How long will Natural England allow politics to determine the security and well-being of birds of prey in The Forest of Bowland?

Proposals by RSPB to impose some form of statutory control on the activities of game shoots  by introducing a licensing system is not without it’s merit, in theory such proposals are long over due. From a practical stand point I have my doubts how such a scheme would be policed; the financial cost would be substantial and any success difficult to quantify in the absence of suitably on site qualified people. Clearly the present situation can not and must not be allowed to continue!

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Meeting of Natural England’s Hen Harrier Recovery Project October 2007

Hosted by The Duke of Westminster Abbeystead

Take the current position on moorlands in Lancashire owned by United Utilities considered by many to be the jewel in the crown for nesting birds of prey like the hen harrier, Oh sorry they all disappeared this year. In reality the present situation is not what it at first appears to be. It is a well known fact among local conservationists, members of the North West Raptor Group have been telling United Utilities that in two areas on their estate leased for shooting, raptors in both locations have been under performing for many years but these concerns have not been taken seriously or acted upon.

For an example I am reliably advised in both parts of the estate where leased shooting has taken place since 2001, specific peregrine nests within both of these areas have only produced single fledglings for many years. Other nests fail to rear any young at all after the mysterious disappearance of full clutches of eggs and broods of young. The number of territorial pairs of peregrines on the UU  estate in the Forest of Bowland is now known to be in decline in many areas.

Perhaps it is understandable by retaining a false aura of well being to avoid bad publicity, the company have consistently recorded such losses as natural when clearly according to many experts they were not. Although United Utilities include a clause in their shooting tenancies stipulating where interference with protected birds is suspected a tenancy agreement could be withdrawn, this has never been invoked. Perhaps in view of the advice the company has consistently received contradicting what they are saying publicly about raptor persecution  (if anything at all) on their estate, they may wish to reconsider their policy before too long. Following the expulsion in 2009 of the local raptor group from the UU raptor working group, those independent raptor workers who wished to remain agreed to sign a confidentiality contract before being provided with a disturbance licence allowing them to work on the estate.

Friction between United Utilities and the private shooting estates, unhappy at the high density of breeding raptors on the UU estate, in particular hen harriers, resulted in open hostility between the company and an adjoining estate. In 2007 the owner of a nearby privately owned sporting estate publicly humiliated the UU Bowland Estate Manager claiming the UU estate he managed was in his opinion the worst managed heather moorland in Northern England. I was told the verbal onslaught in front of over 30 invited guests continued when the UU manager was told by his neighbour that he objected to the number of hen harriers crossing from the UU estate onto his own moorland property killing his grouse. It was very clear from the detail I received these remarks were taken very badly by the UU manager causing him some considerable upset and personal embarrassment.

Remarkably, after one of Northern England’s leading and experienced raptor workers had voiced his concern during a protocol meeting hosted by United Utilities at the inappropriate and possibly illegal activities taking place on company property, he was banned from the estate and lost all concessionary rights. He also lost his licence which had enabled him to visit peregrine nests which he had held for over four decades after pressure had been placed upon Natural England by United Utilities. This kind of behaviour by UU is regarded by many as typical of the company’s lack of concern and unwillingness to accept criticism, or to put right issues of importance being brought to their attention concerning raptors on their property in the Forest of Bowland.

The current situation is now out of control placing the region’s raptors in grave danger. This year all breeding hen harriers were lost from the Forest of Bowland just as predicted by the local raptor group. In the absence of any suitable or adequate protection throughout  the Forest of Bowland generally, peregrine numbers are now also in decline but you are not suppose to know about these losses or the reasons why they are in decline. Indeed if you listen to some so called experts they will be only too happy to tell you there is no recorded persecution taking place in Bowland at all. But take my word for it, thats what they want you to believe because politics are now undermining the well-being of all raptors in Lancashires Forest of Bowland and will continue to do so until Natural England comes to its senses.

