Hen Harrier Disaster on United Utilities Land

Harriers dead and gone within days of warden leaving estate

[singlepic id=50 w=320 h=240 float=right]This morning I was dragged out for a walk by Mrs Admin. She maintains I spend far too much time in front of the computer, and she’s probably right. I do need some exercise, but important news of a disaster on a United Utilities estate in Bowland needed a write-up. So, as we trudged along over hill and dale, I tried to explain to her what had happened.

“Last night I got news that some hen harriers on United Utilities land had disappeared. There were two adults, and three chicks in their nest last week. Now there’s just one dead chick in the nest, and no sign of the rest of the birds.”

“How did that happen?” she asked.

“I don’t know” I replied “but United Utilities had a warden keeping his eye on the nest up until last week, but he left because his contract was over.”

“Why didn’t United Utilities extend his contract until the birds had left the nest then?”

“The United Utilities’ Bowland estate is the single most important site for breeding hen harriers in England and United Utilities has been working with the RSPB since the early 1980’s to conserve this hugely important population. The estate now regularly holds between six and ten pairs every year which can be anywhere between 50 and 90 percent of the English breeding population. Most year, 1-2 pairs of hen harrier also nest on moorland elsewhere in Bowland, away from the UU estate.” Forest of Bowland

I said “Apparently, they couldn’t justify the cost. Either way, whatever they’ve paid him was a waste of money since all they’ve got to show for it is one dead chick.”

“Seems rather silly of them” she remarked. “Didn’t anyone warn them this would happen?”

[singlepic id=53 w=320 h=240 float=left]”Yes” I replied, “raptor workers told the departing warden that without adequate protection there was a high risk the birds and their nest would be destroyed, but this was rejected by higher management within United Utilities in favour of saving money. Consequently, we are where we are.”

“So what’s happened to the adult birds and the other two chicks then?”

“We don’t know”, I replied, “but my sources are saying the tenant with shooting rights on the estate asked to be informed if any conservation workers would be visiting the nest as there was a danger they might get shot accidently – or words to that effect.”

“But,” said Mrs Admin, “if there’s a danger of raptor workers getting accidently shot, then surely there is a danger of the Harriers getting shot too … accidentally?”

“The thought had occurred … if you can’t tell the difference between a man and a game bird, you certainly wouldn’t be able to tell the difference between a Hen Harrier and a grouse or pheasant. Not that it’s shooting season yet.”

“What happens next?”

“Well,” I replied, “The Police Wildlife Officer is rumoured to be on the case and .. ”

“Is that the one who  …”

“Sorry – can’t go into that right now. Let’s just hope it gets as far as getting a crime number this time” I muttered sarcastically.

I continued, “I expect United Utilities will express regrets, and maybe write a new  Biodiversity Action Plan – in fact, it says one is due anytime now on their web site. As for now, they’ve ended up with egg on their faces yet again due to bad judgement.”

“… the policy is supported by a more detailed strategy covering our regulated water business. We also have a series of company biodiversity action plans (BAPs), covering species and habitats that are present on our land or that we impact on through our operations. These include wet woodland, blanket bog, standing open waters, hen harriers, red squirrel and juniper among others. These are due to be updated in 2009/10.” United Utilities

With that, we moved on to discuss other things unrelated to this site.

And finally:

“There has been no evidence of persecution on the estate over at least the last eight years, and the improving breeding performance would seem to support the fact that persecution is not an issue on the estate.” Lancashire County Council

Er – pull the other one, Lancashire County Council!

35 comments to Hen Harrier Disaster on United Utilities Land

  • Circus maximus

    If on the of-chance it natural predation, the remains of the chick should be covered in fox saliva….full of DNA, which is different from dog DNA. The remains must be tested.

    Somebody should tell UU that remote video surveilance is very cheep, cheep enough for a camera on the nest area an other pointing at the nest camera.

    • Admin

      The indications are the death and loss of three chicks and the two adult birds was not caused by animal predation, or for that matter natural causes. All signs suggest human interference was the most likely cause of this tragedy.

