Guest Blog – The Hen Harrier Affair by Tim Birch

birchThe Hen Harrier Affair – a personal perspective

 

Tim Birch is the Conservation Manager of the Derbyshire Widlife Trust.  He has worked in nature conservation for many years, much of it abroad, but grew up in Derbyshire to which he has now returned.

 

It’s now been almost 18 months since I’ve been back in Derbyshire working with the Derbyshire Wildlife Trust as their conservation manager after many years of working on the frontline of global conservation issues.

From helping to fight the destruction of the rainforests from the Amazon to British Columbia, I’ve been lucky enough to meet some incredible people who are doing extraordinary things to try and protect our planet’s amazing biodiversity from being destroyed.

It was with a sigh of relief then that I came back to the Derbyshire moors where I grew up and tramped the moors with family and friends and where I could once again hear my first Cuckoo and see Lapwings tumbling in the sky to announce the arrival of spring.

At least things couldn’t be as bad as some of the truly desperate things that I had witnessed overseas in terms of environmental abuse. Or so I thought.

Over the past six months I’ve had my view of the Peak District uplands radically altered, as it’s clear that once you scratch below the surface, things aren’t quite right – in fact there is a festering sore.

It’s clear to me now why as a teenager in the Peak District, I was never lucky enough to spot Hen Harriers sky dancing on the moors – because they were and continue to be relentlessly persecuted by people who won’t tolerate these magnificent birds on their grouse moors.

Indeed, as I’ve discovered, the situation is actually far worse and extends far beyond the Derbyshire moors. It’s not just Hen Harriers that have been relentlessly pursued but other birds of prey including Peregrines and Goshawks.

Let’s not forget that these birds are legally protected and all this is happening within a National Park in a highly developed country – the UK – not the lawless Amazon frontier but right here, right now in one of our most spectacular landscapes in the heart of England.

I was recently lucky enough this Spring to spot a sky dancing male Hen Harrier in the Upper Derwent Valley, a very rare event indeed. High up on the moors it was performing its big dipper display flight, carving a breathtaking route across the evening sky – it was ghostly, even moth like and it was truly stunning.

A couple of days later a female appeared but then promptly “disappeared” or did it simply move on? That male then proceeded to sky dance for nearly six weeks without finding a mate.

Sadly, no breeding took place this year but it’s an indication that these spectacular birds want to re-occupy what is surely a traditional breeding area for them – they want to come home. They are as much a part of our national heritage as Westminster Abbey or Big Ben, but a small group of people are denying the opportunity for tens of thousands of visitors to the Peak District National Park to witness some of our most amazing wildlife.

This cannot be right.

Millions of people in the UK are members of wildlife and conservation groups whilst TV programmes like Spring Watch show the passion that people have for their wildlife. To my mind this is almost unrivalled anywhere in the world.

People want to see healthy birds of prey populations back on our uplands. The opportunities for ecotourism to showcase our thriving wildlife full of Hen Harriers, Peregrines, to name but a few species, is tremendously exciting. At the moment though this simply isn’t possible and the persecution of Hen Harriers to the point that we have none breeding in one of our premier National Parks is something that needs to be urgently addressed. It is a national disgrace.

I’ve met with many members of the public recently in the uplands of the Peak District National Park in the course of my work and when you explain that protected birds of prey aren’t able to breed in a National Park due to persecution every response is one of incredulity. How can that be happening in a National Park they say ?  Aren’t National Parks supposed to protect our precious wildlife ?

Like millions of people, I deeply care about the illegal hunting of elephants and rhinos in Africa as well as the illegal shooting of migrating birds in countries such as Malta. And like many people I also care about the on-going persecution of birds of prey in the Peak District and across the UK. Elephants, rhinos, Hen harriers – it’s all part of the same problem: a lack of respect for the natural world and the laws.

Despite this depressing scenario I now sense a growing movement of people who want to strengthen our links with the natural world and restore it – not destroy it. This is why I and the Derbyshire Wildlife Trust will be supporting the Hen Harrier Day on August 10th in the Peak District.

We gained the right to access our uplands with the mass trespasses of the early 20th Century in the Peak District – we led the way in this part of the UK. Now we need a mass movement of people to show the way again and reclaim our natural heritage on these uplands. Our Hen Harriers, and other upland wildlife desperately need our help. I hope to see many of you there.

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29 Comments

  1. Susan Cross says:

    Thank you, Tim, for that passionate and clear post. It makes me very glad to be A long term DWT member and has probably bought you many more years of support. Hope to see you on the 10th August.

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  2. Paul V Irving says:

    Well said Tim, I too hope to see you there. The situation Here in the Dales is no better, we have not had a breeding attempt since 2007 and 60% of our recent attempts have ended in suspicious failure.

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  3. Merlin says:

    Cracking post and nice to see so much support in the Derbyshire area, I vaguely remember reading the Dark peak report by the RSPB several years ago and the cynical responses by the shooting fraternity in most of the major press, the contempt of these people was driven home a year later when a known Goshawk nest had the young removed, killed and laid out with their legs removed (they had been BTO rung) and left for the raptor observers to find them. Glad to see people finally coming round to how selfish the game shooting fraternity are, was made up when the National trust threatened to withdraw the right to shoot on their land if the persecution continued. hope Lancashire and Yorkshire can drum up similar support !

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  4. kie says:

    "female appeared but then promptly “disappeared” or did it simply move on?"

    So, although you don't know what happened to it, you have no proof, you thought you would insinuate wrongdoing anyway?

