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Hen harrier chicks will be removed from their parents and reared in captivity this summer in a controversial “brood management” scheme to placate grouse moor owners.

Removing young hen harriers from nests on grouse moors is designed to prevent concentrations of the bird of prey on grouse shooting estates. Stopping hen harriers from feeding on young grouse is designed to reduce the illegal killing of the species, which is on the brink of extinction as a breeding bird in England.

Last summer was the bird’s most successful breeding season for more than a decade with 34 chicks fledged from nine nests across northern England.

Natural England, the government’s conservation watchdog, announced its brood management scheme would begin this summer with “active” hen harrier nests meeting the criteria for chick removal and landowners willing to be part of the trial.

The chicks would be raised in captivity and then released into suitable habitat away from grouse moors. The hen harrier tends to nest in clusters and proponents of the scheme argued that brood management provided reassurance to grouse moor owners that concentrations of hen harriers would not build up on their moors, predating grouse populations. This, it has been argued, would stop gamekeepers and others illegally killing the bird.

Seven in 10 hen harriers in UK study likely illegally killed Tony Juniper, the chair of Natural England, said: “Conservation and protection of the hen harrier is at the heart of what we are doing in licensing this trial of brood management. This decision takes forward but one element in a far broader recovery strategy for the species.< …

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The Gaurdian

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