English Hen Harrier- A Critical Moment, What Should Happen Next?

[singlepic id=240 w=250 h=152 float=left]The iconic bird of prey the hen harrier continues to teeter on the brink of extinction in the uplands of England the result of decades of persecution associated with the management of driven grouse moors. In 2008 Natural England published a report entitled “A Future for the Hen Harrier in England”. The report outlines the results of hen harrier monitoring since 2002.It made stark reading showing that the critically low breeding numbers and patchy distribution of the hen harrier in England is a result of persecution – both in the breeding season and at communal roosts in the winter – especially on areas managed for red grouse or with game rearing interests. The recent Scottish Natural Heritage report featured only last week in Raptor Politics reinforces the dire plight of hen harriers and other birds of prey in Britain.  Today hen harriers are conspicuous because of their total absence throughout 99% of northern England’s uplands used for red grouse shooting. One would expect in the absence of human interference a 13% increase year on year in the hen harrier population. Research indicates there is sufficient suitable heather habitat to support over 220 breeding pairs of harriers on England’s uplands.

The English core population of just 6 pairs is being restricted to one moorland estate in Lancashire’s Forest of Bowland. One single successful breeding pair of harriers has been established in Cumbria’s Lake District National Park for several years. In the Forest of Bowland this year 5 successful pairs were located on property owned by United Utilities Plc and one additional pair on an adjoining shooting estate. Research has shown that a large proportion of fledged nestlings range across many regions of north eastern England after fledging, but then disappear into a black hole.

It is apparent that without the continued support over the last two decades provided by United Utilities to conserve the hen harrier upon their Bowland estates, it is likely that the hen harrier would be extinct in England.[singlepic id=241 w=250 h=152 float=right]

This year hen harriers made 12 breeding attempts in England, roughly the same number as recorded during 2009. The good news is that 23 fledged young were produced this season compared to only 15 last year. It is disappointing that although tagged Bowland harriers disperse across moorland regions in the northern Pennines, Durham and Northumberland, the surplus birds do not re-colonise these huge upland regions due to persecution.

Breeding Statistics Hen Harrier England 2010

Of the 10 breeding attempts recorded this season on the United Utilities estate, only 50% of nests were successful producing 13 fledged young. From the 6 eggs laid this year by the single pair on an adjoining shooting estate, 5 fledged young were produced. The seventh nest in Cumbria successfully fledged an additional 5 young this year.

  • The number of eggs recorded throughout England was 61, of which 33 eggs failed to produce any fledged young.
  • The mean average of chicks produced per nesting attempts was 2.3
  • The mean average of chicks per successful nesting attempt was 3.28

 Breeding Statistics United Utilities 2010

[singlepic id=207 w=250 h=152 float=left]The precise figures of the number of eggs hatched compared to the numbers of fledged young produced from active nests on the United Utilities estate has been difficult to quantify. Raptor Politics has been advised of 10 breeding attempts  on the UU estate this season, of which 5 were successful fledging 13 young. Curiously no mention so far has been made available of one nest which failed containing young. Two of the remaining four unsuccessful harrier nests on the UU estate containing eggs were monitored by CCTV which had been installed above each nest at the egg stage to monitor nesting behaviour at each site. As we all now know one of the nests being monitored by CCTV captured the lower half of an eagle owl standing in the nest above four eggs.

Failure of Hen Harrier nest being Photographed.

After plans to photograph one harrier nest on the UU estate were first reported, Raptor Politics received many enquiries wanting to know the outcome, was the nest successful or not? After many weeks of uncertainty we are now able to confirm the nest being photographed under a licence issued by Natural England was unsuccessful, although the statistics supplied to Raptor Politics make no reference to this failure.

Many contributors to Raptor Politics questioned the ethics of the decision taken by Natural England to issue a photography licence in this instance. Bearing in mind the risks involved together with the endangered status of hen harriers in England these considerations turned out to have been well founded. It is significant two RSPB hen harrier experts who each voiced their concerns and opposition to the proposed licensed photography of such a threatened species were surprisingly over ruled. It seems lessons have not been learned following last years fiasco when the eagle owl eggs were marked against expert advice.

Reviewing data for breeding hen harriers on the UU estate this season there appears to be no account made of any failed nest which had at some stage contained unfledged young (the site being photographed). Shortly after the harrier nest being photographed had failed in June it was examined by two members of the local raptor group following the hide’s removal.They found indications that at least two eggs appeared to have hatched. Information supplied to Raptor Politics by an ornithologist watching the hide through binoculars on the 6thJune states he had been informed by one of the two photographers servicing the hide that the nest being photographed had contained young. Why has this not been reported?[singlepic id=212 w=250 h=152 float=right]

What Does the Future Hold?

Throughout the last 9 years, English Nature/Natural England have operated a hen harrier recovery programme in an attempt to boost numbers of breeding harriers on all regions of northern England’s uplands while at the same time ensuring the small number of remaining nesting pairs are adequately protected. This important initiative has failed to effectively tackle the issues of persecution or to deliver any improvement to the status of hen harriers in England. Breeding pairs have remained at or just below the status quo which existed more than a decade ago.  It could be argued that the current position is worse now than it has ever been.

The loss of harriers in recent years from the RSPB’s Geltsdales reserve in the North Pennines despite considerable expenditure in terms of nest protection and habitat enhancements is a testament to the ruthless tactics successfully employed by certain sectors of the shooting community to exterminate this species.

The present economic climate could be an opportunity to evaluate the use to which our uplands are put. At present in large tracts of our uplands, land management is solely for the benefit of one species the red grouse. Burning takes place to optimise the habitat for grouse, which in the Peak District has had an adverse effect on water quality which has to be rectified at considerable cost to the water companies and their consumers, which of course is reflected in water rates. Public money is paid to land owners in the form of grants which helps the driven grouse industry, which appears to rely on illegal persecution to remain in business. Is this a good use of public funds?

RSPB – Licensing Scheme Proposals for Grouse Moors

[singlepic id=239 w=250 h=152 float=left]The use of the uplands for intensive commercial shooting is yet to be challenged. At present the RSPB supported by all raptor groups in northern England have put forward to government the idea of a licensing scheme for grouse-moors, such that when an infringement of wildlife legislation is proven, the estate owners lose the right to operate the moor as a commercial concern, the licence is withdrawn and shooting is banned for a given period, alternatively making the landowner vicariously liable for the actions of his employees is another. The current position of government placing its head in the sand and doing nothing is unacceptable; this issue has to be tackled and the rule of law upheld, as  there is now a  real danger that during the next decade the harrier as a breeding species may become extinct in England.

The idea that a small group of wealthy and influential individuals should by either turning a blind eye to, or actively encouraging what is an institutionalised flouting of the law, by their employees or agents, is unacceptable in the 21st century.

For additional detail about Hen Harriers in the UK follow this link to Markus Jais’s interview with Brian Etheridge

Related Article….http://raptorpolitics.org.uk/?p=1301

72 comments to English Hen Harrier- A Critical Moment, What Should Happen Next?

  • James

    Sorry, the harriers failed at the RSPB reserve at Geltsdale and it’s due to shooting interests? Please explain.

    Your post trots out the same tired old stereotypes, and the same tired old hatred of ‘wealthy and influential’ landlords – yet how much of our heather moorland is actually run as ‘intensive commercial shoots’?

    This proposed licensing scheme totally misses the mark – it will not make one jot of difference, and will simply alienate shoots still further.

