Spectacular street art unveiled at local RSPB site to mark Hen Harrier Day

AT three metres high and three metres wide, visitors to RSPB Rainham Marshes can’t miss this spectacular hen harrier artwork by street artist ATM. 

It’s been created on the entrance wall of the reserve to celebrate hen harriers and to mark Hen Harrier Day 2020, which will be a national online event for the first time.

Naturalist and presenter Chris Packham, together with his stepdaughter Megan McCubbin, have been confirmed as hosts for the event on Saturday 8 August. Full details can be found at henharrierday.uk/online. It will be hosted on YouTube at https://www.youtube.com/HenHarrierDayUK and people can register and set a reminder now.

Hen Harrier Day began in 2014 to raise awareness of the plight of these spectacular birds. Each year, by broadening support, Hen Harrier Day aims to help put an end to wildlife crime and the wider abuse of the uplands associated with shooting gamebirds for ‘sport’.  

The uplands of northern England and Scotland may be a long way from Purfleet, but RSPB Rainham Marshes has a close connection with Hen Harrier Day. In the 1980s there was a regular roost of wintering hen harriers at Rainham Marshes but now they are only rarely seen – their plight further north has a wider impact even in the south-east. RSPB Rainham Marshes also hosted three live Hen Harrier Day events between 2016 and 2018, all featuring Chris Packham plus a host of other leading naturalists. The events each attracted hundreds of members of the public and raised thousands of pounds for bird of prey conservation.

A live event was planned for 8 August 2020, but like so many other gatherings it had to be put on hold. Looking for a way to continue to support the cause, and mark the online event on the same day, the reserve was delighted to host ATM’s spectacular depiction of a male hen harrier. Anyone wishing to come and see the artwork should please note the reserve is operating restricted opening times at the moment due to Covid-19 and is open Thursday to Sunday only, with some facilities including the visitor centre and café currently closed – please check for updates before visiting.

Hen harriers, known for their acrobatic ‘skydance’ mating ritual, are one of the UK’s rarest birds of prey, having declined 24% since 2004, largely as a result of illegal persecution. 

Hen harriers are protected by law under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981. They nest on moorland and will feed on red grouse chicks along with other prey, often putting them into conflict with gamekeepers managing land for commercial grouse shooting, particularly in northern England and Scotland.  

Scientific research published in 2019 showed that 72% of the satellite-tagged hen harriers in their study were killed or very likely to have been killed on British grouse moors, and that hen harriers were 10 times more likely to die or disappear over areas of grouse moor relative to other land uses. 

Hen Harrier Day 2020 will take place across several social media channels including YouTube at https://www.youtube.com/HenHarrierDayUK, Twitter and Facebook. The programme will include expert talks, short films, competitions, challenges, music, art and more, featuring leading writers, artists and conservationists.  

ATM said:

“I’m very happy to play a part in this year’s event, as I want more people to know how amazingly beautiful and special hen harriers are and how worthy they are of real protection. Ensuring their survival and that of the many other species that naturally thrive on the uplands, but which are decimated by intensive grouse management, will allow nature’s true balance and abundance to return.”

Chris Packham said: 

“I am delighted to be hosting Hen Harrier Day Online and look forward to enthusing audiences new and old about these iconic birds. I have been involved in Hen Harrier Days ever since the first one in the Derwent Valley in 2014, and I am delighted to see the event flourishing despite the tragedy of Covid-19. I am looking forward to a great day helping raise awareness of this wonderful bird and its terrible persecution on driven grouse moors. I will be talking to inspiring young people, great experts and many others who want to see urgent change in our uplands so that hen harriers can continue to be part of these landscapes.”  

Megan McCubbin said:  

“Hen Harrier Day 2020 will be a virtual event like no other, filled with science, art, music and the conservation of one of the UK’s most iconic birds of prey. It’s a day to celebrate the hen harriers glory, but also to highlight the environmental injustices of driven grouse shooting and illegal wildlife persecution. I am thrilled to be hosting it this year from the New Forest where we will be talking to the experts and encouraging our audiences to get involved so that hen harriers can safely soar across our moorland for generations to come.” 

Martin Harper, Conservation Director at the RSPB, said: 

“Nature is in crisis and the time is now to build a sustainable and nature-rich future for the benefit of us all. The problems in our uplands – from peatbog burning and flooding to raptor persecution – must be addressed urgently. Hen Harrier Day is crucial in helping bring these issues to the fore.”  

Alan Cranston, Chair of Hen Harrier Action, said: 

“The hen harrier is a symbol for our wider concerns about nature in the uplands and that is a theme that has resonated with many poets, writers and artists who will be taking part.  

“The moorlands of Britain are places we all should be able to enjoy, whether as visitors or locals. By hosting the event online, we hope that even more people will be able to join us this year in celebrating the UK’s hen harriers and the landscapes they bring to life.”  

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