    Likes(10)Dislikes(22)
    • Mark says:

      kie - well, there is a lot of this that happens. Indeed when Hen harriers were wing-tagged for a study of their survival that showed that the survival is very low on grouse moors. it also showed that there was a much higher proportion of first year males on grouse moors than one would expect from their representation in the population as a whole. Both are because hen Harriers are killed. increasingly they are killed in the winter too. So we do know what happens on a population scale but Paul was quite right not to assume that every single disappearance is due to criminality.

      And kie, your occasional appearances on this blog always seem to be intended to muddy the waters. Your comments are the equivalent of chaff released from fighter planes to confuse the radar systems of the enemy. We can see clearly now - you're on a losing wicket. ['muddying waters', 'chaff', 'losing wicket' that's enough mixing of metaphors Ed]

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      • Keith Cowieson says:

        Mark,

        Love the allusion to chaff released from fighter planes - now you're sort of talking my language!

        That said, Kie poses a very valid question - that birds apparently 'disappear' or perhaps 'move on' is clearly not evidence of any illegality.

        For example, I spent an interesting day at Langholm Moor week before last. This year, 21 x HH have settled at Langholm and made 12 nesting attempts (along with 25-30 SE Owl, numerous Merlin, Buzzard etc). There have been 1-3 nests normally in recent years. HHs often nest in a semi-colonial fashion and some of the Langholm birds seem to have arrived once the season had already commenced. So they were obviously attracted to the moor for some reason or another. Of the 21 x HH, two were tagged Langholm birds from last year, and if we assume that another 6 represent the 'normal Langholm stock, where did the other 13 untagged birds come from? What makes them settle at Langholm in such numbers occasionally, and not elsewhere such as in nearby Geltsdale?

        Clearly favourable habitat and a good vole year is one likely factor. Perhaps a lack of mammalian and other predators is another. We now know from the recent Skye study, see here - http://www.skye-birds.com/blog - that fox predation can severely and adversely affect breeding success of HH and lead to local population declines. This whole issue is clearly far more complex than the current polarised debate would have you believe.

        I'm also intrigued by the notion of alleged winter killing of HH, let alone increasing winter killing. Where is the evidence for this, can you point me at it please, because I can’t find it by internet searching.

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        • Mark says:

          Keith - you're not waving you're drowning. You only ever post comments on here about grouse shooting to quibble. And you aren't doing it very well. I wonder what is your motivation? So, let's go through your points:

          Disappearance is not evidence of illegality. No-one said it was - did they? But actually it is evidence - maybe you mean it is isn't proof? Which, again, nobody said it was. The evidence for illegality on grouse moors is very strong. Don't you agree (and do please answer this question before making further comments)? The paper Etheridge et al (1997). The effects of illegal killing and destruction of nests by humans on the population dynamics of the hen harrier in Scotland. Journal Applied Ecology 34: 1081-1105 quoted in this blog on this site http://markavery.info/2014/06/04/hen-harrier-biology/ is pretty strong evidence. Do you agree? If not, why not? But, in a way, that paper did partly rely on an accumulation of evidence comprising of many hen harriers disappearing without trade very quickly from driven grouse moors - as Paul says, they don't tend to do that from areas not managed for driven grouse shooting. this leads to the almost complete absence of nesting HH from grouse moors across the UK as referred to in this report referred to in this blog http://jncc.defra.gov.uk/pdf/jncc441.pdf So stop mucking about, throwing chaff into the air. Are you saying that illegal persecution isn't the main determinant of the dispersion of HH on upland areas in Scotland, NEngland and Wales - if you are then tell us what is, please? Do you have any scientific problems with the science published on the subject - if so, then please let us know?

          Langholm - what Langholm 1 & 2 appear to show is that if you put quite a lot of effort into protecting HH in a single location which is in reach of HH recruits then numbers can build up. this also demonstrates that it is a very unusual situation since there aren't other areas in southern or eastern Scotland that have attracted such large densities (and, no, nor has Geltsdale and nor has any other grouse moor in the N of England). Langholm 1 showed how enormous was the impact of illegal persecution before the project. remember that the HH were 'protected' throughout the study - kind of makes you realise that they weren't before the study doesn't it? And clearly they aren't in the nearby bits of southern Scotland either. From what do these HH need protection do you think? No it's not very complicated at all - stop throwing chaff.

          Do you not believe that winter killing of HH actually occurs? That's funny because I meet lots of people who do. Also, your internet search wasn't very rigorous if you didn't find this quote by Natural England:

          ‘Our studies of the movements of satellite tagged birds are continuing, as they are yielding much useful information on the movements, habitat use, and ecology of Hen Harriers. But they are also raising questions about their ultimate fate. 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.‘ from A Future for the Hen Harrier in England published by Natural England in 2008.'that extract was quoted in my blog of 19 February this year. Many of us would like to see the radio-tracking data that NE started collecting in, I believe, 2002. that's a lot of data that have not been put in the public domain despite being funded by our taxes.

          Stop chaffing. Give us your grand theory on the HH instead please.

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          • Keith Cowieson says:

            Mark,

            “you only ever post comments on grouse shooting here to quibble” Actually if you re-read my comments you will see it is not quibbling but questioning – eg where did 13 untagged HHs that settled at Langholm this year come from? What makes them settle at Langholm in such numbers occasionally, and not elsewhere, such as in nearby Geltsdale? Where is the evidence for winter killing of HHs? because I couldn’t find any. As a non-shooting uplands enthusiast, I am genuinely interested to find out.