Stuart Longmain

8 comments to How long will Natural England allow politics to determine the security and well-being of birds of prey in The Forest of Bowland?

  • Macaris

    On October 5th, I sent the following e-mail to Stephen Murphy at Natural England:

    “Hello Stephen,

    I am a bird lover with a particular interest in birds of prey. I understand that you have been involved in satellite tracking of hen harriers from the Bowland area. The supplier of the transmitters has recently stated that you have been “pretty successful recovering downed PTTs and none of the recovered PTTs returned …. for refurbishment were defective”. It therefore seems to me that the circumstances of the recovery of these transmitters would be of great interest to raptor protection groups, the RSPB and potentially to the police. Have you shared your findings with any of these groups?
    Also, as the Law Commission is currently carrying out a review of wildlife legislation, have you submitted, or will you be submitting, your evidence to them?
    Hoping for a positive reply.”

    Today I received the following reply:

    “Thank you for your enquiry. I apologise it has taken a few days for us to reply. Stephen Murphy is currently on leave so I am answering your enquiry myself.

    Your first question was whether Natural England shares the details of recovered tags with other stakeholders. We do share this information with others involved in the conservation of Hen Harriers including the police.

    Your second question was whether Natural England would be submitting a response to the Law Commission enquiry. Natural England will be providing a full consultation response to the Law Commission which will be publically available.

    Yours sincerely

    Rosemary Budd

    Team Leader – Landscape Scale Delivery Northern Team

    Natural England

    3rd floor, Bridgewater House, Whitworth Street

    Manchester, M1 6 LT

    Tel: 0300 060 1783 Mob: 07900 608276

    We are here to secure a healthy natural environment for people to enjoy, where wildlife is protected and England’s traditional landscapes are safeguarded for future generations.”

    It will be interesting to see what they put in their response to the Law Commission!

  • Maybe all the AONB signs should be turned upside down with the harriers feet pointing skywards.
    Just a thought

    The current state of affairs isn’t good enough – I for one want our harriers back at their ‘proper’ density ASAP so that many thousands of people can enjoy watching them!

    Editor’s comment. Thank you for you comment David, Sadly your dream may now be a dream too far, unless a Miracle takes place and soon.

  • paul williams

    There is nothing on Natural England’s website regarding Hen Harriers dead or alive.

  • Macaris

    If you type “hen harrier” in the search box, you will find some links. The third one refers to the so-called hen harrier recovery project. Note that the technical report isn’t due for nearly 6 months and the PhD thesis not until March 2014. So I’m extremely pessimistic about them providing anything helpful to the Law Commission review.

  • Out of interest what sort of history does the Duke of Westminster and his estates have with the Hen Harrier?

  • paul williams

    Thank you Macaris:)

  • paul williams

    In the 1980s when the DoW bought his Bowland estate from the Sefton family, there were 12 pairs of resident Hen Harriers, within 3 years there were gone, does this answer your question? Significantly, after Natural England’s predecessor English Nature had granted the Westminster estate their approval to install shooting tracks across huge areas of prime hen harrier habitat throughout the estate, including Tarnbrook and Marshaw, this was the final nail in the coffin for most hen harriers because of the constant daily disturbance and destruction of former wilderness habitat which had been classified as SPA and SSSi. The estate were also given approval by English Nature to construct a spacious luncheon used for shooting parties at the top of a deep gully over-looking an establish ground nesting peregrine site at Tarnbrook, good bye peregrine for ever.

  • thomas carroll

    At first glance the black side of Tarnbrook fell looks like it is a disused quarry with endless tracks zig zagging across a moorland that is devoid of colour and wildlife. Another glance confirms you were right the first time.Surely permission has never been sanctioned for this wanton destruction of a moorland site that is afforded the status of SPA and SSSI? Total disrespect has been shown to Tarnbrook by its landowner together with Natural England.This part of Bowland requires investigating.No one has the right to destroy our countryside….NO ONE.