Hen harriers have failed to nest successfully in England for the first time since the 1960s, conservationists have said.
The failure of the only two pairs that which attempted to nest in northern England this year has left the bird of prey, which has been subject to long-term persecution, on the brink of extinction here, the RSPB said.
At one of the two sites where hen harriers nested, the wildlife charity was working with the landowner to ensure the nest was protected, but the eggs did not hatch. It is not known why the other nest failed.
The hen harrier was once widespread across the UK but became extinct in mainland Britain around 1900, the RSPB said. Changes in land use and decline in persecution allowed the bird to spread from populations on Scottish islands, reaching England after the Second World War.
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.
RSPB conservation director Martin Harper said: “The latest news is a huge set-back and only a victory for those who want to see this bird of prey disappear from England’s skies, but we will continue to fight to ensure that this bird has a future in some of our most iconic landscapes.”