ONE of the UK’s rarest birds of prey has returned to a Hampshire nature reserve for the first time in 45 years.

A pair of marsh harriers have bred at Titchfield Haven nature reserve having raised two chicks in reed beds there for the first time since it was established in 1972.

The pair have gradually been spending more time at the reserve near Fareham and were first spotted in early April when they were seen performing sky-dancing manoeuvres as they courted, before beginning to collect sticks for their nest.

Finally on an early, misty morning in late June, two newly fledged young were seen leaving the nest and taking to the skies before becoming fully independent several weeks later.

Rangers have said that the parents have now left, but the young can still be seen and are likely to stay for a few more weeks before migrating to Europe or North Africa for the winter and then returning to Titchfield early next spring.

Marsh Harriers were once widespread, but by the end of the 19th century, habitat loss and persecution had wiped them out.

The RSPB say that numbers have slowly recovered since the 1970s to around 320 to 380 breeding pairs, which are mostly found in Eastern England.

Councillor Andrew Gibson, Hampshire County Council’s executive member for culture, recreation and countryside, said: “This is wonderful news, the fruition of more than 40 years of hard work by staff and volunteers to provide the right habitat and food supply for wetland birds, including these majestic birds of prey.

“We’re very pleased to welcome them back to Hampshire after a long absence, and we hope this protected species will thrive while delighting visitors to the reserve.”