A RECORD number of hen harrier chicks have been fitted with satellite tags this year as part of a conservation project.
The RSPB said 24 young birds have been fitted with transmitters in the UK so far – double the number tagged in 2016.
The majority of the tagged birds are in Scotland, with others in Wales and the Isle of Man. No hen harriers were tagged in England this year due to poor weather.
The charity hopes that by tracking the movements of the threatened birds of prey, it builds up a clearer picture of where hen harriers go and where they are at risk.
A recent survey showed that in the last 12 years, the number of breeding pairs of hen harriers has fallen by more than a quarter (27%) in Scotland and by over a third (39%) in the UK as a whole.
The population decline is due to habitat disturbance and illegal killing, according to the RSPB.
Project manager Blanaid Denman said: “By satellite tracking more hen harriers than ever before, we’ll gain a clearer picture of where these birds are spending their time and what exactly is happening to them.
“We’ve already discovered previously unknown nesting and winter roosting sites, as well as been able to pinpoint where natural deaths and illegal killings have occurred.
“It’s both infuriating and utterly heartbreaking to see these beautiful birds, year after year, disappear off the radar. Something needs to change.
“A system of grouse moor licensing would not only protect hen harriers but also tackle wider damaging grouse moor management practices, such as heather burning on deep peat and inappropriate drainage. For now though, I’ll be watching our newly-fledged hen harriers, praying for their safety, and waiting to see what incredible journeys are about to unfold.”
The Hen Harrier LIFE project is now in its third year. It has received extra funding from cosmetic company LUSH through sales of a specially created “Skydancer” bath bomb.
Paul Morton, from LUSH, said: “We’re thrilled to hear that the money raised by our customers has allowed the RSPB to sat-tag more hen harrier chicks than ever before.
“Monitoring as many youngsters as possible as they take their first flights across the length and breadth of the country is vital for their long-term protection. The message is loud and clear: a nation is watching and will have the welfare of each of these birds close to our hearts.”
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