Tracking hen harrier Aalin might give clues about fast decline of birds of prey

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Satellite technology is being used to find out more about a bird of prey that’s suffering a big decline in population.

There are now more hen harriers in the Isle of Man than the whole of England.

But at least one Manx hen harrier has moved across the Irish Sea, specialists have discovered for sure for the first time.

After staying faithful to her Isle of Man home since a fledging this summer, Aalin, who had a satellite tag fitted in July, has taken up residence on a nature reserve south of Manchester.

Though long-suspected, this is the first time a hen harrier has been recorded moving from the Isle of Man to the UK.

Aalin, as she has been named by the Society for the Preservation of the Manx Countryside and Environment who sponsored this year’s project, was the biggest and strongest of a brood of three chicks.

Aalin is a traditional Manx name, meaning ‘beauty’.

By tracking hen harriers in the Isle of Man and across the British Isles, conservationists aim to get a better understanding of their wide-ranging movements.

This will help to create a more effective conservation network for hen harriers, building on existing work with volunteers, landowners, organisations and statutory bodies.

Enthusiasts say the hen harrier is an iconic species of the Isle of Man countryside.

This large yet graceful predator is a regular spectacle in the Manx uplands during the summer and along the coasts and lowlands in winter.

According to research by Manx BirdLife (funded by the the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds and the Manx government) in 2016, there were 30 active nests in the island.

Neil Morris, managing director of Manx BirdLife, said: ‘This is less than half the size of the population just over 10 years ago and it is important for us to understand the reasons behind this decline.

‘Tracking Aalin’s movements will add to our understanding of how to safeguard the island’s population of this magnificent bird of prey.

‘On our small island, we provide a home to more hen harriers than the whole of England. The hen harrier is one of the most persecuted birds in the British Isles and we are blessed to have a population of these majestic birds in the island.’

Blánaid Denman, RSPB hen harrier LIFE+ project manager, said: ‘The hen harrier’s skydance is one of nature’s most awe-inspiring spectacles.

‘Yet in certain areas of England and Scotland, hen harriers are being illegally killed to prevent them from eating red grouse, a popular gamebird.

‘Hen harriers travel widely outside the breeding season, so anything that affects them in one part of their range is likely to affect the population across the British Isles as a whole.

‘Satellite tracking is key to better understanding where these birds go and where they’re most at risk. The more we can learn about their behaviour and needs, the better we can take action to save hen harriers.’

The hi-tech satellite tagging project has been co-ordinated by Manx BirdLife in association with the RSPB’s hen harrier LIFE+ project and the Manx Ringing Group with sponsorship from the Society for the Preservation of the Manx Countryside and Environment.

It has been conducted under the necessary licences approved by the relevant Manx and UK authorities and in strict accordance with the law.

Mr Morris added: ‘We wish Aalin well on her travels and hope she’ll return to the island when she is ready to rear her own family.

‘Surviving her first winter will be her biggest challenge as she learns how to fend for herself. Hopefully, she will find plenty of food and be safe in England.’

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