Forest of Bowland – The RSPB’s “raptor team” being protected by a Schedule 1 licensed monopoly.

There have been big changes in the Forest of Bowland in recent years; the major upset is the continued demise of the hen harrier despite hundreds of thousands of tax payer’s money being spent to conserve this single iconic specie. Last year successful breeding pairs were reduced to just 4 in the whole of England.

The second problem for raptors in Bowland was the mysterious disappearance of 74% of peregrines from stable territories following the political expulsion of the local raptor group who had been monitoring peregrines in Bowland for the last four and a half decades. The current situation is unusual resulting in what can only be described currently as an RSPB licensed monopoly covering most nesting Schedule 1 species including the hen harrier, merlin and peregrine falcon encompassing an area of at least 850 sq Km of moorland. In 2011 of the 7 active established peregrine territories on the United Utilities estate only 2 nests were productive. Each of the 5 territories located upon the Abbeystead estate together with 2 additional territories on the adjoining Bleasdale estate also failed to produce a single fledgling. 

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The Forest of Bowland an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty comprises of seven individual upland shooting estates, the largest of which is owned by United Utilities and covers 25,500 acres. In 2010 after the North West Raptor Group had reported a number of incidents of poor field practice and licence infringements to Natural England, Natural England restricted licenses which previously they had issued to the group throughout the last forty years. After reporting the failure of countless Schedule 1 nests year on year, a result of possible human activity on the United Utilities estate, the company banned access to all Schedule 1 nests on UU property which had previously been monitored by the group members since 1974.  

In the absence of sufficient numbers of unpaid experienced field workers to make up the short-fall in licensed field workers to cover protected nests on the additional six Bowland estates, Natural England took the unusual decision to licence members of RSPB’s professional Bowland team enabling these individuals to visit nests of a variety of Schedule 1 species, including hen harrier, merlin and peregrine throughout the whole of Bowland, in addition to the nests they already visited on the UU estate.

 Under the provisions of the Countryside and Rights of Way Act professional licensed individuals working as a team, for example for the RSPB, must first obtain the approval from the estate owner to enter that particular property. Under the conditions of Schedule 1 licenses, to enter any estate while visiting protected nests without prior approval of the landowner is a clear breach of licence condition and becomes a criminal offence.

In the early 1980’s after the local raptor group had identified wide scale raptor persecution taking place upon all of Bowland’s sporting estates, the RSPB in cooperation with United Utilities were invited to establish a small but never the less important foothold in the Forest of Bowland covering moorland owned by United Utilities. Despite the continued persecution of raptors on the private estates which surrounded the 25,500 acre estate owned by United Utilities, the RSPB have been obliged to restrict their licensed field activities throughout Bowland to moorland owned by UU until recently.

Under the provisions of The Countryside and Rights of way Act (CRoW ) professional organisations like the RSPB, Natural England and the police are obliged to obtain the consent from the all private estates before they are permitted to monitor protected birds using a Natural England Schedule 1 permit. However since the removal of licenses from the North West Raptor Group in 2010, the RSPB have been using appointed licensed team members (voluntary RSPB licensed filed workers) to get around this obstacle without so far alerting the owners of a mojority of private estates which exist in Bowland today.

This year the North West Raptor Group were once again refused peregrine licenses covering this none senstative species in the Forest of Bowland, being informed by the BTO that all peregrine nests located on Bowland’s private estates together with additional nests located on the United Utilities estates were now covered by other licensed individuals. In essence this coverage is being undertaken by no more than three RSPB licensed team members without the approval of any of Bowland’s private landowners. In addition details of all nests visited are being handed directly to the RSPB and to Natural England within annual licence returns. Undertaking such activity without the approval of estate owners contravenes licence conditions and therefore is technically illegal.

