05:30, 2 JUL 2016
Wildlife guardians are keeping a round-the-clock watch on the nest of a bird of prey on the edge of extinction in England.
The pair of hen harriers is nesting at the RSPB Geltsdale reserve in the North Pennines.
Wardens visited the nest under licence and were delighted to discover that the female is currently incubating five eggs on what is believed to be one of only three hen harrier nests in England this year.
If the eggs hatch, it will be the first time there have been hen harrier chicks at RSPB Geltsdale for a decade.
Hen harriers nest in the uplands but they are on the verge of extinction as a breeding bird in England owing to ongoing illegal persecution. In 2015, there were only six successful nests in the whole country.
Last year, a pair bred at Geltsdale but the nest failed during the incubation period after the male suddenly and inexplicably vanished while hunting. Faced with the prospect of starvation, the female had little choice but to abandon her eggs.
With the Government and landowners now officially committed to the recovery of the species through the DEFRA Hen Harrier Action Plan, published earlier this year, the RSPB hopes this season’s nests will fare better.
Steve Westerberg, site manager at RSPB Geltsdale, said: “We’re delighted that we have hen harriers breeding on the reserve once again. It’s an incredibly nerve-wracking time but we’re crossing our fingers that we’ll see fledged young in a few months’ time.
“Staff and volunteers are watching the nest around the clock to prevent unnecessary disturbance, and we have spoken to our neighbouring estates about the birds so they can play their part in helping to ensure that the birds are safe when they leave our reserve to hunt.”
Last year hen harriers bred in the North East for the first time in seven years.
The Northumberland Hen Harrier Protection Partnership reported that there were two successful nests on Forestry Commission land in the county. Another hen harrier nest in County Durham produced three chicks.
In 2013, there were no successful nests in England and in 2014 just three pairs bred.