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Rare Montagu harriers breed on Norfolk coast

PUBLISHED: 07:24 31 August 2009 | UPDATED: 11:47 06 July 2010

The Montagu Harrier

The Montagu Harrier

Britain's rarest bird of prey has bred successfully on the Norfolk Coast.

Five female Montagu's harriers built their nests at secluded sites on the shores of The Wash this summer.

Britain's rarest bird of prey has bred successfully on the Norfolk coast.

Five female Montagu's harriers built their nests at secluded sites on the shores of The Wash this summer. Three were successful, rearing eight chicks.

Across the whole of southern England there were just 11 nests. Seven of them were successful, producing 19 chicks.

Almost half of the slender-winged bird's UK breeding population chooses farmland along Norfolk's coastline to raise its young.

But Jim Scott from the Harrier Protection Scheme, jointly run by the RSPB and Natural England, said experts were still unsure why.

"We don't know why the birds dismiss other areas in favour of north Norfolk and The Wash," he said. "The young birds might be taking a leaf out of their parents' book and returning to their original nesting ground year on year."

Montagu's harriers travel across Europe from Africa to breed each year, running the gauntlet of continental hunters on their long migration.

Once persecuted by gamekeepers, birds of prey still suffer with at least 20 shot, trapped or poisoned in East Anglia last year.

The Harrier Protection Scheme aims to educate landowners and farmers to limit disturbance.

"These incredible birds are very prone to disturbance and without our protection this could cause nesting attempts to fail," said Mr Scott.

"If young birds haven't left the nest before harvest, farmers often leave an area uncut. In some areas where foxes may be an issue, we help farmers erect fencing to protect the birds."

More than 250 Montagu's harriers have bred since the protection scheme was launched, in 1982.

Nests on arable fields, where the bird is increasingly choosing to make its home, produce more chicks. Locations are kept a closely guarded secret, to protect broods from egg collectors.

Smaller than the buzzard, the Montagu's harrier is distinguished from its relatives the hen and marsh harriers by its pointed wings and the male's grey plumage.

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