Hen harrier becomes first to make remarkable journey to Portugal

Becca Smith

Friday 6 March 2020

Hen harrier Circus cyaneus, female in flight against blue sky, Geltsdale, Cumbria

Lancashire born hen harrier becomes first to make remarkable journey to Portugal

A hen harrier born in Lancashire in 2019 has made an astounding journey south to Portugal – data from his satellite tag revealed he has flown over 1000 miles to spend the winter abroad.

Named Apollo, the male hen harrier was one of 22 chicks who successfully fledged from five nests being monitored by the RSPB’s Hen Harrier LIFE project team and partners on the United Utilities Bowland estate in the summer of 2019.

Hen harriers are one of the most persecuted birds of prey in the UK, and the RSPB’s Hen Harrier LIFE project team have been fitting satellite tags to young birds to learn more about where the birds travel.

James Bray, the RSPB’s Bowland Project Officer, said: “Each day was nerve wracking but after two long months we were really pleased to see the chicks start to fledge. We were not prepared for what we would see next though – it’s truly amazing that these young birds can make such long journeys and shows the value of satellite tag technology.”

“We were astounded by Apollo’s movements as he travelled south. Crossing the English Channel in October, Apollo journeyed into Brittany before passing over the Bay of Biscay into Northern Spain - a journey over 400 miles long which remarkably only took him less than a day to complete.

“We are continuing to monitor Apollo and we’re excited to see whether this remarkable bird will return to his native Bowland for the summer and if we might see him sky-dancing above our hills again… “

Dr. Cathleen Thomas, Senior Project Manager for Hen Harrier LIFE said: “This is a spectacular piece of flying for a bird that was only a few months old on his first major outing. The joy of working on a project like this is that we’re learning all the time about the capabilities of these amazing birds.

It also helps us to implement better measures to protect them and shows that we need cross-border collaboration across the UK and beyond to protect this species and preserve its habitat across its entire range before we lose it for good.

Independent scientific studies have shown that the main cause of the hen harrier population decline is illegal killing associated with management of moorlands for driven grouse shooting. It vital that we work together to protect these birds, by licencing of grouse moors across the UK. A licencing framework would set a new direction for the legal and sustainable management of large areas of our upland landscapes, as well as providing a meaningful deterrent to wildlife crime. We welcome the Scottish Government’s review of grouse moor management and their recommendation of licencing of driven grouse shooting and would like to see this rolled out across the whole of the UK.”

The tags have revealed the birds travel widely across the UK and beyond into Europe. The project team will use the data from the journeys of Apollo and other tagged hen harriers to assist with the future planning of suitable conservation management for hen harriers. The use of satellite tagging technology to track the individuals also provides powerful information to better understand species and their ecology, including the reasons for the UK population decline.

For further information and to arrange an interview, please contact:

Becca Smith, Communications Officer, 01392 453 761 / 07738 029 327

Tony Whitehead, Country Communications Manager, 01392 453 754 / 07872 414 365

Image of Apollo attached. Please credit Steve Downing. A map of Apollo’s journey is also available, credit RSPB.

Editor’s notes:

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. www.rspb.org.uk

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.

 4. 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 EU law.

5. Murgatroyd et al., (2019) published a peer-reviewed paper showing that 72% of the satellite tagged hen harriers in their study were killed or very likely to have been killed on British grouse moors, and that hen harriers were 10 times more likely to die or disappear over areas of grouse moor relative to other land uses.

Last Updated: Monday 16 March 2020

Tagged with: Topic: Birds Topic: Migration Topic: News Category Topic: Hen harrier Topic: England