    And why no mention of the GWCT and the Langholm Project, which is exploring one way forward?

    Do you really want to make progress here, or is the tubthumping an end in itself?

    I write as an enthusiastic (walked-up) grouse shooter who loves to see harriers on ‘my’ patch.

  • Mike Price

    Hi James,
    I am sorry you feel that people on this site keep going on about raptor persecution and how this is directly linked to the shooting interests in the UK, though I should add that no-one forces you to read it and the title of the site gives some indication as its purpose and the subjects that are likely to be covered.

    Many people are starting to feel immense frustration at seeing these wonderful creatures slaughtered indiscriminately and continually, particularly it appears where shooting game birds comes into conflict with the natural predators which are apparently protected by the laws of this land (although you would hardly know it).

    Now we are told that these individuals are in the minority but it appears to me at least that they are widespread!
    Reports show that less than 1% of hen harriers are breeding successfully, further more the chances of a hen harrier breeding successfully on a grouse moor are quoted around about 20% where as on a moor not managed for shooting the success rate is over 60%. It is well known that the moors could support many more hen harriers if the birds were given a chance I believe in 2008 the reported figure was around about 500 pairs vs the 5 breeding pairs that were recorded that season.

    There have been many reports over the last few years that all point to the fact that these moors offer undefended territories and are a magnet for prospecting birds trying to set up their own territories, as such the cycle never ends. The birds never get chance to disperse any farther afield due to their mysterious disappearances.

    It is perhaps unfortunate that the very habitat that is maintained on these moors is the perfect habitat for the Hen Harrier but I am sure you will agree that given the facts these birds should be able to expand both their numbers and their range.

    If you were to play devil’s advocate you could question the RSPB’s bird crime report, you could question report published by Natural England in 2008 “A Future for the Hen Harrier in England”?

    But how could you justify the never ending reports of gamekeepers being charged with poisoning birds of prey, reports of adult birds found shot, or evidence of illegal trapping of birds of prey on shooting estates (remember most of the general public have no access to firearms and would be very quickly reported if they were wandering around our countryside with them).

    In answer to one or two of your other points the Langholm project is covered here http://raptorpolitics.org.uk/?p=2428
    And I feel progress is starting to be made particularly in Scotland where the government will hopefully make the landowners responsible for the actions of their employees and who knows maybe even the introduction of licences that can be removed on estates where the law is broken (finally something that will get the attention of the landowners rather than a paultry fine that makes not one bit of difference to their life or lifestyle.

  • James

    Hi Mike, and thanks for a civil response. I feel immense frustration too. I’m a huge fan of harriers and other birds of prey, although with my background I suppose I take a more pragmatic, species-based rather than individual-based view.
    It depresses me to hear ‘shooting interests’ blamed all the time, as if they’re the only problem (they’re not) and all shooters kill birds of prey (they don’t).
    That kind of talk just incites hatred and alienates all shooters – and with all the legislation/enforcement in the world, believe me you’re going to need shooters’ and keepers’ help to build up harrier numbers.
    This latest legislation will make no difference, it’s driven by spite and cannot be enforced. There are a very limited number of big driven grouse estates, where it’s all about the money, not the shooting.
    Forget them – you won’t win. Concentrate on the multitude of smaller estates where grouse are just a small part of the whole, and work with them – yes even though they shoot they are your friends.
    I speak to these sort of people day in day out. They are appalled at stories of BoP killings, and would willingly help stop them.
    After years of being demonised, there’s a lot of work to do rebuilding trust, but this is the only hope.
    I just hope we can make some progress before the re-wilding movement gains too much ground and all that lovely heather moorland is smothered with scrub and forest!

  • Mike Price

    Once again James I am afraid I will have to disagree (at least on a localised basis), the shooting interests in this area (the dark peak in the peak district) could hardly do more to drive Birds of Prey out of the area even birds that would not normally be considered a threat to game birds are targeted (Merlin and short eared owls).
    We know that there are some good keepers in fact one in the area is an excellent representative of this industry, but around here he is the minority.
    I believe in some cases these actions are either driven by spite or to try to take the prying eyes away (if there is nothing to watch, there will be no-one watching).
    It’s so easy at the moment for these crimes to go undetected and the sentences wouldn’t even qualify as a slap on the wrists.
    There are no hen harriers locally and the last 2 pairs to try to breed over here were both subject to very mysterious circumstances.
    One failed when, after a period of display, nest building and mating, the female bird was not seen again. A second female then paired with the male – but sightings of the second female also ended abruptly.
    The RSPB have set up a nest watch program in the Derwent Valley since the previously stable Goshawk population has gone into serious decline. Unfortunately an early success after the project was launched was short-lived, and mysterious nest failures, disappearances of adult birds and evidence of human interference continue to occur every year.
    As I said earlier these crimes are hard enough to detect so you start to wonder how many go undetected, when they are detected often there only circumstantial evidence that cannot be reported but makes it hard to deny the link to the gamekeepers.
    I believe personally that shooting estates were given plenty of opportunity to put an end to their illegal activities and have failed in their duty so something must be done to ensure that these birds are given much better protection, I can’t think of any other industry where the actions of an employee would not see the employer holding some responsibility.

  • I was excited when I read the post title, I thought perhaps that you would be offering some new ideas for breaking out of the current circular arguments we seem to have sunken into regarding the Hen Harrier. I’m disappointed as you haven’t really broken any new ground here.
    It may be an over simplification of the problem but until we make the Hen Harrier more valuable in terms of profit to the landowners we will be continue to have illegal and deplorable persecution. If we are paying grants to landowners for ‘stewardship’ then ensuring a healthy balanced population including Hen Harriers should be a pre-requisite. If a breeding pair of HH take £x worth of grouse in the six weeks or so they are feeding chicks then surely if we ensure the grants pay £x+1 when said chicks are demonstrated to have fledged fledge the men counting their cash will begin to recognise the benefit of having the HH breeding on their moors.

  • Mike Price

    Hi Alan,
    These things do tend to become circular don’t they?
    My personal belief is that the attitude towards the birds (ie considered vermin) will be difficult to overcome, as I understand and I am open to being corrected on this many shoot organisers find the prospect of a harrier flying over during a shoot totally deplorable, the birds go to ground?
    An example here was a group of 10 Americans flown in to shoot on a local moor paying £30,000 for the privelege, how would they react to the shoot being “spoilt”
    I imagine as in most area’s there are people at opposite ends of the spectrum on both sides of the arguement, the trouble being that the scales presently tip heavily on the side of the persecution, the unfortunate birds of prey should not (in my opinion) need to carry a price tag to ensure their survival, until attitudes changes there can be no progress and I believe that a carrot is not the way forward, I cannot see any weight in paying people not to break the law surely that type of incentive is totally destructive to our justice system

  • thomas carroll

    If james thinks he is going to pull the wool over my eyes he is sadly mistaken,any living creature that reduces grouse bags is classed as vermin, FULL STOP.JAMES oh sit down you have been rumbled.

  • nirofo

    In reply to James I would like to ask him who he thinks is responsible for the wanton persecution of our Raptors if it isn’t the shooters and gamekeepers. I’m sure the general public are not responsible, most of them don’t have the interest or the weapons to do the dirty deed. I don’t think the odd poacher would make a difference even if he did shoot the odd bird and I can’t think of anyone else other than estate owners/managers who would even be bothered. So, who is it then???

