Peregrine ‘holocaust’ looms on England’s Northern Uplands

The Final Solution

Photography is a weapon against what’s wrong out there. It’s bearing witness to the truth. by Brent Stirton

We would like to think our treatment of wildlife has improved since 1947 when Bowland’s only breeding pair of peregrines were shot at the nest and their clutch of 4 eggs destroyed. The reality is the situation today on England’s moorland uplands is almost as bad as it was all those years ago.

In the spring of 2009 seventeen occupied peregrine territories were recorded by the North West Raptor Group in the Forest of Bowland. One year later Natural England, (the government’s advisor on the natural environment) revoked licences which had permitted the group to monitor peregrines in this special moorland region for over thirty five years; just 4 years later fifteen of these territories had been abandoned leaving one successful breeding pair.

In the forty seven years I have been involved with raptor conservation in the North West of England, I have learned three important things. Firstly, red grouse shooting and birds of prey do not mix and I have serious doubt whether this position will change in my life time.  Secondly, relationships with estates are held in higher regard by Natural England – than the security of endangered raptors which the Government’s Advisor have a statutory duty to protect.  Thirdly, because of politics, the Hen Harrier, Peregrine and Goshawk in particular are just three raptor species being sacrificed, exterminated with impunity on SPA moorland in northern England where these birds should be safe but are not.

The Popular Handbook of British Birds explains the peregrine falcon occurs chiefly in open, more or less treeless country. In the breeding-season it frequents the vicinity of coastal or inland cliffs, moors and mountain-sides. This historic description of breeding habitats may have been accurate until the end of the 20th century but today – resulting from widespread persecution on moorland where driven red grouse are shot – this situation has changed. Because of this fact the hen harrier for the fist time in sixty years did not breed successfully in England this year. Peregrines have become a very rare migrant, almost entirely disappearing as a regular breeding species in England’s northern uplands where they receive short shrift.

Many reading these words both within the UK and abroad will be shocked to learn there are now more nesting pairs of peregrines inside London than in the whole of the Northern Pennines, the Yorkshire Dales, the North Yorkshire Moors, the Forest of Bowland, the Durham uplands and Derbyshire’s Dark Peak.  If you have any doubts, please examine the appalling details I have enclosed below which tells its own tragic story.

Fact-Peregrine are disappearing from England’s northern uplands because of persecution

  1. In the Northern Pennines historical territories once frequented by the peregrine have been reduced by persecution from 15 breeding pairs to just 4. This year 2 of these sites were unproductive and a third nest was robbed of a clutch of eggs. The last site was successful.
  2. Throughout Derbyshire’s Dark Peak of the 11 territorial sites only three nesting pairs were successful, producing 5 young this year. One additional site was established just a few hundred yards outside the Peak boundary.
  3. The North Yorkshire Moors. 2 historic territories no longer occupied, the area has potential for at least another 6 territories but being restricted by persecution.
  4. The Yorkshire Dales, this year of the 13 historical upland territories examined, I am aware of only 2 sites which were productive fledging a total of 4 young.
  5. The Durham Uplands, 12 historic territories located on red grouse moors, not one territory currently occupied due to extensive persecution. (territories located away from grouse moors are more successful in Durham)
  6. Lancashire’s Forest of Bowland has witnessed an unprecedented peregrine population crash with only a single breeding success recorded this year. In the last 4 years fifteen peregrine territories have been found abandoned, resulting in the disappearance of at least thirty adult falcons that once occupied these sites.

Totals:  Of the 77 historic peregrine territories which once existed on red grouse moors in the 6 regions in the Pennines above, only 11 pairs remain today that I am aware of.

In 2009, twenty five Bowland peregrine territories were examined by licensed members of the NWRG. Seventeen territories were found occupied, 6 of these sites failed following the disappearance of eggs and chicks. A total of eleven territories were productive fledging twenty four young. This result was considered by the NWRG to have been a very poor breeding season. Two female chicks vanished from a brood of 4 two days after the former Wildlife Crime Officer for Lancashire had invited gamekeepers, who were unaware of the nests existence, to witness the ringing of the 4 chicks.

