Last week we were in high spirits, celebrating our National Lottery Award for Best Education project. This week though, we received some news that has left us devastated.
It has emerged that two of the hen harrier chicks that fledged this year on the United Utilities Bowland Estate have vanished. Gone without a trace.
Female birds Sky and Hope had both been fitted with satellite tags so we could monitor their movements over the next few years.
Sky being fitted with a sat tag. Photo by Jude Lane
Hope. Image by Jude Lane
But both of these tags stopped transmitting within a few days of each other. It is unlikely that this is due to technical difficulties as this technology is generally very reliable. This leaves two possible explanations: fox predation or human persecution.
We have searched for the birds but haven’t found them. We may never know exactly what happened to them. After months of protecting these chicks and their siblings with 24 hour nest protection, this is a cruel blow indeed.
And we are not the only ones who are gutted by these disappearances. Sky was one of five chicks that had been officially named and adopted by pupils from Brennand’s Endowed Primary School in Slaidburn.
When we told head teacher Charlotte Peregrine the bad news, this was her response:
"As a rural school we cherish our beautiful and unique environment at every opportunity. We felt really honoured to be part of the Skydancer project and wanted to help support the plight of the hen harriers. Naming the chicks and visiting the nesting site was really exciting and we have been following the progress of Sky & Highlander (another of the tagged chicks) intently at school.
"The children are truly upset about the disappearance of Sky and everyone at school is hoping that their worst fears are not confirmed. We will continue to follow the progress of Highlander and only hope he will remain safe and live a long life"
And here is what some of the pupils had to say when they heard about Sky:
“Sky was my favourite hen harrier, I felt happy when I saw him fly” Max, aged six
“I feel very worried that they might not come back” Charlotte aged eight
“I’m sad because I was one of the children from Brennand’s Endowed who went to see the Hen Harriers nesting and see them fly. To know that two of them are missing makes me really sad”
Matthew aged 11
“I feel it is such a tragic loss for such a rare and endangered species” David aged ten
“I feel very sad and miserable. What if they have been shot, it is hunting season” Sadé aged nine
Where Sky had been adopted by Brennand’s, Hope had a special place in the hearts of our Wildlife Explorer and Phoenix groups from Macclesfield and Leighton Moss. Young people from these groups had named Hope while making a film in Bowland with Chris Packham about Skydancer’s National Lottery Award.
Speaking to the BBC on the subject, 16-year-old Macclefield group leader Kat Mayer, 16, said: "It's really disappointing, because the ones that were radio tagged could have spread awareness through the blogs and social media so people could have learned about them and been able to follow them."
Her brother Will, 13, added: "It's really upsetting. It wasn't our bird, but it was a bird that we were close to because we had named it."