Forest of Bowland: Will the Westminster government allow this Lancashire moorland area to become a Raptor free zone?


Mallowdale Pike. In 2009 the resident gamekeeper left this estate taking up new duties in Scotland. The following spring in the absence of a gamekeeper a pair of peregrines successfully reared their two chicks at this remote location. In the following year the peregrines disappeared and have so far not been allowed to return.  Hen Harriers have not successfully bred on this estate for nearly fifteen years.

In view of the annihilation of all nesting peregrines (between 18-20 pairs) from the Forest of Bowland in just the last 7 years, backed up with the disappearance of all nesting hen harriers from estates in the Forest of Bowland owned by United Utilities Plc this season (2016) we have taken the decided to republish this article written by Terry Pickford which tells the sad story of the slaughter of countless numbers of Hen Harriers & Peregrine Falcons on Red Grouse moorland in England; not because those responsible were trophy hunters, but because here in the UK the killing is being carried out by gamekeepers just to get rid of these rare species because they eat grouse. We hope by making this information public for a second time people around the world, and of course within the UK, will condemn the killing of rare and endangered wildlife here in England. Just because the killing of protected birds of prey is taking place behind closes doors on grouse moors here in England, doesn’t mean we should not condemn those responsible, they are no different than the American dentist.  We ask everyone who has condemned the killing of CECIL to retweet and add Terry Pickford’s article on all social media outlets. Terry’s article shows the illegal killing of endangered wildlife taking place here in England  by selfish people is just as bad on our own doorstep.

We appear to be running out of options that can prevent the hen harrier becoming just a historic symbol of our uplands rather than a living part of these important moorland ecosystems. The majority of game shooting estate owners and their gamekeepers have clearly demonstrated their unwillingness to accept the hen harrier on the moorlands they manage for red grouse shooting. The disappearance last September of the two Bowland hen harriers ‘Sky’ and ‘Hope’ was not a tragic accident, the two state of the art satellite tags fitted to each bird did not simply malfunction at almost the same time on two different estates, nor were these birds predated by peregrines as one gamekeeper suggested. There have been few if any realistic and sensible explanations for the disappearance of  both ‘Sky’ and ‘Hope’ other than having been shot and their tags then removed and destroyed. The missing tags are an important clue here as to what really happened shortly after they fledged ten months ago; if one or both harriers had succumbed due to natural causes, not only would their tags have been recovered intact, their bodies would also have been found.If I am very truthful the ongoing killing of protected raptors, the destruction of their nests, eggs and young on remote moorland is almost impossible to prevent without proactive and decisive action from government.

This spring we witnessed a repeat of last years very carefully thought out strategy to destroy hen harriers well away from their nests. This efficient and deadly tactic provides little if any chance of those responsible ever being apprehended and brought to justice for these crimes. I believe most of us were taken off guard and surprised by the loss of 4 male hen harriers from 3 nests in Lancashire’s Forest of Bowland, quickly followed by the disappearance of a 5th male harrier from the northern Pennines. No sensible person can be in any doubt these incidents on moorland where red grouse are shot were each related with a single purpose very much in mind, the removal of hen harriers from both regions by their premeditated persecution.

It has been suggested by Ian Botham that hen harrier eggs abandoned in their nests and allowed to chill over many days this season could have been saved, clearly Mr Botham does not understand the first principles of biology when he made this misinformed claim. I do believe the first male harrier’s loss quickly followed by the females disappearance should have been a wake up call to any experienced nest watcher setting alarm bells ringing. Plans could have been initiated at this stage with Natural England’s cooperation, just in case a second male subsequently went missing followed by his incubating mate. The clutch of eggs could at that point have been removed and substituted with dummy eggs should the female return. The original clutch could then be removed from site contained in a suitable warm and well insulated container and placed in an incubator nearby. Any eggs or subsequent young produced then added into viable nests to continue their natural development. Such a procedure today is not rocket science, but perhaps this methodology is far too radical for both Natural England and the RSPB to consider! Read Footnote

Forest of Bowland 2015

Eagle Owl

eagle owl web-1This year will go down on record as one of the worst breeding seasons for Bowland’s hen harriers and peregrines since 1975. The single breeding attempt made by a pair of eagle owls ended in failure after 3 unknown men were observed in a stream gully apparently trying to locate an eagle owl nest within a traditional territory. Possibly the result of disturbance caused at the time, the nesting attempt is believed to have failed. It seems there are some people who will never learn by their foolhardy mistakes. It is well known scientific fact that nesting eagle owls are prone to deserting their nest when containing either eggs or small young after being disturbed, particularly during the day.

