Disaster stalks the Forest of Bowland. Is this the beginning of the end for this regions ‘protected’ raptors?

This season has witnessed catastrophic bad new for rare breeding birds of prey on moorland in the Forest of Bowland, an area once regarded as a jewel in the crown for Hen Harriers and Peregrine falcons in Lancashire. Last September we learned about the curious disappearance of ‘Skye’ and ‘Hope’, the two Hen Harrier chicks which both vanished along with their state of art satellite tags after fledging from two nests on moorland owned by United Utilities; each harrier disappearing on two adjoining estates positioned just 2 miles from their respective natal nesting territories.

It now appears the loss of Skye and Hope may have been all part of a well thought out new strategy implemented to cleanse moorland in northern England of all grouse predating raptors. This year we have seen this new policy put into practice for a second time with even more efficiency and devastating consequences for Hen Harriers than last year, resulting in the loss so far of 4 male Hen Harriers followed by the disappearance of 2 incubating female Harriers from nests in the Forest of Bowland. Taking into consideration the disappearances of the male and female Hen Harriers from the RSPB’s northern Pennine reserve at Geltsdale the maths equates to a total loss of  ten Hen Harrier in just 9 months from two moorland locations in northern England.

Bearing in mind the resulting collateral damage, we must also consider the loss of an average of 4 destroyed  eggs from each of the 5 abandoned Harrier nests, that’s an additional twenty Hen Harrier chicks to be added to the ten missing adult Harriers. What is now crystal clear, who ever thought up this new and extremely effective Hen Harrier killing strategy certainly knew exactly what the results of their efforts would achieve, with little or no chance of anyone ever being apprehended for these crimes possibly undertaken several miles from any nest. If the individual/s behind this policy decide to carry on killing Hen Harriers and Peregrines on the same scale, then both species will almost certainly disappear completely from moorland where red grouse are shot in northern England very quickly.

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The two moorland locations where satellite tags attached to both Skye and Hope strongly suggested they had each met their maker last September

Last year we reported the loss at least fifteen Peregrine territories throughout the Forest of Bowland which had each been found abandoned since 2010, almost certainly the result of persecution. This year we are able to add 3 additional nesting sites to our list which failed this season. The single abandoned site located, which also failed last year at the egg incubation stage, was discovered in May by the North West Raptor Protection Group completely destroyed after rocks surrounding the nesting ledge were found at the bottom of the nesting cliff. Since 2009 at least 4 additional historic Peregrine nesting sites in Bowland have each been destroyed using the same methodology rendering each site useless for any further breeding, such destruction undertaken out of the breeding season is legal.

Peregrine Cliff Destroyed 2015-1

We have attached an image of the tons of fallen boulders discovered below the nesting cliff at the site destroyed this year; the breeding falcons were never seen again after the nesting site had been destroyed.

In 2009, twenty five Bowland peregrine territories were examined by members of the NWRPG. 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 NWRPG to have been a very poor breeding season. The 2 larger female chicks vanished from this brood of 4  two days after the former Wildlife Crime Officer for Lancashire had invited gamekeepers, who were unaware of the nests existence on this particular estate, to come along and witness the ringing of the 4 chicks they were unaware of; coincidental, perhaps not?

Peregrine Chicks Crizedale-1

Ground nesting Peregrine nest found by the NWRPG  in 2009, all 4 eggs hatched resulting in 2 female & 2 male chicks. The two larger female chicks vanished after all 4 chicks had been rung in the presence of gamekeepers.

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The 2 remaining male chicks just days after both female chicks had been removed by persons unknown from this nest.

Although the 2009 peregrine figures recorded by the North West Raptor Protection Group were regarded as a very poor result, this years productivity for Peregrines in Bowland was a catastrophe, one of the worst seasons witnessed during the last thirty five years, with only two successful nests. Of the 9 Bowland Peregrine territories which existed prior to 2009 on moorland owned by United Utilities, this season only a single pair of falcons succeeded in fledging any young at all. One additional Peregrine site established on a privately owned red grouse moor was also successful this year.

