Clowns brought in to help promote hen harrier’s survival.


Blog Post: Hen Harrier Carnival – Press Release

Tuesday, July 23rd, 2013

The RSPB has teamed up with a North East circus troupe to create a new spectacular outdoor performance inspired by England’s most threatened breeding bird of prey, the hen harrier. Developed by Newcastle-based Circus Central, the Hen Harrier Circus Show uses aerial acrobats, jugglers and unicyclists to tell the fictional story of the last remaining pair of these moorland birds in England and the gamekeeper who, inspired by their graceful flight, comes to their rescue.
Blánaid Denman of the RSPB explains the inspiration behind the project: “Hen harriers are famed for their aerobatic courtship displays and mid-air food passes so circus is the perfect medium to celebrate these amazing birds and draw attention to their decline. Their Latin name is Circus cyaneus so you could say that this is a Circus circus.”    
Helen Averley, Director of Circus Central, says:  “We hope to inform and inspire people to be concerned about the plight of the hen harrier, while at the same time entertain them.” Hannah Thompson, who is directing the show, says:  “It’s wonderful to work on something that is so close to home and to be able to make a difference through art and performance, engaging with people on matters that affect us today.”
It’s a fictional story but one that is close to the bone, as the future of hen harriers in England currently hangs by a thread. It is estimated that the upland heath and blanket bogs of England should have around 320 pairs of nesting hen harriers but last year, there was only one breeding pair in the whole of England and this year is shaping up to be an equally disastrous season for the species.
Blanaid continues: “Unlike buzzards and kestrels, which are familiar, everyday sights to many people, hen harriers exist in remote and often inaccessible locations. Through the Hen Harrier Carnival, we aim to bring the magic of hen harriers and the moorland landscape to people in a celebration of this incredibly unique part of North East wildlife.
We hope these events will inspire people to want to save these beautiful birds while they still can.” Sadly, the species is affected by continuing illegal persecution, normally associated with intensively managed aspects of the grouse shooting industry. A recent Government report concluded that illegal killing and disturbance is the biggest single factor limiting the population of this species in Northern England. Blánaid explains: “We know that there are people in the shooting community who like us, feel that there is no place for these illegal practices in modern gamekeeping. In choosing to make the gamekeeper the hero of the day we want to celebrate those who value birds of prey like hen harriers as a natural part of the moorland.”
The show is the centrepiece of a range of fun, hen harrier-themed family activities at The Alnwick Garden  on Saturday 27 July, and will be performed again at the Greenhead Village Duck Day on Sunday 28 July. It forms part of Skydancer, a four-year RSPB project which aims to work with the shooting community and the wider public to raise awareness and promote the conservation of hen harriers in the English uplands.
The Hen Harrier Show will be performed between 10am and 4pm at The Alnwick Garden on 27 July. The show and activities are free but normal entrance fee to the Garden will apply. The Greenhead Village Duck Day on 28 July starts at 1pm and is free (postcode CA8 7HB). For more information about the Skydancer project, visit

19 comments to Clowns brought in to help promote hen harrier’s survival.

  • skydancer

    Am I mistaken or what? Is it april the 1st?, surely this must be a joke!!!

  • paul williams

    Let us hope they have more success than the clowns.Perhaps they may be able to pull a few of the missing hen harriers out of the Magician’s hat?

  • Daniel Marsden

    Clowns? Circus? The title says it all! Instead of wasting tax payers money on comical jibes why was the money not used in directly helping the expiring population of hen harriers?
    The only funny point to be made is the game keeper as salvation? Now that is what you call a joke!!! Wake up Natural England and RSPB, wake up!

  • John Miles

    May be the game keeper will be able to join the circus after he has lost his job for allowing a Hen Harrier to breed on the Red Grouse moor! Do they not understand the economics of all this yet!! The land owner pulls the strings. If Red Grouse decline it is the keepers fault. The keeper’s Victorian life style leaves him being kicked out of his tied house often with a family to keep and rehouse. Also missing the big ‘tax free’cash given through the shooting season. Are they going to gamble all this for one pair of Hen Harriers?

  • So the Clowns at the RSPB have linked up with the real thing, you couldn’t make it up!

  • Sabden Boggert

    We don’t know whether to laugh or cry? How much money is this costing and does anyone genuinely think this will increase Harrier populations? We know of a couple of prize Clowns in Bowland!! Please tell us that RP will post a video of this prize performance????

    Editor’s Comment. The money for all this clowning around has been provied by the Lottery Grant of over £300,000 given to the RSPB last year to educate people and children about the benefit of the hen harrier, but we have now no hen harriers. It is interesting that the RSPB have paid an estimated £2,000,000 of member’s money to pay for their new Television advert to recruit members. It seems curious they could not find the money to protect hen harriers before they became extinct when it really mattered. Now, because of complacency, the Bowland peregrine is about to follow the hen harrier into extinction. May we suggest the new initiative should also include what happened to the Doddo,the Great Auk and the Elephant bird, three additional that are now extict at the hands of man.

