Skydancer Day 2024: It's a Wrap

Skydancer Day presenters George, Lauren and Christina wrap up the broadcast
George, Lauren and Christina wrap up the 2024 Skydancer Day broadcast

Skydancer Day 2024 was broadcast live on Saturday 4th May from RSPB Insh Marshes

RSPB Insh Marshes, in the heart of the Cairngorms National Park, home to some exciting rewilding and environmental projects, was the location for Hen Harrier Action’s Skydancer Day live YouTube broadcast on Saturday 4th May at 11.00am. You can now watch the full broadcast recording on our YouTube channel.

 You’ll hear the latest about the family of Eurasian Beavers released onto the River Spey in the nature reserve, the third beaver release site in the Cairngorms National Park. And find out more about the ambitious landscape-scale rewilding going on at Trees for Life’s Dundreggan Rewilding Centre.

Enjoy hearing about these exciting wildlife projects and many others in a packed recording with your hosts George Hassall (Green Fingered George), marine biologist and TV presenter Christina Sinclair, and wildlife artist and Natural History Museum researcher Lauren Cook.

Lauren Cook is a freelance wildlife artist and animator specialising in science communication, and a PhD Researcher based at the Natural History Museum. She produces stop-motion animations to raise awareness for conservation issues. 

She presented on Hen Harrier Action’s Autumn Live! series, sharing her tips for sketching wildlife in Windsor Great Park.

Originally from Manchester, George is now studying Environmental Science at the University of Stirling. Aged 8, George won RHS Young School Gardener of the Year, and later he became the first RHS Young Ambassador, sharing his love of gardening and the natural world. Wildlife obsessed, George appeared on the ‘8 Out of 10 Bats’ online nature series.

George has made several TV appearances, including a regular spot as CBBC’s Blue Peter Gardener.

Marine biologist Christina Sinclair, also a presenter on 8 Out of 10 Bats, has a background as an assistant producer, presenter and editor on numerous wildlife and environmental programmes including Our Frozen Planet, Back from the Brink and How to Become a Nature Detective.

Christina wants to use her filmmaking to encourage us towards a more nature-friendly, more sustainable society.

Discover the story of Bowland Beth told through music, dance and poetry

Watch the tragic story of Bowland Beth, a young Hen Harrier fledged on the moors of Bowland and illegally shot in the Yorkshire Dales, beautifully told through the medium of dance.

A collaboration between choreographer Catherine Seymour, filmmaker David Lefeber, and Royal Ballet School trained dancer Zoe Arshamian, with original music by Rob Godman and inspired by the poem ‘Bowland Beth’ from renowned poet David Harsent, the film is shot entirely in the Forest of Bowland AONB.

The film represents Beth, as portrayed in Harsent’s poem from his collection, ‘Fire Songs’ (2014) and Godman’s score. ‘Bowland Beth’ follows a woman walking alone up into the hills. As she walks, she moves deeper into Beth’s elemental world of high moorland, wind and sky. She revels in the freedom of the landscape, in the pleasure of her body moving, in all that she can see and hear.

Encountering Beth’s spirit in the unique landscape, the sense of threat grows and becomes inescapable as Arshamian dances the bird’s untimely end as described in Harsent’s poem. Godman’s haunting soundscore is built from readings of the poem and the natural sounds from Bowland.

Learn more about the Eurasian Beaver release programme at Insh Marshes

Juvenile Eurasian Beaver being released at Insh Marshes

Join live guest Thijs Claes, the Warden at RSPB Insh Marshes, to hear the latest news on the Eurasian Beaver release programme at the reserve, how these iconic creatures are settling in and the benefits they will bring to the landscape and the rare and protected species found at Insh.

This initiative is part of a programme to return beavers to the Cairngorms National Park for the first time in around 400 years. By changing and re-naturalising the landscape around them, beavers can help combat climate change and boost biodiversity.

Karen Birkby, RSPB Scotland’s Site Manager for Insh Marshes, said: “We are delighted to have been able to support the efforts to return beavers to the Cairngorms National Park by being one of the first release sites.

Seeing beavers return is a major moment for the nature reserve and will help us achieve the long-term vision of restoring the river Spey and floodplain for nature and people.”

See landscape-scale rewilding in action at Dundreggan Rewilding Centre

Trees for Life is a rewilding charity based in Scotland, committed to creating large-scale environmental change in the Scottish Highlands. Focused on restoring the once-extensive Caledonian forest, the charity’s vision includes the rejuvenation of entire ecosystems. Their efforts aim to foster biodiversity and encourage the natural processes that sustain life in our ancient woodlands.

