Once widespread in the UK, the hen harrier has become nearly extinct since the 1900

Satellite tags to protect endangered hen harrier

Chicks of endangered hen harrier have been fitted with satellite tags to help protect the species against extinction in the UK.

The solar-rechargeable tags weighing only about 9.5 grams are expected to last for three years minimum and will help scientists to monitor the birds’ whereabouts and understand the risks their facing including illegal hunting.

As part of the project, four-week old chicks raised on the United Utilities Bowland Estate in Lancashire have been tagged by workers of conservation agency Natural England.

"This is where technology can really aid conservation as there is no better way of gaining an insight into the complex dispersal of these iconic birds," said Stephen Murphy, Natural England’s lead adviser for hen harriers.

Today one of England’s most endangered bird species, hen harrier  used to be widespread in the UK but became extinct in mainland Britain in around 1900 as a result of persecution, according to the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds.

The birds spread back from Scottish islands thanks to changes in land use after the Second World War but the populations remained largely unstable.

Last year, hen harriers failed to nest successfully in England for the first time since the 1960s, leaving the bird on the brink of extinction in the country, said the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds.

The United Utilities Bowland Estate was the first place where they managed to successfully nest again.

Further chicks produced in the other English nests this year will also be tagged when they are big enough.

"Once the birds have fledged, we will be able to follow them and gain valuable information about where they hunt, roost and, with a bit of luck, breed,” said Jude Lane, the RSPB's Bowland project officer.

"The more we can learn about these amazing birds, the more we can do to help their numbers recover."

A study by government scientists has suggested there is capacity for England's upland areas to support more than 300 pairs of hen harriers, but illegal persecution through shooting, trapping and disturbing nests was keeping numbers low.

The satellite tags will also provide evidence of any illegal activity against the birds.

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