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Last Updated: Wednesday, 27 April, 2005, 23:18 GMT 00:18 UK
Bodyguards watch over rare birds
Hen Harriers at the Geltsdale Reserve
Hen Harriers are among England's rarest bird of prey
A round-the-clock protection operation is ready to get under way if one of England's rarest birds of prey nests at a North Pennines nature reserve.

A male and two female hen harriers have been seen in recent days at the RSPB's Geltsdale nature reserve on the Cumbria/Northumberland border.

Hopes are now high that a pair will settle down to nest.

If this happens, the RSPB will mount the 24-hour security operation at the nest at a cost of around 40,000.

The English population of hen harriers consists of a handful of breeding pairs and there are fears the species will become extinct as a breeding bird within the next few years.

The sight of a 'sky dancing' male is sadly one that most people in England will never have the chance to see
Dave O'Hara, RSPB
There have been numerous incidents in the Geltsdale area involving hen harriers, including birds shot or poisoned and eggs stolen.

The wardens will maintain a constant vigil on the remote moorland site.

RSPB Geltsdale warden Dave O'Hara said: "It is great news that these magnificent birds have arrived at Geltsdale and we hope that a pair will settle down to nest.

"However, because hen harriers are illegally persecuted in England the sight of a 'sky dancing' male is sadly one that most people in England will never have the chance to see.

"It's high time that we no longer have to guard English hen harrier nests round-the-clock and harriers can nest without constant danger of persecution."

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