Hen Harriers & Peregrine are likely to disappear as a breeding species from English Red Grouse moors within the next 5 years, or less.

A box of stuffed HH shot in Bowland (1 of 1)

The 3 stuffed Hen Harriers inside this display cabinet formed a small part of  a larger number of  illegally shot Bowland raptors which were confiscated by Lancashire police under a search warrant from the home of award winning photographer Dennis Green. When police raided Greens home they uncovered several cases of stuffed raptors together with 99 additional stuffed birds stored in the photographers garage, enough material to fill two transit vans. None of Green’s co-conspirators were ever charged with killing any of the exhibits recovered by the police.

Read here the full account of  Dennis Green’s conviction resulting in a prison sentence.

I know what is happening to our so  called ‘protected raptors’ in the Forest of Bowland, Lancashire, and on other red grouse moorland in northern England, so do the RSPB and everyone else associated with the conservation of these threatened birds. The situation throughout the last 47 years has been so transparent its heart breaking to have to sit back and watch these killings continue year after year while nothing is done to prevent what is taking place under our noses.

There is no other explanation for the abandonment of 16 Bowland Peregrine territories since 2010, or the disappearance of the 4 male Harriers from the Forest of Bowland and an additional single male Harrier from a northern Pennine nest in 2015. The game shooting brigade continue to deny the obvious, covering up the realities of what has been taking place on moorland they manage for red grouse shooting. In the case of the 5 missing male hen harriers it is ridiculous for anyone to even consider natural causes for such multiple disappearances from two relative small moorland regions of England within the same season. Throughout the breeding cycle all male raptors are motivated by a strong common biological urge to return to their nests with food to feed their mate, along with any chicks contained in their nests. This natural behaviour ensures the success of their eggs and chicks.  In the case of the 5 missing male Hen Harriers, these multiple losses point to one reasonable conclusion, the birds are dead, most likely shot. Dr Derek Ratcliffe, former chief Scientist at the Nature Conservancy Council was correct, for many decades these birds have disappeared due to persecution not the weather, not a lack of food, or because of  predation by other animals.  I firmly believe without immediate proactive action by our Tory government, supported by improved effective enforcement by the police species like Hen Harrier, Short-eared Owl and Peregrine, are doomed to disappear within the next five years from all heather moorland where the red grouse are shot in northern England. Brood meddling is certainly in this case not the answer, the majority of fledged Hen Harriers produced  by such a pointless scheme, will simply provide cannon fodder resulting in more Harriers being shot when they return to breed on grouse mors.

 

In the spring of 2017 bird watchers in their hundreds flocked to the Forest of Bowland just to catch a glimpse of the male Pallid Harrier. For several weeks the display carried out by this single bird thrilled everyone who took the trouble to walk up the Dunsop Valley. The decision taken by the RSPB to make public the Pallid Harrier’s arrival in the Whitendale Valley last year saved the Harriers life, at least during his short stay at this moorland location. The Pallid Harrier suddenly disappeared from Bowland, and we understand was not been seen anywhere in Britain after vanishishing from Bowland. It is possible this bird made its way back across the north sea into northern Europe, however this seems very unlikely as someone somewhere would have witnessed the Harriers presence before leaving our shores. There are two other possibility, the Pallid Harrier never left the Forest of Bowland. The Pallid Harrier met an untimely death on moorland well away from the Forest of Bowland. I doubt now if we’ll ever discover the truth.

The RSPB know what happened to all the 5 missing male Hen Harriers in 2015; indeed they may already have their suspicions of who was responsible for this unacceptable outrage. I also know the cause for the demise of the 39 breeding pairs of Bowland Hen Harrier in the early 1970’s and in 1992 and in 1993 when many more Harriers also disappeared from Bowland. Throughout these dark days members of the North West Raptor Group regularly discovered destroyed Hen Harrier nests on all estates throughout the Forest of Bowland, many nests containing smashed eggs, dead Hen Harrier chicks with their heads cut off then left left in their nests by the perpetrators. The numbers of adult Hen Harriers and Peregrines which vanished from occupied Bowland territories amounts to many hundreds of birds, all presumed to have been shot or trapped and their nest content destroyed. Despite this wide scale killing beginning in 1974, not one single raptor killer has so far brought into court to account for this criminal activity. This may now be about to change, as a Bowland gamekeeper has been charged with 9 wildlife offences associated with the alleged killing of two peregrine falcons, appearing in court for the first time in September 2017.

