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Thursday, 19 September, 2002, 15:56 GMT 16:56 UK
Endangered bird of prey protected
Hen harrier chicks have been bred at Lake Vyrnwy
Hen harrier chicks have been bred at Lake Vyrnwy
The UK's most endangered bird of prey is rebuilding its numbers on moorlands in mid Wales.

Three breeding pairs of hen harriers - whose numbers have been hit by egg thieves and game hunters - have raised eight chicks this year at Lake Vyrnwy in the Berwyn Hills.

The moorland area - home to half of Wales' hen harrier population - has been carefully managed by the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds to encourage the right breeding conditions.

Hen harrier chicks have been bred at Lake Vyrnwy
The harriers are thriving on the moorlands

Their numbers have risen to a 10-year high and the latest count at Lake Vyrnwy suggests the land management scheme has been successful.

Hen harrier numbers began declining steadily at the start of the 20th Century, when grouse hunters virtually wiped out the species to protect their own sport.

The breed has been protected by the Countryside and Rights of Way Act but they have been illegally hunted on grouse moors for years, as they prey on red grouse.

Ironically, the black grouse population at Lake Vyrnwy has grown alongside the numbers of hen harriers.


This is the best breeding season for these birds for 10 years

Mike Walker, Lake Vyrnwy warden

Evidence from the RSPB's recent Birdcrime study details more than a dozen incidents of hen harrier persecution in the past year, with nests being raided and birds shot.

Conservation officers from RSPB Cymru have worked closely with Severn Trent Water to recreate a suitable breeding habitat at Lake Vyrnwy, nurturing areas of heather and grassland.

The knock-on effect has been the attraction of meadow pipits - part of the harrier's diet - to the lake.

'Fantastic bird'

Mike Walker, warden at Lake Vyrnwy says: "This is the best breeding season for these birds for ten years.

"We are very pleased with the way the numbers are growing, and we are also pleased that the black grouse population is faring well alongside the hen harriers.

"It has been a pleasure to watch this fantastic bird of prey performing its dramatic aerial display where they fly like roller coasters above the moors.

"We hope to see them increase further in the future until they are back to a healthy and sustainable population."

Illegal killing

Andy Warren, Severn Trent Water's conservation adviser says: "It's wonderful to see this graceful bird of prey has benefitted from the excellent habitat management at Vyrnwy.

"It clearly demonstrates what can be achieved by working in partnership."

In 1998, the RSPB estimated there were 521 pairs in the UK, and a further 49 on the Isle of Man.

The RSPB recently opened up the Chough Trail in west Wales, a chance to spot another of Wales' rarest birds.

The trail stretches from Anglesey to Pembrokeshire and it will bring twitchers closer to the Celtic Crow.

See also:

11 May 02 | Wales
04 Sep 02 | England
01 Aug 02 | Politics
23 Jul 02 | Wales
26 Jun 02 | Wales
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