By 2011, compared to the seventeen territories found occupied by the NWRG in 2009, only 9 territories remained throughout the Forest of Bowland Although 7 of these sites were occupied containing eggs, just 5 eggs hatched; 2 pairs were successful fledging 4 chicks.

2013: Forest of Bowland Peregrines Reduced to one successful Breeding Pair.

Working without licences, using telescopes to view nests, exercising common sense and a great deal of care to avoid any intentional disturbance, NWRG members checked twenty peregrine territories this season. To my surprise, only 4 territories were found occupied, two of which were ultimately found destroyed; just a single territory was successful this year. Was it a coincidence that in the 4 years following the removal of NWRG licences by the government’s advisor Natural England, fifteen of the territories occupied in 2009 had been abandoned by 2013?

With such depressing facts as these – the question must be asked, why are the RSPB or Natural England not commenting or acknowledging this indefensible state of affairs which exists in Bowland? Do they too, want to see the Forest of Bowland become a ‘raptor-free zone’? Why are crucial persecution details including missing eggs and chicks, together with the loss of so many adult peregrines that once has occupied the fifteen abandoned territories being kept so secret?

There is more to learn about the Forest of Bowland, a very special part of the Lancashire countryside; apart from being an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, moorland throughout this region is protected by a Site of Special Scientific Interest classification (SSSi). In addition under the European Wild Birds Directive, Bowland’s moorland has also been designated a Special Protected Area (SPA), which in theory at least but not in practice, should provide vulnerable species such as the Hen Harrier and Peregrine with enhanced protection.

As peregrines continue to disappear from red grouse moors, not only in the Forest of Bowland but also from a majority of northern England’s uplands where grouse are shot, important SPA legislation is being ignored by estate landowners as well as the Minister in charge of Defra and Natural England. The disappearance of the Hen Harrier as a breeding species is a prime example of how England’s moorlands are being mismanaged and legislation introduced to protect raptors completely disregarded.

Can the abandonment of fifteen historic peregrine territories in such a short period be a coincidence? I certainly don’t think so.  Ask yourself, why so many peregrine territories have been abandoned without so much as a whisper from those tasked with conserving protected fauna and flora within Lancashire’s Forest of Bowland? Who should take responsibility for what has been allowed to happen? What purpose has now been served by with-holding licences provided to the one raptor group who may have made a difference but were prevented from doing so because of politics?

Sixty years of protection but the killing of ‘protected’ raptors continue unabated.

Terry R. Pickford

North West Raptor Protection Group

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34 comments to Peregrine ‘holocaust’ looms on England’s Northern Uplands

  • John Miles

    Words can not say how I feel!!

  • Sabden Boggert

    Very interesting article Terry! You will raise a few pulses with that one!

  • John Miles

    Remember the 66 pairs removed do not include young birds coming back to try and create a new territory. Some of these sites will have pairs removed each year!! Some will have multiple numbers of birds!!

  • Daniel Marsden

    A true and factual representation of the dire state of affairs in the forest bowland and indeed the rest of northen england uplands!
    A sad but genuine and informative article Terry that explains and details the shocking figues and developments in bowland over recent months and years!
    I sincerely hope all who read this article highlight it to their friends and family so that maximum publicity can be drawn to the cause!
    This can not be allowed to become yet another serious debacle brushed under the carpet by bodies such as Natural England and the RSPB!

  • Ewan

    A very disturbing read and a moving video sequence…

  • john ashcroft

    this is truely shocking, but not surprising. i believe it’s all down to money!!! the amount of money the guns pay to go an shoot their grouse and other game. the authorities are turning a blind eye in my opinion, in order to keep the “money” coming into prominant estates. the RSPB should be ashamed of themselves if they have not acted on any of he findings mentioned in your article. shocking all of it!!!

  • Dot Forrester

    The peregrine situation in the Northern Uplands is a disgrace. Peregrines and other raptors should be protected as per law. Obviously no one in command is interested in enforcing that law. What a horror!

  • Carolyn Lee

    Shameful. An absolute disgrace and how sad this should be happening in these days. Protect them please.

  • Josh Marshall

    Can I ask why the licences were revoked? Why was the the agreement not signed?
    Editor’s Comment. Josh had the NWRG agreed to sign the protocol as requested, then this article would not have been published. The additional point you raised was addressed by Terry in the article.

