What surprises await our threatened raptors on red grouse moors in 2016?

Will the 2016 breeding season be worse or better for ‘protected raptors like the hen harrier and peregrine that have the misfortune to venture onto moorland in northern England where red grouse are shot for sport? We would like to think the situation will improve this season, but we remain pessimistic based upon last year’s disappearances of hen harriers and peregrines from areas classified as SSSi’s and SPA’s in Lancashire’s Forest of Bowland and at Geltsdale in the northern Pennines. The lack of any contingency plans for dealing with last season’s hen harrier catastrophe was unfortunate and hopefully the mistakes made will not be repeated once again for a second season.

Hen Harrier Logo

This depiction of a hen harrier remains the proud logo for the Forest of Bowland AONB, despite the almost total eradication of successful nesting hen harrier on all but one estate.

Last year a number of gas guns were strategically installed on moorland in southern Scotland and on one estate adjoining the RSPB’s Geltsdale reserve where they appear to have been used to cause maximum disturbance to hen harriers by frightening them away before settling on moorland to breed. One pair of harriers regularly observed last spring on the Croglin estate were persuaded to up sticks crossing the boundary fence onto the RSPB’s Geltsdale Nature Reserve where they eventually managed to lay a clutch of eggs. Disappointingly the nest and eggs were eventually abandoned by the female hen harrier after her mate failed to return from a hunting trip he had undertaken onto the adjoining grouse moor at Croglin.


One of the missing Male Hen Harrier photographed in the Forest of  Bowland on its way to hunt for food on an adjoining estate.

Several hen harrier nests in 2015 established on the United Utilities estate in the Forest of Bowland, collectively estimated to contain as many as twenty five eggs, were abandoned after 4 male hen harriers failed to return to their territories after they had gone in search of prey to feed their respective female mates. The disappearance from English grouse moors of so many male hen harriers in one season clearly demonstrated this was a well planned and executed new strategy implemented to ensure the failure of nests and the impossibility of ever tracing those criminals responsible.  In our view because of the success of this illegal scheme last year, there is a very strong possibility this untraceable hen harrier cleansing methodology is likely to be adopted once again this season, but over a much wider moorland area in northern England, and possibly even in parts of Scotland.

In in a recent comment posted on Martin Harper’s blog, it was suggested to the RSPB the Society should this season consider the implementation of suitable contingency plans designed to deal with a repeat of last year’s criminal activity i.e., the licensed collection of all abandoned clutches of  hen harrier eggs before they go cold following the disappearance of male hen harriers, placing rescued eggs into suitable incubators.

hen-harrier-sat-tag-01In a second comment posted on Raptor Politics it was suggested by Terry Pickford any eggs rescued from abandoned harrier nests this season should be placed under the control of a competent and experienced captive breeding establishment where the rescued eggs could be incubated professionally. Any eggs that hatched could then be hacked into the wild in line with DEFRA’s unpopular brood management proposals in the south of England by experienced and trained professionals who deal with captive bred birds of prey for a living. Terry explained the rationale behind his controversial suggestion in this way; we know the reasons why DEFRA would never sanction the reintroduction of fledged hen harriers on grouse moors in the north of England, these birds would never be welcomed by estates or their gamekeepers quickly disappearing presumed to have been shot. All hen harrier chicks produced must each be fitted with a satellite tag before being hacked into the wild in the south of England. Now the important part according to Terry; these harriers must ALL be tracked to establish what happens to them after fledging. If any or all the harriers make their way back onto grouse moors in the north of England and survive for more than eighteen months or longer, this may establish DERFA’s plans are worth more consideration. On the other hand if a majority of hen harriers released in the south make their way north onto grouse moors then subsequently disappear along with their trackers, this would clearly establish the futility of DEFRA’s brood manipulation proposals once and for all.

What ever happens to breeding hen harriers this year on England’s northern uplands, we support Terry Pickford’s suggestion. Making the best use of all hen harriers raised in captivity obtained from abandoned rescued eggs is well worth exploring in the way he has suggested. Utilising abandoned eggs rescued which then hatch and then released reduces the pressure on other dwindling hen harrier populations elsewhere.

