The Hen Harrier, can a compromise be reached with the shooting industry, or is a ban on Driven Grouse shooting the last option?

This season just two estates, one in Scotland’s borders at Langholm moor and a second estate in Lancashire’s Forest of Bowland, has demonstrated the positive impact on the Hen Harrier when estate owners make a decision to protect Harriers instead of killing them. The total number of successful Harrier nests this summer in both regions (13) has produced at least fifty fledged young, perhaps even a few more. The problem now facing each of these chicks once they begin to migrate across other moorland regions look less than promising. History has confirmed the bulk of Hen Harrier chicks which have successfully fledged from nests in England in the past two decades have disappeared, presumed shot when passing over moorland used to shoot red grouse. A small number of Harriers, for example Bowland Betty, have been found dead near to or on grouse moors.


Natural England’s Hen Harrier Recovery Project established one stark and gloomy statistic, there were less Hen Harrier on England’s uplands when this important initiative ended that when it began.

It appears we have run out of viable options in respect to  Hen Harrier survival on England’s uplands because of the shooting industries intransigence when it comes to bringing a halt to the persecution taking place on Red Grouse moorland.  With the advantage of hind sight it was always obvious Natural England’s Hen Harrier Recovery Project was always domed because the bulk of Red Grouse estate  owners were never prepared to change their opinion of the Hen Harriers or accept their presence on Red Grouse moors.


Gamekeeper inside gun butt from where driven red grouse are shot in their hundreds

There are two old sayings “Leopards never change their spots” and “Old habits never die.” Will Mark Avery’s e-petition achieve anything, we think it already has by putting the game shooting industry on notice the ‘killing’ must stop. We also think that in time if the ‘killing’  of protected raptors on England’s uplands continues public opinion will begin to change against game shooting,  and when that happens the writing is on the wall, driven grouse shooting will be banned once and for all.

Talks hosted by the Environment Council between shooting representatives and raptor conservation organisations in England held over a number of years importantly gave the shooting fraternity years to stall for time. While these talks were on-going this allowed Harriers on Red Grouse moorlands to be exterminated with impunity.


As things should be: A Harrier coasting across the moorland landscape. Image by Ewan Miles

The warning signs were clear for every one to see following the loss of Harriers from the northern Pennines in 2006 and should have been a wake up call. Now in 2014 the Harrier remains perilously close to extinction throughout England’s uplands following decades of illegal persecution on red grouse moorland. If we are unable to replicate what has taken place this season on estates owned by United Utilities on other moorland, the Hen Harrier  position in England may never chance.


Hen Harrier being satellite Tagged. At nearly £3000 each they are an expensive item of kit to keep losing as well as the harrier they had been attached to.

The success this year of the Hen Harrier in the Forest of Bowland has clearly demonstrated the way forward. If other estates owners are not prepared to follow United Utilities example, continuing instead to keep their heads in the sand, change will be forced upon them whether they accept it or not by public opinion. It is very significant that within the wider shooting community  calls for change are now being voiced against the illegal killing of raptors on moorland used to shoot red grouse. These voices will become more persistent from within the industry if the persecution of species like the Hen Harrier results in extinction.

Satellite Tagging Technology.

Disappointingly as subsequent events have revealed much of this expensive effort is being wasted. Within a few months after migrating away from the natal territory on to other adjoining moorland, tagged Hen Harriers always seem to vanish from the face of the earth. What is more difficult to understand is why Natural England should continue to refuse to publish details of those precise moorland locations where the satellite transmissions are know to have failed. Wasn’t this technology introduced in the first place to discover where Hen Harrier were disappearing in the first place? We must not over look the important fact that these expensive unite were purchased by tax payers money, the public have the moral right to be told where most if not all these Hen Harriers vanished.


Looking west from Roeburndale moor towards the river Lune. In former days there were at least two Hen Harrier nests on this moor each season, now there are none.



Terry R.Pickford (founded 1967)


Shooting generates £2 billion for the economy, boosts conservation and provides jobs. NO MENTION OF THE HEN HARRIER IN THIS ARTICLE by the Countryside Alliance, we wonder why???

14 comments to The Hen Harrier, can a compromise be reached with the shooting industry, or is a ban on Driven Grouse shooting the last option?

  • steve jennings

    Couldn’t the freedom of information act be used to obtain the vanishing points?

    Editor’s Comment.
    Steve, this rout has already been attempted by Dr Mark Avery without success. It seems that releasing information to the public where Hen Harriers are likely to have been killed is being kept tightly under lock and key, not because it a state security secret, but simply because the estate landowners would be embarrassed.

  • paul williams

    What I do find amusing in the Forest of Bowland is… Whenever I go Bird watching I am constantly follow by a Gamekeeper or an RSPB warden. I would like to know….Is it lawful for any one to follow another individual whilst he is enjoying and going about his or her lawful business. in my case my hobby??? ” Are there not stalking laws in force to prevent this? The gamekeepers and the RSPB know my vehicle registration and name. Could this be contravening my human rights on Open Access Land??? Paul Williams ..North West Raptor Protection Group member.

    • nirofo

      Paul I would say it’s more a case of them protecting their own interests by keeping an eye on you, It’s obvious their cage has been rattled quite a lot recently, so they’re making sure you don’t spot some of the dastardly deeds they get up to when they think no ones watching them !!!

  • nirofo

    “Shooting generates £2 billion for the economy.”