  • John Miles

    Monday morning. 2 days till the Glorious 12th. Lardy daa. Who gives a xxxx about Hen Harriers on England’s moors. We do not want them flying on the moor or they will upset a drive. No Red Grouse with beaters or flankers will fly to the butts with a Harrier or a Short eared owl in the way.Black Grouse are also as bad as they can take the Red Grouse away from the butts as well. That’s why we destroy all nests on the moors to stop them breeding and shoot them on site. Look at the distribution map of Black Grouse and Hen Harrier and you will see we have done a great job!!


      QUite afew people like harriers john. By the looks of it you are a hunter right? humans have interfeared. isnt the dissapointment and luck part of your ‘sport’? i would much prefer a sport where there where ups and downs. You are not the only one who feels about this. For a start, an advantage may be there if they wernt all dead. They may flush the grouse to your guns and turn tail when the shooting begins. Did you think of that?

      • Admin

        This message is for HENHARIER. John is not A HUNTER, quite the reverse, have you read his many additional comments on this site?

    • Helen

      I am pleased that you and your kind are in the minority – whatever your selfish personal interests, what you do is illegal and I hope you get caught.

  • Very sad news. Developed nations like the UK really need to set the standard because if it can’t be done right there what chance does conservation have in the developing world?

  • admin

    To MillyG: You stand a better chance of getting your comments published if you refrain from personal abuse.


  • Andy Barker

    Money talks it’s as simple as that. I can ownly assume that far more can be made by the greedy landowners from fat cats on a jolly boys outing blasting the hell out of grouse than providing proper protection for a species that would undoubtedly be enjoyed by far more people if the chance arose, and as we’ve seen many times before contribute to the local economy.

  • Dave Barnes

    We must act with thought and restraint. Surely the PC way will will win the day, and British justice will prevail?

    Other than that – lets go out mob handed and arrange for some of the keepers and ‘tit’ shooters to go missing and see what happens in then.

    This nation should hang its head in shame, 1st for letting it happen and secondly for conservationists doing nothing. Ban – what Ban.

  • David Russell

    I feel that the only way that this issue to be addressed in the longer term will be for prison sentences to be meted out to the landowners tacitly condoning these criminal activities, together with grouse-shooting bans against the estates involved. I suspect that the rates of raptor persecution would show immediate reductions if these sanctions were available.

  • Circus maximus

    I still think that licencing the grouse moors is the best threat. If they dont have the harriers then they dont get their licence (and all the financial incentives they currently enjoy). It is something that could be easily achieved with a bit of public support. It could be added on to agricultural or council tax legislation with ease and it could hit hard. EG, the Queen could have lost her “licence” to shoot on her Balmoral estate over the killing of badgers this year.
    I suppose another angle could be to look at company law, a director can be banned for financial mis-management etc. So why not ban a shoot owner for mis-management of the countryside?

    Beyond that, if driven grouse shooting could be portrayed as a sick experience for unskilled, mindless drunks, then perhaps it would wither and fade away.

  • Falco peregrinus

    I think we’re all missing something which is of grave concern to me and I am sure everyone else will share the same view?
    This sentence, “but my sources are saying the tenant with shooting rights on the estate asked to be informed if any conservation workers would be visiting the nest as there was a danger they might get shot accidently – or words to that effect.”

    It was my understanding that to obtain a gun license you had to have no criminal record and have 20/20 eye sight.
    The thought that any one with access to fire arms who could confuse a game bird/sport with a human being is very worrying?
    It may sound almost like a joke at first but again I am sure you would all agree with me when I say I find the idea far from funny?

    Why are the police not investigating this claim to assess the credentials of it? If this comment has been made then surely a reassessment of the said individuals gun license needs to be made?