The charity plans to engage a larger, more diverse audience with the natural and cultural heritage of the Highlands through the new Dundreggan Rewilding Centre, a world-class, environmentally sensitive facility that will serve as a gateway to the wider landscape.

CEO Steve Micklewright told us more about the charity’s extraordinary vision for rewilding the Scottish Highlands through their ambitious projects at Dundreggan and Glen Affric.


Trees for Life's Dundreggan Rewilding Centre

Stunning new footage of Hen Harriers in Scotland from Richard Birchett

Richard Birchett is a published and award-winning wildlife photographer from Cornwall, now based in Ontario, Canada for the next four years. He has worked with BBC Wildlife Magazine, Springwatch, Countryfile and The Wildlife Trusts, and is the UK and Canada Ambassador for Nature First, an alliance promoting ethical wildlife photography.

A finalist in many prominent photography competitions, he won the League Against Cruel Sports Wildlife Photographer of the Year in 2021. He has a popular YouTube channel where he showcases ethical wildlife and nature photography and film, fieldcraft techniques and exploring new places.

His favourite subjects to photograph and film are raptors, including owls, eagles and harriers – species he has been fascinated by since childhood.

Wildlife photographer Richard Birchett

Recently, ahead of moving to Canada, he spent time in the Cairngorms National Park and on the Isle of Mull where he captured some of the most thrilling and captivating film of Hen Harriers that we have ever seen.

We are privileged to be able to share Richard’s new film with you here on Skydancer Day.

You can check out some of his other films on his YouTube channel here:

Richard Birchett on YouTube

And you can see more examples of his stunning photography here:

Richard Birchett Photography

Richard Birchett's Film of Hen Harriers in Scotland

Award-winning author Gill Lewis launched the 2024 Young Wild Writers Competition

Children's Author Gill Lewis with some of her books

Each year, Hen Harrier Action hosts a popular competition to find the UK’s best Young Wild Writers. This year’s competition was launched live on Skydancer Day by author Gill Lewis, announcing the theme for your creative writing and the prizes on offer.

There are three categories:
– Young 6-8 Years
– Junior 9-12 Years
– Senior 13-16 Years

As Gill puts it, “Words have the power to change hearts and minds; they inform, engage, enrage and empower people. Young voices calling for change need to be heard. The future ecologists, town planners, politicians, and scientists must have the natural world at the core of all their decision making”.

You can find details of all last year’s winners here and admire the exceptional creative writing of their winning entries on our website here.

Congratulations to Lauren, George, Christina, and all the special guests and contributors, for a Stunning Skydancer Day Broadcast

Find Out More About Skydancer Day 2023

Skydancer Day 2023

Megan & Indy wave goodbye

Goodbye from Megan McCubbin and Indy Kiemel Greene as they wrap up Skydancer Day 2023 at The Hawk Conservancy Trust

Broadcast Live on YouTube from The Hawk Conservancy Trust on 7th May 2023

This year’s Skydancer Day was the fourth in the series organised by Hen Harrier Action. Hosted for the second year running by TV wildlife presenter Megan McCubbin and Hen Harrier Action’s Indy Kiemel Greene, an RSPB Youth Council member, the rich and varied programme covered a wide range of conservation issues.

The theme for this year was ‘Survival’ and if you didn’t get a chance to watch it live, you can view the whole broadcast on our YouTube channel.

Some of the highlights included:

The RSPB's 2023 Hen Harrier Survey

Hen Harrier Survey field worker Keith Offord in Wales

Dr Simon Wotton, Senior Conservation Scientist at the RSPB, talked about this crucial national survey, conducted every six years to establish a baseline of the breeding population of hen harriers. The last survey in 2016 showed a significant decline, so we are hoping for better news from this year’s study.

The film includes interviews with two of the survey field workers – Ian Thomson in Scotland; and Keith Offord in Wales, where we learn that hen harriers are thriving in the absence of grouse moors.

Megan and Indy interviewed Dr Campbell Murn, Head of Conservation, to find out more about the crucial raptor rehabilitation and conservation work at the Trust.

The Tarras Valley Nature Reserve

Filmed on location at Tarras Valley, we spoke to Jenny Barlow and Kat Mayer about the successful community buyout of over 10,000 acres of land including upland moor, ancient woodland, meadows, peatlands, and river valley, which is now being restored for nature to support a large range of wildlife.

We learned that already, five hen harrier pairs nested last year and produced 13 fledglings, just one of the many early successes.

Jenny Barlow and Kat Mayer at Tarras Valley Nature Reserve

Lucy Lapwing Live Interview

Interview with Lucy Lapwing

Lucy lives on the Isle of Bute, and described to Megan and Indy how she is enjoying seeing divers in full breeding plumage and frequent sightings of hen harriers, ospreys, and white-tailed eagles

Jenny Shelton, RSPB Investigations Team

Jenny talks frankly about the work of the Investigations Team and some of the horrific cases of raptor persecution the team are currently handling, working with the police.

