Page last updated at 14:31 GMT, Thursday, 11 September 2008 15:31 UK

Forest to help save rare birds

Hen harriers in the North West are under threat

A forest in Lancashire is helping to prevent a rare species of bird of prey from dying out in England.

Conservationists say the Forest of Bowland is the country's main breeding ground for the hen harrier, which is England's most threatened bird of prey.

According to the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB), 25 chicks fledged from the forest this year.

The birds prey on grouse chicks and are often killed on shooting estates, which has contributed to their demise.

Earlier in the year hen harrier chicks nesting in the forest were fitted with tiny satellite and radio tags as part of a conservation project.

'Highly vulnerable'

Sir Martin Doughty of Natural England said the forest was vitally important in helping to stop the birds, which were protected under English and European law, from becoming extinct.

"If we lose the hen harrier in Bowland, we could lose it in England," he said.

"We must have a much larger and widespread population of this fantastic upland bird.

"Small populations of species can be highly vulnerable to chance events and we cannot literally have all our eggs in one basket."

This year, no harriers bred successfully on large areas of ideal habitat managed on grouse moors in the Peak District, Yorkshire Dales and North York Moors.

Another chance for breeding to take place in the Peak District was scuppered when two female birds disappeared.

Protected species

There were, however, five attempts at nesting in the north of England, with two successful nests and six chicks fledging.

Five of the chicks fledged from a single nest in Northumberland.

The RSPB is challenging upland landowners in England to help increase hen harrier numbers to 40 breeding pairs by 2010, with half of those on grouse moors.

The charity believes England's uplands could support at least 200 breeding pairs.

The hen harrier became extinct in the UK in Victorian times and then re-colonised in Scotland - where there are now 630 breeding pairs - in the years between World War I and World War II.

They started to reappear in England in the 1970s.

Experts tag threatened harriers
17 Jun 08 |  Lancashire
Harriers hatch in protected nests
04 Oct 07 |  Lancashire
Rare bird on verge of extinction
05 Jan 05 |  Lancashire
Fears for future of hen harrier
03 Aug 04 |  Lancashire

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