Bowland Eagle Owls

eagle owl web-1

Finally it has been brought to our notice by one of our followers that a territorial pair of eagle owls, for a second season, has been located in the Forest of Bowland. We were informed information of the existence of the pair was posted two weeks ago by Chrissie Harper on her Facebook page, attached here. Chrissie, responsibly made no reference to where these birds were established in Bowland, but asked all her followers on FaceBook to support her ‘Save and Protect the Bowland Eagle Owls Campaign .’ A report on Eagle Owls in England pointed out that the eagle owls in Bowland in particular had been subjected to irresponsible disturbance at their nesting sites and was one of the main cause of territories being abandoned.


Abandoned Eagle Owl Nest 2013 Forest of Bowland

Last year a local Bowland resident contacted Raptor Politics informing us that last spring he had witnessed three wardens tasked with protecting eagle owls inside Bowland visiting an occupied eagle owl nest possibly containing eggs. We understand shortly after the visit had been carried out the nest was known to have been deserted. For those of you that are not aware of the scientific advice regarding eagle owl behaviour and nest visits be aware: Eagle owl nests should on no account be visited either prior to eggs being laid, when eggs are contained inside a nest, or when the nest contains small chicks. Sadly this accepted official advice is all too often disregarded in the Forest of  Bowland.


Second Abandoned Eagle Owl Nest 2013 Forest of Bowland

It seems strange that when it comes to licensed visits to all English hen harrier nests official approval from Natural England to do so must first be obtained, even when visiting harrier nests in Bowland. Why then when visiting an eagle owl nest which is likely to result in the nest being abandoned are these visits encouraged?

Related Articles

Legal Loopholes being used to deter raptors from settling on moorland to breed

A fourth male hen harrier reported missing from an active nest in the northern Pennines 

Natural England hen harrier satellite tracking programme results 

The not so mysterious disappearance of England’s lost Hen Harriers

Raptor persecution in our modern society, a symbol of a feudal system of Raptor Management




7 comments to What surprises await our threatened raptors on red grouse moors in 2016?

  • Gerard Hobley

    Any gamekeeprs with missing eyes?

  • Julie Wright

    They don’t want them there, that’s the simple truth of it & I mean both sides.

    • Terry Pickford, North West Raptor Group

      The sooner the likes of RSPB realise hen harriers, peregrine and goshawk will never be accepted on grouse moors the sooner we can begin to sort the illegal killing out.

  • Skydancer

    Raptors in the Forest of Bowland are in for another disastrous year and the reasons are exactly what Julie and Terry have stated. We have landowners who only want grouse no matter what spin they come out with and that includes estates in Bowland owned by United Utilities. In 2010 licensed members of the North West Raptor Group were expelled from working to protect raptors on the UU estate after they would not agree to stop publishing details of illegal raptor persecution taking place on the UU estates in Bowland. Shortly after this Natural England withheld the group’s licence preventing members from visiting active or persecuted nests to gather important data throughout Bowland.

    The RSPB who are too spineless to confront the landowners because of the societies association with royalty; we will have the usual comments about ‘working together’ and we will probably see Duncan Thomas (BASC) on Look North West telling viewers how things are improving whilst showing a hen harrier in the background, but in reality hen harriers, peregrines, goshawks and short eared owls will continue to be slaughtered and we will also be treated to the usual sight of the RSPB wardens chatting to gamekeepers or reporters from national newspapers as though everything is fine.

    The reality is of course the peregrine, goshawk and hen harrier are species on the verge of extinction in the Forest of Bowland simply because of complicity and an unwillingness to confront those responsible for killing these ‘protected’ birds.

  • Your records clearly show that not so long ago Forest of Bowland supported a reasonable number of both breeding peregrine and hen harriers.
    I’d like to ask a very simple question, what has caused the dramatic change of attitude towards these raptors?

