Hen Harrier – Is coexistence really possible?

Yesterday one of our regular followers sent the following link to the RSPB’s Bowland blog. Is coexistence really possible? We feel everyone should read the comment from Tony which the RSPB have published in full. We would be very interested in hearing your comments. No one, including all the editorial team here at Raptor Politics, would disagree with the thrust of what Tony had to say, however what Tony has stated over looked several important facts. Yes the hen harrier is a protected species, but despite this important point such legislation has generally been disregarded by the shooting community throughout Britain’s uplands for many generations. 

Tony makes a valid point by highlighting the success of the hen harrier at Glen Tanar; in reality however Glen Tanar’s success is an exception rather that the rule throughout moorland used to shoot red grouse.

Tony also points out that in 1991 there were 18 breeding pairs of hen harriers in Bowland, true but what was the percentage of successful pair and what happen to all the fledglings produced?

In the early 1980’s the numbers of breeding hen harriers in the Forest of Bowland exceeded 40 pairs. Each estate had at least several breeding pair at that time, but in reality most breeding attempts ended in failure due to consistent persecution. Interestingly, for at least 3 years in the early 1980’s after the sudden death of the Earl of Sefton, because the level of active keepering on the Earl’s Bowland estates declined, hen harrier numbers expanded to over a dozen pairs at least on this single estate. Just as important, members of the North West Raptor Group were regularly finding two or three active nests every season, each site containing broods of between 4 and 6 nestlings in different moorland locations on the estate.

The majority of these nests, due to the absence of the gamekeeper throughout this short period, remained highly productive until the estate was eventually sold to its present owner. It was at this significant historical junction in the Bowland hen harrier story that matters once again took a turn for the worst; within 3 seasons under the new ownership of the Earl of Sefton’s Bowland’s estate, the hen harrier disappeared from Tarnbrook, Littledale, and Marshaw completely, bringing to an end, perhaps for ever, the golden years for the hen harrier in this region of Lancashire.

Spending more money or providing diversionary feeding without achieving a fundamental change in attitudes towards the hen harrier by estate owners together with their gamekeepers is most unlikely to help their recovery upon England uplands. What is more the Langholm project has demonstrated clearly propagating hen harriers successfully at one or two safe moorland locations has shown all fledglings produced then disappear, most likely shot, when migrating outside their natal territories. Getting back to the original question, Is coexistence really possible, well yes it is but not until fundamental attitudes on the part of the shooting community change for the better is the true answer.

Out of interest we enclose below two comments each from members of the shooting fraternity relating to the hen harrier supporting our views on this subject.

The first comment was made to a member of the North West Raptor Group by a Bowland Estate Manger during a meeting between the two individuals while discussing the destruction of a peregrine nest containing eggs. Here is what the estate manger had to say about the hen harrier. “We will never allow the Harrier to breed on moorland in Bowland, period, the peregrine is a different situation.”

The second comment was made to a member of the public by an active member of a local red grouse shoot just prior to Christmas inside a pub in the Yorkshire Dales.

This is what was stated: “There is no place for the hen harrier on any grouse moor in England.”

With such entrenched attitudes like this emulating from the shooting fraternity, talking will do little if anything to help the hen harrier’s current situation improve.

Raptor Politics receives many messages from our followers using the ‘Contact Us’ form, some of the information provided is confidential, but in the case below the sender has given his permission to publish the text in full. This is what John had to say.

I am a regular walker in Bowland and saw the Eagle Owls when the RSPB were present about 5 years ago.

I have just discovered your web site and thought you may be interested in the following. On February 22nd 2010 I was walking up the hill towards CowArk when I came across a parked 4 x 4 flat back. On it was a dead bird of prey which I am pretty sure had some sort of tag on. As I was looking at it a gamekeeper? Appeared, I spoke to him and asked what sort of bird it was, he replied a pheasant!! I didn’t argue he had a gun! I phoned the RSPB, they contacted their local rep and phoned back and said as I had no proof they couldn’t really do anything about it but I could contact the police Wildlife Officer if I wished, but as I want to walk safely in the area I decided not to bother.

This is not the first incident I have encountered in this area, a couple of years previously at almost the same spot I was crossing the field shown as Raven Scar plantation on the map when I came across two dead calves that had obviously been placed there. The weather was poor and I was intent on getting back to the car and didn’t examine them, but afterwards thought they were probably bait for something!

On January 19th 2011 I was walking towards Whitendale when I came across a man watching the eagle owls nest, he turned out to be the police WCO. I related both the above stories to him. He said as they were some time ago it was difficult to do anything about it, but he would bear it in mind.

 Personally I am totally convinced a non native bird like the eagle owl have a place in Bowland, but I am against the persecution of any animal and am concerned about the hen harriers which press reports seemed to indicate where  well but your web site indicates is untrue.

I hope the above may be of some interest to you? John

We would like to thank John and all the other readers who from time to time contact this web site with information relating to birds of prey. Please keep the information coming in to us. Bear in mind Raptor Politics will only make the detail public with your approval.

8 comments to Hen Harrier – Is coexistence really possible?

