Hen harrier on the brink of ‘extinction’ in England

rspb-logo  RSPB Media Release

For the first time since the 1960s, hen harriers have failed to nest successfully in England.

Just two pairs attempted to nest this year in England, but both failed. At one of these sites the RSPB was working with the landowner to ensure the nest was protected. Sadly, the eggs never hatched. While, conservationists believe this nest failed naturally, the Government’s own wildlife advisors say that the population had been forced into this precarious position by illegal killing. The reason for the failure of the second nest isn’t yet known.

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The mutilated corpses of Hen Harrier chicks in nest on Red Grouse Moor.

No new hen harriers this season means that the hen harrier is one the brink of extinction in England.

The news of the nest failure follows the publication in May of the State of Nature report which showed that 60 per cent of those wildlife species which are monitored are declining across the UK.

The hen harrier was once widespread across Britain, but it has endured decades of persecution, which first forced this bird of prey out of mainland Britain by 1900. From remnant populations in the Orkneys and the Western Isles, changing land uses and decline of persecution allowed them to spread south once more, reaching England shortly after the Second World War. The future prospects for this bird largely depend on the attitudes of grouse moor owners.

Martin Harper is the RSPB’s conservation director. Commenting on this year’s blank year for nesting birds, he said: “The hen harrier is one of our most charismatic birds of prey enjoyed by many visitors to the uplands. However, managers on some intensively managed shooting estates have been attempting to remove this bird since it recolonised. 

“The latest news is a huge set-back and only a victory for those who want to see this bird of prey disappear from England’s skies, but we will continue to fight to ensure that this bird has a future in some of our most iconic landscapes.”

A Government scientific study – the Hen Harrier Framework – suggested there is capacity in the English uplands for over 300 pairs of hen harrier [note]. This study cited illegal persecution through shooting, trapping and disturbance as the main reason for the hen harrier’s unfavourable conservation status  in England.

In 2011, the Government published ‘Biodiversity 2020’ (the revised England Biodiversity Strategy). In this strategy the Government made a clear commitment that there should be no extinction of an English wild species at the hands of man. This mirrors an international commitment under the Convention of Biological Diversity.  Martin Harper added: “With no birds nesting successfully this year, the hen harrier is clearly on the brink of extinction in England. We are eager to hear proposals from DEFRA about how the hen harrier can be restored to its rightful place on the English uplands.”

The RSPB is working with stakeholders as part of a Defra group to produce an emergency recovery plan for the hen harrier in England. The importance of this work has heightened by the terrible news from this year’s breeding season. The RSPB believe it is vital this plan is properly resourced and prioritised by Government.

Former SAS soldier turned author Chris Ryan, who has been a long-term supporter of hen harrier conservation said: “I have had the pleasure of watching these magnificent birds soaring over the uplands of northern England for many years. Knowing this inspirational bird has been pushed to extinction in England by illegal persecution is devastating. I want to see this species back in its rightful place on our moorlands.”

For centuries the hen harrier has endured a very bad press and at some sites its appearance is not tolerated. Although the bird can take grouse, the RSPB believes there are ways of reducing conflict without illegally killing hen harriers. A long-term study at Langholm Moor in Scotland has revealed potential through a technique known as diversionary feeding. Using this measure gamekeepers provide alternative prey during the nesting season when hen harriers are hunting intensively to feed their chicks. Martin Harper continued: “We are aware of a small number of gamekeepers that have used this technique with great success and had the eggs hatched at the English nest, the local gamekeeper and landowner had agree to trial the technique. Unfortunately, these forward-thinking individuals appear to be the exception rather than the rule”.

Bird of prey crime, including hen harrier persecution, is one of six agreed national wildlife crime priorities. However, this recognition hasn’t been enough to save England’s breeding hen harrier and the RSPB has repeatedly called for the introduction of vicarious liability – making landowners legally responsible for the actions of their gamekeepers – to improve protection.

Martin Harper concluded: “We are only a few days away from ‘the Glorious 12th’ – the traditional August start of the grouse shooting season. My challenge to those who run grouse moors is simple: respect the law and allow hen harriers and other birds of prey to flourish again.”


21 comments to Hen harrier on the brink of ‘extinction’ in England

  • David Williams

    Why then, if the RSPB repeatedly called for the introduction of Vicarious Liability did they NOT support the e-petition when they were asked to do so, not once but many times?

  • skydancer

    Weasel words again from the spineless RSPB .

