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Marsh Harrier

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Once an occassional winter visitor to Dorset but now a species nesting in the county



Photograph by: 
Frank Gardener

Marsh Harrier: hurray for the harrier

Post date: Wednesday, 4 November, 2015 - 00:00

OK! OK! I know this is not a good photograph, but the circumstance surrounding it are truly amazing in my view. This is a photograph of one of the United Kingdom's rarest birds of prey, certainly as a breeding species. But that is not all; this photograph was taken in the middle of one of Dorset's largest towns, Weymouth. And that is not all; a pair of marsh harriers (Circus aeruginosus) have now bred in the middle of this large town! 

Take a minute to think about that; this is actually one of the most surprising and encouraging successes for bird conservation in recent times. No breed and release scheme here. This is down to planning and careful habitat management to create the right conditions for this bird to thrive. I may be wrong, but the last time this was truly successful was probably in the 1980's at Minsmere and the recolonisation of our eastern marshland by the Avocet.
Both projects were the result of expert and excellent work by the RSPB and we may possibly soon have bitterns breeding in the middle of Weymouth too; how remarkable would that be?


Marsh Harrier in Dorset; what your tweets tell us ...

Post date: Saturday, 8 December, 2018 - 18:07

There is so much bad news surrounding birds of prey these days with their persecution on grouse moors and pheasant shoots in Britain so some good news is always welcome and the marsh harrier is one species that can provide that; at least in Dorset anyway. In recent years it was become well established in Dorset and now breeds here but here it is under the protection of the RSPB so they should be safe. Marsh harriers are such a beautiful creatures I just do not understand how anyone could harm them but, of course, where big money is involved emotion goes out of the window and greed takes its place. I had better stop there!

The marsh harrier is closely associated with reed beds where it finds its prey and a look at the distribution map of reports shows this relationship quite clearly with clusters of sightings around Christchurch harbour, Poole harbour and Radipole/Lodmoor in Weymouth and at each of those sites there are, indeed, extensive reed beds; there is plenty of suitable habitat for them here in Dorset.

The weekly reports chart shows that not a week goes by during the year without a report of a marsh harrier somewhere in Dorset and the frequency seems quite erratic but there is a tendency to more records in spring and autumn so there are some migratory influences at work. The summer birds are a pair (or may be more now) that nest at the RSPB reserve at Radipole Lake but numbers definitely increase in autumn with more records then coming from Poole and Christchurch harbours. Some sightings are reported from elsewhere and these are probably passage migrants.

The most records are from Lytchett Bay in Poole harbour and this is partly because this is site that is watched almost daily by some dedicated volunteers but Radipole and neighbouring Lodmoor in Weymouth are where they are most likely to be seen and the best place to head to if you want to see them.


The records for this species have been organised into reports, charts, maps and photos. Click a pic below to see the detail:

Sites List Distribution Map Some Charts Some Photographs Original Tweets Relatives Guidance Notes
Common Name Marsh Harrier
Scientific Name Circus aeruginosus
Status Local
Interest Level
Species Family Harriers, hawks and buzzards
  • 01 - January
  • 02 - February
  • 03 - March
  • 04 - April
  • 05 - May
  • 06 - June
  • 07 - July
  • 08 - August
  • 09 - September
  • 10 - October
  • 11 - November
  • 12 - December
Preferred Environment
  • Reed beds
Look for A large bird gliding over reed beds looking for prey
Additional Identification Notes
  • Now a breeding species in Dorset having succesfully raised young in a couple of locations
  • Numbers increase during the winter month with incoming migrant birds from further north
  • Associated with reed beds they can be seen flying low over the reeds looking for prey 
Similar Species