The National Trust for Scotland is celebrating the birth of four hen harrier chicks on Mar Lodge Estate in the heart of the Cairngorms National Park. This is the first time that harriers have been recorded breeding on the remote estate in several decades.
The strongest of the chicks has been satellite-tagged by RSPB’s Hen Harrier LIFE team. A twitter poll has been launched to help name the bird (learning from the whole Boaty McBoatface thing, names have already been shortlisted.) Weighing just 3% of the bird’s total body weight, the tag is in no way detrimental to the bird, and will provide researchers with a wealth of valuable data.
Mar Lodge Estate, which you may have seen on BBC’s Winterwatch, is a hugely popular tourist destination which balances recreation and wildlife conservation with highland sporting activities including walked-up grouse shooting. Boasting rare Caledonian pinewoods and four of the five highest mountains in Britain, the estate is a safe haven for any number of endangered British species, including golden eagle, pine marten and black grouse.
However, concern for the well-being of the birds once they have left Mar Lodge Estate has already been voiced in several quarters. Regular visitors to wildlifearticles.co.uk will be well aware that hen harriers are the UK’s most heavily persecuted bird of prey. They remain under threat from illegal killing and disturbance in areas of South and East Scotland and England where their predilection for red grouse is often perceived to put them in conflict with land management for driven grouse shooting. Raptor Persecution Scotland today called the Eastern Cairngorms ‘a well-known black hole for hen harriers’.
NTS Property Manager David Frew said: “We have worked hard to create an environment where raptors can thrive, and it is great to see that our approach to management is paying off. The estate is heavily used by visitors to the Cairngorms and we work hard to balance conservation, field sports and visitor access and enjoyment.
“The presence of raptors, and particularly the return of hen harriers, demonstrates that these objectives can all be balanced given the right conditions. It is tremendously exciting to see these birds here once again.”
lánaid Denman, Project Manager for RSPB’s Hen Harrier LIFE Project said: “This is amazing news and even more so when you consider the parlous state of Scotland’s hen harrier population.
“National surveys show a 20% decline in just six years between 2004 and 2010 and East Scotland in particular has seen only a handful of successful breeding attempts in recent years. All this makes the return of hen harriers to Mar Lodge even more exciting and a wonderful cause for celebration.
“Full credit to all those involved in management of the estate and how fantastic it would be if this were the start of a wider return of hen harriers to this area. In the meantime, we’re very grateful to Mar Lodge Estate for allowing us to fit a satellite tag to this chick and excited to watch her spread her wings.”
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