The RSPB is calling for the public’s support to help it win lottery funding to protect England’s most threatened bird of prey.
Its four year Skydancer project aims to raise awareness and promote the conservation of hen harriers across the north of England including Northumberland.
The initiative has reached the final of this year’s National Lottery Awards in the Best Education Project category.
Skydancer is funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund (with a grant of £317,700) and United Utilities, with additional support from the Forestry Commission.
Selected from more than 750 applications, the project is one of seven finalists, which are going head-to-head in a public vote.
The winner will receive £2,000 at a BBC-televised award ceremony in September.
Nicknamed Skydancer on account of the male’s stunning aerobatic courtship ritual, the hen harrier is currently on the brink of extinction as a breeding bird in England.
Blánaid Denman, Skydancer project officer at the RSPB, says: “There is room for at least 300 pairs of hen harriers breeding in the English uplands but this year, there are only three confirmed nests in the whole country, two of which are on the United Utilities Estate in Bowland, Lancashire.
“The problem is that hen harriers occasionally eat red grouse, a popular gamebird for which most of the harriers’ moorland nesting habitat in England is managed.
“Though grouse forms only a small part of their diet, hen harriers can in some circumstances reduce the number of grouse available to shoot, leading some moorland managers to illegally kill or disturb the harriers to protect their stock.
“Hen harriers are amazing birds, yet very few people have heard of them or their plight. Skydancer is helping to change that.
“If we want to save this integral part of our wildlife, we need to show everyone why these birds are important and inspire people to care about them.”
Since Skydancer began in 2011, Blánaid has been in Northumberland delivering hen harrier-themed school assemblies, workshops, and field trips, as well as community talks to groups ranging from the WI to local bird clubs.
She has also been engaging directly with members of the grouse shooting community, attending game fairs and local shows, and running workshops with game keeping students.
Blánaid continued: “We need to get to a place where hen harriers are allowed to exist alongside grouse moor management, otherwise they will never recover.
“This is a massive challenge but I’ve been really encouraged by the responses I’ve had from many of the gamekeeping students I’ve spoken to. It does give me some hope for the future.”
While males are a pale grey colour, females and immatures are brown with a white rump and a long, barred tail which give them the name ‘ringtail’.
They fly with wings held in a shallow ‘V’, gliding low in search of food, which mainly consists of meadow pipits and voles.