    With regard to the photographer being granted a licence to photograph Hen Harrier at the nest, what the hell are Natural England thinking about, this is a bird breeding in a very sensitive area where it is in full gaze of the countries leading ornithologists and with much media coverage, what’s more it is supposedly being protected (sic) by the RSPB. The Hen Harrier is probably one of the easier birds of prey to photograph at the nest, which makes the final outcome of this one rather suspicious. The photographer must have been either extremely amateur in his approach, (which is self defeating if you want photographs), or more likely the hide and nest were approached too often by other parties who should not have been there. Either way it’s obvious that there was too much disturbance wherever it came from.

    It makes me laugh when Natural England and the RSPB publish data showing that Raptor persecution is at an all time high and point the finger at shooting estates, gamekeepers etc, whilst at the same time doing nothing to ensure our wildlife laws are upheld even when they know who the criminals are. What’s the point of running Hen Harrier recovery programs, Red Kite and Sea Eagle release projects if the birds are being shot and poisoned as fast as they show their beaks.

    The Goshawk watch program in the Derwent Valley was first started in 1971 when a 24 hour watch was kept on one nest until it fledged young, I was involved with that one and several subsequent ones myself. The birds were heavily persecuted then, we had 21 occupied nests in one year in the early 1970’s, 19 of them were either robbed, deserted, shot off etc, nothing changes, they’re still at it.


  • John Miles

    If James does have any information on the ‘good’ Red Grouse moors then I feel they should be named. Any one wanting to shoot Red Grouse and loves Birds of Prey should be aimed towards these Red Grouse moors not the ‘commercial shoot any thing’ moors. I think James should be asked to write an article for this blog.

  • James

    Well with comments like Thomas Carroll’s I can see there’s a lot of work to do.

    Few of the commenters seem to know any gamekeepers or shooters, they have simply taken on board the stereotype. There’s a lot of dark mutterings and wild assumptions here. Shoots are automatically blamed for everything, even though I see acknowledgement of problems with over-enthusiastic photographers, egg collectors, etc.

    Nice to see Alan Tilmouth here, with an interesting suggestion. Mike hits the spot with his comment about Americans paying £30k for a day’s shooting – it’s hard to compete with that. It’s not so very different from a developer making a fortune putting up a shopping mall and concreting over the wildlife, or a farmer creating an arable prairie to make big profits. It’s not about some personal hatred of ‘vermin’ (a word I hardly ever hear nowadays); it’s all about the money – and the big money is in the value of the moor as an asset, which is a simple calculation from the grouse bags it’s been producing recently. Thinking outside the box, if someone could come up with a harrier-deterring-device to keep them off specific areas, that would solve the problem overnight.

    Mike, from conversations I’ve had with people in your area, anyone involved in shooting around there is sick and tired of bolshie do-gooders tramping all over the place, often blissfully unaware of the damage they’re doing, and usually quietly hoping they’re somehow messing up the shooting. A different perspective on your ‘prying eyes’ comment perhaps, but in their shoes, I’d lie awake wondering how to keep those people away. Even so, I’ve heard comments like “it’s not like we go after the birds of prey anyway, I like to see them around the place”.

    Yes, I know the cynics will sneer, but perhaps those with more open minds will see that, like any group of individuals, gamekeepers and shooters cover the whole spectrum – good and bad and everything in-between, and mostly concerned with just getting from one day to the next like the rest of us.

    Many shoots (the big money grouse moors are a tiny fraction of shooting in the UK) already work closely with local wildlife groups, RSPB, etc, etc and are a haven for wildlife, so it’s important to keep things in perspective.


  • Mike Price

    Whilst I can see the point your trying to make about bolshie do gooders, they would argue that the lack of many native raptors coupled with the history of raptors turning up shot or poisoned in the area is reason enough for them to be trampling around all over the place, protecting what’s left of the local populations, the comment that they like to see birds of prey holds no water for me as there are instances of gamekeepers being prosecuted for bird of prey persecution in the area.
    Also I cannot agree with your comparison with the developer building in wildlife rich area, in that case any protected wildlife would have to be relocated not destroyed.
    The problem is not going to solve itself and as we know the loss of game birds to raptors is an unacceptable loss to some estates.
    I am not sure how we could ensure that harriers for example do not visit the very habitat that they thrive in, or that it should be a viable answer to have raptor no go areas.
    I genuinely feel that there has to be an attitude change towards these birds, leaving it to the landowners/gamekeepers/shooting estates clearly hasn’t worked in much of our upland so there needs to be some intervention.
    The fact that these birds of prey could become extinct in this country due to something that can and should be controlled is in my opinion appalling.

  • Mal Taylor

    “Yes, I know the cynics will sneer, but perhaps those with more open minds will see that, like any group of individuals, gamekeepers and shooters cover the whole spectrum – good and bad and everything in-between,”


    May I suggest that majority of gamekeepers, and especially in the east of Scotland fall into the bad end of your spectrum. The pathetic breeding statistics for both Golden Eagle and Hen Harrier confirm it.


  • Hi Mike,

    Whilst I wholeheartedly agree that there should not be a need for Hen Harriers to carry a price tag unfortunately for the people who are ordering and carrying out the persecution they do in terms of reduced profit. I want to be clear I am not in any way condoning this but we are where we are and the justice system as well as all the publicity are making little difference.
    If our money as taxpayers is already being paid to landowners it should not be beyond government to adjust the schemes so that a lower amount is paid to moors without Hen Harrier and a greater amount to ones where Hen Harriers are verified as breeding. The efforts currently going into nest protection could then be used to independently verify successful breeding.
    As for grouse going to ground after a HH flyover, isn’t that what they pay beaters for on these shoots?

  • Coop

    I have to agree Mal. Personally, I’m getting rather tired of the same mealy-mouthed excuses that it’s “a minority” who commit these crimes. In 35 years of birding, and as a former countryside ranger, I’m yet to come across either a keeper or a shooter who didn’t view raptors as “vermin”; usually using the old “songbirds” chestnut as an excuse for their pig ignorant views.

  • John Miles

    James has yet to respond. Name the good estates if you can.

  • Mike Groves

    First of all I’d like to say I agree with several of the points made by James.
    We have to stop labelling all estates as raptor killers and try and work more progressively with the good guys.
    I am fortunate in working with several law abiding estates in the East of Scotland monitoring Merlin, Short-eared Owl and a wealth of other raptors. I am welcomed onto these estates and keepers are keen to pass on raptor sightings, etc. This in my mind is healthy, progressive and surely deserves respect and recognition.
    In a nutshell I personally see the only way forward with this whole harrier/grouse mess is for both sides to open up corridors of constructive communication, be honest and lastly add in a little common sense.
    Let’s get harriers back breeding on managed grouse moors where they rightly belong.
    I pray we don’t have to wait another 7 years for Langholm 2 to play out before decisions are made?

  • James

    Thanks Mike G – nice to hear of some real progress being made. I specially like your comment: “the only way forward with this whole harrier/grouse mess is for both sides to open up corridors of constructive communication, be honest and lastly add in a little common sense.” Amen to that!


    • Skydancer

      It’s interesting to hear from the other side of the fence for once. I am sure everyone reading your comments James have realised you are one member of the shooting fraternity who is prepared to stand up and condemn what has been going on for so long. Of course I realise also there will be many others who share not only your passion for shooting but also your refreshing points of view. Perhaps with people like you James there may after all be some light at the end of the tunnel after all.

