2020 will be the sixth year of Hen Harrier Days, though an unusual one because it will be entirely online, with a great event planned for 8 August. The events have grown and evolved over the years and will continue to do so. Many people and organisations have contributed to helping our locally inspired events along. Birders Against Wildlife Crime did much good behind the scenes work in the early years, and the RSPB has always been supportive. Artists, writers, young people, researchers, politicians and the police have all contributed. In 2020 and beyond we want to continue to build this diversity so that everyone who loves nature and wants a better environment for our children can join in. Meanwhile, here’s a brief history:
2014 The first year, now with near-mythic status. Hurricane Bertha arrived at the Upper Derwent Valley at the same time as us. It was very, very wet! But it was a great event and many of the 'sodden 570' have been to a Hen Harrier Day every year since. One memory is of a representative (equally wet) of the Moorland Association videoing the whole thing. Evidently we were worthy of their attention even then. There were other spontaneously organised events that year too, in Lancashire, Northumberland and Dorset.
2015 Seven Hen Harrier Days included another big event in Derbyshire, following a sold-out conference in Buxton with contributions from artist Jeremy Deller, Chris Packham and others. Arne in Dorset saw Lush founder, Mark Constantine, talking about their work to support satellite tagging, and the event was graced by a very rare bird – a black stork. Sadly, persecution is such that an event on Mull was the only one where those attending had an opportunity actually to see hen harriers on the day.
2016 brought the London event, with hundreds attending in warm sunshine at Rainham Marshes. Similar numbers turned out at Edale to join Tim Birch of the Derbyshire Wildlife Trust urging change: "We believe everyone who visits the Peak District should have the opportunity to see some of our most spectacular wildlife. The hen harrier is a symbol for all the species and ecosystems we wish to see thrive." A total of 11 events around the country also included, for the first time, two in Northern Ireland.
2017 saw more new places joining in – including the Cairngorms National Park and Sheffield, the first in a city-centre location. Over 1,000 came to the Dorset event to hear Chris Packham and Gill Lewis amongst others. Loch Leven, north of Edinburgh, was a great family occasion and included the RSPB Director for Scotland competing to make the best playdough hen harrier. There were 10 events, from Rum and Eigg in the Hebrides to Clitheroe in Lancashire and Rainham Marshes near London.
2018 Again there were events in more new places, including Stratford-upon-Avon, and Hebden Bridge (where a major local concern is that flooding is worsened by rapid run-off from the grouse moors above). In Sheffield, a group went on a ‘moorland walk’ and in the Highlands the Chief Executive of the Cairngorms National Park, Grant Moir, gamely responded to questions such as why it might not be better known as a 'National Grouse Park'. Overall attendance was up again, at about 1,200.
2019 Our fifth anniversary saw a change of approach with one large national event at Carsington Water in Derbyshire. Speakers included Chris Packham, Iolo Williams and the star who has brought new energy and focus to wildlife crime policing, Supt. Nick Lyall. With numerous stalls and activities, some 2,500 people were there for all or part of the event. Maybe we’ll do something similar in another five years’ time – who knows, it could be a celebration of the revival of our uplands and the birds and other animals that should thrive there.
Over the years, Hen Harrier Day has been supported by many organisations including in particular Birders Against Wildlife Crime (BAWC). Then the 2019 event was put together by Wild Justice – Chris Packham, Ruth Tingay and Mark Avery, each of whom has been a tireless supporter from the outset. Many, many others have organised and provided support too, whether getting a local event together, providing the site or offering logistical and other support, often entirely free. Thank you to all of them.
In 2020 we are running a brilliant online event on 8 August. Sadly, there will be no local events because of Covid-19. In 2021 we will revert to a wide spread of local events across the UK, so there should be an event near you. If there has not been one in your area before, why not organise one? There are people and resources ready to help, whatever you might plan.