Last year, thanks to Ecotricity and the RSPB LIFE project, a young female hen harrier called Finn was fitted with a satellite tag before heading off on an adventure into the unknown. She fledged last August from her nest in Northumberland.
Finn and her brothers
Normally, a freshly fledged hen harrier would hang around it's breeding site for a while, but not Finn. She showed determination from the start. Shortly after fledging she had crossed the Scottish border and then stayed in Scotland and over wintered in South Ayrshire. And she has stayed that side of the border ever since.
And so began 11 months of apprehension! I get a "Finn update" every 2 weeks to let me know where she is according to the satellite tag. The updates are always a few weeks behind for Finn's protection. But every time the email is slightly late (for very valid reasons each time) I start to worry that maybe she has become just another statistic and become one of the many hen harriers that seem to just "disappear" over the uplands.
Hen harriers, and other raptors, are not well received in the uplands. Red Grouse form part of their diet and this does not go down too well in certain communities. Shooting season for red grouse starts on 12th August and there is a lot of money to be made, so of course, the more red grouse there are, the better the shooting. So this is what I call the "cycle of death"! Red grouse numbers are boosted by ridding the uplands of predators, much of which is done legally, but there is a dark side too that sees raptors illegally persecuted. So raptors are persecuted to protect a bird that is then shot and the process is repeated the next year and the next - a cycle of death!
I am sure you can understand why my heart wanted to see Finn soar, but my head told me to be realistic about her chances of survival.
So imaging my utter delight when the news came through that Finn was showing all the signs of starting a family of her own. I was shocked to say the least. It is after all quite unusual for a hen harrier to breed in her first year.
Positive news is always welcome and Finn has a healthy chick due to fledge very soon.
The excitement of receiving updates on Finn will of course continue and I can only hope that her chick has a long adventure ahead, but I will never know that for sure. Once the chick fledges, I will forever be hoping that it makes it, but every new illegal persecution story that comes to light will always make me fearful.
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