No present for UK’s rarest fowl of prey

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A brand new report printed immediately exhibits that Montagu’s harrier, an in depth relative of the additionally uncommon hen harrier, has didn’t breed within the UK for the primary time since 1975. Solely three females and 6 males had been reported, and none of those shaped

The annual report of the Uncommon Breeding Birds Panel (RBBP), funded by the Joint Nature Conservation Committee, RSPB and BTO and printed within the journal British Birds, goals to trace the progress of the UK’s rarest breeding birds by compiling information from conservationists, scientists, and hundreds of volunteer birdwatchers. The most recent report consists of 101 scarce or uncommon native fowl species, and 12 non-native ones.

Montagu’s harriers are migratory, spending just some months of the 12 months on their breeding grounds and wintering in Senegal, West Africa. Like many different migratory birds, they face a number of threats throughout many international locations, and on their journeys they are often hit by excessive climate and unlawful searching.

The low numbers that do make it again to Europe to breed then face additional pressures. Montagu’s harriers nest in agricultural fields, particularly winter cereals and oilseed rape within the UK, and infrequently return to the identical nesting areas annually. Their earlier strongholds in Spain and France are diminishing resulting from intensification of agriculture, reminiscent of earlier harvest dates, in addition to wetter summers.

Montagu’s Harrier, copyright Glyn Sellors, from the surfbirds galleries

At breeding websites intensive conservation interventions are vital to guard nests from agricultural operations, cut back predation threat, forestall disturbance and the potential for unlawful persecution. The latter, as for a lot of raptors, is suspected to be a difficulty: satellite-tagging has revealed that two breeding females together with one featured on BBC Autumnwatch each vanished unexpectedly from the identical space in Norfolk lately. Final 12 months, Montagu’s harrier was added to the Crimson Record, the best class of the UK’s Birds of Conservation Concern evaluation.

At current, with few people returning and no breeding, the longer term appears to be like bleak for Montagu’s harriers within the UK. Nevertheless, the species has recovered earlier than, and dedicated conservation workers, volunteers and landowners are decided to make sure it recovers once more.

It’s not all doom and gloom for the UK’s rarest birds. The most recent report highlights report highs for twelve species together with frequent crane and white-tailed eagle – the latter has moved from the Crimson to Amber checklist of Birds of Conservation Concern, recognition of the success of the reintroduction of this species to Scotland that started practically 50 years in the past.

Cattle egrets are relative newcomers to the UK. These small white herons first bred right here in 2008, and have continued to take action for the final 4 years. Though nonetheless confined to England, in 2020, they’d unfold to 5 new websites and have unfold as far north as Cheshire. Initially from mainland Europe and Africa, cattle egrets have naturally and quickly colonised many new areas together with Australia and South America, and will change into a everlasting resident in years to come back.

Different wetland birds have fared properly within the newest report, with bittern, spoonbill and nice white egret additionally having record-breaking years. It’s doubtless that these successes are on account of elevated conservation efforts, together with safety from searching throughout Europe via laws, in addition to the creation, safety and administration of wetland websites. In northern Scotland the red-necked phalarope additionally reached a brand new excessive, and a pair of wrynecks was reported from Wales – the primary pair reported wherever within the UK since 2002, though it’s not recognized whether or not they bred.

The monitoring of uncommon breeding birds within the UK is reliant on the efforts of volunteer birdwatchers, and in 2020 their efforts had been hampered by the Covid lockdown restrictions in place all through the spring, which means that many reserves and distant areas couldn’t be visited. In consequence, decrease numbers had been reported of many species.

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