RSPB Presentation on Hen Harrier – 8 May 2018

Catherine Cumming, a Community Engagement Officer with the RSPB (Royal Society for protection of Birds), gave a delightfully illustrated talk on the UK hen harrier, a moorland raptor and protected upland species. RSPB is the UK’s largest nature conservation charity, working with partners to protect threatened birds and wildlife so our towns, coast and countryside will teem with birdlife once again. It plays a leading role in Bird-Life International, a worldwide partnership of nature conservation organisations.

Catherine is responsible for running the Hen Harrier LIFE+ Project, an ambitious five-year programme of hen harrier conservation and the first truly cross-border, joint Scottish-English initiative. She began, with obvious enthusiasm, by describing the flying techniques and mating behaviour of the hen harrier. It has a unique ritual involving acrobatic, aerial ‘passes’ of food, known as ‘sky-dancing’, between male and female as a precursor to mating. She then explained how the birds generally seek lowland wintering sites, sometimes travelling long distances (Western Isles, Ireland and even France and Spain).

Eighty percent of UK hen harriers survive in Scotland where there are currently around only 450 breeding pairs. However, numbers have steadily declined (by some 10% since 2010) due to habitat degradation and wildlife crime and there is conflict on the moors with the grouse shooting estates since the harrier’s staple diet is grouse chicks. RSPB is working to reduce this conflict and to improve the harriers’ survival rates through a variety of means. These include nest protection, providing alternative food sources near nesting sites, winter roost monitoring and satellite tracking. Community engagement (such as Catherine’s talk to Rotary) is also important to increase awareness of the plight of the hen harrier and thus to increase focus on conservation.

Ron Ireland thanked Catherine for her interesting talk and urged members to subscribe to RSPB membership as the best way of supporting bird conservation efforts.