Lancashire’s Forest of Bowland, a complete ecosystem destroyed.


Mallowdale Pike.

In 2009 the resident gamekeeper took up new duties in Scotland. The following spring a pair of peregrines took up residence successfully rearing 2 chicks. The site has been abandoned

The abandonment of all known peregrine nesting territories (18-20 pairs) established in Lancashire’s Forest of Bowland is now complete. Despite earlier claims to the contrary that one Peregrine nesting site remained occupied, an  RSPB officer last week confirmed to bird watchers the last known Bowland territory in the Croasdale valley had now also been found deserted. Read article, unidentified individual seen causing 2 hrs disturbance. Followed by this season’s (2016) failure to locate any nesting Hen Harriers in the Forest of Bowland on estates owned by United Utilities Plc, or on any of the additional private estates in this region, we have taken the decision to republish part of an article written by Terry Pickford which tells a sad story of the on-going disappearance of countless protected birds of prey from this region of west Lancashire resulting in the loss of Biodiversity within this important moorland Ecosystem. Not because those responsible for such illegal slaughter are trophy hunters, but because where Red Grouse are commercially shot for sport, Hen Harriers and Peregrine Falcons have been systematically annihilated by professional individuals who regard these avian predators as a threat to the Red Grouse stocks they are employed to manage and protect. By making this appalling information public both within the UK and to those that follow Raptor Politics from abroad, more people throughout the world will begin to realise the extent of the raptor persecution currently taking place on grouse moors, not only in Lancashire’s Forest of Bowland, but upon most of England’s northern uplands where Red Grouse are shot as a part of a multi million pound commercial sporting enterprise.

We appear to have exhausted all viable options that can prevent the Hen Harrier becoming just a historic symbol of England’s uplands rather than a living and important part of these moorland ecosystems. The Majority of game shooting owners together with their gamekeepers have now clearly demonstrated their unwillingness to accept the Hen Harrier or Peregrine onto moorland they manage for Red Grouse shooting. The disappearance in September 2014 of the two recently fledged Bowland Hen Harriers ‘Sky’ and ‘Hope’ was not a tragic accident; the two state of the art satellite tracking tags fitted to each Hen Harrier did not simply malfunction at almost the same time on two different shooting estates, nor were these birds predated by Peregrines as one gamekeeper so pathetically suggested. There have been few if any realistic or sensible explanations for the disappearance of both of these Harriers, other than the obvious cause previously reported by Raptor Politics, both Harriers having been shot and their satellite tags removed before being destroyed.


Forest of Bowland: An illegally snared Badger, left to die an agonising death over many days 

The missing tags fitted to both Harrier are a vital clue here as to what really happened shortly after ‘Skye’ and ‘Hope’ had successfully fledged in June 2014. 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. The ongoing killing of protected raptors on grouse moors, the destruction of nests, eggs and young throughout these remote moorland habitats is a crime almost impossible to prevent. Without a programme of proactive and decisive action appropriately funded by government and supported by much stronger penalties, possibly a licensing scheme as proposed by the RSPB that would deter rather than encourage such killings, the current position will continue with blatant impunity and more of England’s upland heather ecosystem and the biodiversity within them destroyed. The current Westminster Government will of course  never sanction such helpful changes as they would upset their financial supporters and those MP’s who either own estates or themselves take an active part in driven grouse shooting.

In 2015 England witnessed the introduction of a very carefully thought out strategy designed to destroy Hen Harriers away from their nests. This efficient and deadly tactic providing little or no chance of those responsible ever being apprehended let alone being brought to court to face justice. I believe most of us last year, including the RSPB, were taken completely off guard and surprised by the loss of the 4 male Hen Harriers from the 3 nests in Lancashire’s Forest of Bowland. Unbelievably, the same tactic was the used for a second time when a 5th male Hen Harrier disappeared from an active nest in the northern Pennines. No sensible person can be left in doubt these incidents each carried out on moorland where Red Grouse are shot were related to one single purpose, the elimination of Hen Harriers from both of these important Hen Harrier regions.


Forest of Bowland: A dead Rat captured in tunnel trap. Trap should have been checked by gamekeeper each 24 hours. This rat had been left to rot in trap just like the Badger for many days. 