    Editor’s Comment. Mike there has not been a change of attitudes towards raptors in the Forest of Bowland. We presume you are meaning the attitudes by gamekeepers towards these so called protected species which have never changed? In the spring of 2009 some twenty peregrine territories were checked in Bowland, of which seventeen sites were found occupied by the North West Raptor Group. Matters at this point began to take a turn for the worst when Natural England, (the government’s advisor on the natural environment) with-held licences which had permitted the group to monitor peregrines together with hen harriers in this special moorland region for over thirty five years; by 2014 fifteen of these historic territories had been abandoned leaving one successful breeding pair, this position has remained the same for the last 2 years with one single productive peregrine territory for each year fledging a single chick. There are currently no occupied peregrine of hen harrier territories established on any of the 6 private estates inside Bowland, with the exception of 2 peregrine territories on the United Utilities estate. This season of the 7 hen harrier breeding attempts made on this estate only one nest was productive fledging a single chick. Of the 7 peregrine territories that existed on the UU estate prior to 2009, only two sites were known to be occupied this year.

    There is no doubt that when members of the NWRG were licensed to monitor Bowland’s raptor nesting sites gamekeepers were fully aware their illegal activities were more likely to be detected and reported to the relevant bodies, including the Police, Natural England and RSPB. More than one estate owner had complained about the licenced activities of the NWRG which was causing huge embarrassment. In the mid 1990 the Duke of Westminster allegedly approached the Environment Secretary asking him to instruct English Nature to withdraw group licenses for use on his estates. It was only after Natural England came into being group licenses were reinstated, but by then COINCIDENTALLY no successful nesting schedule 1 raptors existed on the Duke’s moorland land holdings in Bowland.

    It was always obvious landowners and their gamekeepers in Bowland did not welcome details of persecution taking place on their estates becoming public. The NWRG have always made the strongest endeavour to give as much publicity to these criminal activities as possible, either via the media or the social network. United Utilities and the RSPB for some curious reason have done their utmost to generally keep raptor persecution taking place in the Forest of Bowland very much under the carpet, we suppose being unable to prevent such criminal activities made them look inadequate. The RSPB responded to an article published by the Lancashire Life Magazine highlighting the Bowland peregrine losses by claiming the article titled ‘The Final Solution’ was a result of a lack of prey and climate change. A totally ridiculous claim as territories outside Bowland with less food availability but the same climatic conditions were doing very well. This is the link to this story http://raptorpolitics.org.uk/2013/12/17/peregrine-holocaust-looms-on-englands-northern-uplands/

    Significantly, under the conditions of the CRoW act the RSPB, Natural England, including their paid staff and a number of paid voluntary workers are prevented from entering estates in Bowland to visit schedule 1 nests without the consent of landowners, whereas members of the NWRG who provided their services without payment were not required to obtain such consent. This is one reason Natural England withdrew group licenses to keep persecution details from being published, or so they thought. However, this has now backfired dramatically as there are less than a handful of active schedule 1 raptor sites remaining throughout Bowland currently. Natural England’s inappropriate intervention removing licenses from experienced and dedicated field workers who had done nothing wrong, provided estate gamekeepers the free hand they had always sought to manage raptors in Bowland as they wished because knew they would not be caught.

    • Many thanks for a very exhaustive explanation regarding the politics, etc involved in Bowland – without doubt a total mess.

      I would like to point out that after monitoring raptors in Angus for almost 20 years I have also had my Schedule 1 licences removed.

      A small group within TRSG basically formulated a very childish personal vendetta/witch hunt. Currently my case (sounds like I’m a criminal)is in the hands of senior management in S.N.H.

      What to me is really sad and ironic in that we are both blocked from monitoring and protecting our passion by some of our so called own. The end result is all too clear as highlighted by the collapse of several raptor species in the Forest of Bowland.

  • Skydancer

    Editor you missed out one additional point which I feel is significant to the politics very much at play in Bowland. You are correct it what you have written, and many who know what has taken place in Bowland feel Natural England should be ashamed at the poor way they have handled the situation. There is no doubt whatsoever the North West Raptor Group have been treated terribly.

    May I congratulate you on what you have had the courage to say in reply to Mike Groves. Well said and all true though you missed out one important point, not only did the NWRPG have their licenses revoked by Natural England without any valid reason but since then the RSPB, i belive in 2014, made a malicious and false accusation that 2 of their members had disturbed a pair of nesting peregrines. I for one was pleased after a thorough police investigation undertaken by two senior detective inspectors costing taxpayers money found there was no case to answer.