Politics is still undermining raptor conservation in Lancashire’s Forest of Bowland.

What happened on Saturday on Malta to Chris Packham was unacceptable and just goes to show where the loyalties of some Maltese police officers lie. The situation in Lancashire’s Forest of Bowland is not much different. Raptor workers being maliciously accused of disturbing nesting peregrines without proof. Informed if they did not attend a police station to be interviewed they would be arrested.  The side of a vehicle belonging to a raptor worker kicking in by a gamekeeper causing over £1000 pounds of damage. Two police officers conspiring together to cease the vehicle from another raptor worker on a public road using legislation to do so illegally. So you see, the situation in the Forest of Bowland is underpinned by politics and harassment, much the same as on Malta.  Read on it gets much worst.

Forest-of-Bowland-Hen-Harri

The Hen Harrier has been the symbol of the Forest of Bowland for many years. Many people now believe the logo should be removed because the image portrays the wrong impression; a bird that is now extinct as a breeding species due to persecution.

Following the death of the Earl of Sefton in 1972, the Abbeystead estates he owned in the Forest of Bowland fell into mismanagement. Finally in the early 1980’s the estate surrounding the village of Abbeystead, including a number of important grouse moors, were sold the present owner the Duke of Westminster. In the years between the Earl of Sefton’s death and the subsequent sale of the estate to the Duke of Westminster, numbers of hen harriers found breeding upon the estate by members of the NWRG at Abbeystead, Tarnbrook and Marshaw burgeoned to 12. The main reason for such a population explosion was because of  an almost total lack of moorland management by estate gamekeepers; many were made redundant, others deciding it was easier to sit at home and get paid.

Bowland-Peregrines-in-nest

Only a single peregrine eyrie was successful last year in the whole of Lancashire’s Forest of Bowland

Within five years, following the new owner’s arrival at Abbeystead the estate was turned around. A new management structure was established to sort the mess out and many new and highly experience moorland gamekeepers were employed to bring the grouse shooting back up to a viable level. It came as no surprise when hen harriers together with several pairs of peregrines breeding upon the three moorland regions began to disappear, until finally they had gone completely. To this day there appear to be no breeding harriers on the three estates, and where peregrines have attempted to return to abandoned territories their success has been rare.

In June 1990 Paul Stott and Carl Smith two experienced and highly respected members of the NWRPG decided to visit a historic peregrine territory in a remote region of Lancashire’s Forest of Bowland where in their life-time they had never observed an active nest containing live peregrine chicks. Any attempt by peregrines to breed at Raven Scars had, prior to this date, always been thwarted by estate gamekeepers. Going back as far as 1947 the first active nest, following the end of the Second World War, at this remote location was discovered by Joe Pye a 16 year old trainee gamekeeper; both adult peregrines were then shot the following day and their clutch of 4 eggs were destroyed after Joe had reported his discovery to the head keeper.

PEREGRINE

In 1947 the pair of peregrines at this Forest of Bowland territory were shot and their clutch of 4 eggs destroyed by estate gamekeepers.

After walking several miles across moorland to reach the nesting valley at Raven Scars Paul and Carl were surprised but delighted when they discovered the territory in the summer of 1991 was occupied by nesting peregrines, more to the point the breeding falcons were still alive. Content with viewing the cliff where the nest was located almost 300 meters away across the river through binoculars, both raptor enthusiasts quickly located an occupied eyrie containing two well-developed chicks perched on the nesting ledge. For some curious reason that season the Licensing Officer had not renewed Paul and Carl’s disturbance licenses. Acting responsibly Paul and Carl had waited until almost the end of the breeding season before making their trip,choosing a date late in the season when any nestlings at the site would be almost fledged.

