Hen Harrier Disappearances: Seriously bad news from The Forest of Bowland

The RSPB are reporting today that 3 male hen harriers have now disappeared in the last three weeks from active nests in the Forest of Bowland. This is the Press Release sent out by Martin Harper today.

I’m afraid to be the bearer of extremely bad news regarding one of our rarest birds of prey.  I’ve just received confirmation that three male hen harriers have disappeared from active nests in the Forest of Bowland.

The disappearances have happened over the last three weeks. At one nest the male disappeared three weeks ago, with males at two other active nests not being seen since last Thursday. Fortunately, a juvenile male appeared at the first nest almost immediately and was accepted by the female, so thankfully her eggs have been saved.  However, the other two nests have not been so lucky.  In the absence of males to provide them with food, the hungry females were forced to abandon their eggs or face starvation, resulting in the failure of both nests.


Hen Harrier with 3 of her young, courtesy of Terry Pickford

All three of the nests affected are on the United Utilities Bowland Estate.  We have a fantastic relationship with the water company, United Utilities and their shooting and farming tenants, built up over decades of partnership working. The United Utilities estate has for many years been the hen harriers last stronghold in England.  I’m sure all of their staff and tenants will be as saddened as RSPB’s staff on the ground and I am disheartened by this news.

Male hen harriers disappearing while part of an active nesting attempt is exceptionally unusual in most habitats.  A 2008 Natural England report “A Future for the Hen Harrier in England?”, found that it was almost never recorded in most habitats, while nearly 70% of nesting attempts which failed on grouse moors, did so because an adult disappeared (see figure 4 on page 14).  

Obviously it’s very early days and there will certainly be more to come on this case.  In the meantime, anyone who thinks they may have any information relevant to the disappearance of these three harriers should contact the local police.

What’s been happening to our hen harriers?

We mean to find out.

13 comments to Hen Harrier Disappearances: Seriously bad news from The Forest of Bowland

  • nirofo

    The RSPB are so naïve or so thick-skulled, what did they expect, it’s in the middle of a Red Grouse shooting area, these areas have gamekeepers, gamekeepers are employed kill birds of prey, so that’s exactly what they do full stop.

    Answer, remove the gamekeepers and the birds of prey will return and thrive, probably too late for this breeding season though !!!

  • Terry Pickford, North West Raptor Protection Group

    After Sky and Hope the two satellite tagged harriers which went missing last year in the Forest of Bowland, both presumed to have been shot, surely these latest losses should come as no surprise to the RSPB. Its about time the RSPB woke up to the realities of what has been going on in Bowland for many years.

    The truth of the matter is very simple, 9 out of every 10 gamekeepers in Bowland will simply not accept the hen harrier on the moorland they are tasked and paid to protect. The North West Raptor Group have been saying this for years but were ridiculed for telling the truth. Look what has happened to the eagle owls, vanished without trace after several nests containing eggs were each found abandoned in 2013. Between 2010 and 2014 as many as fifteen peregrine territories throughout Bowland have been found abandoned. This year we can now add at least another two peregrine territories to this list so far.

    I strongly disagree with the RSPB spokesperson who stated in the Lancashire Life Magazine that these disappearance were due to climate change and a lack of prey. This hypothesis is ridiculous when peregrine nests less than a mile or so outside Bowland are all flourishing fledging large broods and without any RSPB protection, and I would add less food availability than in the Forest of Bowland.

    In the light of these tragic events, perhaps those tasked with scheduling Henry’s daily itinerary will now decide that it’s more appropriate that he should visit the Forest of Bowland to make his presence known?

  • The RSPB are as much to blame for this as the landowners and gamekeepers, they were told but didn’t listen. They need to decide what side they are on and quickly.

  • John Miles

    No wonder Henry will not visit the Bowland. Too dangerous for male harriers!!
    Sadly it is not the game keepers at fault it is the shooting owner/syndicate. If they wanted to protect Hen Harriers and other Birds of Prey on these moors they could. The facts are they do not want to. Remember no tax is paid by these estates so there is no profit in Red Grouse shooting. {they claim it is worth £millions!!!!]

  • Julie Wright

    When are we going to have a Government that’s got the balls to do something about this. Why are the police not getting involved? Are they part of the shooting brigade. If people were willing to volunteer we could walk these moors, I’m sure there are quite a few of us that would be willing. We all have binoculars, cameras, video, we know the law. If these birds are to be saved from extinction drastic measures need to be taken maybe the HH would stand a chance. I for one would be willing to offer a week, if more people did this we could cover a greater area. Looks like RSPB can’t cover the whole of Bowland, so why don’t they ask for volunteers to patrol. People are allowed to roam.

