Rachel Carson’s prediction have become a reality across the Forest of Bowland.

An account of a day walking the isolated and beautiful fells of Lancashire’s Forest of Bowland, where indigenous raptors that were reasonably common twenty years age are being threatened by unprecedented illegal practices. These criminal activities are being specifically undertaken to conserve and increase red grouse numbers which are then shot for sport at the expense of so called protected and endangered birds of prey.

The Forest of Bowland was once regarded as the Jewel in the Crown for breeding Hen Harrier and Peregrine Falcon, with both species breeding on a regular basis on all of Bowlands shooting estates. The recent dismissal of all nine charges brought against a Bowland gamekeeper have shown graphically that wildlife legislation designed to protect birds of prey are not fit for purpose, allowing such rare and endangered species to be destroyed at will with impunity.

Marshaw-web-2

Last year and again in 2016 not one successful Hen Harrier nest was recorded anywhere in the Forest of Bowland. This year only two occupied Peregrine Falcon nests have been recorded in the whole of Bowland; both of these territories are located on estates owned by United Utilities.  In the last two seasons, all fourteen Peregrine territories that previously existed on privately owned estates remain FORCIBLY vacant, with at least five of these sites having been completely destroyed to prevent their future reoccupation by peregrines; these shameful details of course are being kept very quiet.

On Saturday 21 April in the 10 hours members of the North West Raptor Group spent walking the more remote extremities of Bowland’s heather uplands, we felt frustrated as not a single Peregrine or Hen Harrier was observed or heard throughout the whole day. Earlier that morning we learned from a small group of bird watchers we had met that they had been more successful a few day previously, observing three Hen Harrier at a well known breeding territory; these birds had not settled moving on later in the day.

We are aware that one of two pairs of  this season’s breeding Eagle Owls may have been disturbed resulting in the nest containing eggs being abandoned.  It appears two unidentified men had been seen walking very close to one of the two nesting sites very early in the morning. Last year when an Eagle Owl nest in the same general area containing two eggs had been disturbed, the breeding pair relocated raising two chicks at a new nesting location.

We are pleased to report that not all of our Saturday adventure was uneventful or uninteresting, we did surprise one male adder basking in the hot sunshine as we were just about to sit down to take our lunch on a heather bank. Later that afternoon we felt privileged to encounter two occupied Merlin territories we had previously not known about; thankfully the Merlin is rarely persecuted because it predates mainly on small birds and leaves the grouse alone.

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Raven nest in tree containing five well developed chicks. Rare sight in Bowland these days.

The highlight of our days adventure was the unexpected location of a  tree nesting Raven; the nest contained 5 well developed chicks.  We were quickly able to establish this pair of Raven were feeding their brood on the remains of a dead sheep which had clearly succumbed to the heavy snowfall which had covered this area with at least a half metre of snow just a few weeks previously. The Raven which is regarded as a very intelligent and resilient bird, often laying eggs as early as February. This fortunate pair, against all the odds, had somehow incubated their five eggs managing to hatch them all under the harshest weather conditions nature had to offer. This may be the only reason why this particular pair had so far not been destroyed, along with their nest. Gamekeepers in the Bowland area are known for destroying Raven nest they come across, along with the nests content simply because they predate red grouse.

As the Raven remains a protected species in England, it will now be interesting to find if this pair survive to fledge their young successfully, watch this space because their nest is located in the middle of a grouse moor.

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