Having read Mark Avery’s review of Martin Harper’s (RSPB) mid-season Hen Harrier update for England, the RSPB speaking softly and left the stick at home, you may may begin to understand why there are few Hen Harriers left to protect on England’s uplands; they continue to be persecuted with impunity. As always Mark’s words are carefully chosen and intelligently written. He begins by highlighting the fact that the “RSPB continues to talk up the hopeless Defra Hen Harrier Action Plan even though most of us realise the plan has not a hope in hell of returning Hen Harriers onto English grouse moors. The longstanding evidence shows these birds will never be welcomed by the estate owners or their gamekeepers. Dr Derek Ratcliffe was saying these words over thirty years ago, so what has changed nothing and it never will unless the stick referred to by Mark Avery is used by the RSPB and the government. We strongly recommend everyone to read what Mark published yesterday by following the link above, and in particular read all the very illuminating comments to gauge the feeling of discontent with Martin Harper’s lack of transparency and his unwillingness to provide information now.
A male Hen Harrier photographed in the Forest of Bowland before it disappeared in 2015 along with 3 additional male birds.
One particular comment posted by Martin Harper on his blog stands out above the rest:- “that giving information on nesting attempts would compromising protection efforts”. This was quickly followed by an interesting reply posted on Mark Avery’s blog yesterday stating “Does he take us all for fools?! Simply giving a couple of numbers – without saying where the attempts are/were – cannot surely alert criminals to their location? Martin – we’re not fools, but you’re sounding foolish.
The current situation as far as we know is this, there are thought to no viable Hen Harrier nests or any nesting peregrine falcons this year in the Forest of Bowland; however a single occupied Hen Harrier nest located in northern England has been recorded. This may be the same territory referred to yesterday by Mark Avery. The nest is currently under 24/7 protection but appears sited near to a grouse moor where last year a 5th male Hen Harrier disappeared. Watch this space, will the same event happen for a second season at this nest?
This is where we take issue with Martin Harper’s claim, (giving information on nesting attempts would compromise protection efforts), why should it, are the RSPB not up to the job? Under the circumstances this was a ridiculous claim, gamekeepers on the adjoining northern England shooting estate already know about the nests location, and that the site is being protected. Surely if this is the only known nest this year in England, it would have been in the interests of the breeding Harriers to publish nationally where this nest is? Having made this important information public the pressure would then be placed firmly on the shooting estate ensuring the adjoining estate would be identified should the nest fail, or if any fledged satellite tagged Harrier chicks were interfered with? Certainly bad PR for the estate in question.
The way the RSPB have handled this years Hen Harrier PR gives the impression the Society may have something to hide. There is little doubt this year will be a critically important season for breeding Hen Harriers in England, with reasonable speculation it will be unlikely few if any successful breeding attempts will be recorded, even at this late stage. If it comes to light later there was only a single successful nesting attempt this season in England, or none at all, what was the point of Martin Harper’s reluctance to provide details of the one nest that may already exist?
The news from across the Scottish border at Langholm seems to offer much better prospects, despite the low vole numbers being reported from this region it is confirmed there are seven vayable harrier nests at Langholm. The first one is hatching now and the last one just started incubation.[6th June!!]. This would then suggest that all hen harriers prospecting in the North of England should also be present as usual and would not be deterred by low vole numbers or bad weather. As there will be no supplementary feeding at langholm this season it will be interesting to see what food is being brought to each nest. Only one nest at Langholm has a camera on it!
It will be critically important to attach satellite transmitters to all Harrier chicks produced this year, south or north of the border, to determine what may happen to these birds after leaving their natal territories. What is the point of rearing any Harrier chicks if we are then unable to determine what happens to them after fledging? On the 15 March this year the RSPB announced that Lush Cosmetics had donated £100,000 to fund the satellite tagging of Hen Harrier, so no excuses not to do so now. In 2014 of the 47 or so Hen Harrier chicks produced at Langholm only 4 we are advised were fitted with satellite tags. No one knows for sure what happened to the 40 fledged Harrier; an opportunity for important knowledge missed.
So Langholm management is placing no blame this season on the weather or the lack of voles, but according to Martin Harper there are three principal factors which could, to varying degrees, explain the small number of Hen Harrier nests this year in England. Excuses being provided by the RSPB already.
- Weather – While it was a relatively mild winter, it has been a rather cold, late spring in some places. There’s a slim chance we may get a run of late nesting attempts.
- Food supply – in particular, vole numbers. Voles are an important food source for hen harriers early in the breeding season and their populations fluctuate in cycles, with peaks in some years and troughs in others. Fewer voles means fewer successful nests and perhaps fewer territorial pairs. However, vole populations tend to fluctuate on a very local level, so while it may be a factor in some areas, it’s unlikely to be affecting things across the board.
- Direct human interference – there have been worrying incidents, such as a man with a gun being seen with a plastic hen harrier (link), a man cautioned for the use of three illegal pole traps in North Yorkshire near to where a hen harrier was seen flying and numerous incidents of persecution of other birds of prey (link).
The letter below was published by Mark Avery on his blog yesterday, we have been given Terry Pickford’s approval to republish it again below
I had a talk with the ice-cream man in the Forest of Bowland yesterday afternoon, he told me an RSPB employee had confided to him this week there were no nesting raptors left to protect this year; this information backs up what the North West Raptor Group had already discovered.
It’s about time the RSPB came down off the fence with their boxing gloves on instead of pandering to the rich and powerful estate owners, after all the public have a right to know the truth. Keeping such important information under the carpet until the September only makes an appalling situation much worse, undermining what the RSPB are attempting to achieve by making it appear there is something to hide.
The Forest of Bowland is designated an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, represented by the Hen Harrier logo. I would argue this position is now totally inappropriate, instead the Doddo would be a better symbol and a more accurate representation of what has taken place at the hands of selfish individuals.