  • Very depressing news! Good comments about prosecution of the land owner from above.This should of course be extended to syndicates renting land for “sporting” purposes, in addition to the land lord that they rent from.Harsh but fair i feel.All “sporting” estates should be only allowed to operate under a strict licence system ,which could carry a life ban for any wildlife offence from killing birds of prey to using the wrong herbicide. That would make the b*****s think twice.Shotgun licences should carry caveats regarding places of use similar to target rifle useage i.e if you are not in a recognised club or licenced estate your licence can be revoked.If the estate loses its licence your gun licence will be updated accordingly .Meaning only estates syndicates and clubs with zero history of wildlife crime can remain to be leaglly used for shooting purposes. Just my personal view

  • I’m confused, folks!!! As I understand it the RSPB/United Utilities contract worker had to finish on a given date before the harriers had fledged. OK. let’s suppose he had some commitments that made that necessary! But doesn’t the RSPB/United Utilities have a permanent jointly funded position that operates in Bowland overseeing all this operation? Doesn’t that person actually work out of an office in Bowland provided by United Utilities, in other words , it’s not a million miles away from the site!! Why couldn’t that person, for the relatively short period required, have provided coverage over the nest or even recruited volunteers to do the same. There are people who would give their eye teeth to be in close proximity to such magnificent raptors. Why were they abandoned?

    And why, when genuine criticisms are raised on this site do the Lancs Constabulary, the RSPB, Natural England and United Utilities not see fit to provide some response? We may be wrong on matters of details and all learn from the situation. They’re all large organizations with corporate team ethics driving what they do, why no response? I’m not sure I want to know the truth!!

    • admin

      As I understand it, the contract finished before the chicks fledged. United Utilities were made aware of the situation, and opted to save a few bucks rather than extend the contract as had been done in past years when this exact same situation had occurred.

      In effect, UU took a gamble and lost. They lost all the money they paid the warden – for the time he spent there was ultimately pointless, the lives of the birds, and a large chunk of credibility.

      I mentioned the sequence of events to a retired gamekeeper friend the other day. His response? “Predictable. Entirely predictable.”

      “Way to go, UU!”

  • Jim

    I posted the ‘playlet’ below on another site in response to the recent eagle poisoning. Just set the scene on any grouse moor and substitute any raptor for ‘eagle’.

    SCENE: Outside gamekeeper’s tied cottage on large highland estate. Laird (who is also the local magistrate) is mounted on horseback, with the gamekeeper humbly standing by, head bowed and hat in hand.

    Laird (glowering): My guest, the Chief Constable was very disappointed he didn’t get his usual bag of grouse yesterday!

    Gamekeeper (anxiously screwing his hat in his hands): I’m sorry Sir, but an eagle has moved into yon crags.

    Laird (looking at anxious wife with baby standing in doorway): Hmm, I see you’re comfortably settled with your wife and new baby into my cottage.

    Gamekeeper (biting bottom lip): Aye Sir, we’re grateful to you for the roof over our heads and food on our table.

    Laird (fixing gamekeeper with meaningful look): Well, see to the matter man – see to the matter! We don’t want to disappoint the Chief Constable again, do we?

    Gamekeeper (beads of sweat appearing on top lip): No Sir, I’ll see to it immediately!

    END OF SCENE (and eagle!)


  • Gradders

    Is there a person and address we can write and complaint to?

    Think we all should.

    No-one contacted BBC north west r other local media?

    Something should be done!

  • Gradders

    It’s not as if Natural England/RSPB aren’t aware of the problem. (December 2008, 7 year study)

    Hen harriers being persecuted to edge of extinction on grouse moors

    Sir Martin Doughty, chair of Natural England, said the birds are being persecuted.

    Mark Avery, RSPB director of conservation, added: “It is unacceptable in a modern society like ours that such crimes continue to be committed at all, let alone on such a scale. Hen harriers belong to the skies and to all of us; they are not pests to be killed out of hand by a selfish minority.
    “The majority of those involved in shooting are decent, law abiding people. This report puts the onus on them to root out those bad apples prepared to break the law and drag the good name of shooting through the mud.”