In the early 1990’s I recall two interviews which the BBC carried with Dr Derek Ratcliffe, and a second interview with the Late Duke of Westminster regarding the collapse of the Forest of Bowland Hen Harrier populations which occurred in 1992 and 1993. When the producer of this documentary asked Dr Ratcliffe what in his expert opinion could be the cause for the disappearance of so many Hen Harriers and their eggs, Dr.Ratcliffe replied “he could only think of one reason, persecution.” You can watch both of these important video clips below, and we should all bear in mind what what Dr Ratcliffe said all those years age about the reason for Hen Harrier disappearances, his reasons are as just as true today as they were all those years ago.


I often wonder what powerful influences are pulling the political strings behind the scenes in this important moorland region of Lancashire designated as an SSSI and SPA? Publicity is the enemy of the persecutor, while silence will always continue to promote such criminal activity.Watch the video below where the BBC are interviewing the late Duke of Westminster at his Forest of Bowland home at Abbeystead about the disappearance of hen harriers and their eggs  in 1992 and 1993.

In 1974 I was invited by Richard Porter head of the RSPB’s species protection to visit Sandy and brief him all about the illegal persecution of both Peregrine and Hen Harrier taking place throughout the Forest of Bowland. I thought I did a good job and I could tell Richard was taking an interest in the criminal activities I was telling him about. However, when I was about the get into my car in the Sandy car park to travel home, Richard told me I should not worry too much as the RSPB would have the problem of persecution in Bowland resolved within the next 5 years. As things turned out historically, Richard’s claim was one of the most optimistic statements I have every had the misfortune to listen too. Here we are forty seven years later and the persecution of so called ‘protected birds of prey’ throughout the Bowland region is now much worse than it was all those decades ago. For two consecutive seasons (2016 & 2017) there were no breeding Hen Harriers recorded in the Forest of Bowland, or upon any English red grouse moor in England. The three successful Hen Harrier nests recorded in Northumberland were each located on Forestry land. The two successful Peregrine nests in Bowland in 2017, were both established on moorland owned by United Utilities; at least that’s better than no successful nests at all.

Hen-Harrier-chicks-dead-in-nest

The mutilated remains of several dead hen harriers, their heads and wings torn from their bodies and left in their nests as a symbol of a feudal system of raptor management in the Forest of Bowland in 1985 

 

We are very good at telling other countries how to look after their wildlife; we should take a long hard look in the mirror and start taking the drastic action required to protect our own vulnerable raptor species before it’s too late. We know that a lack of food and climate change are not to blame for any of these losses despite what some individuals are claiming . Raptors  throughout England’s northern uplands continue to be persecuted illegally by humans, and that is unlikely to change under the present status quo. Before messing about with any brood medling, criminal activity must be brought to an end, those responsible caught, prosecuted, and given suitable penalties, including custodial sentences which would be more likely to deter these people offending in the future.

I would have liked to end on an optimistic note, but sadly that is not possible. The loss of the two satellite tagged Hen Harriers (Sky and Hope) from the Forest of Bowland September 2014, which I believe were shot and their tags destroyed was bad enough. But what followed in 2016 was in my view much worse if that was possible, when five male Hen Harriers all disappeared in the spring of 2015 from several nests in Bowland, and a single male vanished from the one nest in the Pennines. There is simply no mechanism available at this time to prevent these criminal activities taking place time after time. Withholding licenses from experienced raptor workers who had made a significant  difference up until 2010 simply plays into the hands of the persecutors making it that much easier for them to get away with the crimes they commit on grouse moors. I see no advantages of producing more Hen Harrier chicks by brood meddling until the reasons for these losses, i.e., persecution, is adequately addressed. If this is not done then DEFRA’s proposals would only serve to make a bad situation much worse by providing more Hen Harriers to be destroyed once they make their way back to the grouse moors in northern England, that’s if they get that far.

Related Articles.

RSPB publish last known locations of the two missing satellite Tagged hen harriers ‘Skye’ & ‘Hope’. 

Peregrine ‘holocaust’ looms on northern England’s upland – A final solution.

Video Version: Peregrine holocaust looms on England’s Uplands.

Terry R.Pickford

North West Raptor Protection Group

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