RSPB Leighton Moss celebrates 30 years of iconic bird of prey

Tuesday 4 July 2017

Thirty years ago this summer, RSPB Leighton Moss nature reserve in Silverdale made history. For the first time in well over a hundred years, one of Britain's rarest birds, the marsh harrier, returned to nest in Lancashire, choosing the reserve's vast reed beds as its home. They have nested ever since and the site is encouraging visitors to come and witness these spectacular birds in action.

In the early 1970s just one pair of marsh harriers was known to nest in the whole of the UK but thanks to conservation efforts these spectacular birds slowly increased in number. In April 1987 a pair arrived at Leighton Moss and successfully raised three chicks at the RSPB's flagship reserve.

Marsh harriers are large and impressive birds of prey which usually spend the winter in Africa, returning here in the spring. It is thought that there are now around 400 pairs breeding in Britain every year. Unfortunately the recovery of marsh harriers has not been mirrored by the widely publicised decline of their close relative the hen harrier, which is perilously close to extinction as a breeding bird in England.

Since their return to Lancashire thirty years ago, marsh harriers have nested at Leighton Moss annually; raising in excess of 200 youngsters over three decades. Staff and volunteers have been keeping a close eye on the two nests at Leighton Moss this year and on 30 June they were thrilled to see the first chick taking its inaugural flight.

Over the coming weeks, the young birds will be stretching their wings and learning to hunt for themselves, so it's the perfect time to visit Leighton Moss and Morecambe Bay nature reserve to see them. The parents are continuing to provide food for the hungry fledglings and visitors may see several harriers in the air at one time!

Jarrod Sneyd, Site Manager at RSPB Leighton Moss said "When these superb birds first nested on the reserve in 1987 we were thrilled. The success of marsh harriers at Leighton Moss over the last thirty years has been astounding and it goes to show just how valuable our precious wetlands and reed beds are to the wildlife that makes its home in these special places".

For the chance to see these iconic birds, pop along to the visitor centre at Leighton Moss between 9.30 am and 5 pm, where staff and volunteers will happily direct visitors to where the birds might be.

To find out more about the other amazing wildlife on the reserve and the range of events being held over the summer, visit

Last Updated: Tuesday 28 August 2018

Tagged with: Country: England Topic: Birds of prey