Four Hen Harrier chicks fledged successfully from a nest in the Angus Glens during lockdown, reversing breeding fortunes for the raptor in the region in recent times.
It is 4 years since Harriers reared young in the local glens, with a returning pair of birds breeding successfully.
However, since that nest was found and monitored by the local raptor study group, the adult birds have failed to rear chicks in 3 consecutive years, to the disappointment of land managers.
Now the wait for new chicks is over with a different pair successfully breeding during lockdown on a mixed estate in the glens which welcomes visitors for grouse shooting and deer stalking.
The success was recorded by licensed monitor, Mike Groves, who observed the youngsters whilst respecting the wishes of the estate gamekeeper to allow the birds peace to nest, with minimal disturbance.
“For a few years, in another nest in Angus, the same pair of Harriers have been trying to breed without success. I, and others, were beginning to wonder if we would see chicks in the Angus Glens again,” said Mike, who has been monitoring raptors in the area for decades.
“This is a historic moment. This is a different pair of adult birds. When I spoke to the estate, they were aware the Harriers were there and understandably wanted to keep it low profile, which I had sympathy with.
“Personally, I believe in minimum disturbance to give the birds the best chance. When you visit nests, it places immense stress on the adults and they don’t settle for a while afterwards.
“Thankfully, as of yesterday, all the young were flying. It is wonderful to see. It is a stepping stone for Harriers in this area.
“Some people make comments online saying that the Angus Glens are desolate. The estates are proud of the wildlife they produce. All around, I see attitudes changing. This is an example of that.”
Hen Harriers are often the subject of polarised debate between game estates and anti-grouse shooting factions.
Scientists on the multi-party Langholm Moor Demonstration Project found that breeding Hen Harriers benefit from grouse moor management by gamekeepers but campaigners blame grouse estates for persecuting the birds because they eat red grouse.
Scottish Gamekeepers Association Chairman Alex Hogg said: “We know from the gamekeepers in the area that sightings of Hen Harriers are now much more frequent in Angus.
“Even though the other pair have not bred successfully recently, they have been coming back safely to the Glens for years, flying around many of the local estates.
“The news of this successful nest is hugely welcome.”
Despite a slight drop in Harrier numbers at the last review, the Scottish population of the raptor is holding up well compared to the UK-wide population.
Lianne MacLennan of Angus Glens Moorland Group said: “The estate and the gamekeeper deserve huge credit. It is that work which has provided the habitat and food source for this nest to be successful. We only hope now that the birds are allowed peace as year one chicks are highly vulnerable anyway without the stress of excessive monitoring.”
Lockdown has seen successes for other breeding raptors in the Angus Glens, with peregrines, eagle chicks, high numbers of merlins, buzzards, short eared owls and kestrels fledging on local moors.