141 hen harrier chicks have fledged in England this year, making 2023 the seventh year in a row that numbers have increased.

The statistics were released today (Saturday, September 16) by Natural England and the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB).

In 2023, 54 nests were recorded (up from 49 last year), of which 36 were successful (34 last year). This represents an average of 3.9 chicks per successful nest. 

Northumberland had the highest number of nesting attempts with 17 in total, and the highest increase on the year before where nine nests were recorded.

The Yorkshire Dales and Nidderdale area also remained a strong hold, Natural England said, with 15 nests recorded in 2023.  

The increase in hen harrier chicks successfully fledging means that 2023 is another record year, Natural England said, following 119 chicks recorded from nests in County Durham, Cumbria, Lancashire, Northumberland and Yorkshire in 2022. 

There are now more hen harriers in England since they were lost as a breeding species around 200 years ago.

Chair of Natural England, Tony Juniper, said:  “The continuing year on year increase in the number of hen harriers fledging from English nests is fantastic to see, and shows how through partnership work it is possible to reverse nature’s decline, even in the most challenging of circumstances.

“The encouraging numbers we see again this year are testament to the volunteers, landowners and partner organisations who have worked so hard to support and monitor these birds. 

“Today’s news is, however, overshadowed by continuing illegal persecution, which despite all the good practice among many landowners still stubbornly persists.”

Juniper said much more needs to be done to protect these birds and Natural England remains committed to stamping out the “despicable killing” of them.

“We will continue to work hard, improving monitoring and conservation management to achieve long term recovery,” he said.

Brood-managed chicks

The fledglings recorded this year includes 24 brood-managed chicks, taken from six nests on grouse moors and reared to fledging in captivity.

The brood management programme is an experiment to see if removing hen harrier chicks from grouse moors for rearing in captivity for later release reduces conflict with game shooting and reduces persecution sufficiently to allow populations to recover.

Natural England said it is committed to a full scientific investigation of this technique and the brood management trial has recently been extended to further understand the impact this has had on their conservation. 

Despite this progress, Natural England said the illegal killing of birds of prey remains a “serious and ongoing issue” which it is working alongside the police and National Wildlife Crime Unit to tackle.