            Taking the last question first, you point me to a quote from NE. Let’s examine this single piece of ‘evidence’ for the alleged increasing killing of HHs at night:

            “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.”

            So, anecdotal evidence (from one northern uplands winter roost site) correlates with unpublished last known location information – worth following up, but hardly compelling evidence is it? Perhaps it involved a fox finding a bit of a honey pot site? See the Skye report reference foxes predating adult HH at night, and returning to take young HH, night after night, from a known good foraging location - http://tinyurl.com/pfrzxab. Who knows? That is the beauty of having incontrovertible video evidence – you don’t have to rely on unattributable, anecdotal evidence correlating with some other piece of inconclusive, unpublished data.

            Oh, and you meet a lot of people who do believe it – more compelling evidence?

            BTW what is the mean-time-between-failure rate of the radio-tracking devices? Anyone know? My experience in another life using similar radio-tracking technology and devices is that claims made by manufacturers for failure rates of their products should be viewed with healthy scepticism. We have yet to invent the perfect, 24/7 available, 100% serviceable tracking device, much beloved of science and crime fiction. Malaysian Airlines Flight MH 370 anyone? Great things these radio-tracking and other similar electronic devices for pinpointing, accurately, last locations.

            Finally, from NE on your earlier blog on the subject back in February.
            “We intend to publish an analysis of remote tracking data once the wider PhD research of which it forms a part has been completed. We had hoped this would be during 2014 but it may not now be available until 2015.

            We expect the study to provide much new information about the movements and ranging behaviour of Hen Harriers in England, BUT IT WOULD BE A MISTAKE TO THINK THAT THE DATA WILL SHED MUCH LIGHT ON THE MAIN CAUSES OF HEN HARRIER MORTALITY (my emphasis). For radio-tagged birds, locating a bird that has died is dependent on there being someone in the vicinity at the time. Given the vast areas involved and the limited range of the tags this is usually not possible. The satellite tags which we now use usually provide good quality data over regular intervals for a day or two, but then have a downtime of a day or more when the battery is recharging and no information is received. For this reason the final transmission received from each tag does not necessarily reveal the site at which the bird has died and bodies are rarely recovered.”

            Turning to the question of whether persecution is a major determinant in HH population distribution & density - most definitely, along with predation, intra-guild competition, habitat suitability, prey availability, adverse spring weather, 1st year winter survival rates, disturbance, afforestation, and other land use changes.

            Stop ‘chaffing’? Why are you so keen to reduce the issue to ‘it is all the fault of driven grouse shooting’ Not much of that in Skye, or IoM, or Wales, or D&G, or Moine Mhor, or Knapdale, or Cowal, or Caithness - all with fluctuating HH populations over the years.

            What do you think the significance of the Skye study is? Here’s what the author thinks:

            “Problems of human persecution remain a priority for the conservation of this species. However, it cannot be the exclusive focus when there are clearly other problems in forests and moorlands not managed for other sporting interests. The challenges facing Hen Harriers are complex, but when high nest failure rates occur there is a need for a detailed interpretation of causal factors.”

            What I would call a balanced view.

            You ask what my motivation is. My motivation is to support any initiative that will help HHs flourish on suitable habitat (such as Bodmin Moor, Dartmoor and Exmoor), while preserving the beneficial net effects of extant land management regimes, and that is neither socially divisive nor economically damaging, see here - http://tinyurl.com/m9va2u2.

            Defra’s Joint HH Action Plan has the potential to do just this if it supported by those who can make it work. Your proposed blanket ban does not.

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          • Mark says:

            Keith - still chaffing.

            At the end of my first para I asked you: Are you saying that illegal persecution isn't the main determinant of the dispersion of HH on upland areas in Scotland, NEngland and Wales - if you are then tell us what is, please? Do you have any scientific problems with the science published on the subject - if so, then please let us know?

            You haven't answered.
            At the end of my second para I asked: From what do these HH need protection do you think? No it's not very complicated at all - stop throwing chaff.

            You haven't answered.
            At the end of my comment I asked: Stop chaffing. Give us your grand theory on the HH instead please.

            You haven't answered.

            You don't have answers do you?

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  5. Paul V Irving says:

    Kie, indeed it may have simply moved on but, and it is a big but, whilst that would be a common phenomenon on a grouse moor. IE pair meet and then one or both disappear before or during egg laying, it is almost unknown away from grouse moors. As I recall last year one harrier nest on a grouse moor failed when the male disappeared whilst the female was incubating and the shooting press was full of natural desertion claims, yet again whilst this has happened before on grouse moors it is almost unheard of elsewhere. You claim we have no direct evidence, true but you would have to be a bloody fool not to know that something untoward is happening and it is not natural, there is really only one explanation. Of course if the direct evidence you so crave was easily come by I suspect a considerable number of grouse keepers would have made court appearances by now. What you fail to understand is that there is a wealth of both knowledge and scientific study on harriers that is untainted by the requirements of and myths promulgated by the grouse lobby.

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  6. kie says:

    "You claim we have no direct evidence, true but you would have to be a bloody fool not to know that something untoward is happening and it is not natural, there is really only one explanation."

    I would strongly suggest that the same would have been said of a certain nest that failed in Bowland in 2010, There could really be *only one explanation* - if it were not for the camera footage of an Eagle Owl raiding the nest.

    Just imagine who would have been blamed... if it wasn't for the video evidence?

    Had anyone even *dared* to suggest it might have been raided by an Owl, they would have been laughed out of the bloody room and called an apologist for persecution!

    You see, thats what happens - in the absence of any evidence, there is always 'really only one explanation'...

