Blog Post: Hen Harriers need YOUR help

Last week, I headed down to Bowland to meet the team involved in the LIFE project nest protection on the site. I was keen to meet them to hear their perspective on this season’s happenings. Much of the Forest of Bowland is designated as a Special protection Area as the Bowland Fells SPA (European importance), and this is primarily for its breeding Hen Harriers, with a designation of 12 breeding pairs. However, in recent years successful breeding pairs have been way below this number, with 2 pairs in 2014, and none in 2012 and 2013. Last season, two satellite tagged fledglings (Hope and Sky) also disappeared from Bowland after their tags failed to transmit . These tags are very reliable and it is high unlikely that this was due to technical difficulties, as this technology is considered very reliable. This year, five healthy adult male hen harriers went missing in England resulting in the failure of the nests they were provisioning. Four of these males where from the Bowland from the United Utilities (UU) estate: this is extremely unusual and the reasons for their disappearances are yet to be explained and police continue to appeal for information. A 2008 government-commissioned report by Natural England found that it was very unusual for male hen harriers to abandon an active nest in most places. However, it also found that nearly 7 out of 10 of the nesting attempts which failed on grouse moors, did so following the disappearance of an adult. Although this year’s nests were being watched 24/7 by our team of dedicated volunteers, it is nigh on impossible to follow and protect males who travel far and wide to hunt from the nest, leaving the female to care for and protect the eggs/chicks at the nest site. It’s sad to think that the loss of the 4 males at Bowland this year has resulted in the loss of so many potential hen harriers, indeed the team at Bowland were devastated by these disappearances, as were UU. I really feel the urgency now to raise awareness of the plight of the hen harrier. Luckily, through the LIFE Project we are able to satellite tag and track birds, giving them protection away from their nest sites, which should help provide evidence if any tagged birds go missing. Others feel the same! RSPB staff member Jenn Lane is bravely undertaking a bungee jump  on the 8 th August to help raise the profile of hen harriers. Please donate to her cause here: . Funds raised will go towards the RSPB’s work on hen harriers High street cosmetics chain Lush is also getting involved. They campaigned in stores last year – and this year wants to follow it up in stores in the week of the Glorious Twelfth. Pop into your local store to find out more! Finally you can also do something too! Hen Harrier Day is on Sunday 9 th August and events are taking place across the UK, with the main event at the Goyt Valley in the Peak District. The more people we can get to come out to these events the better so we can gain more media coverage so people will take notice. Find out about your local event here: See you there!

Lidl wildflower mix

The border where we sowed a really cheap wildflower seed mix from Lidl is full of colour and life. As usual the ox-eye daisies are taking over the garden but I don't mind as its my favourite flower and the bees and hoverflies love it. I have had a lovely crop of carrots from a tub in the greenhouse.

Lidl wildflower mix

Lidl wildflower mix

Ox-eye daisies and cranesbill

Yummy carrots

Ebb and Flo

Ebb and Flo left us on 27/06. They set off on a walk and refused to be turned back, we followed at a distance and they headed straight for one of the ponds, they even knew where there was a gap under the wire fence. There was already a female duck with 12 ducklings there who all hid in the reeds. we left them to it and for the next couple of days went up with some wheat for them, though they seemed very nervous suddenly. However we had a really bad thunderstorm on the 30th and the next morning they were in the garden along with their mum and the drake and all were  ravenous. Now every morning they turn up, sometimes just Ebb and Flo, sometimes with their parents and sometimes with another female.

Blog Post: First hen harriers tagged as part of the LIFE+ project

  Bea Ayling (Hen Harrier LIFE+ Project Manager) In June and July, a number of hen harrier chicks across England and Scotland were satellite tagged as part of the RSPB’s new Hen Harrier LIFE+ Project. The project seeks to better understand the movements of these magnificent birds to help identify areas where they are most at risk.. This need became particularly pertinent in the 2015 breeding season when 5 nests failed in northern England due to the well-publicised, unexplained disappearances of the healthy male adult birds. As the new Project Manager (covering for Blánaid while she is off enjoying her own brood), I am on tenterhooks to see how the 2015 breeding season pans out having started the role smack bang in the middle. I am particularly excited about being able to track our birds online!  A couple of the project’s satellite tagged birds will be made public here: . The latest tag went on a female chick on the Isle of Man, named Hetty. It’ll be fascinating to see where she disperses to for the winter as hen harriers are known to range far and wide. Maybe she will encounter some of our other tagged birds across the sea in England and Scotland! Maps of her movements should be available on the website in the next few weeks. Hetty and her brother prior to ringing and tagging. Photo credit: John Hellowell I really hope that allowing the public to follow our tagged birds’ helps raise awareness and understanding of hen harriers, encouraging recognition that hen harriers are an intrinsic part of the UK’s uplands, and that we’re all responsible for their protection.  