  • bubo bubo

    They should not have wasted lottery money on a circus troupe, they could have used the clowns who are working for the RSPB in Bowland.

  • Ann Cardwell
      Why are the RSPB so determined to portray a gamekeeper as the hero saving the Hen Harrier? The Society already know that in reality this would never happen, so why are they trying to dupe the public into thinking gamekeepers would actually care about saving Hen Harriers. This may after all give the public entirely the wrong impression, that gamekeepers protect hen harriers, what utter rubbish. Several weeks ago on the RSPB Geltsdale Reserve a gamekeeper from an adjoining estate was caught with a rifle trespassing on the reserve where a female hen harrier had been seen. On a second occasion another gamekeeper from another adjoining estate was observed walking along the RSPB reserve boundary holding a shot gun. It has been suggested this keeper was also looking for the same hen harrier. These birds do not stand a cat in hells chance of surviving, and why was the trespassing gamekeeper not charged with armed trespass? It’s about time the RSPB pulled their heads out of the sand and spent some of their money protecting raptors, not providing history lessons.
  • Macaris

    I posted a reply to a previous post, “Touring Skydancer Road Show”, on the RSPB’s Skydancer blog. My post was censored. The reply I got was patronising and did not seriously address the points I had made. Perhaps more knowledgeable members of this forum would fare better if they were also to comment on the page.

    Editor’s Comment. We have already been contacted by a number of individuals with similar concerns. If you would care to add the original post you submitted to the RSPB blog, together with a copy of the exact reply you received we will publish both, Editor.

  • paul williams

    When you, the RSPB, have informed and inspired the public and it’s new members, and they tell you…”We have seen the Hen Harrier Logo around the Forest of Bowland” can we see real Hen Harriers? Are you going to tell them the truth…There are none because they have all been killed by your hero – gamekeepers!

  • nirofo

    Are the clowns employed to act daft by the RSPB or the Circus ???

    I don’t suppose it matters either way when you’re being stupid !!!

    Editor’s Comment. We suppose whey spending other peoples money, you are free to be as daft and stupid as you wish!

  • Really sad that we have stooped to such a low level with regards to such a serious conservation issue.
    If only we’d adopted somekind of common sense approach with this particular raptor after the conclusion of the original Langholm Study surely we won’t be in this awful entrenched mess?

  • Janet

    I am very concerned not only for the loss of all our harriers, but because the RSPB are spending the money they received from the lottery fund in this utter stupid manner. I agree with Ann,if the RSPB had protected hen harriers in the first place instead of consulting with those in the shooting community responsible for what has taken place, there may have been more hen harriers about. May I suggest those involved with this hair brained project join the circus on a full time basis where their talents may be appreciated.

  • Macaris

    Below is my post to the Skydancer blog, followed by the reply. The censored part referred to the (former) wildlife crime officer but did not make any specific allegations.

    20 Jul 2013 2:27 PM

    I wish I could be optimistic about Defra’s Hen Harrier Recovery Group. The sudden disappearance of hen harriers from Bowland followed the removal of monitoring licences from members of the NW Raptor Group who, it seems, were the only people prepared to speak out about what was happening in the area. Natural England has been silent about where most of the tagged birds they were monitoring stopped transmitting. [This comment has been removed as it does not comply with moderator’s standards] In addition, it seems that only 2 peregrine territories in Bowland have nests this year. There really is something rotten in the state of Bowland. I fear that RSPB and United Utilities have been far too trusting of neighbouring estates. After many years of attempting to “engage” with them, surely it is time for a change of approach. The RSPB boasts a million members. Rather than reassuring them “that a way forward is actively being sought”, they need to be mobilised!

    Blánaid Denman Blánaid Denman
    24 Jul 2013 6:01 PM

    Hi Macaris,

    Thanks for your comment and apologies for the delay in getting it online. For future reference, we will not post comments that could be considered libellous, an attack an individual’s character, or as spreading rumour or hearsay.

    It’s entirely understandable that the loss of hen harriers from Bowland has been felt even more keenly than elsewhere – as the logo of the AONB, these birds are a literal symbol of the area and Bowland has always been considered a stronghold when all other areas have failed. The reality is that the decline of hen harriers in Bowland has very closely mirrored that of the English population as a whole and is far from the anomaly that you suggest. The Bowland population had been declining consistently year-on-year before the Raptor Group lost their licences .

    That hen harriers persisted as regular breeders for longer in Bowland than anywhere else is testament to the efforts and partnership working that has gone into their conservation in this area. Their absence is not solely due to factors on the ground in Bowland but is the product of a much larger problem – a dearth of breeding hen harriers in England as a whole.