      You say and I would not disagree “The only way forward with this whole harrier/grouse mess is for both sides to open up corridors of constructive communication.” You must however be aware the Environment Agency has been hosting talks between all parties on both sides of the hen harrier divide for many years, unfortunately from what I am being told these talks are getting no where.

      The problem James is that hen harriers are a protected species and it would be quite wrong to provide shooting estates with concessions to control harrier numbers. Can you imagine the outrage in any other industry if illegal practices were approved by any government just to improve productivity?

      The logical way forward must be to place the emphasis on stabilising the population on England’s uplands first before even considering any methods of control? In my opinion and I am not an expert by any means, if we are ever going to see any progress the first move must come from the shooting fraternity to demonstrate good will. The most appropriate way to demonstrate this would be for all illegal activity to stop. After this major hurdle has been over come I believe we can then make progress, especially if younger individuals with fresh ideas from the shooting side became involved.

  • DEAN

    I agree with much of what James,Skydancer,and Mike have said.However I think more progress would be made on HH if a committment to end persecution was met at the same time with an acceptance that measures of non lethal control would be tolerated once the population had reached an agreed level rather than a suggestion that it might be considered later on.

    I have no doubt that what some keepers refer to as control effectively means extermination, but it is equally clear that some from the conservation side refuse point blank to countenance any imposed limits to the density of raptor populations in a given area. Some who argue thus do so from the heart, and that is perhaps not surprising given the persecution many must have witnessed. Far too often however we read comments which clearly stem from an anti blood sport, bash the rich perspective,views, which I would argue have no relevance on this site and which will do nothing to solve the plight of the Harriers.

    Thanks to all for a really interesting site it’s great to be able to pick up so much info on raptors in 1 place!

    • Skydancer

      Hi Dean,

      I have to say the way things are NOT progressing I consider your proposal as very do-able and reasonable. If we continue to carry on the debate without compromises of any kind, then we will get no where at all. I think your suggestion should be at least considered as one possible solution. However for the reasons I have already stated, the first move to stabilise the population must be a goal both sides must agree to achieve first. At the same time all parties could then agree to some kind of non lethal limit on harrier numbers linked to the availability of prey on a specific area of moorland once numbers of harriers have stabilised in that particular area.

  • Coop


    As these crimes are committed by bloodsports enthusiasts, I maintain that comments from those who, such as myself, are opposed to such activities have every relevance to this site.

    Individuals of various native species, all important components of our natural ecosystems, are trapped, shot, poisoned and abused in their millions each year simply to maintain populations of quarry (in several cases, introduced) species at naturally unsustainable levels. Not only is this, in my opinion (which I’m as equally entitled to voice as you are), immoral, it is also environmentally unsound. I comment not from any sentimental viewpoint, but from that of someone who has studied, and been lucky enough to work for a time, in the conservation of, UK wildlife since childhood.

    As for “bashing the rich”: I don’t give a toss whether these criminals are billionaires, or don’t have two brass farthings to rub together. A scumbag is a scumbag in my book. However, as the owners of these open air grouse factories are, indeed, extremely wealthy individuals, it cannot be denied that they hold a disproportionate amount of influence in “high places”. To suggest otherwise is naive in the extreme.

    So, the issue at hand is really quite simple: Do these people have the right to damage our natural heritage in such fashion, simply to provide “entertainment” for those with nothing better to do with their time, and to profit from such pointless activity? or do they not?

  • James

    I can understand the sentiment “the first move must come from the shooting fraternity to demonstrate good will” but that misses the point. There is already plenty of positive action from the “shooting fraternity” (who are not one, cohesive body; it’s a general term to describe diverse people with similar interests). If you wait for “persecution” to stop, you’ll be waiting for ever. It’s like saying you’ll wait until no-one breaks the speed limit (to demonstrate good will) before reviewing traffic laws.

  • Mike Price


    We are back to the circles though now, these conversations have gone on for years.

    I completely disagree with what you say.

    It’s more like saying if everyone sticks to the speed limit we will look at increasing the limit, if a lot of people already do in excess of the current speed limit then increasing it does two things.

    1) It gives the impression that it was ok to break the old speed limit
    2) Those people who will always break the limit by say 10-15% are going to be doing 10-15% over the new increased limit.

    The persecution should stop, its against the law and its the only chance we have of ensuring that the birds do not become extinct in the UK, that seems to me at the present time to be the only way to move the discussions further.

    If these people are as has been shown unwilling to stop then there has to be more regulation to ensure that they don’t go unpunished, and by that I mean something that matters to them not a paultry fine that doesn’t effect them in anyway.

    I am worried that even people whose opinions its seems are not at the far ends of the spectrum, there is an issue in that both of us see the problem in a completely different light.

    To me its crystal clear and black and white there are no grey area’s, to you there are grey area’s that you wish to exploit to blur the picture.

    How can we ever move forwards if the people committing the crimes are unwilling or unable (tied houses, income, vehicle etc)to stop breaking the law?

  • Mike Price

    Infact I can sum it up simply,

    Instead of worrying about what people say of you, why not spend time trying to accomplish something they will admire

  • Mike Groves

    I’d like to shed some light and open up discussion on why harrier numbers have crashed on managed grouse moors throughout the UK and ask why has there been a change of heart?

    Would anyone agree with me that the original Langholm Study(1992-97) hasn’t helped the plight of the hen harrier on grouse/heather moors?

    Up until the release of this report harriers were increasing especially in Scotland (see Sim et al 2007).
    After the release of this report harrier numbers between survey years 1998 and 2004 in England fell from 28 pairs to 11 and have remained around or below this level ever since. In Scotland we’ve had a catastrophic decline.

    My personal feeling is that this report hammered another nail into the harriers coffin by creating the “fear factor”. The rest is history.

    Langholm moor lay desolate for almost 10 years and raging debate over the findings of this report has continued ever since. Now with the injection of £3.5 million we are in the throws of Langholm 2 and hopefully the return of a grouse moor. We have a totally unnatural solution for allowing the harrier back onto this moor – Diversionary feeding!!!!

    Could I ask another question. Is this a long term solution to the harrier/grouse conflict?
    I know that we can’t go back in time but wouldn’t it be very interesting to see the state of harriers on grouse moors today if the original Langholm Study hadn’t been conceived.

  • bowland birder

    Finally the outcome has been published (RE HEN HARRIER) breeding results where the photographic hide was. I was one of the ornithologists who was told by one of the two photographers that the harrier nest was on young and I have just read that the nest resulted in failure. Over disturbance? WHY WAS A PHOTOGRAPHIC LICENCE ISSUED when the birds in question are in a serious state? Why did the photographers apply for a licence knowing the birds are in low numbers when they already have ample images of these birds plus other raptors in Bowland? Sounds to me that the nest failure resulted from disturbance?

  • DEAN

    Mike Price with respect,
    There can be no question as who holds the moral high ground on this issue.There is however a very valid question as to how you use it to secure the future of hen harriers on our moors.

    On the one hand you can continue with a stance of we’re in the right so we’re not budging. No denying the truth that you are in the right, no denying that position has done nothing to help the harriers.

    You can call for more draconian penalties, well good luck with that one. Do you have the time ,(in England),to wait for it and what makes you assume it will be implemented any more successfully than existing law?