    (Hey, and lets not forget that at the time, Mark was openly discussing the possibility of controlling Eagle Owls - something he might want to remember next time he's throwing names at people calling for the control of Buzzards...)

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    • Mark says:

      kie - I don't think I was actually, but never mind.

      Do have a look at my reply to Keith before you remount your high horse, please. We do have plenty of scientific evidence - do you have a problem with that? If so - what is it, please?

      Glad you see you seem to have given your 'HH need grouse moors' argument a rest - it was a bit silly wasn't it? Only the GWCT have plugged it recently and even they have now gone quiet - perhaps because it makes them look more than a little ridiculous.

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  7. kie says:

    Well, since Hen Harriers are continuing to thrive on the areas without grouse moors, you must have a point... oh! (sorry, its that big magical hoover isn't it - in fact I think I saw a gamekeeper using one the other day, though it might have just been a leaf blower!)

    So, what exactly did you mean by "It is hugely important that we reach a decision on Eagle Owls soon, but that decision has to be based on solid evidence." if that was not discussing the possibility controlling them? - and I'll repeat that exact phrase for accuracy, 'discussing the possibility of controlling them'

    So Mark - back to my question, if there wasn't video evidence on the Eagle Owl, who would have got the blame? Go on, who would your 'scientific evidence' have pointed the finger of suspicion on?

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    • Mark says:

      kie- you are really missing the point - deliberately? More chaff!

      We know that HH nests are predated - that's hardly a shock. We know that not all losses are due to criminality - that isn't a shock either. Sometimes nature is quicker than gamekeepers! We also know, from science, that the major factor limiting HH numbers and distribution (in suitable habitat) is illegal persecution. Are you arguing with that - you dind't answer that question? Are you? If so, on what scientific basis please?

      I'm happy with my quote on Eagle Owl - now that you have given it in full. I would have been the last person advocating taking extreme measures against them (ask my staff) and one of the last advocating taking any measures (ditto). Read my RSPB blogs at that time and I think you'll see that (I haven't checked though).

      And I'll assume you have no problems with the science that shows that illegal persecution of HH is a major, if not the major,determinant of their breeding densities across suitable habitat. unless you do come back and tell us otherwise and back it up.

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      • kie says:

        We know that not all losses are due to criminality

        However losses that cannot be explained or proven are repeatedly defined as persecution

        I'll Quote from Natural Englands definition of persecution:

        (i) Bird or birds settle in an area and build a nest then leave the area/disappear or
        settle elsewhere

        Can you see the problem there Mark?

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        • Mark says:

          kie - you don't want to answer any question do you? I'll help you out there - you need to say 'no'.

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          • kie says:

            Bit pointless accusing me of not answering any question when you've been repeatedly avoiding the one I asked first Mark ;o)

            Hows about you answer who would have been blamed if there was no video evidence proving that an Eagle Owl did it?

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          • Mark says:

            kie - it's very difficult to say, isn't it.

            Now, here's a reminder of what you need to answer to retain any shreds of credibility (actually, to be honest, I don't think you are the least bit credible so you have an uphill task with me):

            We know that HH nests are predated - that's hardly a shock. We know that not all losses are due to criminality - that isn't a shock either. Sometimes nature is quicker than gamekeepers! We also know, from science, that the major factor limiting HH numbers and distribution (in suitable habitat) is illegal persecution. Are you arguing with that - you didn't answer that question? Are you? If so, on what scientific basis please?

            I'm happy with my quote on Eagle Owl - now that you have given it in full. I would have been the last person advocating taking extreme measures against them (ask my staff) and one of the last advocating taking any measures (ditto). Read my RSPB blogs at that time and I think you'll see that (I haven't checked though).

            And I'll assume you have no problems with the science that shows that illegal persecution of HH is a major, if not the major,determinant of their breeding densities across suitable habitat. unless you do come back and tell us otherwise and back it up.

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          • kie says:

            "Now, here's a reminder of what you need to answer

            Hahaha - we can play this all night Mark, but I asked first, so courtesy suggests you need to answer before you get mine

            Quid pro quo, Clarice...

            However, just to help you out

            "I'll assume you have no problems with the science that shows that illegal persecution of HH is a major, if not the major,determinant of their breeding densities across suitable habitat"

            'A major' - along with spring temperatures, vole densities and songbird populations.

            However "across suitable habitat" is a loose and poorly defined reference, and I don't accept that English grouse moors and their surrounding land uses deliver as suitable a habitat on a landscape scale as you seem to think they do, and I believe that this is the main limiting factor on English HH populations. I would point to the heather and grass mosaic seen at Langholm (and its ensuing vole and songbird populations) as discussed in the arroyo amar et al study as support for my position.

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  8. Jonathan Wallace says:

    Re-reading Tim's post I think he leaves the question as to why the female was not seen again open - it might have moved on or something more sinister might have happened to it: we don't know and Tim does not suggest that he does. The question, though, is why that displaying male was all alone in a large area of suitable hen harrier habitat? Why could it not find a mate? Our moorlands should be full of hen harriers but they are not and what, other than widespread persecution, could be the reason for that?

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  9. Gongfarmer says:

    I just love it when the rural nutter types come out of the closet to comment on your blog - avoiding answering the questions, extensive use of smoke and mirrors, rambling all over the place. It does add a sense of Saturday night comedy to the blog.

