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Marsh Harriers make breeding come back after 50 years.....

In the 1950s Poole Harbour hosted 60% of the entire UK population of breeding Marsh Harrier, but by 1963 there were none.

After a 50 year absence one pair of Marsh Harrier have finally decided to stay and breed in the reed beds around the Wareham Channel, doubling the Dorset breeding population to just two pairs.

Marsh Harrier was extinct as a breeding bird in Dorset until 2010 when a pioneer pair successfully raised young at the RSPBs nature reserve in Weymouth, Radipole Lakes. Today, the only other pair in Dorset can be found at Lodmoor RSPB reserve, also in Weymouth.

It was thought that human intrusion, egg collecting, shooting and flooding were the main causes for their demise 50 years ago, with the introduction of the pesticide DDT hammering the final blow.

But with careful habitat management and better protection these birds are making a remarkable come back across the whole country with Dorset now following the trend.

Paul Morton from the ‘Birds of Poole Harbour’ charity said: “This is spectacular news. We can have anything up to six Marsh Harrier in Poole Harbour during the winter, but these birds all head back to mainland Europe or further east in the spring to breed.

"The fact a pair has finally decided to take the plunge and stay hopefully means others will follow suit in the coming years. The management of these habitats is crucial for species like this and we can thank the likes of Natural England, the RSPB and of course the landowners who put so much time and effort into creating such great habitats for a whole range of bio-diversity. We expect the chicks to fledge in the next week”

Landowner Ray Hegarty said “I get great satisfaction from helping the wildlife on my land, and the arrival of these birds is a great testament to the protection I’m trying to provide for all wildlife”

Dante Munns, RSPB Reserves manager for Dorset added “Poole harbour is an internationally important habitat, but being so close to a major urban area faces numerous pressures; disturbance from recreation, nutrient enrichment and bait digging not to mention the challenge of climate change and sea level rise. The fact that the harbour is still able to provide a home for an amazing wealth of wildlife, once again including marsh harrier, demonstrates the importance of protecting these special places”  

To help gauge a better understanding of this unique event, local Harrier expert Peter Hadrill has been monitoring the nest site daily since mid-April, with the aim of writing a full analysis of the event right up until when the young fledge the nest.

This report will be available on the ‘Birds of Poole Harbour’ website at www.birdsofpooleharbour.co.uk

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