Following the death of the Earl of Sefton in 1972, the Abbeystead estates he owned in the Forest of Bowland fell into mismanagement. In the early 1980’s the estate including a number of additional important grouse moors passed to their present owner the Duke of Westminster. In the years between the Earl of Sefton’s death and the subsequent sale of the estate to the Duke of Westminster, numbers of Hen Harriers found breeding upon the estate by members of the NWRG at Abbeystead, Tarnbrook, Littledale and Marshaw increased to at least twelve breeding pairs, additional occupied nests were certainly missed. The main reason for such a population explosion was a result of  an almost total lack of moorland management by estate gamekeepers during this short period; many  estate staff were made redundant, others deciding it was easier to sit at home and get paid without doing much work.

Within five years, following the new owner’s arrival at Abbeystead the estate was completely turned around producing much higher efficiencies in grouse numbers. A new management structure was put into place to sort the mess out and many new and highly experience younger moorland gamekeepers were employed to bring the grouse shooting back up to a viable and commercial level. It came as no surprise when Hen Harriers together with several pairs of Peregrines very quickly began to disappear, until finally they had been lost completely. This season (2016) there have been unconfirmed rumours that a single pair of Hen Harrier may have nested on moorland owned by the Duke of Westminster at or close to Marshaw. Sadly the 7 historic Peregrine territories that once existed on the Duke of Westminster’s estate holdings in the Forest of Bowland completes the overall picture of the collapse of Bowland’s former ecosystem and biodiversity that once existed but may now never be allowed to return.


Forest of Bowland: Raven Scars, Site one of many abandoned Peregrine nesting territories located in the Forest of Bowland

Please come and give your support to our Forest of Bowland Hen Harrier Day, Sunday 7 August, Dunsop Bridge, Nr Clitheroe, Lancashire. 

Please sign Mark Avery’s Petition to ban Driven Grouse Shooting in England 

9 comments to Lancashire’s Forest of Bowland, a complete ecosystem destroyed.

  • ros berrington

    This article provides deeply upsetting and frustrating reading. Where do we go from here,it is almost as if the estate owners are pushing to see just how much they can actually get away with i.e the systematic destruction of all raptors they deem a threat on huge tracts of our uplands with complete impunity and it appears they can.
    One wonders if no Harriers successfully breed this year, Natural England will start crowing that the Hen Harrier Action Plan is a success if numbers improve next year.
    Do we need to look to Europe for support now in the light of the European Commission serving notice to Natural England/Defra for their inability or unwillingness to protect our uplands?
    I for one will be voting to stay in Europe. Just imagine an England where a Tory Government has the final say on these and many other issues.

  • Peter Scott

    Editor’s Comment. We have just received information via our Contact Us Link claiming the person seen entering and then leaving the Croasdale peregrine site, causing the nesting peregrines 2 hours of disturbance, was working for the RSPB apparently placing a surveillance camera. This was very poor field behaviour whatever the reason placing the success of this active nest at high risk. Eggs left to chill for 2 hours are likely to result in their failure to hatch. We will now await the success or otherwise of this nesting site with some interest.

    Why on earth did someone NOT take a photograph of this individual. This was a chance and whoever had it, blew it. This could potentially prove incriminating and add further credibility to your ‘not fit for purpose’ accusations. If the bicycle photographer was one of your field team then unfortunately this calls into question your own validity.
    The main loser in all of this is the birds and ultimately those, like me, who care so much about them.

    Editor’s Comment Hi Peter, the RSPB have admitted the nest did fail shortly after the falcons incubating eggs were disturbed for 2 hours by the person seen entering the territory at 5pm and leaving again at 7 pm. There is no way anyone without a licence can verify what the RSPB told several bird watchers about the nests failure, the nest for all we know could still be occupied.

    If the information that the RSPB supplied regarding the failure of the site is correct, then it seems who ever the person was seen disturbing the falcons for 2 hrs then riding away may have contributed to the nests failure. The individual who captured the image of the cycle left on the track did not have chance to capture an image of the rider as he came away from the nest, by this time the observer was too far away. We are advised by a reliable source, the unidentified person seen entering the site and then riding away was sent to install a camera overlooking the nest to capture anyone disturbing the falcons. Ultimately, we agree this individual’s actions could have been the cause of the nests failure, who ever he was his actions were very questionable demonstrating very poor judgement.

  • Bird lover & concerned U.U. customer!

    I’m both alarmed and saddened to learn of this strange practice of a single RSPB worker, placing a surveillance camera at this and no doubt other nest sites. I would have thought that at least 2 workers would have firstly identified exactly where would be best to position the camera and then worked together, in order that the job gets done in the quickest time and therefore with minimum disturbance to what is/was the last remaining occupied Peregrine nest site in Bowland?

