Hen harriers could be wiped out in England
What used to be a fairly common bird of prey in the UK, the Hen Harriers, have had such a bad breeding season this year that they could be wiped out altogether.
They are England's most threatened bird of prey, and have been unable to hatch more than 15 nests successfully since 1994.
A monitoring programme by the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds and Natural England found year there were just 10 nests where the chicks were successfully reared, out of 19 attempts.
Sir Martin Doughty, chair of Natural England, said the low numbers made the harriers vulnerable to extinction in England.
He said: "Small populations of species can be highly vulnerable to chance events and we cannot literally have all our eggs in one basket. If we lose the hen harrier in Bowland, we could lose it in England.
"We must have a much larger and widespread population of this fantastic upland bird."
The RSPB estimate that England's uplands should be able to support 200 breeding pairs of hen harriers. In the past numbers have been controlled on moors in order to protect grouse shoots.
Dr Mark Avery, the RSPB's director of conservation, said the birds should be better protected.
"There is no natural reason why hen harrier numbers are so low. If there is no illegal killing, as some grouse-shooting interests would have us believe, then where are the missing birds?
Barely any harriers bred this year in the Peak District, Yorkshire Dales or North York Moors. The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds is challenging upland owners in those areas to help increase the breeding population by 2010, to 40 pairs.
The bird of prey actually became extinct in the UK in Victorian times, and only came back in the 1970s.
They have been struggling ever since.