We seek them here we seek them there, but we know there are none anywhere. Are they in heaven or are they in hell, only the shooters can tell? The public asked to help find the Hen Harrier.

Part 1. Hen Harrier Initiative asks the Public to find the missing birds.

We are referring to the recent initiative asking for the public’s assistance to find the missing Hen Harriers both in Scotland and now in England. The initiative launched this week is urging bird watchers, hill walkers and the general public to look out for and report sightings of the Hen Harrier in the uplands of Britain.

 [singlepic id=133 w=560 h=480 float=center]

Harrier nests located in rank heather are difficult to find. Many nests are found by accident when walking across the moor. One group of walkers found they had been sitting within a few yards of a nest containing eggs after they had walked away from where they had been eating their lunch for over 45 minutes. 

Those behind this high profile project appear to be residing upon a different planet when they place most of the blame for the current Hen Harrier decline in both Scotland and England on the loss of moorland habitat and feeding range, predation of eggs and young by foxes, crows and other predators. Why for once don’t they come out with the truth? Scientific proof exists which has graphically shown the main culprit is illegal persecution. Why was ‘persecution’ only mentioned at the very end of the list of causes provided? Logically persecution should be placed prominently at the top of any list. Once again our countries conservation advisors are protecting those very people responsible for this outrage, why?

It is difficult to understand why conservation organisations like Scottish Natural Heritage and Natural England are shying away from the true cause for the loss of Hen Harrier from the uplands of both countries; going out of their way to put their heads in the sand by placing the blame elsewhere, resulting in anger, frustration, dismay and utter disillusionment at just how this important problem is being mismanaged. This denial is in fact contributing to the current situation on moorland used exclusively to shoot red grouse. What better example could there be than the total extinction of the Harrier from all moorland used to shoot driven red grouse.

Placing under the carpet the fact that illegal persecution is the root cause of the Hen Harrier’s demise on all heather moorland in both countries where red grouse are shot is simply playing into the hands of the sporting estates and their gamekeepers. Instead of pussy footing around with poorly conceived initiatives like this one, we need to concentrate all efforts addressing the core reason for the Hen Harrier’s disappearance from our uplands- illegal persecution. Until persecution is dealt with in a robust and affective manner, we should be under no illusion, the Hen Harrier will never be safe, it is even conceivable without a more proactive programme to tackle persecution, the Hen Harrier will eventually disappear from Britain completely following in the footsteps of the Great Auk.

Over the weekend in the small rural Village of Dunsop Bridge located in the heart of Lancashire’s Forest of Bowland, Hen Harrier flyers have appeared in many windows. These well prepared coloured A4 posters ask the public to report any sightings of Hen Harriers as they ramble over the moorlands of this scenic upland region now void of breeding Harriers.

We have a number of concerns regarding this initiative, but one in particular stands out, and for very good reason which we will try to explain. Perhaps the most important issue here concerns asking inexperienced people to look out for and report sightings of a Schedule 1 bird during the breeding season.

Bird watchers make up a large proportion of the public who regularly visit the Forest of Bowland these days just to watch and admire the birds, particularly the nesting Eagle Owls which are breeding in two locations in this important area. For the most part these individuals are quite content with confining their observations in the valley bottoms following estate roads and tracks not walking through open moorland where Harriers are more likely to be spotted when breeding.

Important Legal Concerns.

Who would take responsibility for example where an individual complying with the request is then observed walking at a distance some would consider too close to an any Schedule 1 nest which he or she had not known about?

What would happen if a person or group of people were observed walking past an occupied Schedule 1 nesting site resulting in the disturbance to a nesting pair of birds?

 [singlepic id=4 w=560 h=480 float=center]

Peregrine nest found on the ground when walking to a gun butt. Nesting site the following season found completely burnt out by gamekeepers.

What would happen if a member of the public, genuine bird watcher or unlicensed raptor worker had simply stopped along the way to admire and watch a nesting pair of Peregrine, Hen Harrier or Merlin from a safe distance?

Each of these described scenarios could have serious legal consideration for anyone depending on which side of the fence you are standing. On one hand if you were an estate gamekeeper who regularly passed by a Schedule 1 nest causing disturbance to that nest while undertaking his duties, then nothing would happen. Gamekeepers working throughout the uplands of England regularly disturb a variety of Schedule 1 nest sites during the breeding season while patrolling their moorland beats (a lawful act), on occasion passing by an occupied Schedule 1 nest on the ground by just a few feet without fear of being prosecution.

Within the Wildlife & Countryside Act 1981 such actions are defensible under Section 4(2) (C), This clause states Defence of action being the “incidental result of a lawful operation and could not reasonably have been avoided.”  This simply means if for example any person, perhaps a bird watcher, raptor worker or gamekeeper, who causes incidental disturbance to any nesting Schedule 1 bird resulting from a lawful act which could not have reasonably been avoided has not committed any offence.

Finally we would ask the question what would happen to any person carrying one of the Hen Harrier flyers who was then observed near an occupied nest causing disturbance to breeding Hen Harriers or Peregrines as he or she walked across any moorland in England? These are important considerations which could happen, we feel have not been taken into consideration.

2 comments to We seek them here we seek them there, but we know there are none anywhere. Are they in heaven or are they in hell, only the shooters can tell? The public asked to help find the Hen Harrier.

  • nirofo

    Only NE / SNH could think up something so ridiculous as this, who is running their pantomime, it has to be a joke! They can’t seriously intend to leave something as important as the welfare of the Hen Harriers in the hands of inexperienced unlicensed members of the general public. NE / SNH should be ashamed of themselves for their reckless and total failure to protect an endangered species as important as the Hen Harrier, especially when they know just as well as anyone else that the shooting estate owners are responsible for the open persecution of so-called protected Raptor species throughout the UK. Publicly funded organisations such as NE / SNH have a duty of care for all the protected wildlife species which fall under their remit, their woeful showing in this respect is so bad it is bordering on the boundaries of irresponsible behaviour. NE / SNH ARE NOT FIT FOR PURPOSE !!!

  • What a complete farce, now Natural England are giving the go ahead allowing the public to go traipsing over moorland looking for Hen Harriers. This is a disaster for all wildlife, firstly there are no HH to find and secondly how many other raptors, especially ground nesting birds are they going to disturb, the result of which are likely to cause more nests to be deserted?

    Is this perhaps just NE playing into the very people’s hands who want just such a result, what the hell is going on and when will common sense prevail?

    The very people who have watched over and protected these birds are being persecuted themselves and treated like criminals while the real criminals are getting away with it all. Come on NE put someone who has some brains behind this project if you have any intention of helping any of our raptors, it is clear you don’t have a clue, or is the real reason that you don’t care and are just going through the motions so that some people will really believe that you care? Well most of us are not fooled, we have you weighed up, but then I am sure that is no surprise to you either.

    NE are not helping any raptor by instigating this senseless and very ill thought out plan, my advice to them is to leave things they don’t understand alone, their actions will cause even more raptors to suffer.