  • nirofo

    What surprises me about this is that the RSPB sound surprised this has happened, why? It’s not as though they haven’t been warned often enough that their obviously failed policies and goings on in places like Bowland and similar areas were having disastrous results. The last vestiges of England’s Raptor population were hanging on by the skin of their beaks and still they continued with their shenanigans, well the results speak for themselves. The shooting fraternity have got their wishes handed to them on a plate, ably backed by that devious publicly funded body, Natural England, or should that be Unnatural England? They could have been slowed down or even stopped altogether if enough publicity and pressure had been put on them from the only bird protection organisation with sufficient clout to do so.

    R.I.P Hen Harrier et al.

  • tony kelly

    totaly agree with above comments,sadly another bird of prey that will probably die out, which would appear to be low on the (save)list. like the lone eagle at hawsewater, otherwise the law, would have been changed a very long time ago.

  • Falcoscot

    I just feel it’s beyond belief that fertile eggs are left in these nests to perish, what a waste when they could be hatched in an incubator and either returned to the nest at a few days old or reared and hacked back.
    What’s a matter with these people ?

    Editor’s Comment. Its called politics, perhaps a lack of experience also. Leaving fertile eggs to be wasted, and allowing one eaglet to kill its smalled sibling is also a complete waste.

  • skydancer

    Don’t worry all is not lost I am sure there will be a healthy population of Hen Harriers again soon once all the hard work with the circus troupe in the North East begins to have effect, and don’t forget the RSPB are “working with the shooting community” to raise awareness of the plight of the Hen Harrier.

    As you see the RSPB are doing their best to reverse this situation, this is what Martin Harper means when he says “but we will continue to fight to ensure that this bird has a future in some of our most iconic landscapes”

    The word FIGHT is something that the RSPB does not know the meaning of they have not got the will for a fight with the shooting community.

  • leveller

    The rumours going round shooting syndicates in the area that seems quite plausible after evidence/intelligence gathered over the last couple of years and reading between the lines of this forum and afar, is that a hardcore disgruntled cell within the north west raptor group have accelerated the decline of hen harriers and eagle owls in England (allegedly nest and egg destruction) to spite and put in bad light the agencies and true guardians of the land ie: moorland keepers and its custodians,who they have become to despise so much for not giving them free reign.?????? Disgraceful actions,,the truth is out there

  • Editor

    Because of the bizarre and unusual content of this comment together with the claims made, which frankly do not make any sense what so ever, we would be interested to hear what other people have to say..

    • nirofo

      I’m surprised you even bothered to reply to such rubbish.

      Editor’s Comment. We will not respond in the future.

  • tony kelly

    may be its time for another charity organisation etc to take the place of the rspb, just a throught.

    Editor’s Comment, yes Tony, but who would you suggest? There are simply not enough experienced individuals around with the required interest to take on this demanding role. Removing licences from the North West Raptor Group has shown that those few remaining in Bowland could not keep pace with the persecution taking place in just this one small moorland region.

    • There is no “maybe” about it. I have already suggested on this site that we need a completely new society, staffed by real raptor lovers. The falconry fraternity are the only group with the love, skill, knowledge and experience to bring back the hen harriers and peregrines to Bowland, and the Golden Eagles back to the uplands of England and Wales. However, without the backing of the government in regulating the shooting fraternity, I feel we are all wasting our time since even on land not managed for shooting, a wind farm application will soon be in the pipeline.
      I think we should all try to enjoy what we have, while we still have it, because I fear Eagles, Falcons and harriers will soon be in the same category as the Dodo.

      Ediror’s Comment. The way things are progressing with the shooting fraternity taking the lead one or two speps ahead of the game, Doug is right. The peregrine falcon will be next to disappear completely from the uplands of England mark our word for it. If the RSPB are to regain any credibility sooner or later, most likely later we are sorry to say, the RSPB must take a firmer line with the government and the shooting community. Perhaps they could use the power of their members to cause a huge outcry before its too late?

  • John Miles

    Given the time it was written [1.50am!!] It seems amazing that the person could write at all. Natural England was that other organisation already involved Tony leaving not much else.

  • Daniel Marsden

    True guardian’s of the land? Stop smoking drugs leveller and come back down into the real world, reality! Your comments aren’t only disillusioned fantasy they are dangerous and indeed slanderous!

    The truth is indeed out there and obvious to anyone who is willing to look! Raptors on moorland away from driven grouse moors prosper annually! Raptors on or adjacent to driven grouse moors are not tolerated and driven too extinction in the immediate area i.e., the hen harrier! The soul instigator for this demise, the game keeper!

    Guardians of the land? I’d laugh if it wasn’t such a sorry state of affairs in Bowland! The habitat that once favoured our beloved raptors is now more suited to crown green bowls and croquet!