    There are 3 possible scenarios here. The most desirable scenario being that the nest is still occupied, with a working camera in position.
    If it has been abandoned, then it looks fairly nailed on that the time taken to get the job done, was the cause. If this was not the case, then the surveillance camera should have captured the culprits responsible. I sincerely hope there is still time for a new pair to re-occupy one of the known sites. It is just so terribly sad.

  • wayne

    If the individual who witnessed the disturbance was a bird watcher or have ANY interest in birds, surely he/she should have informed the police. The individual seen entering the site could have been an egg collector, or someone who meant to do the nesting falcons harm, although taking two hours this seems doubtful. He/she was obviously close enough to photograph the bike, so could have waited and addressed the situation, sounds like the falcons did not come first as this was clearly disturbance of the worst kind.Do we know if the RSPB have taken any action to trace the idiot who was seen at the site for 2 hrs, surly they must be at least interested?

  • Things are bad in the hills. We could see the way it was going years ago. It is not just the big birds that are being shot, of course, it is all the birds of prey without exception.

    One item of the shooting intensification that may have been missed are the new estate roads being built. In my patch they were made without Planning Permission and County Hall were simply uninterested in the complaints, saying they were upgrades to existing tracks when aerial images and the O.S. clearly showed they weren’t. In a small way the roads hastened the extinction of the harriers by allowing the keepers to chase them that much faster. The new roads are also unsightly blots on the landscape with Natural England and the N.P. A.O.N.B. managers not objecting to them, which is their ‘statutory duty’.

    The particular road builder I encountered had learnt to recognise long cairns in the hills and to crush these for roadstone. The archaeologists at County Hall in Morpeth weren’t bothered at all and never even turned out (years later they now claim they did). If this has been happening in north Cumbria and S.W. Northumberland then it will have happened elsewhere.

  • Albert Ross

    The problem won’t stop until WE the concerned do something pro active to mark our disgust with the people perpetrating this destruction. Your rally at Dunsop Bridge is all very well but it has one flaw. It is a week too early! Get out there on the ‘inglorious twelfth’ and demonstrate then. And do it time and again until the goons with guns realise that their days enjoyment is being forfeit due to the inability of their staff to provide safe haven for the nations raptors. OK so they may lose a few birds and have reduced “bags” but they will come to realise that half a loaf is a heck of better than no bread at all! Hit em where it hurts and get their attention!

    Editor’s Comment. Albert, you are correct of course, but what do we do when the estate owners with power and plenty of funds take the protesters to court where they would certainly demand substantial damages for the disruption caused to the shoots taking place? Would you be willing to take the risk and pay the heavy damages?

  • Susan Marriott

    We need a petition and publicity to embaress UNITED UTILITIES, we need to get all wildlife, environmental groups, 38 degress etc to back this!!!!!!!

  • nirofo

    If this disgustingly sad state of affairs was happening in just this one area it would be bad enough, the problem is it’s a state of affairs that’s happening on many more grouse shooting estates throughout England and Scotland, Natural England, Scottish Natural Heritage and dare I say it, the RSPB know it and do nothing meaningful about it.

    It’s not just the Peregrines and Hen harriers at dire risk either, the grouse shooting estate gamekeepers are not satisfied with that, they will gladly kill all birds of prey and any predatory animal that dares to show it’s face on the moorlands, even Mountain Hares are seen as a threat to their beloved grouse and are shot in the many hundreds on some estates. It doesn’t just stop with the wildlife though does it, the destruction of the moorland environment at the hands of these grouse shooting estates beggars belief, constant muirburn, excessive drainage, access tracks everywhere are destroying the ecosystem to such an extent that it’s making the moorlands virtually devoid of any wildlife except overpopulated numbers of Red Grouse.

    Constant burning and erosion are now so bad on some moors it has an effect on the water table leading to some devastating flooding in towns and villages lower down. This has to stop before it’s too late, (it may already be too late for some species), the only positive way to stop it is to Ban Driven Grouse Shooting, please sign the petition to do that here.

  • anthony

    Nice too see that peregrines @ warton Crag are doing well as are the surrounding areas,,, Very nice to see

    Editor’s Comment.
    Very significant, for many seasons peregrine sites located outside the boundary of the Forest of Bowland where red grouse are not shot always seem to produce high brood numbers; that says it all really.