Solving the mystery of the UK’s vanishing

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Gliding over the moors of England in search of prey, the hen harrier (Circus cyaneus) may never have suspected it would itself fall prey to a greater predator—man. Scientists have found evidence that the disappearance of a large number of hen harriers in the UK may be linked to their being killed illegally over areas managed for grouse hunting.
The study was a collaboration among researchers from the University of Cape Town, Aberdeen University, Natural England—the government agency responsible for conservation in England, and the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) Scotland.
The numbers of breeding hen harriers, raptors that are one of England’s rarest birds and a protected species, dropped sharply in the late 1990s and early 2000s. In response, Natural England launched a study to understand the reasons for this decline. Amar and colleagues worked on a part of this study to understand why so few hen harriers were coming back to their nesting areas, and what was happening to the birds that did not return.
The moorlands are open wet grasslands managed to ensure large populations of grouse are always available to hunters. To make sure grouse thrive on their lands, some gamekeepers kill its non-human predators, including hen harriers.
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