    • nirofo

      The police will not get involved because they are under the control of the government ministers who either own or shoot on these estates, in any case the old boys act prevails.

      As for a regular presence of walkers on the moors, first of all it is an offence to enter the breeding territory of a Schedule One Raptor, (not that that bothers the keepers), secondly, the keepers would think nothing of going out on the moors at let’s say 4.oclock on a wet and miserable Tuesday morning, would you? Thirdly, Hen Harriers occupy their territories several weeks before actual nesting, when the eggs are laid over a period of 6 to 8 days it can take approximately 30 days for the eggs to start hatching. Once all the eggs have hatched it can take up to approximately 35-40 days for the young to fly. Can you afford to spend all this time in the field, the gamekeeper can and does !!!

      Editor’s Comment. It seems odd that unlike last season, this spring there were no contract wardens protecting Hen Harrier nests around the clock on the United Utilities estate, we wonder why this was the case? We would like to think that RSPB and Police investigations into the now 5 missing Bowland hen harriers will result in prosecutions, but that is a forlorn wish we are afraid.

  • Paul Tresto

    No doubt one of the adjacent estates is to blame – the self declared harrier free grouse shooting estate. Very unlikely this was down to UU. UU get excellent corporate publicity from having the only only breeding HH in England. I met the shooting tenant recently and my conclusion was that he is interested in HH preservation and that grouse shooting and HH can lived side by side. He was proud of having the HH on his watch.

    When is the RSPB going to come clean and mobilise its members against the perpetrators? They know exactly who is responsible for this. Absolute disgrace!

  • Albert Ross

    This is an utter disgrace and merits serious investigation. The RSPB must now accept that they are in part culpable. No “Ifs” “buts” or mealy mouthed excuses. They are not fulfilling what their name says on the packet. “Society for the Protection of birds”.
    For THREE males to vanish beggars belief. The Royal Navy had a maxim regarding “friendly fire!” which could apply here. One may have been an accident, TWO a coincidence but THREE is Enemy Action!
    I suspect the males are being deliberately lured and targeted. Climate change my Ar$e! I live in the same latitude, probably a tad more north at 54, and the same is not happening here.
    I offered a reward for information leading to a conviction regarding the “missing” Eagle Owls which was not taken up. I am happy to chip in again to secure a conviction for this latest crime.

  • Northern Diver

    My other half asks “How did women get the vote? What about the mass trespass on Kinder Scout?” etc etc. The only way now to get the wildlife laws upheld is mass trespass (non-violent) on these grouse moors with as much publicity as possible during the shooting season. We are willing to turn out and if necessary be arrested & up before the courts. Why are we just moaning about it? But the numbers must be substantial and the media must be involved. Time to stand up and be counted.

    Editor’s Comment. We entirely agree with you on that one, however if we can’t even entice Henry to come and help the hen harrier cause in the Forest of Bowland, what chance does the hen harrier have? The RSPB wouldn’t even turn up at Dunsop Bridge last year to support the hen harrier protest day, makes one wonder what is really going on>

    • nirofo

      Has Henry given his reasons for not coming to Bowland, other than his fear of shotguns that is. Maybe the RSPB don’t want him to show them up and put them on the spot for their ineffectiveness.

      Editor’s Comment. We are informed because of all the raptor persecution taking place across Bowland, which the RSPB are unable to prevent, if Henry did appear in Bowland it would be an admission of total failure by the RSPB to provide these birds with a home in this important moorland region.

  • Chris Steel

    Unbelievable. When I compose myself I will reply to this terrible situation.

  • I’m glad that the friends of the Hen Harrier are following Henry’s travels with such interest. As I understand it, Henry was in Bowland a couple of weeks ago and was photographed there. I’ve seen the photographs. Henry has been photographed at a wide range of localities already – there are about 5-6 weeks’ worth of Henry images already in the bag! And more visits to more places are planned.

    Next week I think Henry will be shown to have gone to some other interesting places in the north of England connected with Hen Harrier conservation.

    The RSPB has no control over where Henry flies.

    I wonder where Henry is today…

  • innocent bystander

    I expect Henry will turn up at A&E next – having lead shot removed from his parson’s nose after visiting Bowland…