    A way forward is actively being sought through the Defra Recovery Group, but you are absolutely right – people must be mobilised. We campaigned strongly for people to contribute to the Law Commission Review of wildlife legislation last autumn and RSPB members across the UK received a letter about the plight of the hen harrier in our appeal to support vital investigations work to combat wildlife crime.

    Through Skydancer, we are working hard to engage all levels of the general public as well as the shooting community. It is not enough to simply tell people about it and expect them to act (I wish it were – my job would be a lot easier!) , we have to persuade them to care. That is the whole point of the Skydancer project and if we can everyone else to care as much as you and I, there’ll be no stopping us.

  • kevin moore

    When will the RSPB and Natural England wake up and finally accept what in reality has caused the disappearance of so many Hen Harrier and peregrines on moorland used to shoot red grouse? The shooting fraternity will NEVER accept Hen Harriers as anything other than vermin to be shot on sight. Hen harriers particularly are placed in the same box as foxes, weasels and stoats. To the owners of shooting estates, their estate managers and the gamekeepers they employ, the Hen Harrier is regarded as a pest that must be eradicated from the moors. The RSPB and NE could make an important beginning by condemning what has been taking place for many years under their noses. Pacifying the shooting fraternity trying to engage with these people will accomplish nothing in the end; for the hen harrier its already far too late.

  • paul williams

    Countryfile…John Craven, another clown reporting bullshit about Peregrine Falcons to the media!

  • paul williams

    I posted about a year ago…” There are dark forces at work in Bowland. It has now matured to a transparent realization. The rich landowner has been appeased by his power of atonement.

  • Terry Pickford, North West Raptor Group

    Earlier this week I attempted to join the RSPB Bowland Skydancer Blog but was blocked from doing so. I wanted to reply to a number of misleading and incorect statements made by Blanaid when replying to comments about the hen harrier made by Macaris. I have now posted my comments below, because the RSPB barred my registration, for everyone to read. Should you wish to make any comments on the Skydancer Blog, I am sure what you have to say will be very welcome.

    Hi Blánaid,

    Would you allow me to comment on a number of misleading points within your reply sent to Macaris 20 Jul 2013, which I am quite sure most of your readers may be unaware of.

    Prior to the RSPB becoming involved in the Forest of Bowland around 1984, hen harriers were present in reasonable densities upon each of Bowland’s shooting estates, including moorland owned by North West Water, now United Utilities Plc. It is important to highlight persecution then remained a major concern, resulting in the elimination of many harriers each year, including destroyed nests and adult harriers which disappeared from moorland owned by North West Water.

    In 1989 after North West Water became United Utilities Plc a privatised utility company, the situation only began to change for the better after gamekeepers were removed from the estate. This management decision not only resulted in an increase in hen harriers, but peregrine numbers on the estate began to increase for the first time.

    In October 2007 raptor workers, including members of the NWRG together with estate managers and their gamekeepers came together during a hen harrier recovery project seminar hosted by the Environment Council on the Duke of Westminster’s Abbeystead estate. The highlight of the meeting occurring when the Duke of Westminster told the United Utilities Bowland Estates manager in no uncertain terms he must reinstate gamekeepers onto the estate as he felt the estate had been poorly managed and would therefore benefit from the work gamekeepers did best. The Duke then complained to the estate manager he objected to harriers crossing from the UU estate onto his moorland taking his grouse. To the credit the UU estate manager he replied by informing the Duke that if he complied with what he was being asked, harriers would disappear from the UU estate within just twelve months. After senior management at United Utilities over-ruled their Bowland estate manager gamekeepers were reinstated along with several shooting syndicates. Significantly the prediction made as we now know ultimately came true.

    You were only partly correct when you said harriers had been in decline before licences were revoked from the NWRG. The bulk of harriers had already disappeared from the private estates by 2006, with only odd breeding pairs recorded thereafter, few producing fledged young. By 2010 as far as I am aware, there were no breeding pairs at all on any private estate in Bowland. On the other hand 4 breeding pairs of harriers on the UU estate had managed to hang on until 2011, two years after the removal of NWRG licences.

    For the past forty three years I have worked throughout the Forest of Bowland doing my best to protect raptors. Based upon this experience together with a sound understanding of what gamekeepers and their employers think of hen harriers in particular, this raptor if allowed to return, will only be productive once gamekeepers and shooting syndicates have been removed completely.

    I look forward to your reply,

    Sincerely, Terry Pickford,

    One of a number of Founder Members of the North West Raptor Group (1967.)

  • Reading this article has made me think what the hell are the Rspb and NE thinking about, the future of HH in England has never looked so bleak, however north of the border HH are in abundance, we need the right to roam act here in England has a lot of BoP and the nest sites go unnoticed has they are on private land and away from prying eyes, although that can also be a benifit when those prying eyes are egg collectors/nest robbers, but i am just 1 man and there is only so much 1 can do, and i do what i can.