The last three breeding seasons for Bowland’s apex raptors such as peregrine and hen harrier have been appalling, failing completely to deliver any increase in breeding productivity for both species throughout the Bowland fells in west Lancashire. In 2014 Sky and Hope two satellite tagged hen harrier chicks disappeared after migrating away from their natal territories on moorland owned by United Utilities on to two adjoining shooting estates where their satellite transmitters suddenly and inexplicably stopped sending data. Both harrier were presumed to have been shot after an exhaustive search undertaken by the RSPB failed to locate the satellite tags or two the missing hen harriers. In 2015 four adult Bowland male hen harriers vanished into thin air after leaving their respective incubating mates to forage for food again lost on nearby shooting estates. Unable to feed themselves the four female hen harriers subsequently abandoning their nests located on the United Utilities estate in order to feed themselves leaving an estimated 25 eggs to go cold.
Last season (2016) there were no nesting hen harriers recorded anywhere in the Forest of Bowland, or on any English grouse moor. As far as we are aware the only male hen harrier in the Forest of Bowland recorded skydancing in 2016 was the one seen above the Langden Valley by members of the North West Raptor Protection Group on 2nd April, however this bird was not seen alive on any of the four subsequent days when the area was revisited. We are informed peregrines did not do much better with only a single recorded successful nest last season.
One of the four male hen harriers that disappeared in 2015 from moorland in Bowland owned by United Utilities. This image captured by Michael Wright was the last image ever captured of this harrier before it disappeared.
We were correct in our predications that as soon as the warmer weather arrived , Saturday 25 and Sunday 26 March, gamekeepers from several estates across the Forest of Bowland began burning heather on moorland they manage. Throughout the Saturday plumes of grey acrid smoke were visible all day rising into the sky across many individual Bowland locations. The acrid smoke could be seen from over ten miles away in parts of Lancashire. This burning time slot is a critical period for any ground nesting raptor, lasting into the second week of April. The results of burning heather can have devastating consequences for any hen harrier, short-eared owl or peregrine having the misfortune to have located their nest on the ground where burning takes place.
This year it appears there will be no upturn for breeding productivity for either the peregrine or hen harrier on those Bowland shooting estates outside moorland boundaries owned by United Utilities. So far after careful inspection of eleven historic peregrine nesting locations abandoned since 2010, each of the examined territories remain abandoned. At one of the eleven sites on moorland located north east of Lancaster two members of the North West Raptor Group found several discharged 12 gauge shot gun cartridges below an empty peregrine nesting ledge. We feel it it is likely peregrines are being regularly disposed of in the same manner at other abandoned nest sites as birds reappear in the spring.
We are delighted to convey some good news for once, as of the weekend 25/26 March and 8/9 April we can report two occupied peregrine territories, together with both a male and female hen harrier seen on the dates above on moorland at the same location owned by United Utilities. Each of the two peregrine and single hen harrier territory are under the protection of the RSPB.
The North West Raptor Protection Group can also report the sighting at one female peregrine seen on 2nd April at a nesting territory last occupied in 2009. The survival of each of this seasons three existing breeding sites on the United Utilities Bowland estate should be secure knowing that their future success lies in the hands of very experienced RSPB field workers. We will keep everyone up to date with any developments throughout the season.