Plans to reintroduce hen harriers to the south welcomed by both sides of the debate

Hen harriers are on the brink of extinction in England as a result of persecution: RSPB Images/PA Wire
Hen harriers are on the brink of extinction in England as a result of persecution: RSPB Images/PA Wire
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PLANS have been unveiled to protect one of England’s rarest birds of prey and reintroduce it in parts of the south of England.

Although there are more than 600 pairs of hen harriers nesting in the UK, in England they are teetering on the brink of extinction, as a result conservationists say, of being targeted by gamekeepers because they prey on red grouse.

In an increasingly bitter debate, the shooting industry says grouse estates spend millions of pounds a year on conservation and wants to see a well-dispersed hen harrier population which co-exists with local businesses.

As well as monitoring hen harrier numbers with satellite tagging and protecting nests, the plan includes measures to provide other food for hen harriers and their young to stop them taking grouse chicks.

It also includes controversial plans to take young birds in areas with larger numbers of harriers and rear them in captivity before releasing them elsewhere.

The RSPB said the plan was not perfect and there were many hurdles. But it reflected “real potential for progress on one of the most deep-rooted conflicts in conservation.”

North Yorkshire is consistently one of the worst areas in the country for persecution of birds of prey. Chris Collett from the RSPB in Northern England, said: “There is a lot of potential nesting habitat for hen harriers in North Yorkshire but sadly, no birds have successfully bred there for a number of years. The measure of this plan’s success will be more hen harriers and seeing these birds return to breed in places like North Yorkshire.”

Director of the Moorland Association, Amanda Anderson welcomed the plans saying they were “looking forward to working on with others to ensure they are successful.” However the League Against Cruel Sports said the only way to protect birds of prey was to stop gamekeepers illegally killing them.