Can a management strategy using the natural surplus help combat the decline of raptors caused by persecution?

As a falconer / breeder of birds of prey and someone who has seen captive breeding go from something that was thought impossible only 40 years ago for some raptor species to becoming almost a complete science  today. I am baffled as to why we are not combating human persecution of raptors with human management of the natural surplus most raptor species provide  each year in the way of eggs and young to address natural mortality which can be as high as 80% in the first year.

 I would like to quote some figures from the Scottish Raptor Study groups data on Hen Harriers from 2007 to 2011 :-

  • 2007 }  213 pairs layed eggs, 168 pairs hatched eggs


  • 2008 } 225 pairs layed eggs, 179 pairs hatched eggs


  • 2009 } 190 pairs layed eggs, 151 pairs hatched eggs


  • 2010 } 182 pairs layed eggs, 133 pairs hatched eggs


  • 2011 } 186 pairs layed eggs, 132 pairs hatched eggs.


Over this five year period there was 996 nests recored containing eggs. Only 763 nests hatched young, 233 nests that contained eggs didn’t hatch any eggs and from looking at the data for many raptor species this is a common trend so can anyone tell me WHY the people in control of conservation in the UK like Natural England and Scottish Natural Heritage aren’t utilising this surplus to combat human persecution, especially when you have a species like the Hen Harrier under massive threat in England.

I don’t have any info from Langholm although I’ve just sent an email to Paul Wheelhouse MSP to ask what the Scottish Governments feeling is about a million pound being given to a project that didn’t comply with legislation before issuing licenses.

These are the figures for Golden Eagle which show quite a high proportion of nests with eggs to fail before hatching, it’s seem once birds hatch eggs there they are less likely to fail :-


  • 2011 } 165 pairs layed egg, 113 pairs hatched eggs.


  • 2010 } 181 pairs layed eggs, 127 pairs hatched eggs


  • 2009 } 156 pairs layed eggs, 99 pairs hatched eggs


  • 2008 } 161 pairs layed eggs, 122 pairs hatched eggs


  • 2007 } 152 pairs layed eggs, 106 pairs hatched eggs.

This data shows 815 golden eagle nests with eggs over a five year period and only 567 hatch young, that’s failure of 248 nests at egg stage.

When you consider the high percentage of nests to fail at egg stage with Golden Eagles and then add in the Cain & Abel situation with chicks there is a huge potential for managing this species to provide birds for release. I don’t consider this as re-introduction, it is addressing persecution.

I’m fully aware that it’s difficult to say some nests will fail until they fail but those that monitor nest sites must see some nests as more vulnerable than others and it’s these that could be the focus of management or if they’re in an area where fledglings are unlikely to survive eggs could be artificially incubated, chicks reared and hacked back into areas that were safer. This boost to the population could then possibly repopulate area’s where persecution of adult birds is more visible and more detectable than that of young leaving the nest.

I believe that if those that chose to persecute our native raptors realised that their killing was going to be counter balanced by a management programme it will show them they cannot win, they cannot do to other species what they have done to the Hen Harrier because there are people who wont let them eradicate raptors from our countryside.

Can anyone please explain to me why what I’m suggesting hasn’t or can’t be done because I’ve tried to discuss this with SNH and they’re not interested.

Thank you !

A falconer from Scotland

6 comments to Can a management strategy using the natural surplus help combat the decline of raptors caused by persecution?

  • I have been saying for years that birds of prey should be harvested annually. Even a 50 percent take would have no negative effect on population densities. Eagles and Goshawks could then be relocated to safer area’s where they have bred in the past.
    The reason you cant make any progress is because those with the power are swayed by the shooting fraternity and the emotional nonsense spouted by the protectionists.
    If I had the power then we would soon have Golden Eagles all over the Lake District, North Wales, and many other area’s besides. Goshawks would be breeding in every sizable wood with Harriers on every moor.
    Some of the young raptors would be allocated to falconer/breeders to ensure new blood for the captive breeding program, with a percentage of the offspring being returned to the wild. This is the sensible way to manage our birds of prey which are after all a renewable resource.

