Northumberland film makers take up cause of threatened bird of prey

The RSPB backed project, filmed by the Haltwhistle Film Project, aims to try and prevent the extinction of the hen harrier

Film makers from the North East will see their work go national in a bid to highlight the plight of the country’s most threatened bird of prey.

Haltwhistle Film Project in Northumberland was commissioned by the RSPB’s award-winning Skydancer project which is working to raise awareness of the fact that hen harriers are on the verge of extinction in England.

The birds last nested in Northumberland in 2008 and last year there were only four breeding pairs in England - all outside the region, where suitable habitat is widespread.

Persecution linked to grouse moor management has been cited as one of the reasons for the demise of the hen harrier, whose “skydancing” displays are considered one of the compelling countryside sights.

The film includes views from all sides of the hen harrier debate, including ornithologists, gamekeeping interests and County Durham farmers, plus opinions from people at a range of locations including a tourism event at Rothbury.

The film makers also involved pupils from Northumberland schools, including West Woodburn, St Joseph’s in Corbridge and Newsham Primary in Blyth.

The aim was to create a film to raise awareness about hen harriers and to inspire people to take action for their conservation.

RSPB Skydancer Hen Harrier
Skydancer Hen Harrier

Pupils at Newsham Primary helped create some of the film’s animation sequences and it was given its premiere screening at the school.

Before the screening, children talked to the audience about what they had learned about hen harriers and had enjoyed about being involved with Skydancer.

Deputy head Neil Jones said:“I was delighted to be present at the premiere of the Skydancer film. Newsham Primary is very proud of the role it had in working on the project.

“We feel it has significantly increased awareness about the project in our community, and the film will go on to influence others much further afield.

“Judging from the reaction of parents present at the showing of the film, the impact on those not directly linked to the project is going to be significant.”

Daniel Beavers, the class teacher of the children involved, said: “It has been an exceptional project and I feel extremely proud of all the children who have contributed to the film. The film is stunning.

“The educational value of being part of a real world film project is wide reaching. Making the film has been a powerful tool enabling our pupils to contribute to the wider community, meet and to engage with nature.

“The film is powerfully emotive. Hen harriers belong to all of us and they need our help.”

Youngsters from West Woodburn School in Northumberland on a hen harriers field trip
Youngsters from West Woodburn School in Northumberland on a hen harriers field trip

Pat McDonald, assistant headteacher, said: “I found the film very emotional. I am ashamed to say that I had not heard of hen harriers before the children started the project. Because of the film, I now have a full understanding of the importance of protecting them.”

Haltwhistle Film Project director Marc McKiernan, a Newcastle University graduate who has a PhD in biology, said: “Rural issues are not just for rural people and we hope the film will be widely seen and makes people aware that there is a bird at the top of the food chain which is at risk of extinction in England, which can have a set of consequences.”

Julie Chrisp, Newcastle-based RSPB Skydancer engagement officer, said: “ We want to raise awareness about hen harriers and get more people to take action to help in the conservation of this amazing bird, which on the brink of extinction in this country.

“All sides are interviewed in the film. We hope we can work together.”

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