    Or,on the other hand you could just try taking a deep breath and seek to find common ground with the shooting fraternity.
    I was going to conclude by asking you what you’ve got to lose by doing that. Perhaps a more relevant question would be, what have the harriers got to lose?

  • Mike Price

    The truth of the matter is the only thing to lose are these and other wonderful birds of prey.
    The talk about common ground as I understand it has gone on for years to no avail, with both sides entrenched in their beliefs.
    I am not convinced that in order to tackle crime the starting point should be giving consession to some criminal element.
    I would find it very hard to accept the concept, thats not to say it couldn’t work, just that I and I guess many others would find it a very strange concept isn’t it just coercion?

    Knowing little more than what I can read on the internet and a very short experience of the situation in my local area I appreciate that my input can only be limited and lacks the full picture (on either side), what I do know is that its a very complex and long standing problem that needs a solution agreeing and implementing as soon as possible, smarter and better informed people than me have been unable put and end to the persecution so that leaves us where?

    Please bear in mind I am not a long time birder/raptor worker etc I just have an interest in wildlife locally that has lead me to wonder whats going wrong, simplistically I can’t understand why I am expected to conform to the laws of the land yet these indivuals are not, and as such, in my opinion they should be regulated in such a way to ensure that they are not operating outside of those laws.

  • DEAN

    Hi Mike,
    Like yourself,I don’t know why agreement can’t be reached.I simply wished to make the point that the reason for failure must not be down to a refusal to abandon the high moral ground by insisting the other side give way first.
    At the end of the day the estates have time on their side,the longer this drags on the more harrier numbers decline
    Do I find it galling that the law is flouted?Of course I do,but would I be prepared to put that aside if it meant reaching an agreement which allowed for a significant rise in the numbers of harriers on our moors,yes absolutely.
    @admin lose and loose,I know ,I know, sorry!

  • paul williams

    So,the persecution of Hen Harriers is now equivocal to breaking the speed limit! Also,as James states..If you wait for persecution to stop YOU WILL BE WAITING FOREVER. Is this not an open admission that Hen Harrier persecution is being undertaken by the shooting fraternity?

  • James

    Mike (Price), if you were to denounce an ethnic or religious group in the way you do gamekeepers, you would be locked up, and quite right too. Since you’ve picked keepers as the target of your hate, you can get away with it. That does not make it right, and it is certainly not conducive to progress.

    Of course it’s black and white – the law’s the law, it shouldn’t be broken, people who are properly proven to have broken it should be punished. It’s disingenuous to suggest that I’m trying to blur the picture and excuse illegal behaviour.

    Where we disagree is that you seem unable to make the distinction between ‘gamekeeper’ and ‘criminal’.

    People who kill birds of prey are criminals and should be brought to justice. If they happen to be gamekeepers, that is deplorable and brings shame on their profession; it does not make all gamekeepers criminals, any more than an egg stealing birder makes all birders criminals.

    Personally I believe that it’s only if and when the bird lobby are willing to make this distinction, that we will see any real progress.

  • Mike Price

    The problem with that though James is gamekeepers keep being prosecuted for crimes against birds of prey, birds of prey keep turning up on shooting estates poisoned or shot, it is no accident that this area is devoid of most raptors and there are plenty of reports out there explaining exactly why it is so,

    Would I trust someone who can’t abide by the law to abide my a new law that might allow this practice more legitimacy?

    Sorry but in my opinion the ball sits firmly in the court of the shooting fraternity.

    @ Paul Williams, no I guess its not equivicable to speeding because you lose your licence if your driving too fast, where as you get a paultry fine and your employer moves you to another shooting estate if you are found guilty of illegal killing of birds of prey.

  • Mike Price

    And its not just gamekeepers, I will condem anyone who is illegally killing our endangered and protected wildlife.

  • Dave

    Mike, how many gamekeepers, or any one else for that matter, in England have been prosecuted succesfully for shooting a hen harrier? How many gamekeepers or any one else, have been prosecuted succesfully in Britain for poisoning a golden eagle or poisoning a red kite or poisoning a white-tailed eagle? The answer I believe is no one. Until there is a conviction we should not condem some one because every one is innocent until found guilty. Until some of the perpitrators of such offences are criminalised the persecution of birds of prey will continue unabated. What ever the perpertrators reasons are for breaking the law, & they must believe they have good ones, they are not going to stop, negotiate, compromise when they know full well that they so easily get away with it. No succesful prosecutions means no deterrent, no deterrent means carry on as normal, which means same blog issues in a decades time.

  • nirofo

    This discussion over whether there should be constructive dialogue with the gamekeepers is all well and good if we were all singing from the same hymn sheet, unfortunately the keepers have got hold of a different copy to everyone else. How can there be meaningfull dialogue with these people while they are still breaking the law at every opportunity, it’s obvious to anyone who has had any experience with these guys that they will tell you one thing whilst doing another, two faced, some of them have many faces.

    I’ve dealt with more keepers than I care to remember, in fact my uncle was head keeper on one of the best grouse moors in Yorkshire when I was a boy, you should see the entries for so-called “vermin” killed in some of the estate log books, it would make your hair curl, I know from experience that there is hardly any of them that will not take out a bird of prey given even the slightest opportunity, for every one good one there’s at least a hundred bad ones! These murdering Raptor persecutors will never stop killing unless they are forced to, the only way it will ever be stopped is by making the punishment severe enough to make them think twice and that means jail sentences, very heavy fines, cancelled firearm certificates, gun confiscation and job losses, oh yes, and the same for their employers including shutting down the shoots for extended periods.


  • Mike Price

    To quote raptor persecution scotland



    And in particular in England in the High peak watch this space in the coming weeks

  • Mike Price

    I don’t have time at the moment but I assure you there are convictions of gamekeepers for crimes against birds of prey and the sentences were pathetic so there is no deterent.

  • DEAN

    As a relative newcomer to this board,I’ve read a great deal lamenting the failure of endless discussions to find a compromise with regard to the harrier problem.What I can’t find are any details as to what specifically this side of the debate has offered put on the table during these talks.Can anyone help with details?

    What evidence do you have that the legal measures you are pinning your hopes on,(and which I wouldn’t oppose), will be enforced anymore effectively than those which are already in place? My suspicion would be that you might well see a decrease in those methods of persecution which are less easy to hide,(poisoning?),but no increase in numbers of raptors as those estates with a mind to simply shoot them. Bang,dead,buried.Crime ,what crime officer?!

  • James

    Sorry, I thought people here might be interested in discussing possible solutions to a problem. I realise now I’ve stumbled on a group of strange beings who feed on hate. Moving on…

  • Coop

    Truth hurts, doesn’t it.

  • Mike Price

    Discussing possible solutions has so far achieved very little, its time that there was some action to ensure that these actions are stopped before its too late.

    2009 the second worst year this decade for reports of persecution of birds of prey.

    The government announced that bird of prey persecution was one of the top wildlife crime priorities, in light of this what will the report look like for 2010?

    In England, since 1990, the five police forces with the highest levels of ‘confirmed’ crimes against birds of prey have been:

    · North Yorkshire with 64 confirmed bird of prey persecution incidents;

    · West Mercia with 61 confirmed bird of prey persecution incidents;

    · Northumbria with 58 confirmed bird of prey persecution incidents;

    · Devon and Cornwall with 57 confirmed bird of prey persecution incidents;

    · Cumbria with 47 confirmed bird of prey persecution incidents

    The conflict with land managed for the shooting of game birds remains the main problem for birds of prey, particularly the upland grouse-shooting estates in northern England and Scotland. (See http://www.rspb.org.uk/news/details.aspx?id=tcm:9-260575 )

    In my opinion the chance for shooting estates to prove themselves has passed, they failed miserably, time to try something else?