Hen Harrier

hen harrier-1We know that 4 male hen harriers each disappeared from active nests in Bowland this season. One of the missing males was replaced by an immature male which then began bringing food to feed the female at this nest.A fourth hen harrier nest was also reported to have failed on estates owned by United Utilities in the Forest of Bowland in either late June or early July of  natural causes. A fifth nest successfully fledged 4 chicks, but curiously only one of the fledglings from this nest was fitted with a satellite tag. I find this is very disappointing as it now seems unlikely we will discover what happened to the other 3 chicks. All 4 fledged harriers will now face an equally uncertain and very dangerous future if they remain on moorland where red grouse are shot.

Peregrine Falcon

Peregrine Cliff Destroyed 2015-1

Several tons of rocks which had  been dislodged from around a peregrine nesting ledge found at the bottom of the nesting cliff this spring.

It will be anyone’s guess which raptor will become extinct in the Forest of Bowland first, the peregrine or hen harrier. Coincidence or not, since Natural England revoked licenses for peregrine and hen harrier in 2010 which had previously been held by members of the North West Protection Group for over thirty years, both species have now almost disappeared from this region. In 2009 the NWRG examined eighteen peregrine territories throughout Bowland, of which eleven sites fledging 29 young. This was regarded by raptor group members as a very poor breeding season for this persecuted species in the Forest of Bowland.


Bowland peregrine ground nest containing up to 4 chicks prior to 2009 fairly common on certain estates. This changed dramatically after the removal by Natural England of licenses from members of the North West Raptor Group in 2010

This season although there were at least 5 breeding attempts made only a single pair of peregrines were successful producing two young. One territory was destroyed after several tons of rocks surrounding the occupied nesting ledge were discovered at the bottom of the nesting cliff. On the day the rocks were found the resident breeding pair had vanished without laying a single egg within the raven nest they had occupied. A single male peregrine was observed in March perched on rocks at a second site but when the territory was re-examined some weeks later it had been abandoned. A third site where eggs had been laid was discovered abandoned at the point of hatching, both falcons had already disappeared. At a fourth territory the pair disappeared at the egg laying stage. There is a reports of a fifth occupied site containing 3 eggs. On a second visit to this site the falcons had vanished leaving an empty nesting scrap .

Peregrine 7 Bowland-1

A peregrine ground nest containing 4 abandoned eggs. Clutches of eggs were removed from this territory each season between 2006 – 2008.  

Despite what anyone may claim, these losses, nest failures and the disappearance of eggs and adult birds was not a result of poor weather, a lack of food or predation by other animals. Outside the Forest of Bowland boundary there is less food availability for breeding birds of prey, and yet peregrine territories this season produced at least 18 fledged chicks, all without protection of any kind, what does this tell us?

Peregrine 5 Bowland-1

 Although this territory has been occupied by successive pairs of peregrines during the last two decades, the site has only witnessed one brood of young successfully fledged, this followed the gamekeepers retirement. Since a replacement gamekeeper took up his duties on this estate at least 3 clutches of eggs have been removed during  consecutive years. So much for providing Nature with a Home. 

