A female hen harrier raised in the Forest of Bowland, Lancashire, last year, and fitted with a satellite tag, was found dead on a grouse moor in the Yorkshire Dales in June this year. I hadn’t realised the trans-Pennine rivalry was so strong that the War of the Roses included shooting each other’s hen harriers.
This blog by RSPB Bowland Project Officer, Jude Lane, is an appropriately emotional and angry response.
Using cutting edge (pun intended) technology, scientists were able to show that there were traces of metal, mainly lead, on the fractured leg of the bird.
It doesn’t come as any great shock to hear this news. The bird was picked up by Natural England’s Stephen Murphy who has been satellite-tagging hen harriers for several years.
We already know that many of those birds disappear long before either they or their satellite tags should cease to work. Many of the ‘disappeared’ have been lost on grouse moors as was this one. When asked to comment on this study back in May, Defra Minister Richard Benyon described it thus: This work showed that hen harriers travel over large distances and some individuals range widely over both upland and lowland areas before returning to traditional upland heather moorland sites to breed.
- evidence of persecution is irrefutable
- we have observed masked and/or armed individuals in the vicinity of nest and roost sites and recorded activities likely to disturb birds at or near their nests
- we have nevertheless found direct evidence that Hen Harriers have been persecuted
- we have, for instance, been looking into the disappearance of six Hen Harriers at an autumn roost known to us in the northern uplands. The anecdotal evidence of deliberate persecution given to us in confidence by a local land manager correlates with the information provided by the last known location of a number of birds that were being radio-tracked by project staff
- a number of birds, including six birds fitted with satellite transmitters have been tracked from the Bowland Fells into parts of the North Pennines managed principally as driven grouse moors, and have not been recorded subsequently
- in three incidents nests had been destroyed by illegal burning
- we have also come across eight instances where other birds of prey have been shot, poisoned or disappeared on sites where Hen Harriers have been observed
But the point is that they don’t all return to traditional heather moorland areas to breed – particularly if their ranging takes them onto grouse moors where they may be shot by a person or persons apparently unknown.
Bowland Betty is an anecdote – a short-lived anecdote. She was hatched, flew around upland areas of northern England and south Scotland and was shot on a grouse moor before she could reproduce herself. Just an anecdote really.
But the science is very clear – there should be hundreds of pairs of hen harriers in the north of England and they rarely reach double figures these days let alone treble figures.
Last May the RSPB called for a government recovery plan for hen harriers endorsed by landowners – I haven’t seen one, have you? Now the RSPB is calling for an emergency recovery plan from Defra one of whose actions should be the continued existence of the National Wildlife Crime Unit whose future is not secure. I would like the NWCU to survive but I have to say that it hasn’t yet made a material difference to the fate of the hen harrier in England. I can’t really believe that it would even if its budget were doubled – which is beyond anyone’s hope.
No, we have to face the fact that while commercial grouse shooting remains as a widespread land use in northern England then the hen harrier will always remain an endangered species – or worse, become extinct in England. Let’s see how many hen harriers there are nesting in the north of England in 2013. Unless things miraculously improve then it will be time to start the campaign, on 12 August 2013, to end grouse shooting. Put the date in your diary.