    I’m sorry you think my views are hatred but I can assure you they are not, I know 2 gamekeepers, one I certainly do dislike (he is an underhand and devious individual) the other one seems to be a great chap.

    Every now and again my path crosses with someone who clearly supports the way that shooting estates are run, they usually start by telling us that its a minority that are responsible for the persecution, I put it to you that its a minority of crimes that are ever identified and the practice is far more widespread than any of you admit (it is just very easy to remain undetected).
    The next thing that is usually thrown up is that they HAVE to control the birds in someway to protect their grouse stocks, not only do these two statements contradict each other but they clearly show that the shooting industry considers it acceptable to act outside of the law as a means to an end.

    Thirdly when presented with the facts that are reported in many areas and by the various professional bodies working in these area’s they retreat and start to blame everyone else.

    So thank you for your continual support of your “sport” and please note that until the people involved in the illegal practices against our protected wildlife refrain from these practices you will not find a warming reception from people who believe they should be protected and that the laws of the land should be upheld.

  • James

    Er, I believe they should be protected, and that the laws of the land should be upheld. But everyone’s shouting so loud they can’t (or don’t want to) hear.

    • Skydancer

      Hi James, I for one am very sorry that you feel unable to submit any further comments into this ongoing important debate. In all walks of life you should appreciate views on contentious issues, particularly one so polarised as hen harrier persecution, will result in extreme opinions from both ends of the spectrum. I totally disagree with you that the views presented on the RP site are filled with hatred towards the shooting fraternity; this is simply just not true. I think I represent the average ornithologist and my feelings are ones of disappointment and frustration, but certainly not hate towards your sport or any of your colleagues.

      There will always be the odd fool who will let his or her emotions get the better of logic, on both sides of the current divide I must add. In the Simon Barnes article in the Saturday Times an example of hate was clearly demonstrated by a shooter who having approached an RSPB member wearing a T-shirt featuring the RSPB logo, the man then raised his shot-gun at the T-shirt saying “this is what I would like to do to the RSPB.” I would like to think that on this point we would both agree, this was shear hate. What about the hatred demonstrated by many gamekeepers towards raptors which predate on their game birds?

      James, if a sensible person with accommodating views like yourself is not convinced that the killing of harriers must, or can not be stopped, and the population stabilised before any compromises to limit their numbers can be reached, then sadly this matter will never be resolved. We can talk about this issue for years, but without some kind of good will from the side responsible for the decline of harriers on our uplands, the only thing that is certain, harriers will become extinct in England while we all sit and argue.

      James, I see that you have already been asked to submit a short article presenting your thoughts and how you think the hen harrier problem should be addressed. As I really think the readers of RP would appreciate this, I now ask you man to man please consider doing this?

  • Mike Groves

    nirofo – You make a sweeping acquisation ”for every one good one there’s at least a hundred bad one’s!”
    What hard fact evidence do you hold supporting this inflammatory statement?
    If as you stated <1% of gamekeepers were law abiding then I take it that you have very few raptors on shooting estates in England?
    Sounds like you guys are back living in Victorian times!!!!!

    Would it be possible to get back on track constructively discussing the harrier/grouse mess. Shouldn't Conflict Resolution be our main goal.

  • James

    Skydancer, thanks for a balanced and reasonable response. I haven’t read the Barnes article (I’m not a huge fan of his writing, and that’s an understatement) but I can understand the frustration expressed by that shooter – the RSPB consistently claim not to be anti shooting, but scratch the surface and they do everything they can to undermine shooting. That’s no excuse for such rudeness, though I doubt the shooter really pointed his shotgun at the RSPB member or he’d be in jail now.

    I think you misunderstand the gamekeeper’s position. Remember that the vast majority of gamekeepers never go anywhere near a grouse moor. Like a farmer rearing livestock, though, they get het up seeing large numbers of birds killed before their time by foxes, disease, whatever – and sometimes a ‘rogue’ owl or buzzard falls into that category. I’ve lost count of the times a keeper has told me: “…but what can you do?” – ie he’s frustrated but has no intention of doing anything illegal, although he’ll string up cd’s and the like to try and deter the problem raptor.

    If he’s then reviled by the birding community as a bloodthirsty murderer, it must stick in the throat somewhat. When you talk of ‘the hatred demonstrated by many gamekeepers…’ is this your personal experience you speak of, or the feelings promoted on websites such as this one? I wish people would take the trouble to get to know a few gamekeepers before being so vile about them.

    Given the current stalemate over harriers, I’d have thought a ‘compromise’ that involved increasing the number of harriers was a step in the right direction, and that allowing some high-minded principle to stand in the way of that was letting the harriers down somewhat. At this rate, we’ll all still be standing around spitting feathers as the last harrier goes.

    Didn’t I throw my toys out the pram and say I was leaving this conversation? That didn’t last long did it!

  • DEAN

    @Mike Price,
    Many thanks for the link.
    Couldn’t agree more,excellent post.
    Welcome back.

  • Hugh

    OK, the balance of evidence convincingly suggests that the majority of English moorland shooting estates continue to persecute hen harriers. Their absence from this otherwise ideal habitat constitutes to my mind a smoking gun (no pun intended).

    These estates are thus breaking the law, but in a way that has been almost impossible to police. I wonder if an alternative solution might be some version of this:

    All grouse shooting in England is suspended (bear with me!) but licenses are then granted to any estate which can demonstrably point to successful breeding attempts of hen harriers on their moor (perhaps at some minimum density, although even one breeding pair per moor would be a vast improvement on today’s situation). Breeding attempts could be verified by independent RSPB or other similar organisation volunteers. One could even employ web cams. I would expect hen harrier numbers to rocket as not only would persecution cease, but active reintroduction might be sought by some grouse moor managers!

    Of course the increase in hen harriers might have some natural impact on grouse populations, but I would also like to see a move amongst genuinely conservation-minded, responsible UK shooting folk (who we all know exist) away from the artificial, industrial and frankly grotesquely large “bags” of driven shoots towards the more rewarding, sustainable and respectable walked up grouse shooting undertaken everywhere else in the world.

    Anyone who tells you he/she is off to shoot driven grouse and who yet cannot confirm breeding hen harriers on that moor should be shunned in the same way we would shun anyone today heading off for a spot of tiger or gorilla shooting.

  • James

    I don’t claim to have all the answers, but the way forward must involve cooperation. I’ve been fascinated to watch the travels of Glen and Tanar, the harriers tagged at Glen Tanar Estate, on http://www.raptortrack.org – I see that a) this estate stepped up in response to an appeal and worked with the project b) they have been experimenting with diversionary feeding of harriers and c) that driven grouse shooting recommenced on the estate this year after a gap of more than 10 years. Interesting and promising in many ways – and of course those tagged harriers wandering all over Scotland (and now beyond) are a bit like sky marshals; any keeper tempted to blast a harrier out of the sky must wonder if it’ll turn out to be tagged and all hell will descend around his ears. I don’t know if Glen Tamar gets any grant money for this cooperation, but it’s the flip side to demands that grants are withheld from estates that don’t support some notional ‘correct’ population of raptors.

