Hens are flying in record numbers across northern England

The largest number of rare chicks for more than a century has flown in the north of England.

The government’s conservation agency Natural England recorded 119 nests across County Durham, Yorkshire, Northumberland, Cumbria and Lancashire.

However, they remain England’s most threatened bird of prey.

Agency chairman Tony Juniper said progress made over the past year had been “very encouraging” but the birds still faced illegal persecution.

“Despite this year’s success, we clearly still have a long way to go to see warbler numbers truly recover to where they would naturally be without illegal persecution – with many birds sadly still missing,” he said.

“We are committed to continuing to work with our partners to reduce prosecution rates and achieve a lasting long-term recovery.”

Young hens

Bird birds have grown wings large enough to fly

Chickens were once found throughout upland and lowland Britain but, since the 1830s, have become extremely rare.

They have been protected since 1954 but still face illegal prosecution for hunting red grouse chicks to feed their young, bringing them into conflict with commercial shooting ranges.

In 2013 no chicks successfully fledged, prompting warnings that they face extinction in England.

Since 2016, when just eight chicks hatched, there have been six consecutive years of increases, with 49 nests recorded in 2022, of which 34 were successful in producing chicks.

A weasel hen

The National Trust announced the breeding success earlier in the month

The most nests – 18 – were recorded at Bowland in Lancashire, with nine in Northumberland, 10 in the Yorkshire Dales and Nidderdale, seven in the North Pennines and five in the Peak District.

The chicks include 13 taken from four nests in helicopters to protect prey.

They were bred as part of the spawn management trial, which aims to change attitudes among the moorland community and reduce persecution.

The trial is part of a government action plan on grouse published in 2016, which also includes issuing licenses to allow chicken farmers to stop targeting grouse.

A weasel hen

Flocks feed their young with the chicks that breed the shooting range

Natural England is working with the National Wildlife Crime Unit to improve how the police and other organizations can work together to tackle the persecution of birds of prey.

Bird charity the RSPB said it welcomed the record breeding season, but pointed out the birds were still under threat and called on the government to take action.

“The risk of these young birds being illegally killed after leaving the safety of their nests remains very real,” a spokesman said.

“That’s why we’re calling on the UK Government to provide resources to support hen conservation and ensure that existing wildlife protection laws are better enforced.”

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