What can be done next you are all thinking, well sadly we appear to have run out of viable options in respect to Hen Harriers in England. Why more was not done before the inevitable happened that’s a question we are unable to answer.
The warnings signs were always there, and yet national conservations organisations failed to act early enough to make a difference. Natural England’s Hen Harrier Recovery Project was one important initiate which we all hoped would succeed. With the advantage of hind sight we now know the project in reality was always domed to failure because the bulk of Red Grouse moor owners were never prepared to change their opinion of Hen Harriers by accepting their presence on Red Grouse moors.
There are two old sayings “Leopards never change their spots” and “Old habits never die.” I have to say unless fundamental changes to wildlife legislation are made forcing grouse moor landowners to accept Hen Harriers on the property they own via a well thought out licensing scheme as proposed by the RSPB, the Hen Harrier may never be allowed to return to England’s uplands in any useful number in the foreseeable future.
Talks hoasted by the Environment Council between shooting representatives and raptor conservation organisations held over a number of years importantly gave the shooting fraternity years to stall for time. While these talks were then on-going this allowed Harriers on red grouse moorlands in England to be exterminated and no action was instigated to stop what was taking place.
The warning signs were clearly verified following the loss of Harriers from the northern Pennines in 2006 and should have been a wake up call. Now in 2012 the Harrier has also been lost from England’s core breeding area in Lancashire’s Forest of Bowland. Significantly a prediction made in 2007 by Ian Grindy, United Utilities Bowland estate manager, warned that if gamekeepers were ever appointed onto the United Utilities estate the Harrier would disappear within one year from this last English sanctuary. The fact that it took a little more time for this prediction to come true is immaterial, because it was Mr. Grindy who approved the return of gamekeepers together with several shooting syndicates onto the estate.
I found it interesting to read the reasons for the loss of the Hen Harrier from Bowland recently put forward by the Chair of the North of England Raptor Forum. This is what he had to say, “the Harriers have gone quite simply because of the poor winter survival of birds wintering elsewhere on grouse moors due to organised persecution and a change of keepering regime on one private estate in Bowland.” This seems to suggest agreement with the predication made in 2007 by United Utilities estate manager after the keepering regime was introduced on the United Utilities estate, shortly followed by the disappearance of all Hen Harriers from Bowland.
The on going Langholm Demonstration project has now revealed where one landowner has been willing to provide support for the Hen Harrier, limited numbers of pairs are being allowed to breed within this single border safe haven. In recent years this has allowed a small number of chicks to be fitted with state of the art satellite tags which record their every movement across the country. Within the next few years it may even be possible to capture and relay images direct from the satellite tag to a base station reciever for immediate anaylis.
Disappointingly as subsequent events have revealed much of this expensive effort is being wasted. Within weeks after migrating on to other moorland regions, both north and south of the border, the bulk of these fledglings seem to vanish from the face of the earth. What is more difficult to understand is why Natural England should continue to refuse to publish details of those precise locations where the satellite transmissions are know to have failed. If there is nothing to hide what is Natural England so worried about?
There has been some speculation that a high percentage of these expensive satellite tracking units being fitted to Harriers are developing faults after the birds have fledged and moved out of their natal territories. This seems most unlikely as these units are being used all over the world to track raptor migration and appear to be very dependable. There is another school of thought which seems more plausible perhaps. Are Natural England concealing this damaging detail to avert embarrassment away from moorland owners on who’s property many of these birds have disappeared after the satellite units have stopped transmitting?
As if the current Hen Harrier situation was not bad enough, while Richard Benyon, the Minister for the Natural Environment and Fisheries remains in charge of Defra, nothing is likely to change for the better any time soon, I would remind everyone of what the Minister said last year in reply to a parliamentary question about his unwillingness to introduce Vicarious Liability “There are very good laws in place to punish the illegal killing of any animal. If they are not being effectively enforced, they must be and we will take steps to make sure that happens. However, this is a good opportunity to applaud gamekeepers for the wonderful work they do in providing excellent biodiversity across our countryside.”
Does Mr Benyon also consider the persecution and subsequent removal of both Hen Harriers and Buzzards, along with Goshawk and Peregrine from our uplands improves the biodiversity of our countryside? If he does he must also be deluded and completely out of touch with reality.
Neither should anyone forget Richard Benyon is a respected landowner and friend of our current ‘GREEN THINKING’ Prime Minister. He owns an estate in England together with a viable Red Grouse moor in Scotland. It would be interesting to find out if there had ever been any productive Hen Harrier nests on this estate? It is only to be expected Mr. Benyon should employ a number gamekeepers because he recently agreed to a claim by his friends who shoot that Buzzards were a threat to pheasants and therefore should be controlled. What the Minister failed to take into account such a move was not allowed under the European Bird Directive. Mr. Benyon was also quietly informed by a Tory backbencher that MP’s were not yet listed as a raptor prey item, but if the situation changed the Minister would be one of the first MP’s to be informed. This appears to me to sum up the position very well, which leaves England’s game predating raptors in the mire to put the situation into context in a very polite and understandable way.
North West Raptor Group (founded 1967)
A new and exciting project has been started in Ireland using satellite tags to track the movements of hen harriers, You can follow the project here.
Urgent Hen Harrier Update on the loss of Barry
Very sad news but not unexpected, we must now report that Barry, the male hen harrier which fledged from Langholm along with his sibling Blae this year has now also disappeared off the radar.
Barry’s last fix was transmitted on the 2nd of October, although he was seen on the morning of 4th of October, when he was observed coming out of a roost by a raptor worker. His tag was due to transmit on the evening of the 4th, and his previous transmissions were always regular. There was no transmission then or subsequently. At this stage, no additional information is available, but it must now be accepted Barry like his sister Blae is also dead. We are advised it is very unlikely that there has been any transmitter failure. Most of his previous movements were associated with grouse moors. The police have been kept informed and the search for the carcass is underway and ongoing.