Wyre Way Field Trip

Sea Rocket
Our meeting point was close to Rossall Point at Fleetwood where the group assembled at 10.15 in conjunction with members of Liverpool Botanical Society.  One member had made the journey up from Shropshire and, after a great day, was delighted to have made the trip.  
The walk was led by Eric Greenwood who generously shared with us his amazing knowledge of all things botanical though, as one member of the group at Yarrow Valley on Thursday pointed out, "you can only learn five new plants in one day". For me our day was full of interesting new plants so my priority was lots of notes,  photographs and grid references to try and help my ageing brain retain some of the information.

Amongst my sightings at Rossall Point were Sea Spurge, Sea Bindweed, Sea Holly, Wild Carrot, Bloody Crane's-bill, Dewberry, Lesser Burdock, Black Medick, Lady's Bedstraw, Duke of Argyl's Teaplant, Strawberry Clover.  

There were many grasses to be identified with Eric's help including:Lyme Grass, Couch Grass, Soft Brome, False Oat, Marram, False Brome, Rough Stemmed Meadow Grass.

After lunch in the sunshine alongside the Rossall Point observatory and learning about its history from the Wyre wardens on site we continued our walk alongside Fleetwood Golf course resisting the temptation to climb over the fence to examine some of the interesting species to be seen in the rough.

We returned to our cars for the short journey to Fleetwood Marsh Nature Park  to see some of the plants for this sea washed  habitat including two species of Sea Lavender .

Sea Lavender Limonium vulgare
We were all grateful to have the opportunity to learn so much from Eric Greenwood and look forward to more field trips in conjunction with Liverpool Botanical Society and the Wildflower Society in the future. Eric's report of the field trip follows:

Field meeting report, FLEETWOOD 18 JULY 2015

On a bright but windy day thirteen members of Liverpool Botanical Society and The Lancashire Botany Group met at one of Fleetwood’s promenade car parks. After a brief introduction by the leader, Eric Greenwood, the party set off to explore the mobile and fore dunes that had formed in front of the promenade.

Although relatively species poor, a number of interesting species had colonized the dunes. These included an abundance of Sea-holly (Eryngium maritimum), Field Bindweed (Convolulus arvensis) mostly the white flowered forma arvensis, and Sand Cat’s-tail (Phleum arenarium). A feature of these dunes was the abundance of Sea Bindweed (Calystegia soldanella) just coming into full flower.

On the fore dunes the presence Sand Couch (Elytrigia juncea) provided an opportunity to demonstrate what to look for in identifying grasses. There was also an abundance of Ray’s Knotgrass (Polygonum oxyspermum) on the beach together with various Orache species; most were thought to be Frosted Orache (Atriplex laciniata).

After exploring the dunes the high winds provided an opportunity to examine grass-like plants that had been washed out of the small boating pool. These were Beaked Tasselweed (Ruppia maritima). The sandy banks on the north side of the pool revealed Narrow-leaved Meadow-grass (Poa angustifolia), a rare but perhaps overlooked Lancashire species. Earlier its close relative, Spreading Meadow-grass (Poa humilis) was recorded on the dunes.

The party proceeded along the Wyre Way by the side of Fleetwood Golf Course admiring the splashes of colour provided by Bloody Crane’s-bill (Geranium sanguineum) on the dune grassland. Lunch was taken in the shelter of the visitor centre at Rossall Point.

Eventually a sea wall provided some shelter and at the same time conditions became more saline. Identifying grasses became ever more important and difficult. A feature of the Lancashire coast is the presence of Elytrigia hybrids and two of the most frequent were seen in large patches. These were Elytrigia x drucei and Elytrigia x acuta, both involving Sea Couch (Elytrigia atherica) as one parent and which has not been found in the region. Other notable grasses seen were Common and Reflexed Saltmarsh-grasses (Puccinellia maritima and P. distans), Sea Fern-grass (Catapodium maritimum) and Fern-grass (Catapodium rigidum) and Hard-grass. Also noteworthy was Stawberry Clover (Trifolium fragiferum). 

