Hen Harrier article written by the Former Wildlife Crime Officer for Lancashire, republished.

We have attached a link at the bottom of the page  to an article detailing the plight of the Hen Harrier on red grouse moors in northern England. The article written several years ago by the former Lancashire Wildlife Crime Officer, Duncan Thomas first appeared in the Shooting Times, and has now been republished in ShootingUK, a subsidiary of the Shooting Times on the 16th January this year. Duncan Thomas left the Lancashire Constabulary  several years ago taking up a new prestigious role with BASC as their North of England Regional Officer. We always maintained Thomas would make a better gamekeeper than a policeman.

Vermin Trap_

Tunnel Trap containing dead stoat positioned 50 feet away from Peregrine territory, now abandoned

Interestingly, and coincidentally, following PC Thomas’s arrival in the Forest of Bowland  in 2006 where he worked alongside the RSPB, raptors like Hen Harrier and Peregrine thereafter began to disappear at an alarming rate from this region. As we now know Peregrine numbers throughout the Bowland which existed prior to 2006 subsequently crashed from an average of 20 pairs to just a single successful breeding pair last year.  In 2013 four pairs of  Eagle Owls also vanished without trace from the region, possible due to persecution and disturbance when breeding. 2014 witnessed the success of two pairs of Hen Harrier following a number of years absence  in Bowland, after each nest was give around the clock protection on the United Utilities estates.

This is what PC Thomas had to say about the Hen Harrier and gamekeepers in his article, at a point in time when the record showed there were no breeding Hen Harriers in England, let alone in the Forest of Bowland. “I would love to detail the many success stories and to name the gamekeepers and estates that constantly produce quality numbers of hen harriers and other sensitive species – my frustration is with the reluctance of so many to self-publicise and promote the quality work that goes on behind the scenes.” When asked to produce some tangible evidence backing up these claims, the officer has consistently remained silent.

Then PC Thomas went on to claim, “I fully understand their reasons, of course, but it’s a shame it goes unreported. There are many nests that never get into the public domain, because the last thing the estate needs is hoards of well-meaning individuals flooding the location or creating potentially disastrous levels of disturbance.” We would agree with the claim that the last thing estates need is hoards of well-meaning individuals flooding onto their shooting estates. However, its not because estates owners are concerned about potentially disastrous levels of disturbance to nesting raptors,  it has more to do with individuals discovering illegal wildlife persecution taking place on these estates.

Here are yet more dubious claims made by Thomas relating to the Hen Harrier and Peregrine. Just where the former police officer found the evidence supporting these claims are beyond all logical reasoning. “We know female harriers will remove their own eggs from the nest and peregrines are known to take adult harriers – the range of natural predation reasons for a nest’s failure is never-ending.” Yes but Thomas conveniently choose to overlook the main reason for nest failures and the disappearance of so many breeding raptors on grouse moors – persecution. In addition the only record of a peregrine killing a Hen Harrier was one being flown by a falconer; in other words a trained  falcon, not a wild one.

As far as we are aware there has so far not been one instance of a Peregrine falcon predating a Hen Harrier in the UK, of course we could be wrong.

Finally the meaning of the following statement made by Thomas is most significant.. “We do not create exclusion zones and accept life must go on around these locations.” In 2006 PC Thomas was requested by the North West Raptor Protection Group to ask Bowland gamekeepers to remove their traps they had installed in close proximity to, or within occupied Schedule 1 raptor nesting territories, a strategy to prevent breeding. The reason gamekeepers set traps so close to protected nest sites is all too obvious. When gamekeepers visit these traps each 24 hrs  (a legal requirement), when sites are occupied the keeper causes reckless disturbance, resulting in many nesting raptors abandoning their nests. This practice  in northern England, including in the Forest of Bowland, continues today unchallenged.


Grit tray used to feed medicated grit to grouse to prevent internal parasites.


A member of the NWRPG inspecting a grit tray positioned opposite peregrine ground nesting site in stream gully. The nesting pair have now abandoned this nesting territory.

You can read what the former Wildlife Crime Officer for Lancashire had to say about raptors here. We look forward to your comments.



5 comments to Hen Harrier article written by the Former Wildlife Crime Officer for Lancashire, republished.

  • Northern Diver

    So this WCO had been a BASC member for 20+ years and then went on to work for BASC, presumably also drawing a police pension. Can you really believe he was an unbiased investigating officer? No wonder there are hardly any raptors now in Bowland.
    Incidentally, did he pick his WCO successor in Lancashire Police? Have we got more of the same now? Who are the current WCO’s? Are they game shooters too?
    I find this all unbelievable.

    Editor’s Comment. Thankfully the current lady Lancashire Wildlife Officer is not a shooter, she is also very good at her job, and importantly dedicated to what she is paid to do.

  • Les Wallace

    This is unbelievable, deserves media attention. Have feeling this wasn’t isolated incident, but if highlighted this dodgy practice will end, politically embarrassing for police. Did the eagle owls set up shop somewhere else, dam shame if they have been lost totally.

    • donald frump

      This is truly shocking, we are looking at the extinction of a native species in England being aided by possible police corruption, this needs to be in public interest. We are supposed to be paying the police to serve the public, and this is he we are repaid.

  • Mark Farrar

    I am appalled.How could a WCO be so arrogant and ignorant in his job?How could he be so wrong in his statements whilst Hen Harrier’s were being persecuted?It sounds and looks to me he wasn’t a loyal,trustworthy and reliable WCO.If he did turn a blind eye to the persecution going on,then he will live with this on his conscious for the rest of his life.He will have blood on his hands!

  • in spain peregrines take hen harriers and montagu’s the biggest predators of hen harriers is the fox just look at the studies,

    Editor’s Comment Interesting, watched harriers in Spain many times, recorded 5 Monty nests in one field, foxes predating hen harrier, yes a real possibility. However here in Bowland you would be hard pressed to see a live fox anywhere, too well controlled by gamekeepers. Where there are peregrines again a possibility, but the loss of the 7 hen harriers in Bowland was most certainly not the actions of a fox or peregrine.