Two young hen harrier chicks have been satellite tagged at an MoD base in Argyll as part of a national RSPB project to protect and conserve these threatened birds of prey.
The pair came from a nest of four young located at HM Naval Base Clyde's high security Coulport site, which is the storage and loading facility for the UK's Trident nuclear warheads. All four chicks were ringed and two, a male and a female, were tagged.
The satellite tagging was conducted as part of the RSPB's part EU-funded Hen Harrier LIFE+ Project, an exciting five year programme of nest protection, monitoring, community engagement and investigations work to secure a future for these birds in Scotland and northern England.
The data gathered from the tags will be monitored, to see where the birds go and identify the areas where they are most at risk.
Hen harriers are a red listed bird species of highest conservation concern in the UK. These raptors were hunted to extinction over most of the UK during the Victorian era and although their populations have recovered since then, they remain very much at risk from disturbance and illegal killing.
Sgt John Simpson, MoD Police wildlife crime officer, said: ""The Security at HM Naval Base Clyde that protects the Submarine Service also provides a sanctuary for hen harriers, the most endangered bird of prey in the UK. We understand that hen harriers are a necessary part of a healthy functioning countryside and are please we can play some part in helping to protect them."
Blánaid Denman, manager of the RSPB's Hen Harrier LIFE+ Project, said: "The last national survey in 2010 found Scottish hen harrier populations had fallen by 20% in just six years, with only 505 pairs remaining. According to an independent government report, Scotland should be able to support up to 1,790 pairs of harriers, but they are still being blighted by illegal killing and disturbance. As a result, these iconic birds are now missing from huge swathes of our landscape, when they should be an integral part of Scotland's natural beauty. That's why this type of work is so important, and why it's so positive to see a large landowner like the MoD leading by example and championing these birds.
"We're delighted to have worked alongside the MoD who have been monitoring and protecting this nest at Coulport. Given the parlous state of hen harriers in Scotland it's fantastic to see an adult pair being able to safely raise four fit and healthy young chicks. Hen harriers travel widely outside the breeding season, so we're waiting in anticipation for these chicks to spread their wings now, before being able to follow their lives and track their journeys around Britain and possibly beyond."
This Sunday, August 7, will mark the third annual Hen Harrier Day with events across Scotland and England to raise awareness of the plight of hen harriers. Four events will be taking place in Scotland including one on RSPB Scotland's Loch Leven reserve.
The MoD Police are responsible for protecting important elements of the UK's critical national infrastructure and strategic defence assets, as well as everything on them and everyone in them. It's vital and sensitive work and through that work we help to protect our nation's critical natural infrastructure.
RSPB Scotland is fully supporting the petition launched by the Scottish Raptor Study Group calling for a licensing system for gamebird hunting to be introduced in Scotland. The RSPB believes this type of system would help to deter wildlife criminals and reduce wildlife crime in Scotland, thus protecting our birds of prey. Find the petition here: www.parliament.scot/GettingInvolved/Petitions/PE01615
For more information on the Hen Harrier LIFE+ Project, please go to: www.rspb.org.uk/henharrierlife
Hen Harrier Day is coordinated by campaign group, Birders Against Wildlife Crime (BAWC), and supported by the RSPB, Scottish Wildlife Trust, Scottish Raptor Study Group, and others, these events are a coming together of people who care about hen harriers to express their anger and sadness at the loss of these birds and the desire to see their populations restored. For more information, visit www.birdersagainst.org
All satellite tagging work is carried out under licence from the relevant UK statutory conservation agencies and under special licence from the British Trust for Ornithology (BTO), in strict accordance with the law and following protocols identified in Raptors: a field guide to surveying and monitoring. The satellite tags are extremely small, representing less than three per cent of body weight, and do not harm the birds.
The hen harrier used to be a widespread and familiar bird in the uplands of Britain. However by 1900, Victorian persecution by gamekeepers and skin and egg collectors had pushed this bird of prey to extinction as a breeding species on the British mainland. Although the hen harrier has clawed back some of its lost ground, its diet of birds and small mammals, includes red grouse, thereby bringing the species into conflict with man, despite special legal protection.
At the last count during the National Hen Harrier Survey in 2010 there were 662 breeding hen harrier pairs in the UK; 505 of those in Scotland. According to the same survey, between 2004 and 2010 there was a 20 per cent decline in hen harriers across Scotland. The next National Hen Harrier Survey is being carried out this year (2016).
The Hen Harrier LIFE+ Project is part-funded by the European LIFE+ scheme and LUSH Cosmetics Ltd. LIFE is the EU's financial instrument for the environment. It funds conservation and other environmental projects right across Europe. In 2014, the year in which this hen harrier project was funded, LIFE awarded a total of €17 million to organisations in the UK.