Industry and Nature in Harmony

Montagu’s harriers

Montagu’s harriers

For the second successive year a pair of rare and endangered Montagu’s harriers has returned to the Humber to nest and raise their chicks. 

Monty’s as they often called are the UK’s rarest breeding bird of prey with only seven breeding females and just four males spread thinly around the country in 2015. The males can have more than one female which helps explain why there are more breeding females than males!

Put into context there are 550 breeding pairs of marsh harrier and 400 pairs of golden eagle in the UK both of which are still at a very low population level and considered vulnerable and rare in conservation terms. Unfortunately with just seven breeding females Montagu’s harriers are so rare that even the loss of just one or two pairs in the population could lead to their final extinction as a breeding bird in the UK.  

This makes the birds which are breeding at the RSPB’s Blacktoft Sands reserve near Goole a very special pair indeed, particularly as they have helped put the regional news spotlight onto the estuary and highlighted how important the Humber Special Protection Area and Site of Special Scientific Interest designations really are in both a national and international context for nature conservation for lots of other wetland wildlife.  

The now almost celebrity status pair settled down to nest in the extensive inter-tidal reedbeds in late April when they returned from their wintering grounds in West Africa. The RSPB immediately put a 24hr guard on the reserve made up of staff, volunteers and local birdwatchers to help ensure that the nest was not raided by unscrupulous egg collectors.

At the time of writing on 1st July the eggs have successfully hatched and the young are probably almost full grown and although there is still a risk of failure the team are very hopeful that the chicks (number currently unknown) will fledge in about ten days time, fingers crossed! 

The adult birds can be seen from the hides on the reserve and have already attracted thousands of birdwatchers from all around the country, many of whom have never visited the Humber but have now gone away with incredible memories of a fantastic bird of prey and the other wildlife of the area.

As Blacktoft has been leased from Associated British Ports by the RSPB since 1973 (and has just agreed a new 50 year lease) it has been yet again great to be able to show how industry and conservation can work hand in hand along the Humber. 

It really has been an exciting year for the reserve! 

For more information on the reserve and the harriers read RSPB's Blacktoft blog or even better still, why not visit the reserve and see the birds for yourself!

Image courtesy of Graham Catley

01 July 2015 by Gordon Kell

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