Suspicions are high and time is limited. The hen harrier, which could become Britain's national bird next month, is dying out. But what, or who is responsible? Joe Shute investigates
By Joe Shute
7:05AM BST 16 May 2015
Thursday afternoon in the Forest of Bowland and since the previous evening there have been no sightings from the hen harrier nest hidden halfway down the fell. A volunteer who stayed up all through the night keeping a telescope trained on the site is now asleep, and four of us sit on the open heather for the day shift, staring out across the valley towards a steep ravine – known in Lancashire parlance as a clough.
Suddenly, a hen harrier appears, scything along the top of the moorland ridge.These birds of prey are known as sky dancers for their elaborate aerial displays and as it dives down its grey plumage flashes off the black boggy earth. It is a male, and not the one who is supposed to be providing food for the nesting female, but still those present breathe a sigh of relief as we watch the bird swoop. A glimpse – any glimpse – is at least proof this fragile population hasn’t yet been wiped out altogether.