Is the Forest of Bowland about to become a possible Raptor Free Zone?

As far as I am aware prior to 2015 and 2016, the last year in which a single active Peregrine territory existed in the Forest of Bowland was 1974. The nest which had already been abandoned was discovered at the head of the Langden Valley by Paul Stott, a member of the North West Raptor Group. Paul had followed a set of fresh footprints crossing the snow covered landscape along the footpath leading him to the base of the nesting crag containing the abandoned nest, from where Paul recovered the single chilled egg. Paul also found 2  discarded cartridge cases which had been left in the snow by the stream edge, leading him to conclude one or both adult falcons had possibly been recently shot. Bowland’s sad history appears once again to have repeated itself this year, with only one known active Peregrine site recorded on estates owned by United Utilities. However, there is now serious doubt that any eggs contained in this nest will hatch after the territory was disturbed by an unidentified individual at the same time preventing the falcons from incubating their eggs for a minimum period of 2 hours, between 5pm and 7pm on Thursday evening 21st April. I have a strong suspicion the person observed entering and leaving the territory was licensed and had been sent to instal a surveillance camera to capture illegal human disturbance at the site, an irresponsible action under the circumstances, which may now result in the failure of the territory altogether after the eggs had almost certainly chilled.

The situation this year in the Forest of Bowland for the Peregrine and Hen Harrier is now very critical for both of these apex avian predators. The Hen Harrier is now also possibly facing imminent extinction as a breeding species in this moorland region of West Lancashire. Over the weekend, 23/24 April, the examination of 6 Harrier territories which had each been occupied last season discovered none of the territories had so far been reoccupied, and sightings of adult Harriers have been minimal. To my knowledge the only confirmed record of a single skydancing male Hen Harrier inside Bowland was on the 2nd April. This bird has now disappeared. The second sighting confirmed a skydancing male was seen on 25th April in Cumbria by one of our followers who reported the detail this morning via the Raptor Politics Hen Harrier Hot Line.

The complete disappearance of Hen Harriers from Bowland was always a distinct distinct possibility after both ‘Skye’ and ‘Hope,’ 2 satellite tagged Hen Harriers that vanished along with their tags in 2014. Conserving raptors, in particular Peregrine, Hen Harrier and Short-eared owl on remote moorland, where Red Grouse are shot commercially has always been an almost impossible task, the result of too few experienced licensed field workers to counter widespread persecution. These issues were again reinforced last year when a new deadly Hen Harrier killing strategy was introduced on grouse moors in Northern England resulting in 5 male hen harriers disappearing without trace; 4 male Harriers lost in the Forest of Bowland, and a 5th male Harrier lost from the RSPB Nature Reserve at Geltsdale in the Northern Pennines. These losses resulted in the chilling of at least twenty five eggs that were deserted in several nests which had been abandoned. The appalling situation existing in the Forest of Bowland can be summed up by what took place last season; of the 7 recorded Harrier breeding attempts made on estates owned by United Utilities, only a single nest survived fledging 1 chick. The single Peregrine territory in Bowland I was aware of last year, established again on the United Utilities estate, also only fledged a single chick. To my knowledge there has not been a single successful Hen Harrier nest on any of the additional privately owned estates in Bowland since before 2006. Examination of potential Peregrine territories upon these same estates since 2010 has shown not one occupied Peregrine territory exists. These statistics prove to me why Driven Grouse Shooting must be and will be banned eventually. Does the video below recently captured on a grouse moor in the Peak District, at last cast light on how the 5 male Hen Harriers which disappeared last year may have been dealt with?

 

 

It was Julie Wright who recently stated “The Westminster Government don’t give a shit about Birds of Prey,” her words not mine. I totally concur with Julie who has been a regular visitor to the Forest of Bowland, taking the trouble to support our Hen Harrier Day. In August last year Julie, accompanied by her brother Michael travelled all the way from Essex to Dunsop Bridge in support of the North West Raptor Group’s  Hen Harrier Day, before travelling back to Essex later that same evening. The problem with a Conservative administration, is perhaps many of their members and supporters have strong vested interests in game shooting, and this is why the Hen Harrier is now facing imminent extinction. For this government to do anything other than tinker, would upset too many powerful interests who support the current westminster government. Defra’s recent proposals to protect Hen Harriers are in my view a total waste of time and do little if anything to the address the issues faced not only by Hen Harrier, but for other grouse predating birds of prey that have the misfortune to attempt to breed on moorland where Red Grouse are shot.

One of the most damaging aspects of moorland management each spring adversely affecting ground nesting birds of prey has been heather burning, which is legally allowed to take place into early April, a time when many birds, including raptors are settling down in their breeding territories.

 

 

Click here to review video captured in the Forest of Bowland earlier this year in an area of moorland where historically two Peregrine territories had been located until 3 years ago. In one of the clips the smoke completely filled the stream gully where Peregrines had nested on the ground until they were frightened away by this kind of moorland management, which is legally carried out.

