Sky-dancing hen harrier on brink of extinction in England

Source: Xinhua| 2017-06-29 10:54:15|Editor: Song Lifang
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LONDON, June 28 (Xinhua) -- Sky-dancing hen harrier, a bird of prey known for its majestic sky-dancing ritual, is on the brink of extinction in England, the wildlife charity Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) warned Wednesday.

The society said its latest survey also showed that the hen harrier is one of the most threatened birds of prey in Britain.

Scotland remains the stronghold for hen harriers with an estimated 460 pairs in 2016, around 80 percent of the population in Britain. This estimate, says RSPB, is 9 percent below the best estimate in 2010 of 505 pairs.

The west Highlands continue to provide a home for the majority of Scotland's breeding harriers, with an estimated 175 breeding pairs, while Orkney and the Hebrides were the only areas of the country to show a slight increase in the number of the birds.

Worryingly, the survey also reveals that the hen harrier is on the brink of extinction in England as the population fell from 12 pairs in 2010 to just four pairs last year.

Estimates from the Joint Nature Conservation Committee (JNCC) suggest there is potential habitat to support at least 300 pairs of hen harriers in England, highlighting the desperate situation they face.

Historically, hen harriers were once a much more widespread breeding species before they were driven to extinction in mainland Britain during the 19th century. Despite its comeback, the species has remained rare in Britain with a breeding population under 1,000 pairs, making it vulnerable to the effects of habitat loss, weather and illegal killing.

The hen harrier population had been slowly recovering in Wales since the late 1950s, but the latest figures show that the number of pairs has fallen by more than a third over the past six years, from 57 to 35, the lowest population that has been seen in Wales for over a decade.

"The latest figures back up a continued trend that we have seen for more than a decade - hen harrier numbers are on the decline throughout the UK. The illegal killing of this bird of prey is a significant factor behind the diminishing numbers and a large barrier stopping their recovery," RSPB Conservation Director Martin Harper said.

"Without purposeful action from all, including governments across the UK and the shooting industry, we may see hen harriers once again lost from more parts of the country," Harper warned.