  • Mike Price

    back again,

    I purposely haven’t posted for a day whilst I took stock of my own thoughts on this.

    I have come to a conclusion and of course lots of questions or potential problems.

    The conclusion is that the only way forward with the problem would be trust and honesty, without that the whole project fails before its even started.

    The problems I forsee are what if grouse numbers are low on any estate for other reasons than raptor predation, how will the presence of raptors be treated in that situation.

    How do you decide what is an acceptable density of raptors, and how or who does the monitoring/control of this?

    How do you place some acceptable responsibility on the shooting estates incase of failure on their part? and would this action be acceptable?

    How do you determine what is holding back the growth in population of the raptors, I mean just because an area is ideal (in our opinion)for hen harriers doesn’t mean the birds will take to it.

    There will be some estates that don’t agree with the solution/numbers how will they react if they are forced to toe the line.

    What happens when a bird turns up shot/poisoned on/close to a shooting estate? (the trust and honesty problem)

    Cost – Feeding/monitoring/loses how/who pays?

    I am sure these things are being tackled by the people that are working on the solution but whilst these questions are being worked on, it seems that out in the field some elements are either trying to ensure an agreement can never be made or are trying to ensure that raptor numbers are as low as possible at the start.

  • Wendy

    I have been interested in raptors for many years and have found the many articles and comments posted on the raptor politics web site are a credit to all involved; this includes the dozens of contributors. Until now I have never had enough courage to submit my feelings or views, but I have to tell everyone this is one of the best raptor sites I have found on the internet. The detail and up to date information this site provides is far better then any you can read in any magazine. Most important for once I am able to read the truth and background of stories that perhaps the birding magazines would not wish to touch for fear of upsetting the establishment. Many congratulations on a job well done-keep up the good work. I hope James takes up the offer and is able to submit his views of how the harrier conflict could be addressed; I agree with Skydancer there must now be compromises if any progress is to be made.

  • James

    Hi Mike, I think you’ve put your finger on some of the major hurdles there. I don’t think there’s a lot of mileage in setting theoretical densities and then waving a big stick at those who fail to achieve them – it’ll only get turned back on the RSPB and the like anyway, whose harriers don’t always play according to the rules. Surely it’s better to focus resources on those estates that want to cooperate – like Glen Tanar – and give them every encouragement and assistance. If in time that leads to 100 harriers flying around with gps tags, that can only help discourage ‘persecution’ (I hate that word!) and improve our understanding of the harrier as well as the true nature and extent of the problem.

  • Mike Price

    Hi James,

    I was meaning what is an unacceptable densisty of raptors overall rather an expected theoretical density.

    Presumably there is an ideal density of grouse to be achieved before you plan a shoot, so it would be vital to ascertain exactly how many grouse were lost due to raptor predation, for example I read that the diversionary feeding worked very well with the hen harrier but the grouse count was still much lower than expected (presumed to be due to other predation).
    I’m not sure you can limit it to working with estates that are willing to cooperate.
    I am not aware which estates are raptor friendly, but as the birds disperse or migrate they will most likely enter into conflict areas and the costs to any recovery plan (both in financial terms and in terms of the birds) could ruin everything.

  • DEAN

    Good afternoon,
    @Mike Price,James
    If diversionary feeding proves to be the way forward then I would have thought that many of your concerns would be allayed Mike.There would of course still be issues of organisation,management and cost.

    Perhaps estates requiring diversionary feed could, as a first port of call contact Natural England or it’s equivalent in Scotland and Wales.They could then put the estate in touch with a local raptor group who could liase directly with the estate to oversee the management of the station.

    Who would pay for it all?Well why not look for sponsorship from those who would benefit from the tremendous PR this project would deliver.I would have thought the country sport organisations and businesses would be more than happy to be seen to be supporting the scheme.The food suppliers themselves might well get on board,this will play very well with their falconry/raptor centre customers and finally why not ask for a contribution from the bird watching organisations and commercial interests?

  • Mike Price

    Hi Dean,

    I think the actual feeding itself could also be a major issue, from what I have read I don’t think its completely straight forward and there are the licence issues visiting a schedule 1 nest etc (so volunteers might not be a possibilty) also the nests are usually a fair distance apart so it wouldn’t really be suitable for a gamekeeper to do the feeding at what is probably his busiest time of the year.

    Although diversionary feeding does seem to be a way forwards with Hen Harrier it has the potential cause problems with other predators being attracted to both the hen harrier nests and the grouse.

    Clearly we can’t wait 10 years for the results of the Langholm trials so hopefully they are going to roll it or other ideas out to more areas as time goes on (dependant on there being a viable population of hen harriers), in the meantime the birds need to be given a fighting chance when they disperse/migrate.

    I must say that my confidence in landowners accepting any of this in the peak district is very low.

  • James

    I must look into how the diversionary feeding trials have been going at Langholm, but the key to this is going to be money (and I don’t think the shooting organisations are as rich as you might imagine). Certain moor owners are always going to follow the route that makes them richest, and to hell with the wildlife – in that sense they’re no different to developers or farmers (of which there are also good and bad, and a lot in-between). I can’t see that raptors will ever make a huge difference to the capital value of the land, so such people will have to be ‘persuaded’ to abide by the law. Seeding the raptor population with tracked individuals would be a powerful deterrent to lawbreaking, as it means a real risk of being caught and convicted – something that the current approach doesn’t provide. If that comes about from working with ‘good’ estates, then that’s a double benefit.

  • Mike Price

    All of which leads us back to the fact that the penalties for illegal killing of birds of prey aren’t presently a deterent and the responsibilty lies with the gamekeeper and not the landowner.

    Told you these debates were circular

  • Hugh

    We keep coming back to “cooperation”. Can anyone name just one raptor friendly grouse moor shooting estate? I really hope they can so we can shower them with plaudits! But I am sceptical that they exist. I’d love to be wrong, but they seem to me walking around them to be industrial scale grouse farming monocultures. There is some incidental benefit to species such as the golden plover, but certainly in no sense do they reflect the natural biodiversity of a healthy grouse moor free from predator control. Glen Tanar offers deer stalking but not grouse shooting as far as I can deduce. They also offer birdwatching and “safaris”. Hence their positive attitude towards raptors.

    Until the grouse shooting community can clearly point to specific examples of its members following responsible conservation practice I’m afraid I can only see the stick working over the carrot. Self-policing isn’t working when we have single digit numbers of breeding pairs of hen harriers left in England…

  • DEAN

    Hi Mike,
    If the law prevents volunteers getting involved change it!
    Point taken about attracting in other predators,but others have posted that feeding seems to work so maybe that isn’t such a big problem.
    I suspect some keepers /owners will always be beyond reach,so with them in mind by all means bring in more severe penalties.
    Can it really be that expensive?In the scenario I suggested any labour cost would be negated and whilst rats aren’t cheap, chicks are currently 4 pence each.Technically this is a cost of production that the estates should cover,I was trying to think of ways to arrange funding that didn’t fall on them directly.Perhaps the Countryside Alliance might help. I don’t get the impression that their strapped for cash and they certainly recognise a good PR scheme when they see one!

  • James

    Well I’m trying to be positive and helpful here, but the same old cliches keep coming up.

    Grouse keepering is not the same as pheasant keepering, so the pressures at the critical time of year are different.