Away from all the controversy the RSPB is now involved with even more public finance with the ‘Sky Dancer’ project. This scheme is to last 4 years and hopes to highlight the growing problems facing the Hen Harrier. How awful would it be if the Hen Harrier became extinct in England during this time. Members of the public will not have a clue about the destruction caused by Red Grouse moor owners on this bird. Greed and public money now pay for these land owners to do what they like to wildlife as they would like us to think the income from shooting Red Grouse seems to be the only way to run the uplands.

New evidence now points to the fact that years of mismanagement of these uplands by these people has left the public at risk of flooding due to heavy draining of the uplands just for Red Grouse. The costs run into the £ billions taking away any money gained from shooting the Red Grouse. Blanaid, the new Sky dancer engagement officer certainly has her work cut out and will need all the help she can get from these land owners but sadly it is unlikely that any will help her as they want it all and give little back even though they are in debt to the public purse.

Read all about the new RSPB 4 year project here.

5 comments to Forest of Bowland – The RSPB’s “raptor team” being protected by a Schedule 1 licensed monopoly.

  • che

    As All Peregrines, Hen Harriers and Merlins will be monitored as they were last year by the NWRPG what Natural England has done makes little if any sense. The fledged chicks from each nest will be counted and data provided to this website. No need for secrecy n’or license, nests will not be disturbed there is no need to, so what may I ask is the end game here?

  • Circus maximus

    Why do the folk from RSPB need to do nest visits?
    Do they have a structured research programme?
    Personally I am inclined towards the view that no nest should be visited without a clear scientific purpose. Data collection for the sake of collecting data has no benefit for the birds (the licences are issued for conservation purposes not idle curiosity). Proof of breeding (as per the raptor manual) is all that is needed for most purposes. A reasonable picture of fledging can be picked up at a later stage.

  • nirofo

    God help the Peregrines, the Harriers and any other Raptor attempting to breed in the Bowland areas supposedly covered by the bumbling activities of the clowns at NE and the RSPB. They’ve played right into the hands of the estate owners and gamekeepers, this is just what they want, miniscule cover over a huge area. What can 3 individuals hope to achieve on such a large area of ground, even if they are the most experienced Raptor field workers ever, (which I seriously doubt) they have little hope of covering even a fraction of the area without the help of people who know what they are doing.

    It’s very obvious now the reason the NWRPG have been refused licences again is more political than common sense, someone is more concerned with protecting their own ego’s and to hell with the Raptors, they are making damned sure that NWRPG will not be included again in case it shows them up for what they really are.

    Editor’s comment, last year peregrines were reduced by 74%, hen harriers reduced to just four pairs. Let’s see what happens this year without the benefit of experienced raptor workers on the ground. Gamekeepers in Bowland are not stupid and once again they will surely take advantage of a situation created by Natural England.

    • Ann Cardwell

      I completely endorse what Nirofo is saying here, the situation in the Forest of Bowland is a complete and utter disgrace. I want to know why Natural England is placing politics before the interests of the birds? May I remind everyone just in case readers have forgotten, the RSPB could not even protect a few hen harriers on their Geltsdale estate which have been absent now for nearly 6 years. The single pair of eagle was also lost from under the Society’s nose. I have no doubt unless common sense returns to Bowland and the licenses reinstated to each and every member of the North West Raptor Group, the only outcome for Bowland will be the loss of all raptors.

  • paul williams

    The RSPB Professionals who were given sole responsibility to monitor peregrine, hen harrier and merlin populations in the Forest of Bowlands last year, have now once again been provided with licenses to continue their licensed “raptor monopoly” covering all the estates within this region. Why then after such a catastrophe resulting in high losses last year are we only being told the truth of what occurred by a none licensed raptor group? No transparency from the RSPB, because they are more concerned with keeping their failures secret.

    Two of the RSPB team licensed to disturb nests in Bowland are now in their mid or late 70’s. Because they both find it difficult to walk to many remote nesting sites they are provided with an RSPB landrover on the strict understanding they say nothing about what they find to anyone.