  • Gradders

    I don’t suppose, over-zealous bird watchers/protection/viewing could have disturbed the birds to the extent they deserted the area? That second photo don’t look like a ‘shooting/poisoning’ to me. No direct human intervention in his right mind is going to leave dead birds and the nest in that state. Perhaps we need some facts and a balanced perspective? There’ll be witches out there again if we’re not careful.

    • Admin

      Reply to Gradders, you have not been paying any attention to what has been displayed throughout this web site. The nest containing the five dead hen harrier chicks was simply used as an example of how gamekeeper up until the mid 1990’s dealt with hen harriers and their nests on Northern England’s grouse moors.

      All the chicks in our example were decapitated before being stamped on until their flesh had been reduced to pulp. Such illegal activity in the Forest of Bowland also was known to have taken place on moorlands in the northern Pennines.

      Regarding the hen harrier nest on UU propery, to suggest or even imply bird watchers or any member of the public had been remotely involved in the death of the hen harrier chicks or the disappearance of both adult harriers shows a complete lack of understanding of what goes on. Normally when nests along with their contents are destroyed, the adult birds stay around the nest for a week at least. The fact that both adult birds had completely disappeared by the time the dead chick was located suggests the possibility both parent harriers may have been shot and the chicks left to starve in the nest. There have been similar instances recorded in the Bowland Forest in recent years where adult peregrines have disappeared from the territory, leaving their chicks to die of a combination of hypothermia and starvation. No nesting raptor would ever leave a nest containing small chicks for vey long; in most instances of this kind there is very little doubt, one or both adult bird had been shot.

      It is almost certain once the scientific tests have been undertaken on the single chick recovered, the results are likely to be inconclusive.

  • Peter Mchugh

    pete, Hi, In Reply to Jim August 13th. I live in a village in the middle of a grouse moor in the south of Scotland.I dont buy into this, got to do it to keep a house over my head malarky. The keepers here are all young men, the headkeeper is in his early 30s, He is the 4th headkeeper in 5 years[they keep moving them about as it is hard to keep tabs on them] I can assure Jim these guys don’t do it for the house above there heads they do it because they love doing it.I only hope they will make a big mistake one day and pay for it dearly.

  • Circus maximus

    Aye, but Peter, they do think of the money….the hidden bonuses, the tips from the clients! A harrier seen on the day of the drive can mean no tips and the tips can be substantial. A nice big un-taxed lump sum or a pair of swarowski’s.
    There is also the peer pressure from the neighbours (and the collaboration, I’ll do yours if you do mine).

    And yes slaughtered chicks and adults are often left on the nest, bravado, over-confidence or a two-fingered message to the conservationists?

  • harrier man

    As long as grouse shooting continues there will be very few hen harriers over the moors of england grouse shooting means zero tolerance to anything that may prey on or effect a grouse or shoot. In other words they have to remove the threat even if it means breaking the law natural england have stated that the limiting factor of a hen harrier recovery is human persecution if this is so then grouse shooting is illegal it should be banned or licensed.

  • Have the RSPB been involved with this area and this case ?

    • Admin

      The RSPB we understand have an admin officer who receives his funding 50% from the RSPB and the other 50% from United Utilities. The work throughout the estate associated with the hen harrier, particular at this site, has always been delegated between two licensed amateur raptor workers who locate and then report the location of each nest to the admin person.

  • birdboy

    I cannot understand why the two raptor workers didn’t carry on monitering the nest, especially if they thought the site was high risk.As admin says the work regarding the hen harrier on the estate,particular this site,was delegated between them.

    • Admin

      As we understand matters, both raptor workers were observing the nest from a distance at regular intervals following the departure of the contract warden. This work was being undertaken on a voluntary and unpaid basis.

      During the last visit it soon became clear all was not well. Up until this last visit the adult harriers were attending their chicks and feeding them normally. Because there was no sign of either adult birds following a 2 hour watch, the raptor workers then checked the nest and found the dead chick and noted two additional chicks were missing.

