New research by the RSPB has shown that hill farming plays a key role in assisting the fortunes of the hen harrier, one of Britain’s most threatened birds. This new study, published in the Journal of Applied Ecology, illustrates how getting the grazing regimes in upland areas right, can deliver major benefits for this species.
RSPB scientists examined whether reductions in sheep numbers have led to increases in the birds’ favoured hunting habitat or their prey. The study site was Orkney where the hen harrier population has been closely monitored since 1975.
The research found that hen harrier productivity is directly related to the stocking densities of sheep. As sheep numbers declined, the amount of rough grassland and numbers of voles (the harrier’s preferred prey) significantly increased.
The study concludes that grazing management can be a pivotal tool in hen harrier conservation, and may also benefit other predatory birds such as kestrels, barn owls and short-eared owls.