As Paul and Carl were about to leave the nesting valley after a short period admiring the two chicks, overjoyed and satisfied with their landmark discovery, both adult falcons began to alarm call in the sky above the nesting cliff. At that point two men came into view walking at the apex of the nesting cliff. Clearly the appearance of two people so close to the nest, identified as RSPB wardens, was the cause of the falcon’s sudden disturbance. To avoid any further unnecessary disturbance, after calling to the two wardens now standing above the nest to leave the falcons in peace, Paul and Carl decided to leave the valley returning across the moor for a second time to collect their car and drive home.

Roeburndale-looking-west-04

Once upon a time, this area of moorland in Lancashire’s Forest of Bowland held at least 2 breeding pairs of hen harrier and peregrine. Today both species are rarely seen at all.

The day’s excitement was not over by any means, in fact the days fireworks were just about to begin. Although Paul and Carl had acted sensibly and their actions had been entirely undertaken within the law, the two RSPB wardens standing at the top of the nesting cliff  then contacted the police, blaming the disturbance they themselves had caused on Paul and Carl. Unbelievably the police were encouraged by the RSPB to mobilise  several police vehicles together with half a dozen officers from two local police stations in a mammoth moorland manhunt initiated to apprehend Paul and Carl on their way home.

Cutting a complicated and very fascinating story very short, missing out details of a police road block set up to apprehend the two raptor workers, an assault by one police officer on Paul Stott at the road block by one officer, Paul and Carl’s subsequent detention at Garstang police station without due and correct process. It was midnight before they were allowed to go home without any charges being brought.

Several months after being detained and interviewed at Garstang police station, based upon statements the RSPB had provided to the police, the homes of Paul and Carl were raided in the middle of the night by two separate groups of police officers armed with sworn search warrants. The police then proceeded to vigorously search both properties removing maps and copies of licence returns which had been submitted to the Licensing Authority over many years (a licence condition). Bird watching diaries were also confiscated containing numerous recorded incidents of raptor persecution collated from shooting estates in the Forest of Bowland over two decades. The police even seized a note book containing poems associated with raptors written by Paul Stott. After several hours of intensive searching both houses, finding nothing incriminating, the police left taking with them the items they had confiscated to justify their actions.

RED-GROUSE

Protecting red grouse throughout the Forest of Bowland is more important than the security of birds of prey

The police quickly realised and regretted their mistake after Dale Campbell-Savours, Labour MP for Workington once again came to the rescue of both group members, speaking up on their behalf. In addition Dr. Derek Ratcliffe provided his support verifying for the credibility of Paul and Carl. Indeed Dr. Ratcliffe pays particular tribute to Paul Stott’s field work within his now legendary book “The Peregrine Falcon”.

Following several unsuccessful attempts, possibly to protect their credibility and careers, both police officers involved in this case could not persuade Paul and Carl to accept official cautions to bring the matter to a final conclusion. Placing their faith in the detail they had received from the RSPB witnesses, the police eventually were faced with just two options, they could either back down and lose face, or pass the file to the Crown Prosecution Service which they did. Criminal proceedings were then unbelievably instigated against Paul and Carl.

At this point the proceeding took a very sad turn, when the sudden death  from a heart attack of one of the two police officers was announced at an age of 35 year, putting a spanner in the proceedings. The officer’s death occurred one month prior to the case against Paul and Carl being heard by Burnley magistrates. At the first hearing the prosecution council told magistrates  the evidence collated against the two raptor workers had been misplaced. A second trial was re-scheduled to be heard at Clitheroe magistrates court several weeks later. This subtle change in venue was a very significant development, and the implication was not missed by the solicitor acting for Paul and Carl. Clitheroe is a well know Torry heart land bordering on the Forest of Bowland with strong hunting associations. Removing the first trial from Burnley, a strong Labour constituency, made it more likely the two raptor workers would be convicted, or so thought the police and RSPB, HOW WRONG THEY ALL WERE. After the acquittal of both Paul and Carl by magistrates at Clitheroe, Paul Stott never again ventured into the Forest of Bowland. Paul Stott died several years later from a rare type of brain tumor which many friends and colleagues believe was the direct result of stress he endured throughout the four-day court trial.

