18 Feb 21