      It is important to point out that all three chicks were at least two or three weeks old. Had the adult birds not disappeared they would have certainly raised a normal and healthy family.

      This particular moorland area on the United Utilities estate has a bad record, not only for failed hen harrier nests over the last few years, but both peregrine nests have regularly lost full clutches of eggs along with several broods of young since 2001.

      When these details have been highlighted to United Utilities, the company always insist such failures are the result of natural causes. This is definitely not the case but concerns voiced by experienced members of the local raptor group have always been ignored, presumably to play down any bad publicity.

  • albert hardy

    i can see the cause of the loss to thses harriers,, i often do lots of mountain and fell walkin in the summer and the winter. i have seen many raptors like peregrines and harriers, iv actually seen a harrier take a grouse chick for food. i must say that i would rather see lots of flying grouse calling and many more game birds than see a harrier or any other raptors, soon there will be more raptors than there is game birds, as all the game birds are getting predated! im hoping to see more grouse about then any bird of prey, there just like foxes in my eyes (vermin and pests)

    • admin

      I’m sure the RSPB will be delighted to hear there are many Hen Harriers about – obviously their figures are all wrong when they say things like:-

      “Hen harriers continue to decline in northern England, and south and east Scotland, areas dominated by heather moorland that is managed for driven grouse shooting. Illegal persecution is the main factor behind the hen harrier’s continued unfavourable status here.”

      Clearly the Hen Harrier does not deserve its Red list Bird of Conservation Concern status, and we on this site can all pack up and go home …

  • Seb

    right..sorry to be a bit blunt but having read the above comments I feel I must be.

    Numbers of predators will rise if they are not persecuted by humans. They will rise to a level that can be supported by the prey. If the prey declines, then predators will decline too. This is the way nature works without interference.

    If you take away an apex predator, such as a raptor, then the numbers of species lower down the chain explode until their food cannot support them. When this happens their population will crash, leaving the next level to flourish.

    This is happening all over the world, beit it Birds of Prey, Foxes, Sharks or any other predator. They are vital in maintaining a healthy population and balance of every species on the planet.

    Now, the people who persucute these predators are obviously not aware of the dramatic impact this has on the food chain. Personally I would have them all strung up given the choice.

    Another important factor is that predators remove the weakest or sickest animals. This hs been scientifically proven to help maintain numbers of prey by removing animals that carry illness and disease that could wipe out a species. They ensure that any animals that threaten their own species survival are removed as they are the slowest, weakest and easiest prey.

    rant over….


  • Ray Turner

    If You believe that Untited utilities are in any other business than pumping as much money to thier share holders as is possible then your cuckoo. Land management is something they have no interest in. Indeed, If they had had thier way, we wouldn’t even have access to their lands. If you voted for Thatcher You voted for this. You can complain as much as you like becuase they are not interested.

  • Having lived on the durham/north yorkshire boarder during the eighties, i witnessed a lot of gamekeepers taking shots at harries, falcons and goss. all in the name of so called protecting their grouse moors.on one occasion i was monitoring a gos site when a warning shot was fired in my direction,untill the powers that be inforce the law to protect all raptors,i for one will stand in their way.after all the raptors were here long before the shooters………

  • john chapman

    What I can’t understand is why the nests are not monitored 24 .7? i’m part of the London peregrine partnership and I check all 9 nest sites in my area daily. Mine all have chicks at the moment, all in nest boxes, but I still check daily. These hen harriers should be monitored the same way as red kites were monitored in Brecon years ago when there was only 4 pairs what r the rspb doing with all members money? I can’t believe they stupidly acted in such a idiotic way and didn’t have 24 hour monitoring on these sites.

    Editor’s Comment John, the RSPB did have around the clock watches on the Harrier nests last year in Bowland. Other nests outside Bowland are being monitored this year, but that is not the real issue, it when the chicks fledge they are being knocked off in most cases. It is also impossible to provide 24/7 protection at all the nests, and anyway if after the chicks fledge they then get shot what’s the real point. The killing must be stopped first.