These include a red kite found near death on a grouse moor in County Durham, peppered with shot, and Anu, a satellite-tagged hen harrier which stopped transmitting while roosting for the night on a grouse moor.

The satellite tag was found later in suspicious circumstances, more than 10km from the roosting site. The harness had been deliberately cut, and there was no sign of the bird.

Jenny Shelton of RSPB Investigations
Author Gill Lewis launches Young Wild Writers 2023 Competition

Megan and Indy were joined by Emily Hunt, last year’s winner, and children’s author Gill Lewis, to launch this year’s competition.

As Gill said when announcing the winners last year “Words have the power to change hearts and minds; they inform, engage, enrage and empower people. Young voices calling for change need to be heard. The future ecologists, town planners, politicians, and scientists must have the natural world at the core of all their decision making”.

The full details of the competition and all the winning entries from last year can be found here.

Hen Harrier Winter Roosting Behaviour and Starling Murmuration

To close, some stunning film footage of hen harriers circling a winter roost, and a spectacular, swirling starling murmuration to enjoy.

Megan and Indy discuss the mathematics involved in the astonishing and precise co-ordination of thousands of starlings when they are creating shapes in the winter sky at dusk.


Don’t forget, you can still watch and enjoy all of these films and interviews on our YouTube channel.

Starling Murmuration over Gretna, by Walter Baxter

It's a Wrap: Feedback from Indy and Paul

Indy Kiemel Greene of Hen Harrier Action
Wildlife documentary and film maker Paul Samuels

We asked co-host Indy and producer Paul for their feedback on the event:

Indy said, “There was some great content and we covered a wide range of upland issues. I thought it went even better than last year, from my perspective. It was my second year presenting, and I felt more comfortable and confident.
The Hawk Conservancy Trust was a great setting, and everyone was very supportive. We were surrounded by birds of prey, which was very appropriate. I watched a flying display after the broadcast – there were hawks, owls and even wild Red Kites flying around – it was very cool.”

Asked what drives him to put so much time into conservation issues, Indy commented, “I’ve only got 9 days left of college before I finish. My course is Conservation Management and I’ve really loved that – I have learned so much. I grew up in a house in the middle of Sherwood Forest surrounded by nature and very aware of the changing seasons, watching different birds arrive and leave. Older birders tell me about species that have disappeared, and I want to do my bit to change that.”

And Indy’s message for young people?

“I’d recommend volunteering. It changed everything for me. The people I’ve met and the different landscapes I’ve worked in – I’ve learned more by volunteering that I ever could on any university or college course. I’ve been volunteering since I was 14, doing guided walks and practical conservation work.”

The man behind the camera on the day, wildlife and documentary film maker Paul Samuels, began preparations for the live broadcast months in advance.

According to Paul, “preparation for next Skydancer Day begins almost as soon as the last one has finished, but I started to prepare seriously in January. I visited The Hawk Conservancy Trust several times beforehand to familiarise myself with the venue. And I travelled to Scotland to film Ian Thompson and the Tarras Valley team, to Wales to interview and film Keith Offord, and to RSPB HQ in Bedfordshire for interviews with Investigations Officer Jenny Shelton, and Senior Conservation Scientist Dr Simon Wotton.”

Pulling together all the items that go into the live broadcast takes months of preparation and a lot of travel, and Paul packs all his kit into his trusty Fiat 500.
“It has more space than you think with the back seats down – the secret is in the packing!” he claims.

Paul enjoyed filming at the Hawk Conservancy Trust. “It was a terrific venue. We were filming in what’s called the Woodland Area, and we had to time our broadcast in between flying displays and ‘raptor experiences’. We were lucky with the weather too.”

What are Paul’s ambitions for future Skydancer Days?

“I hope that we can extend the reach of Skydancer Day and widen the audience by covering a broader range of issues next year. I’d like to extend our remit to cover re-wilding as a topic. I think it has a lot in common with our own objectives as a charity – restoring biodiversity in the uplands – and it’s an important topic for conservationists.”

So that’s it for Skydancer Day 2023 – “it’s a wrap”, as Paul would say!

We hope you enjoyed the broadcast, and if you didn’t get a chance to watch it live, you can see the whole show on Hen Harrier Action’s YouTube channel.

Thank you from Megan, Indy, Paul and all our guests for your support. Don’t forget, there are lots of ways you can support Hen Harriers, conservation, and wildlife protection, and we hope Skydancer Day 2023 has given you plenty of ideas and insight.

We’ll see you again next year.