  • paul williams

    A first class report of persecution that exists on all of the Forest of Bowland estates.I watched this with a great sadness in my heart.

  • paul williams

    Gamekeeper convicted for theft & massive illegal stash of ammunition & pesticides
    Gamekeeper Andrew Knights, 47, of Sandy Lane, Dereham, in Norfolk has been convicted for stealing over 7,500 rounds of ammunition and cartridges from his former employer, and for possessing 5,200 r…

  • harrier man

    Mirror’s exactly the north pennines SPA, SAC, AONB what a joke these protection classifications are.

  • Janet Daniels

    This is absolutely outrageous.It must not be allowed to continue. Perhaps some of the money that the RSPB ask for to help protect birds in other countries could be used to help the birds in this country FIRST. The perpetraters must be brought to justice.

  • John

    Thank you for posting this…even though the subject is very sad. For me, this government has done nothing but weaken every environmental protection law we have to appease it’s rich supporters and I feel nothing will change until they are out of office. Sadly, it will be too late for much of our wonderful wildlife.

  • Rob Shaw

    Absolute disgrace, and if this government is returned to power in 2015 it will get worse.

  • What a total disgrace……its a prime example of the fat cats caring more for their rich friends and the money generated by them spending ridiculous amounts on grouse shoots to support the estates.
    In my opinion the organisations and authorities who are supposed to protect and conserve our birds and wildlife are the people who turn a blind eye the most in fear of having there FUNDING cut by the fat cats at the top, in my experience the RSPB and RSPCA are totally useless.
    It needs to stop before these magnificent birds disappear from our skies altogether for the sake of a few politicians needing to pull on some tweeds once or twice a year and shoot at things.

  • skydancer

    An excellent article,and a very sad film to accompany it, how much longer can the RSPB and NE continue to ignore these figures? no doubt if they do comment on this it will be the usual statements about how bad weather has had a massive influence,and how they are working with landowners, and how gamekeepers should be applauded for the work they do| WE HAVE HEARD IT ALL BEFORE.

  • kevin moore

    The main priority in Bowland this year seems to have been to try and prosecute members of the NWRG rather than protecting the few raptors that are left there .

  • Trap it

    A few years ago an acquaintance of mine applied for a position on a large well known private estate in Bowland. While touring the property he was informed by the head keeper that he would need eyes in the back of his head as they were always being watched by a bloke from Blackpool way and his mates. My friend did not get the job but as we all know he need not have worried anyway!!!!!!!!!!!

  • Terrible news.The news gets longer and more controversial day by day.Conspiracy,well organised and carried out with the upmost secrecy.Cut backs in the Police force don’t allow policing.Need volunteers,to give free time,volunteers with vehicles who would be able to cover the Forest of Bowland and provide protection for the raptors.
    Anyone see a person shoot,trap poison,kill,destroy eggs and nests belonging to raptors,should by law,be able to make a Citizens Arrest!This should apply to anyone who commits the crime,giving no leniency to those who hold titles and who are dignitaries.

  • paul williams

    Seems the RSPB are happy to waste their members money,allowing one of their wardens to hide in gun butt to entrap two members of the NWRG by making unfounded malicious and false accusations they had intentionally disturbed a nesting pair of peregrines, which after a police investigation it was decided there was no case to answer. In my opinion this amounts to conspiracy.

  • It appears that there are a group of people who are intent on wiping out Birds of Prey in the Forest of Bowland.The Hen Harrier is an example.Somebody is responsible,should be responsible for allowing this to happen.The problem appears to happen on private land..The Scotland Law needs introducing into England.When there is evidence of persecution on Birds of Prey on private land,the land owner is prosecuted.I welcome this!

    Editor’s Comment. Mark the situation regarding raptor persecution is just as bad on the United Utilities estate as it is on the privately owned estates. And by the way, the public have the right of free access onto the private estates in Bowland, the problem is raptor workers with licenses must have the approval of the land owner before they can enter these areas.