A historical look back at the Forest of Bowland

Looking back 46 years at the history of ‘protected’ birds of prey in the Forest of Bowland I have to admit attitudes by shooting estates and their gamekeepers towards these very special birds of prey have changed very little, if at all in a majority of cases. Although keepering in Bowland in the 1960’s was undertaken by old school gamekeepers patrolling their vast moorland beats by shanks pony (on foot), without the luxury in many cases of a landrover or any form off road vehicle, make no mistake any raptor that predated red grouse was given short shrift with no quarter according to Dr Derek Ratcliffe in his book ‘The Peregrine’. Because of the lax and often inefficient management of estates in those early days, a higher percentage of ground nesting raptors managed somehow to breed successfully compared with the present day. However no one should misunderstand this statement, many dozens of nesting hen harrier were shot and their nests containing either eggs or young were regularly destroyed wherever they were found. The peregrine only returned to the Forest of Bowland in 1974 following an absence of twenty seven years when the pair were both shot and their single egg left in the nest. However despite the high level of persecution taking place all those years ago the hen harrier somehow managed to survive in Bowland in reasonable numbers between 1972 until 1981.

Following the death of the 7th Earl of Sefton in 1972 breeding hen harriers in Bowland, particularly on the Abbeystead estate expanded dramatically. The number of breeding birds discovered by the North West Raptor Group during this short period reached a staggering thirty nine nesting females. The species had almost completely disappeared from Bowland by 1982 following the purchase of Earl of Sefton’s Abbeystead estate by its current owner the Duke of Westminster; a small nucleus of breeding pairs have remained to this day on estates in the Forest of Bowland owned by United Utilities.


A scenic landscape above the Lune Valley once the home for several successful breeding pairs of hen harrier and peregrine –  all a distant memory thanks to human persecution and intolerance by shooting estates.

There are many differences between the moorland gamekeeper of yesteryears and their counterparts in the 21st century. The modern moorland gamekeeper is usually much younger, fitter and far more efficient at undertaking the job he is paid very well to carry out. Importantly, the majority of England’s moorland estates are currently much better managed and financed placing their keepering staff under pressure to achieve improved numbers of red grouse to shoot. No longer are gamekeepers left to their own devises staying at home when the weather is bad. Today because of the commercialisation of game shooting moorland gamekeeper are expected to work six days out of seven in order to achieve the higher numbers of game expected by an employer. The modern day gamekeeper is provided with a landrover, the use of a variety of off road vehicles not available 4 decades ago, which help him to manage his moorland beat throughout the year. A number of English and Scottish shooting estates are known to have provided their gamekeepers with the latest high caliber rifle fitted out with expensive state of the art night vision optics, capable of shooting any perched raptor dead at several hundred yards in the dark.

In the 1990’s English Nature, now Natural England, began licensing hundreds of km of new estate roads in the Forest of Bowland and elsewhere in England’s northern uplands where red grouse are shot, despite their SSSi and SPA classification scant regard was given to the needs of nesting raptors. These strategic roads for the first time allowed gamekeepers and the estate’s shooting clients easy access to moorland which had previously been difficult to reach even on foot. Many of the licenses issued, particularly to estates in the Forest of Bowland, disregarded the adverse impact these roads would have upon the breeding of ground nesting raptors. Many roads licensed by English Nature, Natural England predecessor, dissected prime hen harrier, peregrine and short-eared owl habits displacing these species together with other important moorland birds.

Please sign Mark Avery’s E-Petition calling for a ban of all driven grouse shooting if you want to prevent the Hen Harrier’s extinction. Please retweet this article, and if possible forward to anti-fox hunting and badger groups with a request to support our cause as we have supported theirs? Thank you.


In 1982 I witnessed  two climbers in the Coniston area climbing at a well known cliff tenanted by nesting peregrines causing disturbance to the nesting pair of falcons. On the day in question the nest  contained 4 eggs. It was sleeting and very cold I recall. The police were  asked to attend as both climbers had already refused a request to stop climbing and allow the peregrines return to incubate their eggs.They also refused the request of the police sergeant from Coniston. By the time the climb had been completed the pair of peregrines had been kept off their eggs for nearly two hours, surprisingly 2 of the 4 eggs hatched.

Related Article.

How the moorland gamekeeper is able to legally displace protected raptors before there settle down to breed.












