I found the detail published by Raptor Politics alleging the RSPB were pulling out of the Langholm Moor Demonstration Project somewhat intriguing even though the information turned out to have been erroneous. The additional detail supplied by Adrian claiming lead slivers were being placed within dead baits (no precise locations supplied) to poison raptors was more worrying. I just hope Adrian is able to supply the RSPB with the important information they have now requested.
The news from Lancashire’s Forest of Bowland this year that hen harriers failed to breed, not only on the United Utilities estate, but this trend extending to the rest of Bowland’s shooting estates was perhaps not too surprising. Although a number of confirmed observations of hen harriers were made on several separate occasions on both the Abbeystead and Bleasdale estates, these birds curiously disappeared when perhaps they should have been breeding.
The harrier’s plight is now regarded as beyond critical, with only a single successful breeding record for the whole of England reported from the Lake District National Park. The current situation in southern Scotland is almost as bad and is unlikely to recover any time soon resulting from persecution during the winter, in particular at winter roosts.
After working so hard since 2008 to promote the Langholm project the news that the RSPB’s head warden at Langholm, Aly McCluskie has decided to leave the project, has come as a bombshell and his absence at this time will be greatly missed for many reasons. I just hope whoever his replacement may be that the new individual will posses not only the knowledge but also an experience of working with hen harriers necessary to carry on the good work undertaken for so long by his predecessor.
The importance of the Langholm Demonstration Project cannot be over emphasised, and as a result of the huge commitment does indicate to me that perhaps where there is a will there is possibly a way. There is no doubting the dedication and support from the Buccleuch estate, its estate keepers and everyone else involved. The project deserves to succeed just as Graham has so rightly pointed out in his comment submitted to Raptor Politics – Like everyone else with a love and passion for this iconic moorland raptor we can only hope the project will in the end overcome the obstacles it will encounter demonstrating to other estates grouse shooting can coexist along side hen harriers. A question perhaps Graham could answer is how many other moorland estates owned by the Duke of Buccleuch in Scotland have breeding pairs of hen harriers?
But does the future bode well for the Langholm project’s success? Perhaps not when consideration is give to the overwhelming opposition the hen harrier is now facing from other owners of red grouse moorland which encircles the Duke of Buccleuch’s Langholm estates in southern Scotland and elsewhere? The fact that the hen harrier in this region of Scotland has now been reduced to just two breeding pairs by hostile opposition may well turn out to be an indicator of just how difficult things have become. If this issue is left unresolved what would be the point of encouraging any breeding hen harriers at Langholm, if after fledging into other moorland regions, including England, these birds then disappear as information obtained from satellite tracking is now beginning to show?
We need not look any further for an example of what can happen than the RSPB’s Geltsdale Nature Reserve in the northern Pennines where numbers of breeding harriers peaked at six pairs before all these birds were eliminated allegedly at the hands of gamekeepers crossing estate boundaries from nearby shooting estates. One incident where a female harrier was shot at the nest was even recorded on camera. The last breeding pair of hen harriers at Geltsdale was recorded in 2006 which is surprising when considering the amount of effort the RSPB has put into site protection and habitat improvement. Throughout the last seven seasons, although small numbers of hen harriers are seen prospecting on the reserve each spring no breeding has occured. The question is “Why do these birds then consistently and inexplicably disappear without trace ?”
I am reminded of what the United Utilities Bowland estate manager Mr. Ian Grindy said in 2007 at a meeting associated with Natural England’s Hen Harrier Recovery Project. Mr.Grindy stated and I paraphrase – that whilst he was manager he would never appoint gamekeepers to work on the UU estate because hen harriers would disappear within twelve months. I understand the difficult position in which he finds himself but regretably this is just what happened when UU subsequently leasing several portions of the estate to shooting syndicates; as a result it was inevitable that his prediction that the hen harrier would disappear from the estate would come true, which it has in 2012, five years after he made it.
North West Raptor Group