IT’S game on for conservationists fighting to save a bird hovering on the brink of extinction in England.
The RSPB aims to cash in on the runaway popularity of the computer game Angry Birds, in which the birds protect their eggs from hungry pigs.
The RSPB’s aim is to raise awareness about the plight of the hen harrier and also reach youngsters who are now more likely to play a computer game than spend time in the outdoors.
The move is part of the RSPB’s Skydancer project, which seeks to promote the conservation of hen harriers in the English uplands, such as Northumberland and Cumbria.
The programme is named after the birds’ aerobatic spring displays, and the spectacular passing of food from males to females while in flight.
“Angry Birds is a simple but very addictive game,” said Newcastle-based Blanaid Denman, who is the RSPB’s Skydancer engagement officer for the four-year project.
“With more and more youngsters spending more time on computers, tablet devices and smartphones and less time outdoors, we decided to create a game about hen harriers.
“The idea was that it would be simple but fun to play and would help young people learn about hen harriers – what they are and where they live.”
The RSPB turned to Northumbria University and challenged computer games design and computing students to design such a game.
A total of 22 students in five teams were given just 75 hours to create a demo game from scratch.
The games were then judged by a panel of RSPB and Northumbria University staff, who awarded prizes for best game design, technical achievement and aesthetic design.
Blanaid says: “We were really impressed by the fantastic creativity of the games and by how much the students were able to achieve in such a short time.
“The originality of the entries just goes to show the ability of these birds to truly fire the imagination.
“The students clearly understood the brief, presenting the hen harrier and its conservation status in fun and informative games.
“The next stage of this exciting project will be to take the best elements of these demos to develop a new game that we can use as part of our ongoing educational work.
“Anything that we can do to involve young people in the natural world is good.” Next month RSPB observers will start scanning the skies, looking for hen harriers.
They will concentrate on where the birds have nested in the past, such as north Tynedale in Northumberland, Geltsdale on the Northumberland- Cumbria border and the Forest of Bowland in Lancashire.
If any birds show signs of nesting, it will activate a 24-hour watch on the site.
Persecution has been blamed as a major factor in the birds’ decline.
The last time hen harriers nested in north Tynedale was in 2008 and 2006 in Geltsdale.
In 2010 there were seven nesting pairs in England but this fell to four in 2011 and just one last year.
“We are keeping our fingers and toes crossed for this year,” says Blanaid.