On the road-walk back to the car park Grey Field-speedwell (Veronica polita), Henbit Dead-nettle (Lamium amplexicaule) and possibly Common Fumitory (Fumaria officinalis) were spotted.

In the afternoon Fleetwood Marsh Nature Reserve was visited. Amongst the notable species seen were Small-flowered Crane’s-bill  (Geranium pusillum), Brown Bent (Agrostis vineale)and a salt marsh dominated by Sea-purslane (Atriplex  portulacoides) with purple patches of Common and Lax-flowered Sea-lavenders (Limonium vulgare and L. humile). Members were also able to check the differences between Greater and Lesser Sea-spurrey (Spergularia media and S. marina) and Common Couch  (Elytrigia repens) and Elytrigia x drucei, seen earlier in the day but here forming extensive zones at the top of the marsh. 

Eric Greenwood

July 2015

Yarrow Valley Country Park

In conjunction with the Wild Flower Society the walk around Chorley's Yarrow Valley Country Park  led by Julie Clark and local guide Carol  was a perfect day.  The weather was fine and in contrast to so many of our trips we didn't have a drop of rain.

Our target species for the day was Green Figwort or Water Betony Scrophularia umbrosa and as we approached the end of our walk Carol was able to put us in exactly the right place to enjoy this sighting which was new to many members of the party.

During the walk around the Country Park, which I thought I knew well, Carol showed us parts that were completely new to me.

I didn't compare notes at the end of the day but I was able to record 93 species of flowers, sedges, ferns and grasses which included the rose sub species of Hogweed, Remote Sedge, Giant Horsetail, Zig Zag Clover, Twayblade, Skullcap, Marsh Ragwort, Pyramidal Orchid and Broad Leaved Helleborine.

The next walk on Saturday 18th of July will be led by Eric Greenwood and taking a look at the flora of the Wyre Way

Blog Post: Jenn’s Big Bird Bungee Jump

On Saturday 8 August, RSPB staff member Jenn Lane is doing a bungee jump to raise money for hen harriers in Bowland. Here she explains why. Ever since I heard about the plight of the hen harrier, I’ve been keen to do my bit. My day job for the RSPB is working as an administrator in our Lancaster office, however, every year we get the chance to volunteer for a day elsewhere in the organisation. In June I used this opportunity to take part in a hen harrier nest watch in Bowland. Following the disappearances of four males from active nests, I was protecting the last remaining one in the area.  Seeing the pair hunt against the hillside was a moving experience and I realised the full extent of what these birds are up against.  I decided I really wanted to raise the profile of this wonderful bird and what better way to do it than jumping 300ft through the air.   Jenn Lane The RSPB is doing all it can to help the hen harrier breed successfully and thrive once again in the face of so many obstacles. Please donate to my JustGiving page today and help save hen harriers from the brink of extinction.

Gait Barrows NNR

Rob Petley-Jones ( Second from right
Despite the dreadful weather forecast and the downpours we experienced driving north the Gail Barrows we enjoyed an almost rain free day with on and off sunshine. We were met by Rob Petley-Jones, area reserves manager for Natural England, who had opened the access gate to allow us to park in the centre of the reserve. After a brief introduction Rob escorted us round the site pointing out many of the specialities growing in the deep fissures, grimes, of the limestone pavement. Even the car parking area was a mass of Rock Roses and Wild Thyme  were White-tailed bees were foraging amongst the flowers. 
As a positive tyro to the world of botany I stand back in awe at the breadth of knowledge within the group, not only flowers but mosses, grasses, sedges, butterflies, moths and birds are readily identified. Many recognised instantly but field guides were on constant use during the day to separate similar species. David Earl, BSBI Recorder for Lancashire, was leading the remainder of the walk which took in the area surrounding Hawes Water and shared his extensive knowledge and encouraged novices such as myself to work through the various indicators to identify species new to us. 
Rock Rose & Wild Thyme
This Dark Red Helleborine Epipactis atrorubens growing in grike of limestone pavement was just one of the many species seen including Wood Sage Teucrium scorodnia, Heath Speedwell Veronica officinalis, Hairy Violet hirta, Pale St John's-wort Hypericum montanum.

The next field trip is shared with the Wild Flower Society to Yarrow Valley Country Park in Chorley and will be led by Julie Clarke.