5 comments to Forest of Bowland: Will the Westminster government allow this Lancashire moorland area to become a Raptor free zone?

  • I’ve a couple of comments on this excellent article on the state of Hen harrier and Peregrine falcon in the northern uplands. Firstly, these new roads that have done so much to open up rapid access to the raptor foraging locations have usually been made without ordinary Planning Permission. The excuse used is that the new roads are upgrades of existing tracks. Public domain satellite images show this to be untrue yet the planning department – in my case of Northumberland – refuse to investigate the breaches of planning law, going to great lengths to avoid the subject. The roads have been surfaced by crushed rock and the contractor, in my case, had learned to recognise long cairns in the landscape and to quarry those. My local county conservation team also refused to investigate this loss of ancient monuments. (The AONB and SSSI status extends protection to archaeology). I’ve a letter from the chief executive of English Nature – as it then was – supporting the building of a new shooters road. There should be enough material for a Panorama programme – I just know the one estate but could see over into the next, and the roads there had been made by the same contractor and are identical.

    Secondly I have seen a gamekeeper pushing the carcase of a large bird into a rabbit hole, with a walking stick. As this was from a mile away, without glasses, it was impossible to tell what exactly was going on but it was while a tagged harrier was recently lost. (Several years ago). Probably the earth would absorb any and all tracker signals. I suspect the persecution is excused locally because of the employment that shooting brings to the fells. Good luck with Peaceful Protest Day.

    Editor’s Comment. We are able to confirm tracks/roads constructed on the Abbeystead estate at Tarnbrook in particular were not existing. We recall strong opposition being made at the time of a public consultation but these roads still went ahead without any regard for concerns raised about nesting hen harrier. Its all water under the bridge of course now as powerful individuals usually get their way don’t they? It was significant that in the early 1990’s after reports had been submitted to English Nature by the local raptor group regarding the persecution of hen harriers and peregrines on one particular estate in Bowland, the landowner persuaded English Nature to revoke all their licenses allowing the persecution to continue.

    David, we will pass on your approval to Terry Pickford regarding his article. You may not know Terry remains a member of the local raptor group who had their licenses again revoked in 2010 by Natural England after the group had embarrassed the Government’s Wildlife Advisor by making public the level of raptor persecution still taking place in Bowland today. A recent appeal by Terry to try and get his licence reinstated this year was turned down by Natural England. You won’t believe the reply he received. The application was refused on the grounds that to reinstate the licence would cause too much disturbance and a duplication when visiting occupied peregrine nests. It appears Natural England don’t realise that currently only a single occupied peregrine nest in Bowland remains. ‘Complicity’ is the word we would use, protecting the interests of estates and their gamekeepers. Politics and Power placed before the wellbeing of protected birds of prey.

  • Julie Wright

    The current government aren’t going to do anything, because they love shooting. It’s up to us the people to push this and get it out to the public and hope that it has the same effect as the fox ban. We must keep fighting

  • Tim Sarney

    There is a significantly greater chance of seeing a Peregrine in Mayfair and Belgravia than on the Abbeystead Estate.

  • Ewan Miles

    A superb article. Raptor fieldwork, knowledge and commitment that I aspire towards.

  • Jane Atkinson

    It appears that anything at all which seemingly poses a risk to losing even 1 single Red Grouse, Pheasant or Partridge is systematically sought out and destroyed. If this means constructing illegal pathways, which coincidentally disturb the breeding sites of any of the unnamed Raptors they feel could be responsible for a poor showing of these game birds, then they will indeed construct these ‘improved pathways’, giving them a swift route to continue with their ‘land management’ and all things within that misleading heading.

    Perhaps representatives from Natural England should spend time surveying the areas of upper Bowland, such as the Abbystead Estate and see the carnage for themselves. With regards to Terry Pickford and other such bird and animal lovers, who give up their spare time to observe diminishing Raptors and report on their findings, I feel they have been bullied out by those that have the power. Namely, the landowners. It is an absolute disgrace and I for one would sign any petition or such like to help Terry and others get their licences back.