    Is that the total before or after all the public funded subsidies and other benefits have been deducted, in any case who’s economy has it generated the funds for, could that be the land/estate owners? How much of this money is paid back in taxes to the country and how much of it is lost to so-called legal tax evasion.

    If these estates are making as much money for the economy as they claim then they should show they are making it environmentally responsibly, that they are the type of people who respect the wildlife, the environment and the laws protecting it where they make all this money, that also includes birds of prey.

  • Falcoscot

    Re FoI, how far did he take it because if the info wasn’t released by the point of contact you he can refuse to accept it and that department has to review it and if they still don’t release the information he can go the the Freedom of Information Commissioner to see if they agree it’s in the public interest for the information to be released.

    Editor’s Comment. Mark Avery we understand took his Freedom of Information request all the way. May we strongly suggest you contact Dr Avery direst on his blog and inform him of what you have told us today.

  • Falcoscot

    Done !

    People tend to back off at the first refusal and when that refusal comes from within the department that doesn’t want certain information to be public knowledge then you have to go outside that department, i.e. the Commissioner.
    It surely is in the public interest to know the location of where these birds disappeared.

    Editor’s Comment. We all have to accept what Natural England is bound by is the Official Secrets Act, they are not able to publish sensitive information of where the Hen Harriers were lost/killed because it would undermine the security and integrity of the estate owners/establishment.

  • Falcoscot

    Accept nothing, they are bound by the Freedom of Information Act and the knowing the location of where the birds disappeared means very little other than if there’s a pattern the Police might be interested.

  • nirofo

    Editor, so what you are saying is that Natural England etc, should be allowed to condone the persecution of Raptors on the shooting estates because they are secret places that are immune from the law of the land. That giving out information regarding the presumed lost/missing birds of prey on these estates would constitute undermining the security and integrity of their illegal raptor killing activities and leave them open to criminal prosecution.

    I say that Natural England / SNH should come out in the open and stop protecting these people who think they are above the law, they should be duty bound to divulge the illegal goings on in these estates and let the owners and their staff take their just deserts in the law courts.

    Editor’s Comment. nirofo, can anyone think of ANY logical reason why any conservation organisation,including Natural England, would wish to keep secret the location where the satellite transmitters fitted to so many Hen Harrier was tracked before shutting down? We know from contact with the American satellite manufacturer that the failure rate of their state of the art units is almost none existent. Significantly these same units have been used to track raptors across the globe without any problems. So it is a safe bet that where transmitters fitted to British Hen Harriers went off the air, this was the location where the Hen Harriers were killed, and the tax-payers who funded these unites have aright to know more than Natural England are prepared to tell us.

  • nirofo

    We can only assume that because many of the owners and proprietors of these shooting estates have royal connections, are members of state, members of parliament, judges and owners of large companies etc, they are treated with kid gloves by the cap doffing public servants in DAFS, Natural England and Scottish Natural Heritage, they are only too willing to turn a blind eye and protect these people above all else and at any cost. This is a disgraceful state of affairs from the public bodies which were set up specifically to look after the countryside, the environment and it’s wildlife, they should be totally immune from interference and manipulation from high places, unfortunately it’s so obvious that they are not !!!

    Editor’s Comment. nirofo, we don’t know if you or anyone else has noticed the complete absence of comment regarding thye ongoing persecution of raptors within the Forest of Bowland from any organisation associated raptor conservation, that is other than the North West Raptor Protection Group. Raptor persecution in Bowland has almost wiped out the peregrine, hen harrier and short-eared owl, and yet the RSPB nor NERF say one word, other that the losses are due to the weather and a shortage of food, totally disgraceful.

    • nirofo

      Editor, It’s been well noticed by myself and I should think by very many others, that all the various conservation bodies including the illustrious RSPB, are keeping their collusive heads well below the parapet where the continuing illegal persecution of raptors within the Forest of Bowland is concerned.

      Editor’s Comment. The final Bowland peregrine eyrie was examined by the NWRPG today at 12.30 only to find what ever the female had been sitting on three days ago has now disappeared from within the nest. The pair began incubation towards the second week of June having turned up late at this site. Because the group members monitoring this territory did no have licenses to check the content they had to wait until the nest either failed or was robbed. Today the folly of withholding licenses proved its worth, we now do not know what went missing from this nest, was it eggs on the point of hatching, or was it small chicks????? Total folly.

      • nirofo

        It’s a fairly well known fact, certainly with the many Peregrine nests I have monitored over the years, that very late or replacement clutches quite often fail. Having said that it doesn’t explain what happened to the contents of the eyrie on Bowland; ruling out predation as unlikely one can only assume human interference is the culprit, especially given the recent history of Bowland Raptors.

  • gary broxholme

    I have always wanted to know when do the young male hen harriers get there distinctive colour?,and are they born with the same colour until they moult?.All the pictures i have seen with young are of brown colour.
    Lets hope all the Harriers have long life span.

  • Falcoscot

    The Langholm Moor Demonstration project should itself have undergone a full environmental appraisal as it’s being carried out on an SPA, which includes public consultation, before being licensed and funded, by law, but it wasn’t. Didn’t even get so much as an Environmental Impact Assessment.
    The question is, what are Scottish Government going to do about it if this project proves that when raptors are given sufficient protection their numbers increase back to what they should have been in the first place…………….very little I imagine !

  • nirofo

    Not Bowland this time but the outcome is very similar, Raptor persecution in the UK knows no boundaries. See this web link for another persecuted Peregrine.