  • Bob Barfield

    After years of not researching this subject I am revisiting it with a vengeance and devouring as much information of the subject of Raptor persecution in general.

    Whilst I do read both sides of the argument (a must to fully understand the situation) no one appears to give scientific evidence on the number of grouse (or any other bird) Raptors kill to survive.

    Surly if an argument goes “Hen Harriers kill grouse and will or could destroy my grouse moor as a shooting moor” you have to add facts to the statement not just on numbers killed but on cost.

    The same goes for the other side something like this “Hen Harriers do take some grouse, and meadow pipits etc. However a moor should be able to support 2 or 3 pairs”

    Same argument, we must show scientifically that Hen Harriers or any other raptor does not damage to the extent that Moor Managers/Keepers state.

    Without this type of ‘proper’ discussion the throwing of this and that from both sides does not wash.

    I seemed to remember that sheep farmers in the Lakes were compensated if sheep were taken buy the Golden Eagles when they lived there. Whilst some people stated that they never took sheep! They did, one year when I was on the watch with the RSPB I saw an Eagle take a lamb.

    Sorry for this bit of a ramble but we must remain scientific, run these campaigns on fact not maybe’s. Facts are much harder to argue against.

    Of course in the end it is illegal and the law should be used to its full potential; I am afraid to say this will it seems never happen whether through lack of effort or resources.

    Editor’s Comment, Thanks Bob your views are very welcome. May we just add that the scientific argument has been used time after time, without any success. We are now in a situation which has gone much further. The majority of grouse moor owners have one single aim, to produce more and more grouse, and sadly the fact remains estate owners do not want hen harriers and that situation is unlikely to change any time soon. The other problem of course is enforcement, experienced field workers are in short supply and policing the uplands of England is impossible because of this problem. Estates are now fully aware that all licensed field workers, including RSPB and Natural England staff, who receive any form of payment or reward to undertake their activities are prevented from entry to moorland in England without the approval of the land owner. We understand that RSPB voluntary field workers in the Forest of Bowland are choosing to ignore this important licence condition and entering all estates in that region without estate approval to gather important data.

  • paul williams

    “As they were some time ago it was difficult to do anything about it”!!! Why?…Murders are being solved from 30yrs ago!!! Why not investigate the area anyway?

  • David Richardson

    The situation you highlight regarding the shortage of experienced licensed amateur field staff on the ground is well founded and becomming more serious. Having read most of the articles published on the Raptor Politics web site I was astonished to learn last year the local raptor group who had worked in Bowland without any problems for many decades had their licenses covering this area revoked by Natural England in order to substitute RSPB wardens into this region. I have always been under the impression Natural England’s primary role was to provide adequate protection for England’s wildlife, but in view of their actions and the limitations RSPB wardens are under regarding access to private estates, Natural England are clearly assisting those that wish to persecute birds rather than the other way around.

  • I’d like to hear peoples views on the following question! Could a small sporting estate of say around 3,000 acres support a viable grouse moor along with the scenario of 2-4 breeding pairs of hen harriers?

    • Yes, of course it could, and this would easily be proved if some one were willing to give it a trial for five years. The keeper would be allowed to control foxes, stoats, weasels, carrion and hooded crows and other corvids, but must leave any resident birds of prey in total peace.
      After the five years of good and legal moor management, I am willing to bet that grouse numbers on the moor would remain stable or even increase.
      Buzzards, harriers, merlins, peregrines, and goshawks eat a wide variety of prey species, they DON’T feed exclusively on grouse as many keepers would have us believe.
      The RSPB own grouse moors, why not ask them for their views?

  • John Miles

    I do not think that there would be enough food for 2 – 4 harrier pairs. One of the problems is that heather has a limiting species diversity and they are finding at Langholm that many species are now declining as they push on to try and make a dominant heather moorland. The results are that harriers would have no choose but to feed on Red Grouse both in summer and winter.

    • If there were not enough food to support 2-4 pairs of harriers, then there would not be this amount of harriers on the particular moor. Hen Harriers prey on a wide variety of species, not all of which are caught on the nesting ground.
      In winter, harriers, like merlins and peregrines, tend to move off the home moor and seek food elsewhere. Harriers take a few young grouse during the summer months but do not prey upon full grown adult grouse at ANY time of the year.
      This is another gamekeepers myth like sparrowhawks catching adult pheasants and well grown poults weighing 5 or 6 times the weight of the hawk.

  • Andrew

    Doug and John both make very sensible points and each may be correct in what they had to say. From personal experience the Croasdale grouse moor located on the United Utilities estate near Slaidburn in the Forest of Bowland is a very good example supporting Doug’s views. The moor falls into the category of size and up until last year supported at least three pairs of breeding hen harrier together with a successful peregrine territory as well as merlin, buzzard and short-eared owl. For a number of years red grouse numbers at Croasdale have been stable and may have even increased. Several years ago a friend of mine found fox scat deposited inside the empty nest of a hen harrier on ther moor adding to the number of different predators but without causing any real problems for the grouse. The resident pair of peregrines are known to predate mainly pigeon together with the odd grouse from time to time.