    I’m not sure how you’d define the ‘natural biodiversity of a healthy grouse moor’ – a grouse moor is as much a man-made habitat as a commercial forest or an arable field.

    I’m fairly sure that Glen Tanar recommenced grouse shooting this year. In fact, the more I learn about the place the more determined I am to go and see for myself.

    You’re right about their diversity of activities – they seem to be a go-ahead bunch, and probably have a lot of interesting ideas that other estates could consider, ‘safaris’ included. I suspect this diversity is the way forward for a lot of estates, which might or might not include traditional ‘sporting’ activities such as fishing, stalking and shooting.

    It’s not the lack of a stick that’s the problem here – it’s the perceived chance of being caught (roughly zero) and sufficient evidence being produced to secure a conviction. Killing raptors is already 100% illegal, and no keeper would risk job, house etc etc if he thought he’d get caught. Which is why I believe gps tagging the max possible number of harriers would actually make a difference. How many people used to break the speed limit when they thought they’d get away with it? And how many do now? It’s not been made more illegal – simply that applied technology has vastly increased the perceived (and actual) chance of getting caught and fined.

  • Mike Price

    Not sure we will ever agree on this one James so we must agree to disagree, if speeding meant a fine for your employer and no penalty points for either of you, would employers encourage their drivers to go faster when they need they to be somewhere else in a rush?

  • Mike Price

    Employers have to be responsible for their employees actions whilst they are working, otherwise business’s could take massive risks and pin the blame on one employee who they can payoff to take the rap.
    Can you imagine if BP had sacked the guy drilling in the gulf of mexico and said “its his fault go see him”.
    It makes no sense to me that their is no responsibilty on estate owners for the actions of their employees.

  • Mike Price

    @Dean its not just the law, its the potential damage that could be done by inexperienced personel visiting the nest, desertion, making the nest vunerable to predators etc.
    It’s hard to say the effect the feeding would have on other predators until the scheme gets a few years down the line, an abundance of food could support more predators than would naturally occur and that could become an issue later, not just on the HH but other ground nesting birds in the area.

  • James

    Did I say estates shouldn’t be accountable? Of course they should. Just changing that won’t make a jot of difference though. There’s got to be a real chance of being caught, and of it being provable in court. The proper standards of innocence until proved guilty etc must apply here as much as anywhere else, or we have anarchy. Evidence gathering will always be the big challenge – hence my earlier suggestion.

    That’s one side of the coin. The other is working with estates, gamekeeping colleges, gamkekeeping groups, etc, etc. Rather than stamping your feet and saying ‘you’re all horrid’, grasp every chance of a tiny bit of progress in this area. Sure there will be times when you feel shafted, but progress is progress even when it comes in tiny steps. If there was an easy quick fix we’d have this sorted by now.

  • Hugh

    Hi James,

    Fair point – a grouse moor is a man-made habitat. I guess I meant natural moorland (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Moorland#Heather_moorland ) though confess I had given it insufficient thought.

    And I think you may be right about Glen Tanar conducting some grouse shooting so hallelujah, a grouse shooting estate that looks after its raptors! I may go visit them as well.

    I also take Mike’s point about the danger of disturbance associated with monitoring nests so my idea for estates to prove they have breeding harriers may be unworkable.

    I note that this thread started with news that the RSPB are campaigning for “the idea of a licensing scheme for grouse-moors, such that when an infringement of wildlife legislation is proven, the estate owners lose the right to operate the moor as a commercial concern, the licence is withdrawn and shooting is banned for a given period.” This seems like an excellent, workable and noteworthy stick to me. Combined with James’s idea of seeding the hen harrier population with GPS trackers we could have a deterrent that worked, once a few prosecutions had taken place…

  • Mike Price


    Unfortunately the cost of the GPS transmitters and data supply is major hurdle at the moment (over £2000 per transmitter and a year’s download data costs £750 to £1000), added to that there is a need for experienced personel to locate the birds and apply the devices.

    At this point I am going to put an end to my involvement in this conversation as we have clearly reached the point where every arguement is circular, we and more importantly the people who can actually impose change on the currect state of play are fully aware of all the issues that surround the Hen Harrier population in the UK, more over have been aware for a long time and have managed very little in the way of progress.

    This site is here to make more people aware of the plight of the birds of prey in the UK and hopefully add weight to the arguements for something needs to be done about it and quickly before its too late, something I believe it is achieving.

    Further reading of Steve Redpaths proposed ceiling document

    Appendix 1 pages 12-15, outlines 4 groups of solutions as you can see most of the suggestions are deemed unsuitable but more importantly to me 2 years on from that the situation involving raptor/grouse conflicts doesn’t appear to have improved infact some people believe quite the opposite and many reports would suggest these people maybe right.

    Before I bow out I should say I have enjoyed reading your views on the subject and sharing mine with you, (views which probably aren’t that far apart) maybe ultimately more people will join these conversations from both sides and that in itself will be a positve step forwards.

    The more I learn about these issues the more I want to be directly involved.


    Mike Price

  • James

    I confess I thought the RSPB suggestion was disingenuous, designed to wind up shooters (wouldn’t be the first time Avery’s done that!). It seems upside-down to me – a licence to carry on a legal activity, what next, a licence to farm, a licence to look after your own garden? And if the licence is withdrawn, what will the estate do with the land then? Probably not what you’d hope. Sounds like a bureaucrat’s dream, and it’s not as if the whole thing isn’t regulated up to the armpits anyway. And for it to work, it would still require solid evidence to prove an infringement, or the estate’s lawyers could spin it out for ever. No, appealing as it might sound, I don’t think it’s an answer.

  • James

    Hear hear Mike – nice talking with you. Don’t be defeatist about circular arguments, I think there’s the chance of real progress. Those costs sound high but they’d be a drop in the ocean of the RSPB’s marketing budget – time to redeploy some of those funds perhaps.

  • Hugh

    A license to carry on a legal activity?

    How about a driving license? Or a license to practice medicine? Or a shotgun license for that matter?! There’s nothing upside down about this idea and suspending an estate’s legal right to pursue a legal land use as a response to illegal activity seems just and precedented to me. By making such a suspension temporary it lessens the likelihood that estates convert grouse moorland to sheep grazing or other uses. Supply and demand might also mean that law abiding estates that remain in business could even increase their shoot fees.

    I do agree with James that the costs of GPS trackers does not sound astronomical to me. It sounds as if you could get fifty birds tagged and tracked for £150,000. I think finding fifty birds to tag might be more difficult than finding £150,000. The RSPB has over 1 million members so a specific hen harrier campaign asking each member to give 15p would raise the funds.

    Can I find 15p to help save the hen harrier from extinction in England? Yes.

  • Dave

    Hi again Mike
    Until the perpetrators of the crimes I highlighted on the 24th are convicted, & no one ever has, then there is no deterent.

    • Skydancer

      Everyone has been asking why harriers are doing so poorly – well after watching BBC1 tonight we now have part of the answer to that question. I have to ask what were Natural England thinking about this year? First a licence is granted to allow a nest in Bowland to be photographed; at least two of the three eggs hatch and then the young either die or disappear we are told. Tonight’s televised events shown at 7.30 on BBC1 place everything into perspective and in my opinion bring disgrace upon all the so called experts involved. Hen Harries in England are on the verge of total extinction following years of sustained illegal persecution, and yet Natural England think it appropriate to allow an occupied nest containing 6 eggs to be visited twice, once in May and then again in June by a TV camera crew.

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