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  10. Paul V Irving says:

    With two or three known pairs of Eagle Owl in northern England they are hardly going to be responsible for all the harrier disappearances. the nest that was filmed being visited by an Eagle Owl was already a failure as the female had sat on the eggs for well beyond the normal incubation period, and despite what people have said neither eggs nor adults were harmed.
    The point Kie deliberately misses is the type of disappearance I was describing ONLY HAPPENS ON GROUSE MOORS, THAT MAKES IT SUSPICIOUS.
    Actually all the recently gathered evidence shows that the problem for English harriers ie Bowland harriers is not productivity because most nests there succeed ( much to the credit of United Utilities and RSPB) but over winter survival and many of these harriers disperse onto other Pennine grouse moor areas. That little is what we know from the tracking data and it is imperative that NE publish or release the rest of the data , paid for with public money.

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    • MK says:

      Presumably if the male had still been around the Eagle Owl might not have got anywhere near the nest, as Mr HH would have had a decent go at mobbing it or distraction display (which Mrs HH couldn't do as she was sat on the eggs)?

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  11. Shalstead says:

    I think like some within the rural community we should choose which laws we obey and which we simply ignore. Given the nature of legislation backing and allowing the survival of farming within this nation, be it subsidies given if certain things are grown and the restrictions on importing before a hefty levy is imposed, I think that those who are choosing to ignore such things as the right to life for a hen harrier are a bit hypocritical. When the law suits them and pays them for their choices they seem to be very clear on the legislative processes that govern the countryside. Why the selected deafness?

    Take the law as a whole or not at all, we will soon see how far up a creek without a paddle you are.

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  12. […] a look at the passionate Guest Blog posted here last week by Tim Birch, Conservation Manager for the Derbyshire Wildlife Trust.  He […]

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  13. Henry Harrier says:

    The words" If it has talons on this moor, it's dead" upset me some twenty years ago when I first heard them. Nothing has changed. Land owners who employ gamekeepers need to vet them properly, poacher turned gamekeeper shouldn't be a good qualification! It is blatantly obvious why grouse moors which should support good numbers of harriers have none.

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  14. […] three pairs have bred – all have required 24 hour protection. You can read more about this on Mark Avery’s blog, as well as by visiting the websites of Chris Packham and Birders Against Wildlife Crime, the RSPB, […]

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  15. […] the left is Tim Birch who wrote a Guest Blog for this site last […]

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  1. Susan Cross says:

    Thank you, Tim, for that passionate and clear post. It makes me very glad to be A long term DWT member and has probably bought you many more years of support. Hope to see you on the 10th August.

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  2. Paul V Irving says:

    Well said Tim, I too hope to see you there. The situation Here in the Dales is no better, we have not had a breeding attempt since 2007 and 60% of our recent attempts have ended in suspicious failure.

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  3. Merlin says:

    Cracking post and nice to see so much support in the Derbyshire area, I vaguely remember reading the Dark peak report by the RSPB several years ago and the cynical responses by the shooting fraternity in most of the major press, the contempt of these people was driven home a year later when a known Goshawk nest had the young removed, killed and laid out with their legs removed (they had been BTO rung) and left for the raptor observers to find them. Glad to see people finally coming round to how selfish the game shooting fraternity are, was made up when the National trust threatened to withdraw the right to shoot on their land if the persecution continued. hope Lancashire and Yorkshire can drum up similar support !

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  4. kie says:

    "female appeared but then promptly “disappeared” or did it simply move on?"

    So, although you don't know what happened to it, you have no proof, you thought you would insinuate wrongdoing anyway?

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    • Mark says:

      kie - well, there is a lot of this that happens. Indeed when Hen harriers were wing-tagged for a study of their survival that showed that the survival is very low on grouse moors. it also showed that there was a much higher proportion of first year males on grouse moors than one would expect from their representation in the population as a whole. Both are because hen Harriers are killed. increasingly they are killed in the winter too. So we do know what happens on a population scale but Paul was quite right not to assume that every single disappearance is due to criminality.

      And kie, your occasional appearances on this blog always seem to be intended to muddy the waters. Your comments are the equivalent of chaff released from fighter planes to confuse the radar systems of the enemy. We can see clearly now - you're on a losing wicket. ['muddying waters', 'chaff', 'losing wicket' that's enough mixing of metaphors Ed]

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      • Keith Cowieson says:

        Mark,

        Love the allusion to chaff released from fighter planes - now you're sort of talking my language!

        That said, Kie poses a very valid question - that birds apparently 'disappear' or perhaps 'move on' is clearly not evidence of any illegality.

        For example, I spent an interesting day at Langholm Moor week before last. This year, 21 x HH have settled at Langholm and made 12 nesting attempts (along with 25-30 SE Owl, numerous Merlin, Buzzard etc). There have been 1-3 nests normally in recent years. HHs often nest in a semi-colonial fashion and some of the Langholm birds seem to have arrived once the season had already commenced. So they were obviously attracted to the moor for some reason or another. Of the 21 x HH, two were tagged Langholm birds from last year, and if we assume that another 6 represent the 'normal Langholm stock, where did the other 13 untagged birds come from? What makes them settle at Langholm in such numbers occasionally, and not elsewhere such as in nearby Geltsdale?

        Clearly favourable habitat and a good vole year is one likely factor. Perhaps a lack of mammalian and other predators is another. We now know from the recent Skye study, see here - http://www.skye-birds.com/blog - that fox predation can severely and adversely affect breeding success of HH and lead to local population declines. This whole issue is clearly far more complex than the current polarised debate would have you believe.

        I'm also intrigued by the notion of alleged winter killing of HH, let alone increasing winter killing. Where is the evidence for this, can you point me at it please, because I can’t find it by internet searching.

