The Countryside Alliance, British Association for Shooting and Conservation, CLA, Game & Wildlife Conservation Trust, The National Gamekeepers’ Organisation, and the Moorland Association are calling for Defra to implement a plan for hen harrier recovery across England.

In 2014 there were just four breeding attempts, all on or adjacent to moorland managed for red grouse, with 16 chicks fledged.

However, this year saw a 300 percent increase in nesting attempts to 12 nests. Six of these were successful in Durham, Cumbria, Northumberland and Lancashire with 18 chicks surviving. 

Grouse moor managers played a significant role in this year’s success by protecting nests. Four of the successful nests were on or adjacent to moorland with grouse shooting interests. But despite this welcome news, the organisations say more needs to be done.

Barney White-Spunner, executive chairman of the Countryside Alliance, said: “This year’s improved figures for hen harrier breeding are welcome news but further action needs to be taken if populations are to increase.

“It is more than a year since the hen Harrier Joint Recovery Plan, a campaign drawn up by moor owners, gamekeepers and conservation groups was completed. The plan proposes action on persecution, monitoring and satellite tracking, diversionary feeding of hen harriers, possible reintroductions across suitable habitat in England and temporary relocation of chicks to aviaries where nests are in close proximity.

“It is vitally important that the Joint Recovery Plan be published and implemented and it is unacceptable that even after a year the RSPB has still not signed up to this vital agreement.”

Amanda Anderson, director of the Moorland Association added: “The sooner the recovery plan is published and implemented, the sooner people will be able to see hen harriers ‘skydancing’ in their nearest suitable habitat. Gamekeepers are very much a part of this solution, providing habitat, prey and protection from predators.”

She added that £52.5 million was invested annually by owners on moorland conservation and protection and warned that stopping grouse shooting would put other bird species at risk.

“In the late 1990s, driven grouse shooting and habitat management stopped in the Berwyn Special Protection Area in North Wales leading to serious declines in bird species,” she said. “Despite its conservation designations, lapwings became extinct, golden plover declined by 90 percent, curlew by 79 percent, black grouse by 78 percent and ring ouzel by 80 percent.

“The number of hen harriers, whose decline has frequently been blamed on moorland gamekeepers, fell by 49 percent after management for red grouse was abandoned and gamekeepers lost their jobs. We need to focus on win-win solutions, not lose-lose scenarios.”