THIS year's breeding figures show that there is cause for concern over England's most endangered bird of prey, the hen harrier.

English Nature, the Government's independent wildlife adviser, has announced that there were ten nesting attempts in the country this year, eight of which were successful, resulting in 28 young flying.

Although the figures show that fledgling numbers have maintained a similar level to last year, successful breeding has been restricted to one area of England only - Bowland Fells in Lancashire. This is opposed to 23 nesting attempts at six sites in 2003.

Chief executive Andy Brown said: "It is of great concern to English Nature that the hen harrier has only been able to raise young in one area of England this year. Without a consistent increase in range and the number of breeding pairs, this bird's future looks extremely doubtful. It is a great pity that extensive efforts have failed to boost numbers," he added. "The successes at Bowland are the one bright spot in an otherwise gloomy picture."

The results of three years of monitoring from English Nature's hen harrier recovery project confirm that illegal persecution is the main reason the hen harrier population is so low in England. Birds have not returned to breed at a number of nesting sites where illegal persecution was recorded last year.

English Nature has been focusing attention on the plight of the hen harrier through the project, which is due to report to its governing council in December. Anyone who has spotted a hen harrier in England is asked to call project officer Richard Saunders on 01539 792800.

English Nature is meeting groups next month to gather information on options for the future conservation of the rare bird before making its own recommendations.