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        • Mark says:

          Keith - you're not waving you're drowning. You only ever post comments on here about grouse shooting to quibble. And you aren't doing it very well. I wonder what is your motivation? So, let's go through your points:

          Disappearance is not evidence of illegality. No-one said it was - did they? But actually it is evidence - maybe you mean it is isn't proof? Which, again, nobody said it was. The evidence for illegality on grouse moors is very strong. Don't you agree (and do please answer this question before making further comments)? The paper Etheridge et al (1997). The effects of illegal killing and destruction of nests by humans on the population dynamics of the hen harrier in Scotland. Journal Applied Ecology 34: 1081-1105 quoted in this blog on this site http://markavery.info/2014/06/04/hen-harrier-biology/ is pretty strong evidence. Do you agree? If not, why not? But, in a way, that paper did partly rely on an accumulation of evidence comprising of many hen harriers disappearing without trade very quickly from driven grouse moors - as Paul says, they don't tend to do that from areas not managed for driven grouse shooting. this leads to the almost complete absence of nesting HH from grouse moors across the UK as referred to in this report referred to in this blog http://jncc.defra.gov.uk/pdf/jncc441.pdf So stop mucking about, throwing chaff into the air. Are you saying that illegal persecution isn't the main determinant of the dispersion of HH on upland areas in Scotland, NEngland and Wales - if you are then tell us what is, please? Do you have any scientific problems with the science published on the subject - if so, then please let us know?

          Langholm - what Langholm 1 & 2 appear to show is that if you put quite a lot of effort into protecting HH in a single location which is in reach of HH recruits then numbers can build up. this also demonstrates that it is a very unusual situation since there aren't other areas in southern or eastern Scotland that have attracted such large densities (and, no, nor has Geltsdale and nor has any other grouse moor in the N of England). Langholm 1 showed how enormous was the impact of illegal persecution before the project. remember that the HH were 'protected' throughout the study - kind of makes you realise that they weren't before the study doesn't it? And clearly they aren't in the nearby bits of southern Scotland either. From what do these HH need protection do you think? No it's not very complicated at all - stop throwing chaff.

          Do you not believe that winter killing of HH actually occurs? That's funny because I meet lots of people who do. Also, your internet search wasn't very rigorous if you didn't find this quote by Natural England:

          ‘Our studies of the movements of satellite tagged birds are continuing, as they are yielding much useful information on the movements, habitat use, and ecology of Hen Harriers. But they are also raising questions about their ultimate fate. 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.‘ from A Future for the Hen Harrier in England published by Natural England in 2008.'that extract was quoted in my blog of 19 February this year. Many of us would like to see the radio-tracking data that NE started collecting in, I believe, 2002. that's a lot of data that have not been put in the public domain despite being funded by our taxes.

          Stop chaffing. Give us your grand theory on the HH instead please.

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          • Keith Cowieson says:

            Mark,

            “you only ever post comments on grouse shooting here to quibble” Actually if you re-read my comments you will see it is not quibbling but questioning – eg where did 13 untagged HHs that settled at Langholm this year come from? What makes them settle at Langholm in such numbers occasionally, and not elsewhere, such as in nearby Geltsdale? Where is the evidence for winter killing of HHs? because I couldn’t find any. As a non-shooting uplands enthusiast, I am genuinely interested to find out.

            Taking the last question first, you point me to a quote from NE. Let’s examine this single piece of ‘evidence’ for the alleged increasing killing of HHs at night:

            “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.”

            So, anecdotal evidence (from one northern uplands winter roost site) correlates with unpublished last known location information – worth following up, but hardly compelling evidence is it? Perhaps it involved a fox finding a bit of a honey pot site? See the Skye report reference foxes predating adult HH at night, and returning to take young HH, night after night, from a known good foraging location - http://tinyurl.com/pfrzxab. Who knows? That is the beauty of having incontrovertible video evidence – you don’t have to rely on unattributable, anecdotal evidence correlating with some other piece of inconclusive, unpublished data.

            Oh, and you meet a lot of people who do believe it – more compelling evidence?

            BTW what is the mean-time-between-failure rate of the radio-tracking devices? Anyone know? My experience in another life using similar radio-tracking technology and devices is that claims made by manufacturers for failure rates of their products should be viewed with healthy scepticism. We have yet to invent the perfect, 24/7 available, 100% serviceable tracking device, much beloved of science and crime fiction. Malaysian Airlines Flight MH 370 anyone? Great things these radio-tracking and other similar electronic devices for pinpointing, accurately, last locations.

            Finally, from NE on your earlier blog on the subject back in February.
            “We intend to publish an analysis of remote tracking data once the wider PhD research of which it forms a part has been completed. We had hoped this would be during 2014 but it may not now be available until 2015.

            We expect the study to provide much new information about the movements and ranging behaviour of Hen Harriers in England, BUT IT WOULD BE A MISTAKE TO THINK THAT THE DATA WILL SHED MUCH LIGHT ON THE MAIN CAUSES OF HEN HARRIER MORTALITY (my emphasis). For radio-tagged birds, locating a bird that has died is dependent on there being someone in the vicinity at the time. Given the vast areas involved and the limited range of the tags this is usually not possible. The satellite tags which we now use usually provide good quality data over regular intervals for a day or two, but then have a downtime of a day or more when the battery is recharging and no information is received. For this reason the final transmission received from each tag does not necessarily reveal the site at which the bird has died and bodies are rarely recovered.”

