Up close and personal with hawk family

For years the future of the marsh harrier hung in the balance with the species almost declared extinct.And while now their numbers are steadily growing, knowledge about the bird of prey is scarce and difficult to come by.

For years the future of the marsh harrier hung in the balance with the species almost declared extinct.

And while now their numbers are steadily growing, knowledge about the bird of prey is scarce and difficult to come by.

Fiercely protective of their young, at the slightest hint a nest has been disturbed the parents will fly off never to return, leaving the chicks to fend for themselves.

But for the first time people are invited to get up close and personal with a family of one of the county's iconic birds.

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The Hawk and Owl Trust, near Fakenham, has made history by successfully installing a camera into a marsh harrier's nest giving everyone the opportunity to see first hand the private life of the renowned bird.

Wildlife photographer Martin Hayward-Smithcame up with the idea, and when the parents had left the nest, set a camera in a nearby hollow tree and led a connecting camouflaged cable to the nearest bird hide.

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Now visitors to the trust's Sculthorpe Moor Community Reserve can watch the family-of-five's antics from the nearby bird hide, or on a widescreen plasma television at the visitor and education centre.

Mr Hayward-Smith, who was granted one of the two licences available every year to film the birds, said: “When we had set up the camera and laid the cable and were back in the hide just waiting for her to feed the chicks, that was the most nerve wracking time.

“Birds of that type won't feed their young if they feel the nest has been disturbed. The test is when they feed their chicks. So when she did finally feed them it was a massive relief.

“I had a gut feeling it would work. The chicks' characters are all coming through. They've got their own personalities. One you can tell will be the boss and there's one who is the runt.

“He's starting to fight for food now, for a while he was getting pushed to the back. Every time people watch it they get concerned he's not being fed. Then when he gets some food a big cheer goes up.”

The three harrier chicks are 20-days-old and will stay in the nest until they are about 40-days-old, giving people plenty of opportunity to see them.

And the trust is running a competition for visitors to name the chicks, and win a picture of the baby bird they named.

Funding for the ground breaking project came from a £494,500 grant from Heritage Lottery Fund with match funding from a European Union programme.

But for Mr Hayward-Smith, who has just come back from a five month stint filming in the Arctic, Australia and Africa, there is no greater thrill than filming in his home county.

“The Hawk and Owl Trust was an ideal place to do this. It's so tranquil. I always visit when I'm not working. They have good volunteers who are great at what they do. That's why this project has worked.

“I get a great joy in putting something back, working on my own doorstep so people can see what's going on. It's about sharing an experience with others who wouldn't normally get it. Children should be able to see these sorts of things.

“I'm always planning ahead to see what I can do next, I'm already thinking of my next video project at the trust, but will get into trouble if give too much away.”

The reserve can be found off the A148, west of Fakenham. The visitor and education centre is open between 10am and 4pm, Tuesday to Sunday. The reserve itself is open from 8am to 6pm Tuesday to Wednesday, 8am to dusk from Thursday to Sunday, and is closed on Mondays.

For more information contact 01328 856788.

To see exclusive footage of the marsh harriers from the embedded camera visit www.edp24.co.uk.

The nation's TV viewers have spent a second week enthralled by wildlife drama unfolding in north Norfolk, as the BBC Springwatch cameras have filmed the life-and-death struggle of birds and animals living on Pensthorpe Nature Reserve. The daily eye-in-the-nest filming continues next week

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