In October 2007 during a meeting of the Joint Hen Harrier Recovery Project hosted by The Duke of Westminster on his grouse moor at Abbeystead, attended by both shooting interests and Hen Harrier conservationists, the Duke advised Ian Grindy, the United Utilities Bowland Estate Manager, of being in charge of one of the worst managed grouse moors in the North of England. The Duke advised Grindy to consider returning gamekeeper’s back onto the United Utilities estate to sort the mess out. Ian Gridy to his credit replied “if gamekeepers were ever brought back onto the United Utilities estate in Bowland, there would be no Harriers left within one year.” Grindy got this wrong, as it took a little longer. Within months of refusing to accept the Duke’s advice, Ian Grindy had been allowed/forced to go abroad on a one year sabbatical. Eventually Ian Grindy took early retirement, leaving the company in the hands of a shooting orientated replacement estate manager. The Duke of Westminster subsequently leased a 20 year shooting tenancy from United Utilities estate bringing in his own gamekeepers. At about the same time several additional shooting tenancies were leased by Grindy’s replacement covering several locations in Bowland owned by United Utilities. Perhaps it was pure coincidence, but since shooting syndicates and gamekeepers returned to the United Utilities estates raptors throughout the estate have continued to decline dramatically.

One thing I would say about Ian Grindy is he always played a straight bat, well nearly always. In my opinion he made the best of what he had and did all he could to conserve all raptors on the Bowland estate he was paid to manage. There was one instance in particular when Ian Grindy did support me after the former Wildlife Crime Officer for Lancashire brought a malicious allegation against me, by asking a gamekeeper to lie that I had attempted to run him down with my landrover. I might add the officer was parked in his police vehicle 5 metres from where the gamekeeper had claimed I had attempted to run him down. When I asked Ian Grindy to consider the facts carefully, that the officer had concocted the allegation in the hope my vehicle access permit for use on the United Utilities estate would be rescinded. Grindy accepted my explanation that the officer had indeed not told the truth by failing to record the details of any offence I had allegedly committed into his police notebook recording what he would have witnessed. Another clue to this falsehood was the fact the officer did not caution or arrest me on the spot for what could have been a very serious offence. The final proof in my defence, was the gamekeeper lost his bottle withdrawing his support for what the officer had asked him to say.

I am also sure of one other aspect of estate management. Had Ian Grindy still been the United Utilities Estate Manager in the Forest of Bowland, he would not have tolerated the dumping by any gamekeeper or shooting tenant of what was found on the United Utilities water catchment sever days ago above a stream. The material videoed below consisted of approx 300 discarded 12 gauge shot gun cartridges, several dozen smashed wine and spirit bottles, smashed wine glasses and at least 3 dozen beer cans which had all been used for target practice. All the above are an obvious fire risk as well as a danger to members of the public and livestock. It has now been estimated the lead pellets discharged from the discarded cartridges would have weighed approx 19 pounds. If anyone else had dumped these combined toxic materials upon a water catchment area used for public consumption, they would have been prosecuted. I wonder what the United Utilities management will do after viewing our images and video?

 

 

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6 comments to Is the Forest of Bowland about to become a possible Raptor Free Zone?

  • Between Crief and Aberfeldy in 2 valleys there was heather burning on Red Grouse moors on 21st April. Surely the latest any one can burn is 15th April! These burns were done as the number of Red Grouse were low but what about any other species. On 25th April a Stonechat was found on a moor with a brood of young! I rest my case. A fine of £5000 should be placed on the owner of those moors with photographic evidence to show the burning as all bird’s nests are protected by law.

  • Paul Tresto

    I hope that United Utilities will complain to the shooting tenant and make him clean this disgraceful mess up. This goes to show the type of people who look after and shoot grouse. This is an AONB – any ordinary member of the public caught doing this would be fined for fly tipping. Maybe worth passing this on to environmental health and the EA?

    That said I have confidence that UU will take this up with the grouse shooting tenant and ensure it is cleaned up and does not happen again. It all looks very recent.

    Not the kind of thing UU want in their annual report or brought up at their AGM.

  • Paul Tresto

    Has anyone or RP forwarded these photographs directly to UU Public Relations / Investor relations and alerted them officially to it – and asked what they are going to do about it? Perhaps all UU customers should send an e-mail in to UU?

    Editor’s Comment.Paul we sent a copy of the story via twitter, no reply so far.

  • Adam L

    No more evidence is needed to the raptor extermination that has gone on in Bowland. It’s a national disgrace and should be widely published to the general public. I wonder what Ian Botham would say to this overwhelming evidence.

  • Bird lover & concerned U.U. customer!

    Dear God! That is an Absolute Disgrace and makes a mockery of the signs, asking for folk to tidy up after themselves for risk of fire. Especially so, after the recent wildfire up Saddleworth! United Utilities will be hearing about this and I can guarantee you that much. Would anyone happen to have the email/twitter/postal address of the very top CEO or whoever is best to report this Toxic Fly-Tipping to? I am staggered by the footage and pictures. Let’s see how the shooting fraternity attempt to defend this then, as they seem hellbent on rubbishing anything at all which paints them in a negative light. United Utilities must be pressured into removing any licence to shoot on their land and return any licences for the NWRG for better land access and permission to actually do what they do best and help to prevent the historic Bowland breeding grounds of birds such as the Hen Harrier and Peregrine Falcon becoming a Raptor Free Zone!

  • bob

    The article is somewhat inaccurate, 1974 is an exaggeration, there were several peregrine territories in FoB in the mid nineties. (up Bleadale and Hodder and elsewhere. Mind you they weren’t always very successful! (I’m sure people can guess why…)

    As for the shooting party detritus well I’ve seen the exact same garbage (cartridges, beer cans and bottles) dumped at the end of a land rover track to shooting butts up Hareden in the early nineties.

    Editors Comment Bob the article was accurate, there was only one peregrine territory occupied in Bowland in 1974. How may we ask is one nest an exagguration? Are you suggesting there were none at all? We do agree many of the nests that existed in the early 1990’s did fail due to their persecution, as they still do.