Six charges were brought by the CPS, all but the single charge of ‘disturbance’ were dismissed by the court almost immediately, including a charge of being in possession of prohibited items,  maps, diaries and bird watching notes and licence returns. A personal notebook containing  poems written by Paul Stott which was taken by the police was also returned. A charge of causing the disturbance of four peregrine eggs was dismissed after Paul and Carl’s solicitor explained to the court eggs could not hear. What became clear as the trial progressed, had both raptor workers been convicted of just one charge, all the items seized, including 20 years of incriminating data collected by Paul Stott detailing wide-scale raptor persecution in the Forest of Bowland would have been destroyed and lost forever. How could the RSPB support that, we often ask ourselves?

It was very amusing on the last day of the four-day trial held at Clitheroe Magistrates Court ;  as the magistrates were about to deliver their verdict, a number of RSPB wardens and officials seated in the court were observed holding a magnum of champagne, presumably which they had intended to use to celebrate a successful conviction in this case. How disappointed they were after Paul and Carl’s justified acquittal!

Footnote:

Two years after Paul and Carl’s acquittal a well dressed lady approached Terry Pickford at the Theatre in Forest at Grizedale where Terry had just completed a lecture on the Golden Eagle. After the lady had  introduced herself she asked Terry if he was a member of the same raptor group as two raptor workers who had once appeared before her at Burnley Magistrates court. She went on to explain each of  the Burnley magistrates that day felt something very fishy was taking place but could do little to intervene.

10 comments to Politics is still undermining raptor conservation in Lancashire’s Forest of Bowland.

  • skydancer

    Absolutely amazing , the rspb have lost all credibility how low can they stoop .?

  • kevin moore

    Fast forward 22 years and the rspb tried the same again, trying to prosecute Paul Williams and myself ,they failed again.

  • calidris

    Absolutely right, this is a terrible situation – politics, politics and politics! According to the views expressed here the RSPB and presumably NE are the bad guys who have done all the wrongs.

    Surely it’s not as simple as this, and regardless 23 and more years are a long time for such a feud to carry on. What many would want is to say stuff the politics, which is undermining a good cause i.e. the best interests of our raptors, get on with resolving differences and find ways of working positively together, building up trust and getting things to move on.

    Editor’s comment, first class suggestion, let’s make a positive start by returning licenses back to the North West Raptor Protection Group.

  • Ratty

    Well, I think its perfectly fair to say that politics is undermining raptor conservation

    I’m afraid it seems to be getting to the point where this ongoing pissing contest between NE/RSPB/NWRPG and the disturbance caused by every man and his dog going to have a look at the nest is more of a threat to the birds than the bloody gamekeepers!

    How about everyone steps down and has a think about whats really important here?

    Editor’s Comment. Can you please substantiate your statement with facts i.e., the disturbance caused by every man and his dog going to have a look at the nest is more of a threat to the birds than the bloody gamekeepers! Such a claim is simply untrue. We are aware that a single serial nest visitor in Bowland may have caused desertions of both eagle owl and hen harrier in the past few years. However, such incidents are insignificant when compared to the raptor losses caused by gamekeeper persecution generally.

  • Ratty

    “We are aware that a single serial nest visitor in Bowland may have caused desertions of both eagle owl and hen harrier in the past few years. However, such incidents are insignificant when compared to the raptor losses caused by gamekeeper persecution generally.”

    With respect, that’s a strange double standard – if the *only* cases of gamekeeper persecution were the cases we were aware of and could prove, then there wouldn’t be a problem would there, its the many other cases that go undetected, unrecorded and unproven that do the damage – we’re left extrapolating circumstantial evidence.