  • Terry Pickford, North West Raptor Group

    Consider too these facts; on the 30th June 2011 in the House of Commons the Labour MP Angela Smith (Penistone & Stocksbridge, South Yorkshire) asked Richard Benyon the Minister in charge of Defra the following question:

    “Only two weeks ago, a gamekeeper was convicted for illegally killing birds of prey in my constituency. Is it not time to think about introducing a vicarious liability offence to ensure that landowners and estate managers supervise their gamekeepers more closely and more effectively”?

    This is the misleading reply the Minister gave to members of the House:

    “There are very good laws in place to punish the illegal killing of any animal. If they are not being effectively enforced, they must be and we will take steps to make sure that happens. However, this is a good opportunity to applaud gamekeepers for the wonderful work they do in providing excellent biodiversity across our countryside.”

    The Minister’s reply to Angela Smith was not only incorrect but disingenuous, bearing no relationship to what is taking place on moorland where driven red grouse are shot. The facts I provided within my article clearly establish the Minister in charge of Defra mislead parliament by providing members with false information. The majority of moorland gamekeepers, instead of using their knowledge and skills to improve the biodiversity of England’s moorland uplands, are selfishly destroying them. By producing artificially high numbers of red grouse at the expense of ‘protected’ raptors, England’s northern uplands are being turned into a monoculture over run with red grouse but with few, if any, raptors at all.

  • Falcoscot

    There is one solution that would be more effective than vicarious liability, if raptor persecution is proven that should be proof that the landowner is not fit to manage the land and all government subsidises withdrawn for a period of five years.

    Did the NWRG follow a complaints procedure when they were refused licenses, and if not, why ?

    Editor’s Comment. Yes of course they did but were told by Natural England to stop wasting their time. They aslo complained to the BTO, who agreed members had done nothing wrong, but explained they had been instructed by Natural England to withdraw all licenses for use in Bowland, but not elsewhere, for example in Lancashire or Cumbria. This initiative was simply adopted to put a firm lid on embarrassing persecution data gathered throughout the Forest of Bowland by the NWRG being being made public.

    • Falcoscot

      But a complaint to Natural England doesn’t have to stop there, it should have been taken to the Ombudsman.

  • Mike Price

    It is worth looking again at the paper Amar, A., Court, I.R., Davison, M., Downing, S., Grimshaw, T., Pickford, T. & Raw, D. 2012. Linking nest histories, remotely sensed land use data and wildlife crime records to explore the impact of grouse moor management on peregrine falcon populations. Biological Conservation 145: 86-94. IF 3.498

    Online abstract

    The CA in it’s response to Environmental Audit Committee stated
    “The recent publication of out of date research into the breeding success of peregrine falcons on grouse moors is a further example of counterproductive allegations against shooting which resulted in misleading coverage in the media”

    The on going denial of the problem is further example of behaviour that allows these issues to continue unabated.

    I believe that there is some hope though, provided that landowners like the National Trust continue with a program aimed at redressing the balance, the moorland vision project for the dark peak could offer some respite to larger raptors such as the Peregrine Falcon in this area, could other landowners follow suit?

  • skydancer

    Do United Utilities fund the RSPB for monitoring/protecting birds of prey on their Bowland estate? If so what are United Utilities actually getting for this money?

  • There is only one “final solution” if Britain’s raptor’s are to survive and thrive, a total ban on game shooting and the removal of all onshore wind farms. Anything less will result in many of our wonderful birds of prey being consigned to the history books.

  • Mark Adams

    United Utilities land management team are getting exactly what they want off their gamekeepers… A Raptor free grouse moor estate for shooting, and absolutely nothing from the RSPB.

  • So different than here on Mull where falcons and harriers are able to fly freely unpersecuted. The RSPB should be encouraged to be more positive in acting to support our raptors. They managed with white tailed eagles.

  • kevin moore

    Alan, am i right in saying that there is no grouse shooting on Mull? the problem is the RSPB will not confront landowners of grouse moors.

  • E.F

    Even though this situation is bleak, you cannot give up gathering evidence of illegal activities and bringing it to the attention of the public eye. You never know, one day someone might take note and have the opportunity to do something about it.

  • Mark Adams

    RAPTOR = Raptors Are Protected To Our Regulations…..The Cullservative Party.

  • Its all about money my friends.