A WILDLIFE charity fears three very rare hen harriers have disappeared from the Trough of Bowland and may have been killed.

The disappearance of the birds has led to the failure of two nests and up to 12 unhatched chicks.


There were only four pairs of breeding hen harriers in England and two were on the United Utilities Bowland estate.

The Royal Society of the Protection of Birds (RSPB) reports three male birds have disappeared over the last three weeks on the Ribble Valley estate and have failed to return to their partners who are relying on their prey to feed whilst protecting their unhatched eggs.

Hen harriers are birds of prey and are protected by law.

Chris Collett, communications manager for the RSPB, said: “Hen harriers are at a critically low number in England. The disappearance of these three birds and the failure of two nests is such bad news.”

He said as well as small mammals like voles, hen harriers also eat red grouse chicks.

“A report by Natural England states that the largest cause for breeding failure is illegal killing.”

There is no evidence of the reasons for the hen harrier’ disappearance.

A mating hen harrier typically lays four to six eggs, all of which stand a good chance of hatching and fledging, when their feathers and wing muscles are sufficiently developed for flight.

Three hen harriers have disappeared. That includes the two male partners and another male which arrived shortly after the first bird failed to return.

The female can’t leave the nest because they have to look after the eggs and sit on them for around 30 days. They rely on the male to bring food on a daily basis - travelling several km away from the nest. If there is no male to feed her she has to leave the nest to feed or stay and starve.

It is thought both males have not returned and the female has been forced to look for food.

Chris said: “The birds have just disappeared and haven’t returned back to the nests which is very unusual. They are a bird of prey so they are a predator.

“Hen harriers are measured in pairs. Last year there was four breeding pairs in England - two of which were in Bowland.

“The birds tend to return to similar sites on the estate and build a new nest on the ground. They like the heather moorland and they seem to breed with multiple nests in Bowland most consistently. It’s the only stronghold in England.”

The RSPB has been working with United Utilities, the landowners of the estate, for a number of years to help monitor the nests.

The Bowland Estate is within the Forest of Bowland, an area of outstanding natural beauty. It contains a number of fells, deep valleys and peat moorland used for walking, cycling and even seasonal grouse shooting. People are being urged to report sightings of the birds on the hen harrier hotline. Chris said: “If we know where they have been sighted we can potentially put more measures in place to protect a nest, such as 24-hour surveillance or cameras. Otherwise we are looking at the possible extinction of this bird in England.”

None of the birds were wearing transmitters, which were fitted to chicks on the Bowland Estate in 2014.

Amanda Anderson, director of the Moorland Association, said: “It is very disappointing news. Every nest counts and we want to see more hen harriers on more moorlands. Whilst we are asking people to be vigilant and report any sightings, we also ask people to be aware that these birds don’t like to be disturbed.”of it on moorland