A single hen harrier chick has successfully fledged at RSPB Geltsdale for the first time in a decade.
The male bird, named Bonny, was the only chick to hatch from a clutch of five eggs at the North Pennines reserve and is one of only seven to fledge in the whole of England this season. The other chicks fledged from two nests in Northumberland.
Hen harriers are on the verge of extinction in England, resulting from ongoing illegal persecution on some grouse moors, and Bonny's survival has been a classic tale of triumph over adversity, defying the odds at every turn.
Blanaid Denman, the RSPB's Hen Harrier LIFE Project Manager, explains: "Bonny's mother arrived at the reserve back in May looking for a mate but she had to wait several weeks for a male to turn up. When one finally did appear, she was not impressed.
"He was young and yet to gain his adult grey plumage. Normally, in a healthy population of hen harriers, an immature male like this wouldn't get a look in. But with so few birds in England, the female had little option but to accept his advances or leave breeding to another year."
Once it had been confirmed there was a nest, RSPB staff and volunteers mounted a 24/7 watch and provided supplementary food under licence, to ensure that the family of hen harriers had the best possible chance of survival and success.
Blanaid Denman continues: "The supplementary food proved vital as the inexperienced male was hopelessly inattentive of his dependent female, often vanishing for days before reappearing with a paltry food offering. The extra food ensured that the female never had to go far from the nest to feed Bonny or herself."
Bonny has already achieved national fame as his name was selected by nature TV presenter Chris Packham from over 2,300 entries to a competition run by LUSH cosmetics, to celebrate the incredible £122,000 raised by their skydancer bathbombs to support hen harrier conservation.
He is one of a number of hen harriers to be satellite tagged as part of RSPB's Hen Harrier LIFE Project across England, Scotland and the Isle of Man this year (see note). Once he has left Geltsdale in a few weeks, it will be possible to follow his movements online at rspb.org.uk/henharrierlife or @RSPB_Skydancer.
1. The RSPB is the UK's largest nature conservation charity, inspiring everyone to give nature a home. Together with our partners, we protect threatened birds and wildlife so our towns, coast and countryside will teem with life once again. We play a leading role in BirdLife International, a worldwide partnership of nature conservation organisations.
2. The EU LIFE+ Project: Conserving the hen harrier (Circus cyaneus) in northern England and southern and eastern Scotland (LIFE13 NAT/UK/000258) includes conservation within seven Special Protection Areas, listed under the Birds Directive: two in England; Bowland Fells; North Pennine Moors; and five in Scotland; Glen Tanar; Muirkirk and North Lowther Uplands; Langholm - Newcastleton Hills; Glen App and Galloway Moors; and the Forest of Clunie.
3. LIFE is the EU's financial instrument for the environment. It funds conservation and other environmental projects right across Europe. In 2013, the year in which this hen harrier project was funded, LIFE awarded a total of €17 million to organisations in the UK.
Natura 2000 is a network of important sites for wildlife covering the whole of the EU. It is made up of Special Protection Areas (SPAs) for birds and Special Areas of Conservation (SACs) for other species and habitats. These sites are the 'jewels in the crown' of European nature conservation and are protected under both national and