            Turning to the question of whether persecution is a major determinant in HH population distribution & density - most definitely, along with predation, intra-guild competition, habitat suitability, prey availability, adverse spring weather, 1st year winter survival rates, disturbance, afforestation, and other land use changes.

            Stop ‘chaffing’? Why are you so keen to reduce the issue to ‘it is all the fault of driven grouse shooting’ Not much of that in Skye, or IoM, or Wales, or D&G, or Moine Mhor, or Knapdale, or Cowal, or Caithness - all with fluctuating HH populations over the years.

            What do you think the significance of the Skye study is? Here’s what the author thinks:

            “Problems of human persecution remain a priority for the conservation of this species. However, it cannot be the exclusive focus when there are clearly other problems in forests and moorlands not managed for other sporting interests. The challenges facing Hen Harriers are complex, but when high nest failure rates occur there is a need for a detailed interpretation of causal factors.”

            What I would call a balanced view.

            You ask what my motivation is. My motivation is to support any initiative that will help HHs flourish on suitable habitat (such as Bodmin Moor, Dartmoor and Exmoor), while preserving the beneficial net effects of extant land management regimes, and that is neither socially divisive nor economically damaging, see here - http://tinyurl.com/m9va2u2.

            Defra’s Joint HH Action Plan has the potential to do just this if it supported by those who can make it work. Your proposed blanket ban does not.

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          • Mark says:

            Keith - still chaffing.

            At the end of my first para I asked you: Are you saying that illegal persecution isn't the main determinant of the dispersion of HH on upland areas in Scotland, NEngland and Wales - if you are then tell us what is, please? Do you have any scientific problems with the science published on the subject - if so, then please let us know?

            You haven't answered.
            At the end of my second para I asked: From what do these HH need protection do you think? No it's not very complicated at all - stop throwing chaff.

            You haven't answered.
            At the end of my comment I asked: Stop chaffing. Give us your grand theory on the HH instead please.

            You haven't answered.

            You don't have answers do you?

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  5. Paul V Irving says:

    Kie, indeed it may have simply moved on but, and it is a big but, whilst that would be a common phenomenon on a grouse moor. IE pair meet and then one or both disappear before or during egg laying, it is almost unknown away from grouse moors. As I recall last year one harrier nest on a grouse moor failed when the male disappeared whilst the female was incubating and the shooting press was full of natural desertion claims, yet again whilst this has happened before on grouse moors it is almost unheard of elsewhere. You claim we have no direct evidence, true but you would have to be a bloody fool not to know that something untoward is happening and it is not natural, there is really only one explanation. Of course if the direct evidence you so crave was easily come by I suspect a considerable number of grouse keepers would have made court appearances by now. What you fail to understand is that there is a wealth of both knowledge and scientific study on harriers that is untainted by the requirements of and myths promulgated by the grouse lobby.

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  6. kie says:

    "You claim we have no direct evidence, true but you would have to be a bloody fool not to know that something untoward is happening and it is not natural, there is really only one explanation."

    I would strongly suggest that the same would have been said of a certain nest that failed in Bowland in 2010, There could really be *only one explanation* - if it were not for the camera footage of an Eagle Owl raiding the nest.

    Just imagine who would have been blamed... if it wasn't for the video evidence?

    Had anyone even *dared* to suggest it might have been raided by an Owl, they would have been laughed out of the bloody room and called an apologist for persecution!

    You see, thats what happens - in the absence of any evidence, there is always 'really only one explanation'...

    (Hey, and lets not forget that at the time, Mark was openly discussing the possibility of controlling Eagle Owls - something he might want to remember next time he's throwing names at people calling for the control of Buzzards...)

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    • Mark says:

      kie - I don't think I was actually, but never mind.

      Do have a look at my reply to Keith before you remount your high horse, please. We do have plenty of scientific evidence - do you have a problem with that? If so - what is it, please?

      Glad you see you seem to have given your 'HH need grouse moors' argument a rest - it was a bit silly wasn't it? Only the GWCT have plugged it recently and even they have now gone quiet - perhaps because it makes them look more than a little ridiculous.

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  7. kie says:

    Well, since Hen Harriers are continuing to thrive on the areas without grouse moors, you must have a point... oh! (sorry, its that big magical hoover isn't it - in fact I think I saw a gamekeeper using one the other day, though it might have just been a leaf blower!)

    So, what exactly did you mean by "It is hugely important that we reach a decision on Eagle Owls soon, but that decision has to be based on solid evidence." if that was not discussing the possibility controlling them? - and I'll repeat that exact phrase for accuracy, 'discussing the possibility of controlling them'

    So Mark - back to my question, if there wasn't video evidence on the Eagle Owl, who would have got the blame? Go on, who would your 'scientific evidence' have pointed the finger of suspicion on?

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    • Mark says:

      kie- you are really missing the point - deliberately? More chaff!

      We know that HH nests are predated - that's hardly a shock. We know that not all losses are due to criminality - that isn't a shock either. Sometimes nature is quicker than gamekeepers! We also know, from science, that the major factor limiting HH numbers and distribution (in suitable habitat) is illegal persecution. Are you arguing with that - you dind't answer that question? Are you? If so, on what scientific basis please?

      I'm happy with my quote on Eagle Owl - now that you have given it in full. I would have been the last person advocating taking extreme measures against them (ask my staff) and one of the last advocating taking any measures (ditto). Read my RSPB blogs at that time and I think you'll see that (I haven't checked though).

      And I'll assume you have no problems with the science that shows that illegal persecution of HH is a major, if not the major,determinant of their breeding densities across suitable habitat. unless you do come back and tell us otherwise and back it up.

