What Future For England’s Hen Harriers Asks the RSPB?

[singlepic id=250 w=320 h=240 float=left]With only seven successful  hen harrier nests in 2010, a large shadow hangs over the future of the hen harrier as an English breeding species, unless the illegal killing of this bird of prey can be brought to a halt.

A comprehensive English hen harrier survey found that only 12 pairs of hen harriers attempted to nest in England this year, despite evidence showing there is enough habitat for over 300 pairs. Seven successful nesting pairs is one more pair than nested successfully in 2009, but it is only half the number of successful nesting pairs just three years ago, graphically illustrating the continued danger of such a small population slipping into extinction as an English breeding species for a second time: historically, the hen harrier was persecuted to extinction across mainland Britain.

Dr Mark Avery is the RSPB’s Director of Conservation. He said: “Persecution, associated with land managed for driven-grouse shooting, remains the main reason for the hundreds of missing pairs. Even though these birds now have the full protection of the law, the persecution of birds of prey remains devastatingly common.

“We welcome moves by Roseanna Cunningham – Scotland’s Environment Minister – to consider options for fining or imprisoning those land owners who manage staff who are convicted of killing birds of prey in Scotland. Now that the future of the hen harrier in England hangs by a thread, we now need to consider all measures necessary to prevent the extinction of this bird in our uplands.

“In February, we submitted a 210,000-strong petition to the former Wildlife Minister, calling for the greater protection of birds of prey. It is vital that popular support for these birds does not go unheard while the hen harrier remains in such dire need of their support. As a first step, Government should confirm that the future of the National Wildlife Crime Unit is secure.”[singlepic id=251 w=320 h=240 float=right]

Five of the successful pairs (from 10 nesting attempts) were on the United Utilities estate in the Forest of Bowland, in Lancashire, which remains this bird’s only English stronghold.

Preventing the persecution of birds of prey is one of the Government’s key wildlife crime priorities, yet enforcement of the laws protecting it is clearly not proving effective.

Dr Mark Avery added: “It is shocking that protected birds of prey are still being killed illegally in the UK. In this International Year of Biodiversity, we challenge the Coalition Government to provide the leadership and political will necessary to address the problem and re-iterate our challenge to moorland owners and managers to allow hen harriers to settle and breed.”

Detective Inspector Brian Stuart, Head of the UK National Wildlife Crime Unit, said: “Last year England again produced a disappointing number of young hen harriers. The police will continue to work with our partners in conservation and land management to support the survival of the hen harrier in the Forest of Bowland whilst identifying ways to prevent criminality and enforce the laws wherever they have been broken.”

Tom Franklin of the Ramblers said: “One of the joys of walking in the British countryside is the chance to witness our beautiful native birds of prey. To suddenly see them soar above you can instantly lift your spirits. You feel so close to wild nature. It is a tragedy that hen harriers are no longer seen across large swathes of upland England. The Ramblers is at one with the RSPB in calling for greater protection for these birds.”

[singlepic id=252 w=320 h=240 float=left]Paul Irving, Chairman of Northern England Raptor Forum, said: “A change in the legislation and enforcement is long overdue to more effectively protect the last few pairs of what is one of our most charismatic birds and to allow them to thrive and spread. We will all be the poorer if the hen harrier is lost from English uplands where it truly belongs.”

Formerly, the hen harrier was widely distributed in the UK, but persecution restricted its range to Orkney and the Western Isles by 1900.

Natural England and Defra were not able to provide a comment.

Related Stories:

Hen Harrier on the verge  of Extinction  in England

Hen Harrier – A Critical Moment, What Should Happen Next?

Brink of Extinction – Hen Harrier Numbers in England Crash.

9 comments to What Future For England’s Hen Harriers Asks the RSPB?

  • John Miles

    With 10,000 Birds of Prey a year being killed annually by shooting estates in the UK, [98% of Red Grouse moor owners found to be killing Birds of Prey in the first Langholm project! It seems that Natural England and Scottish Natural Heritage forget that we are paying their wages from our taxes!! Damage caused to SSSIs by shooting estates go without punishment. In one incident no action was taken when roads were bulldozed across an SSSI even though the same estate was known to have killed over 1000 birds of prey in 3 years. What a coincidence when the regional head of Natural England for that area was in fact a grouse shooter himself!

  • DEAN

    @John,
    “10,000 birds of prey killed annually on estates”,one estate
    “KNOWN to have killed 1000,in 3 years”,(so almost one every day).I don’t shoot and welcome the RSPB statement but where on earth are you getting your stats from?

  • John S. Armitage

    As a former employee of RSPB ( previous to retirement), and one whose best efforts seemed to be endlessly connected with Hen Harriers over a twenty year period, I find this latest report depressing in the extreme. But I have to say part of that feeling stems from realising that the rhetoric remains the same despite the desperate circumstances this species is in. OK, hand in the petition, call on Government to recognize the need for action , but then what?

    What is needed from the “Conservation Coalition” ( RSPB, Natural England, Wildlife Trusts, Scottish Natural Heritage ) is an all out declaration that ” enough is enough” and that every step necessary will be focussed on this problem from now on. Presenting the future of this bird as a “challenge” to grouse moor owners…..is that really the best that we can do? Where are the co-ordinated calls for action, the vehement protests to any and every elected official via surgeries , E-mails and correspondence, the persistent vilification of those responsible by every means possible, a co-ordinated call for a similar approach to that being considered by the Scottish government. Now is the time to put a part-Tory Government and its landowning supporters under pressure given various other ( financial ) policies are being dissected. And where is the long awaited study by Natural England on this problem? Surely with such a dire situation being upon us, the responsible thing to do would be to pull out all the stops and reveal the details so that such could be used in an all out campaign to reverse this sad situation.

    The final entry in the above says it all, ” Natural England and DEFRA were unable to provide a comment”.

  • Mike Price

    Maybe you should consider un-retiring John and heading up an RSPB coalition of all the raptor groups/ BTO/ RSPB /NE/ DEFRA.
    It seems to me that there are enough willing people that with some co-ordination could ensure that these issues are given the highest priority by the government.

  • Mike,

    I’ll vote for that – please add the World Owl Trust to your list!

  • John S. Armitage

    Thanks, Mike!! I’d love to even if it saw me “off” in the process. As I write this though I do feel a little bit encouraged given Richard Benyon’s decision on Eagle Owls and their future status. With such honest appraisal it might well be that he could provide the rallying point for what is likely to be a big conservation battle, but also a political one too.

  • paul williams

    I will also vote for that, please add NORTH WEST RAPTOR PROTECTION GROUP to the list. The ones that do not sit on the fence.

  • John Miles

    Dean, try 300 in one winter which is well documented, on Buccleugh’s Estate, Langholm. It only takes a few estates to start off into the 1000s.

  • DEAN

    @John,
    Thanks for the reply.I’ve spent some time looking for the Buccleugh docs you refer to,without success.Can you supply a link?Having said that it would appear from your reply that most of the figures given in your post are your own conjecture.Nothing wrong with a bit of speculation as such so long as it’s not presented as fact.I wonder if you followed the debate on the EO thread between Tony and Paul?Challenged by Tony to show EO’s were unlikely to cross the North Sea,Paul produced an extremely robust,well researched and detailed defence of his position.I would argue that the same rigour needs to be brought to the HH debate.If this doesn’t happen then I have no doubt that those who would oppose our position will seize on this and use it to undermine our credibility.
    With respect
    Dean