    Its the 12th of August tomorrow and nothing glorious about it one jot! I advice anyone reading this comment to take a walk onto your local fells tomorrow where the guns will be waiting! Take video cameras and record everything you can! We’ll post videos online here; let’s see what the ‘noble guardians’ are really like on the fell!

  • paul williams

    Levellers posting, particularly his malicious allegation, is being passed to my solicitor.

  • Falcoscot

    My guess is that before intensive agriculture and huge areas of former wilderness being covered in green concrete (sitka spruce)raptor populations could withstand persecution from game shooting but given the degradation of habitat it’s now more than they can cope with. Mickey Mouse industries created by Government handouts are at the roots of this destruction.

    Protectionism is not enough, management is what’s needed, real conservation. RSPB, Natural England and Government should hang their heads in shame when you see what’s happened to the Hen Harrier in England. They should step aside and let people who really care take over !

  • Terry Pickford

    I would like to reply to Falcscot’s first paragraph. How right you are. On Saturday I visited a huge area of forestry which is currently being clear felled; this work is already one year into a three year contract. The woodland coincidentally is also the last remaining nesting location in that area for two pairs of goshawks which successfully reared young this year. The forest is completely surrounded by grouse moors on three sides, this means when the contract has been completed both pairs of goshawks will almost certainly end up on keepered ground facing an uncertain future.

    What chance do these birds have when all the non keepered areas of woodland have been cut down?

  • Kevin Moore

    Leveller claims there is evidence/intelligence that has been gathered over the last couple of years that a “hardcore cell within the NWRG” have contributed to the demise of the Hen Harrier and Eagle Owls in England by allegedly “nest and egg destruction” as he calls it.
    I would just like to say to him, there is no hardcore cell within our group, we all work under the same dedication of protecting birds of prey and exposing the truth in the Forest of Bowland.

    Maybe leveller would like to come back on here and produce the evidence/intelligence which he claims to have to prove his allegation, and maybe he will have the guts to come on under his real name?

    Kevin Moore
    North West Raptor Group

    Editor’s Comment. Cowards and liers come in many disguises, but one thing we are sure of, the shooting fraternity are concerned at what the NWRG have been able to publish, as are the RSPB, who remain silent at the disaster of what has happened to Bowland’s raptors during their watch.

  • Falcoscot

    Terry, the Forestry Commission blew up my local Peregrine nest site, opening up an old hill quarry in an area where there was little game shooting so the birds where getting some peace, they left the buttress the birds where on at first and then came along and blew that up.
    A local farmer took me for a ride a couple of evenings ago through a 6000 acres forestry block planted 40 years ago on prime moorland, he saw it before it was planted and the wildlife that used to live there, all gone now. I wish I could have seen it but those days are gone and the wildlife with it, very sad, and for a crop that is economically worthless without Government handouts. Now we are seeing the same with wind farms, the final nail in the coffin, with major land owners being paid millions by the Government to destroy what’s left of our natural heritage.

  • thomas carroll

    Leveller…mmmm, Sounds like a member of a Boy Band. Leave this important protection work to the MEN who have the experience and know what they are doing. You shouldn’t be up so late posting on this site…surely you have school in the morning!

  • phillad

    I don’t shoot and never have, nor do I have any inclination to do so, but I know many fine people who do. They don’t all shoot game, mostly clays, and most are very much true wildlife lovers. I know first hand the amount of conservation work they do which benefits so many other creatures but this seems to be ignored by the angry brigade who were probably against the ‘toffs’ having their fox hunts too. There is no doubt there may be the odd rogue gamekeeper left, but to tar them all with the same brush, is, in my opinion, ridiculous. There is anecdotal evidence of a Hen Harrier killed by wind turbines on the Ray Estate in Northumberland, the rare Blue Swift that was killed by a turbine when twitchers were actually watching it, and in the USA, wind companies have just been fined record amounts for the large amount of Golden Eagles and other beautiful birds slaughtered by turbines. Perhaps the angry brigade should leave shooters alone and look to where the real damage is being done.

    • Terry Pickford. North West Raptor Protection Group

      No one is claiming all gamekeepers kill protected birds of prey, nor should anyone tar all gamekeepers with the same brush that would be ridiculous. However, I do firmly believe there are more than just a few gamekeepers out there that have no respect for grouse predating raptors taking the law into their own hands. The fact that raptors are conspicuous by their almost total absence on all moorland used to shoot red grouse I’m afraid tells its own story. These birds simply don’t just disappear from suitable habitat for no logical reason.