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  1. ITV Report

Hen Harrier breeding season 'best for a decade'

England has seen its most successful hen harrier breeding season for a decade, with 34 chicks fledging Photo: DEFRA.

England has seen its most successful hen harrier breeding season for a decade, with 34 chicks fledging, Natural England said.

Nine out of 14 nesting attempts by England's most endangered bird of prey across Lancashire, Cumbria, Northumberland and Derbyshire were successful, the government conservation agency said.

Hen harriers have come close to extinction as a breeding bird in England due to historic persecution and conservationists warn they are still targeted by gamekeepers because they prey on red grouse.

But in an often bitter debate, the shooting industry says estates spend millions of pounds a year to support wildlife and it wants to see a well-dispersed hen harrier population which co-exists with local businesses.

This year's breeding success is down to high numbers of voles which are a main source of food, good weather, and efforts by a number of organisations to help the species, Natural England said.

Dr Adam Smith, of the Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust, said it was "very important" the hen harrier has bred more widely in England than for many years and said the action plan was gaining traction.

He said: "That plan's practical approach is helping confidence build in the land management sector that birds of prey can be part of our cherished sporting moorland landscapes."