    We know now that there have been several cases of suspected disturbance caused by ‘well minded’ individuals, the RSPB nest camera saga as mentioned by Kevin above being one known example, how many other nests that have been mysteriously abandoned end up being down to the same but never linked to it – One is tempted here to mention the Rumsfeldian concept of “things that we know that we know, things that we know we don’t know…”

  • Kevin moore

    Ratty, May I ask what camera are you referring to? Was it the camera placed by the RSPB at the entrance to the Forest of Bowland quarry were peregrines were breeding in an attempt to entrap members of the NWRPG? Or was it the camera the RSPB installed 2 feet from a hen harrier nest containing 6 eggs which then deserted? I should point out this was the site where the RSPB failed to comply with licence conditions, by not consulting before the camera was installed with the Natural England National Hen Harrier coordinator.

  • David Pollard

    I live very close to Forest of Bowland and I find any sort of raptor persecution abhorrent. Some days I drive through the Trough Road and do not see any raptors buzzards kestrel sparrowhawks etc despite it being ideal habitat yet I see all three around my house. I am disappointed by the RSPB in these cases – At the moment NE and RSPB in some cases are not fit for purpose. Questions must be asked of the landowners despite political issues, despite how much money they have !!!

    Whilst you are asking these questions ask about badgers as well !!!

    Nest disturbance is wrong whoever is doing it RSPB Lancashire Wildlife Officers or anyone – the problem with RSPB and NE is that a lot of their experts have left and people holding positions of power do not have the required knowledge i.e. they have probably read a book once. Whilst the raptor workers concerned are experienced and possess the relevant knowledge to carry out monitoring work they haven’t just read a book they have years of practical experience.

    Editor’s Comment. David regarding the on going raptor persecution problems in the Forest of Bowland, its a case of who you know, rather than what you know. Regarding Badgers the NWRPG have photographed the dead bodies of snared badgers which have then been left to rot. Incidents reported to the RSPCA were ignored and RSPB of course were not interested.

  • Skydancer

    The grouse would be a more fitting symbol for the Forest of Bowland, perhaps with a shotgun beside it.The days of sitting on a fell side watching the Hen Harrier anywhere in the Forest of Bowland and on the northern uplands of England are long gone.

  • David

    When I moved up her 15 years ago, the Trough was a wonderful place for watching Raptors. The present situation is ridiculous : No raptors, Seemingly everyone interested knows who is responsible but the police and the RSPB are not just uninterested, they seem to be colluding in the persecution, at least by inertia. This scandalous situation needs to be exposed.

    Editor’s Comment. David, the situation in the Forest of Bowland is now much much worst than anyone could have imagined; it appears from information received, rather than trying to bring the persecutors of birds of prey to justice in Bowland, it has been alleged the RSPB could be colluding with estate gamekeepers to prevent experienced raptor workers from protecting the handful of peregrine nests remaining. We do mean a handful of nests, not the 18 that only a few years ago existed.

    We have recently seen a number of comments suggesting the protection of raptors should be left to the RSPB. The important point here is that in Bowland the RSPB have never been involved in any practice way in the protection of raptors, this important field work has always been undertaken by members of the local raptor group. In 2010 Natural England withheld licenses from the group working in Bowland FOR for 40 years. This same group had been instrumental in bringing the level of persecution taking place into the public domain. Gamekeepers then took advantage of this situation destroying every raptor they could locate, along with many nesting sites to boot. The RSPB have claimed these losses were the result of a lack of food or the weather, with a little bit of persecution thrown in as a gesture.

    None of the Peregrine nests and eggs destroyed, both last year and this, are being recorded by the RSPB.

  • Skydancer

    There is no doubt in my mind the Rspb are working in tandem with estate gamekeepers to keep the numbers of raptors in bowland down at their current levels to please estate owners. No hen harrier breeding and only the ‘tourist’ peregrine sites being left alone; these are sites in the public eye located close to well walked tracks. How anyone can say the Rspb are undertaking a good job is beyond me.