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      • kie says:

        We know that not all losses are due to criminality

        However losses that cannot be explained or proven are repeatedly defined as persecution

        I'll Quote from Natural Englands definition of persecution:

        (i) Bird or birds settle in an area and build a nest then leave the area/disappear or
        settle elsewhere

        Can you see the problem there Mark?

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        • Mark says:

          kie - you don't want to answer any question do you? I'll help you out there - you need to say 'no'.

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          • kie says:

            Bit pointless accusing me of not answering any question when you've been repeatedly avoiding the one I asked first Mark ;o)

            Hows about you answer who would have been blamed if there was no video evidence proving that an Eagle Owl did it?

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          • Mark says:

            kie - it's very difficult to say, isn't it.

            Now, here's a reminder of what you need to answer to retain any shreds of credibility (actually, to be honest, I don't think you are the least bit credible so you have an uphill task with me):

            We know that HH nests are predated - that's hardly a shock. We know that not all losses are due to criminality - that isn't a shock either. Sometimes nature is quicker than gamekeepers! We also know, from science, that the major factor limiting HH numbers and distribution (in suitable habitat) is illegal persecution. Are you arguing with that - you didn't answer that question? Are you? If so, on what scientific basis please?

            I'm happy with my quote on Eagle Owl - now that you have given it in full. I would have been the last person advocating taking extreme measures against them (ask my staff) and one of the last advocating taking any measures (ditto). Read my RSPB blogs at that time and I think you'll see that (I haven't checked though).

            And I'll assume you have no problems with the science that shows that illegal persecution of HH is a major, if not the major,determinant of their breeding densities across suitable habitat. unless you do come back and tell us otherwise and back it up.

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          • kie says:

            "Now, here's a reminder of what you need to answer

            Hahaha - we can play this all night Mark, but I asked first, so courtesy suggests you need to answer before you get mine

            Quid pro quo, Clarice...

            However, just to help you out

            "I'll assume you have no problems with the science that shows that illegal persecution of HH is a major, if not the major,determinant of their breeding densities across suitable habitat"

            'A major' - along with spring temperatures, vole densities and songbird populations.

            However "across suitable habitat" is a loose and poorly defined reference, and I don't accept that English grouse moors and their surrounding land uses deliver as suitable a habitat on a landscape scale as you seem to think they do, and I believe that this is the main limiting factor on English HH populations. I would point to the heather and grass mosaic seen at Langholm (and its ensuing vole and songbird populations) as discussed in the arroyo amar et al study as support for my position.

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  8. Jonathan Wallace says:

    Re-reading Tim's post I think he leaves the question as to why the female was not seen again open - it might have moved on or something more sinister might have happened to it: we don't know and Tim does not suggest that he does. The question, though, is why that displaying male was all alone in a large area of suitable hen harrier habitat? Why could it not find a mate? Our moorlands should be full of hen harriers but they are not and what, other than widespread persecution, could be the reason for that?

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  9. Gongfarmer says:

    I just love it when the rural nutter types come out of the closet to comment on your blog - avoiding answering the questions, extensive use of smoke and mirrors, rambling all over the place. It does add a sense of Saturday night comedy to the blog.

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  10. Paul V Irving says:

    With two or three known pairs of Eagle Owl in northern England they are hardly going to be responsible for all the harrier disappearances. the nest that was filmed being visited by an Eagle Owl was already a failure as the female had sat on the eggs for well beyond the normal incubation period, and despite what people have said neither eggs nor adults were harmed.
    The point Kie deliberately misses is the type of disappearance I was describing ONLY HAPPENS ON GROUSE MOORS, THAT MAKES IT SUSPICIOUS.
    Actually all the recently gathered evidence shows that the problem for English harriers ie Bowland harriers is not productivity because most nests there succeed ( much to the credit of United Utilities and RSPB) but over winter survival and many of these harriers disperse onto other Pennine grouse moor areas. That little is what we know from the tracking data and it is imperative that NE publish or release the rest of the data , paid for with public money.

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    • MK says:

      Presumably if the male had still been around the Eagle Owl might not have got anywhere near the nest, as Mr HH would have had a decent go at mobbing it or distraction display (which Mrs HH couldn't do as she was sat on the eggs)?

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  11. Shalstead says:

    I think like some within the rural community we should choose which laws we obey and which we simply ignore. Given the nature of legislation backing and allowing the survival of farming within this nation, be it subsidies given if certain things are grown and the restrictions on importing before a hefty levy is imposed, I think that those who are choosing to ignore such things as the right to life for a hen harrier are a bit hypocritical. When the law suits them and pays them for their choices they seem to be very clear on the legislative processes that govern the countryside. Why the selected deafness?

    Take the law as a whole or not at all, we will soon see how far up a creek without a paddle you are.

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  12. […] a look at the passionate Guest Blog posted here last week by Tim Birch, Conservation Manager for the Derbyshire Wildlife Trust.  He […]

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  13. Henry Harrier says:

    The words" If it has talons on this moor, it's dead" upset me some twenty years ago when I first heard them. Nothing has changed. Land owners who employ gamekeepers need to vet them properly, poacher turned gamekeeper shouldn't be a good qualification! It is blatantly obvious why grouse moors which should support good numbers of harriers have none.

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  14. […] three pairs have bred – all have required 24 hour protection. You can read more about this on Mark Avery’s blog, as well as by visiting the websites of Chris Packham and Birders Against Wildlife Crime, the RSPB, […]

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  15. […] the left is Tim Birch who wrote a Guest Blog for this site last […]

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