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!
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their shooting tenancies stipulating where interference with protected birds is suspected a tenancy agreement could be withdrawn, this has never been invoked.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.