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 the Hen Harrier and 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 and the Peregrine as breeding species is a prime example of how England’s moorlands are being mismanaged and legislation introduced to protect raptors completely disregarded.

At the current rate of raptor losses taking place in the Forest of Bowland, there is a real danger Peregrines throughout this SPA and SSSi moorland region of Lancashire may become extinct as a successful breeding species almost at the same time as the Hen Harrier becomes extinct. What does this tell us about the feelings of estate owners and their gamekeepers towards birds of prey that have the nerve to predate their grouse?


Will this be the most appropriate Logo for the Forest of  Bowland’s AONB in the next few years?





6 comments to Disaster stalks the Forest of Bowland. Is this the beginning of the end for this regions ‘protected’ raptors?

  • Maggie Myles

    This is horrifying. If landowners were held directly responsible for raptor killings on their land and appropriate sanctions (custodial sentences) and very heavy fines imposed, it may make a difference to this wholesale slaughter of these magnificent birds.

    Editor’s Comment. Maggie, thank you so much for taking the time and effort to add your comment. Persecution of our raptors has now taken on a whole new and devastating dimension. Will something that will bring this killing to an end be done, doubtful because we are fighting the establishment and do they care, no of course not. In many respects our country is much worst than Malta, because our Westminster government hide behind laws that simply have never worked. On the other hand if someone is genuinely trying to help protect raptors and is caught too close to an occupied nest, they will almost certainly end up in court and heavily fined for their trouble, whereas the persecutors get away far too often with what they do with impunity.

  • nirofo

    There’s only one real answer and that’s a total ban on driven Red Grouse shooting throughout the UK as soon as possible, the alternative doesn’t bear thinking about.

    Editor’s Comment. Yes a ban is long over due, however should this happen the shooting estates will simply carry on shooting grouse using a different methodology, for example walk up. The killing of raptors would still carry on unabated.

    • nirofo

      That may be, but how many of the overstuffed shooters could or would be prepared to walk up any further than a 4×4 or Argo can carry them, it would certainly reduce the number of shooters on the moor which might just be enough.

  • Skydancer

    It will all soon change for the better because the rspb have been talking and working closely with gamekeepers,landowners and shooting syndicates about raptor persecution over the last couple of years, and we all know they will listen and take it all on board and change the way they have been acting for hundreds of years.


    Editor’s Comment. Those were the days, at least 110 breeding pairs throughout the Lake District, not anymore. You are correct, the first ground nesting peregrine was found by the NWRPG in a valley off Shap in the 1990’s; the pair nested successfully for a number of years until a forestry plantation was installed.

    he problem for the Lakeland peregrines was because they predated 90% on racing pigeons, hence the unnatural saturation density. In the late 1990’s the racing organisations re-routed the flight paths of their birds away from the Lake District. This resulted in numbers of peregrines being significantly reduced, particularly those nesting pairs located on or close to flight paths. At the moment there are less than 80 breeding pairs with reduced brood sizes due to a lack of prey. The resident falcons located between Millom up to Maryport are still adversely influenced by to pigeon fanciers taking eggs or young. There have also been a number of pigeons laced with poison laid out as live bait at several quarry sites in the west of the county. This has resulting in the loss of a number of nesting pairs. No one has so far been charged with these offences. Peregrines continue to thrive around the Southern Lakes, Silverdale down and around the Forest of Bowland boundary, all without any protection at nesting sites.

  • Editor gamekeepers and pigeon fanciers get blamed for a lot of missing peregrines dont you think that some falconers can take them now since the government removed DNA testing in 2008.

    Editor’s Comment. The possibility that peregrines are still being taken from nests by would be falconers remains a possibility of course. However the bad old day we believe have gone. Its too easy now to buy legitimately captive bred falcons so why take the risk. Certainly on moorland areas like the Forest of Bowland where 18 nesting pairs have completely vanished and their territories abandoned is not the result of either falconers or pigeon fanciers. These birds have been removed to protect red grouse to improve the numbers being shot for sport. Indeed, as we have seen recently hen harriers are now being taken out on red grouse moors for the same reason; no falconer or pigeon fancier would take or kill a hen harrier.