After staying faithful to her Isle of Man home since fledging this summer, Aalin – the satellite-tagged female Hen Harrier – has ventured across the Irish Sea and taken up residence on a local nature reserve south of Manchester, England. Though long-suspected, this is the first time a Hen Harrier has been recorded moving from the Isle of Man to mainland UK.
In July this year on the Isle of Man, a young female Hen Harrier chick was fitted with a satellite tag. Aalin, as she has been named by the Society for the Preservation of the Manx Countryside and Environment who sponsored this year’s project, was the biggest and strongest of a brood of three chicks. Aalin is a traditional Manx name, meaning ‘beauty’.
By tracking Hen Harriers in the Isle of Man and across the British Isles, conservationists are obtaining a better understanding of their wide-ranging movements. This will help to create a more effective conservation network for Hen Harriers, building on existing work with volunteers, landowners, organisations and statutory bodies.
The Hen Harrier is an iconic species of the Isle of Man countryside. This large yet graceful predator is a regular spectacle in the Manx uplands during the summer and along the coasts and lowlands in winter. According to research by Manx BirdLife (funded by the RSPB and DEFA) in 2016, there were 30 active nests on the island. “This is less than half the size of the population just over ten years ago and it is important for us to understand the reasons behind this decline” said Neil Morris, Managing Director of Manx BirdLife, who continued, “Tracking Aalin’s movements will add to our understanding of how to safeguard the island’s population of this magnificent bird of prey. On our small island, we provide a home to more Hen Harriers than the whole of England. The Hen Harrier is one of the most persecuted birds in the British Isles and we are blessed to have a population of these majestic birds on the island.”
Blánaid Denman, RSPB Hen Harrier LIFE+ Project Manager added “The Hen Harrier’s skydance is one of nature’s most awe-inspiring spectacles. Yet in certain areas of England and Scotland, Hen Harriers are being illegally killed to prevent them from eating red grouse, a popular gamebird. Hen Harriers travel very widely outside the breeding season, so anything that affects them in one part of their range is likely to affect the population across the British Isles as a whole. Satellite tracking is key to better understanding where these birds go and where they’re most at risk. The more we can learn about their behaviour and needs, the better we can take action to save Hen Harriers.”
The hi-tech satellite tagging project has been coordinated by Manx BirdLife in association with the RSPB’s Hen Harrier LIFE+ Project and the Manx Ringing Group with sponsorship from the Society for the Preservation of the Manx Countryside and Environment. It has been conducted under the necessary licences approved by the relevant Manx and UK authorities and in strict accordance with the law.
Morris reflected, “We wish Aalin well on her travels and hope she’ll return to the island when she is ready to rear her own family. Surviving her first winter will be her biggest challenge as she learns how to fend for herself. Hopefully, she will find plenty of food and be safe in England.”
More about Aalin
Find out more about Aalin and the Hen Harrier tracking project by visiting these links:
About Hen Harriers
The Hen Harrier is a bird of prey, slightly smaller than a Buzzard, with an endearing owl-like face.
Hen Harriers nest on the ground on upland moors with a diet that can include Red Grouse, which brings them into conflict with intensive grouse rearing for shooting practices.
Hen Harriers had been persecuted to extinction as a breeding bird on mainland Britain by 1900, but managed to recover their population naturally. However, ongoing illegal killing and disturbance threatens to drive the birds to the brink once more in England and parts of Scotland.
While the Isle of Man clings onto a reasonable – though declining – population of Hen Harriers, elsewhere their fate in the British Isles is extremely concerning. In 2016, just three pairs of Hen Harriers attempted to nest in England while numbers in Scotland fell by 20% between 2004 and 2010.
About Manx BirdLife
Manx BirdLife is a charity based in the Isle of Man working to conserve wild birds and their habitats using scientific research, advocacy and public awareness.
Founded in 1997 under the name Manx Bird Atlas, it was renamed Manx Birdlife in 2008. The charity monitors the status of breeding and visiting birds through extensive fieldwork and conservation action in partnership with expert scientists, conservationists and like-minded organisations.
About the Society for the Preservation of the Manx Countryside and Environment
The Society is a charity whose aim is to preserve and repair the countryside of Mann. It provides education for its custodians of the future. The Society kindly sponsored last year’s tagging of Hetty as well as this year’s project to tag Aalin.
About the RSPB Hen Harrier LIFE+ Project
Running until 2019, the LIFE project combines satellite tagging, on-the-ground monitoring, nest protection, investigations work, awareness-raising; and working with volunteer raptor field workers, landowners and local communities to protect Hen Harriers across northern England and southern and eastern Scotland. Satellite tagging of Hen Harrier chicks will provide a better understanding of where they go and identify where they’re most at risk. (More at http://www.rspb.org.uk/henharrierlife/)
The Hen Harrier LIFE+ Project is part-funded by the European LIFE+ scheme and LUSH Cosmetics Ltd. LIFE is the EU’s financial instrument for the environment. It funds conservation and other environmental projects right across Europe. In 2014, the year in which this hen harrier project was funded, LIFE awarded a total of €17 million to organisations in the UK.