    • Terry Pickford, North West Raptor Group

      Doug, many many years ago, when peregrines in the north west of England numbered below 12 breeding pairs I suggested that we should consider double clutching, it was a total waste of my time. Those in power, including the RSPB, just did not want to know. Personally, I feel this is the way forward for the future if we ever hope to see threatened raptors back to sustainable levels. However, there would be huge opposition from game management interests, sporting estate land owners and government institutions like Natural England, who would be likely to support the landowners. May I also add, we should follow the close ties that currently exist in other European countries, between falconers, raptor breeders and conservation interests which all cooperate together to protect and expand raptor populations in other countries. In England the way Natural England are restricting the issue of disturbance licenses for common species like the Peregrine, is now having a very adverse affect. The more feet and eyes on the ground, the better it will be for these species. Gamekeepers hold all the cards at the moment, more importantly, Natural England are well aware gamekeepers have been visiting Schedule 1 nests sites on their beats on a regular basis, but a blind eye has been turned to this illegal activity.

  • Falcoscot

    Maybe it will take legal action to get Natural England and SNH to comply with the Birds Directive because at the moment they are completely ignoring their legal obligations under EU law.

    The situation with the Hen Harrier in England is an utter disgrace and the government employees being paid to manage this population should be ashamed of themselves but then I have to start to wonder if they feel more secure in their jobs if we have endangered species because I find it hard to come to any other conclusion.

    There are a lot of falconer / breeders who would be more than happy to work with Raptor Study Groups to address the persecution that’s going on in many parts of the country AND without having to receive some huge grant to do it either.

    I am presently waiting for answers to some of these question from Paul Wheelhouse MSP, Environment Minister at Scot Gov, and I’m not one who’s known for giving up easily so we’ll see.The data shows massive potential for managing nests sites that show low productivity.

    I’ve been wild hacking falcons for several years now and was instrumental in organising the release of 4 Peregrines hatched from the case of someone trying to smuggle eggs out of the country a couple of years ago, the birds stayed at the hack site for ten weeks and birds are still seen in the area two years later, in an area of Argyle where they had disappeared in recent years.

    I think we’ve waited long enough to do something about the persecution of raptors in this country and it’s time we had some answers as to why the situation these birds face today is not being addressed by the people who are paid, and have a legal obligation, to look after them. If they are unable to sort this problem out then get out of the way and let those that can take over the wheel.

  • Falcoscot

    Doug, I wouldn’t use words like “harvest”, what I’m looking at is utilising waste, it’s quite clear that 20 to 30% of some raptor species lay eggs that dont survive to hatching, let alone fledging. These birds have evolved over thousands of years with a mechanism to deal with natural mortality but not human persecution, it’s the latter that we need to address and we can only do this with management of the surplus the birds themselves provide as Government have showed they are unable to control persecution which isn’t an easy thing to do considering how vulnerable these birds are.
    If the game shooting industry can see that killing raptors isn’t a solution they will be forced to develop other ways to make their industry commercially viable, such as the rearing and release of grouse.
    If game keepers had witnessed what I have with falcons at hack they would welcome Peregrines on their moor, falcons clear an area of crows within days and it’s crows that can destroy whole clutches of grouse eggs and even take chicks, they may also destroy pipit and lark nests, birds which the harriers feed on too.

  • harrier man

    Just returned from the Czech Republic after a week of birding. A fantastic country for Raptors Black and Red Kite, WT Eagle, Marsh Harriers everywhere, Kestrel and Hobby, Goshawk and Sparrowhawk all lowland areas and birds extinct or hanging on in the UK are common and providing great views such as Golden Oriole, Wryneck, Red Backed Shrike, Cuckoo, Hawfinch and Turtle Dove. Specialities such as River Warbler, Barred Warbler, Black, Syrian, Grey headed Woodpeckers and Penduline Tit provided some fantastic birding.

    Editor’s Comment. Great to here this news, we know all about the fantastic situation in the Czech Repblic fantastic for raptors as you say as well as song birds. One member of the North West Raptor Group visits the country each year, and has done since 1967. Three years ago he located a nesting pair of Imperial Eagles, by accident, as he was walking through a meadow looking for golden orioles. The pair of eagles were incubating a clutch of eggs so he did not hang around. The nest was just 300 meters from a main highway in a popular tree.

  • harrier man

    We did see Imperial Eagle briefly at a lowland Reserve. What struck me the most was the agriculture was of similar intensity but surrounded by superb habitat and of course limited human persecution.