Merlin, Peregrine and Hen Harrier fly high over grouse moors

The arrival of the grouse shooting season has been enhanced by an upsurge of breeding success stories including Merlin, Peregrine Falcon and Hen Harrier.

A survey of 14 grouse moors on the North York Moors revealed they hosted at least 25 nests of Merlin in 2019.  Eighteen of these nests were monitored by gamekeepers and saw at least 56 young Merlin fledge. Ten of these were ringed by the local BTO licensed bird ringer.

This follows the news that a pair of Peregrine Falcons have successfully nested at a new site on a sporting estate that hosts grouse and pheasant shooting on the North York Moors.

The nest was first seen in May and has subsequently produced three fledglings, consisting of two males and one female. The adult male Peregrine had been in the area for several years, but this is the first time he has found a mate. Gamekeepers on the estate have been working with the BBC Natural History Unit, who filmed the nest as part of their Year in the Life of the North York Moors programme.

These latest breeding figures were revealed as Birdfair 2019 celebrated conservation success.

Merlin (Falco columbarius) are the UK’s smallest falcon and are probably the most iconic breeding raptor in the North York Moors National Park. The North York Moors moorland area is designated a Special Protection Area (SPA) under the EU Birds Directive because of its important populations of Merlin and Golden Plover.

There are concerns the population may be reducing due to climate change however recent surveys of Merlin on grouse moor estates reveal there has been a good population of adult nesting birds producing a good crop of fledglings in 2019.

One of the Merlin chicks died after flying into a glass patio door in Cloughton, near Scarborough which is approximately 29km in a South Easterly direction from the nest site. The other chicks from the brood have been seen flying in the surrounding area.

Across England, 2019 has also been a very encouraging year for Hen Harriers with a total of 15 nests, 12 of which were successful fledging 47 young, a record-breaking total. There were nests in Yorkshire, Derbyshire, Northumberland and Lancashire. This year has also seen the first successful trial of Hen Harrier brood management on a grouse moor.

Amanda Anderson, Director of the Moorland Association said: “The conservation work that is carried out on grouse moors by owners and gamekeepers is often overlooked in the debate around the start of the grouse shooting season. To see improving breeding success across a range of birds of prey in particular is hugely encouraging and the shooting community are looking forward to building on that in future.”