Three Harriers go missing

IMG_4850The RSPB has just disclosed that three adult male Hen Harriers have gone missing from their ‘stronghold’ in the Forest of Bowland over the last three weeks. All three birds had active nests on United Utilities land and all three disappeared away from their nesting sites.  Two of the nests have failed (as the males provision the females at the nest) whereas at the other nest a new, young male has made an appearance.

Male Hen Harriers don’t normally go walk about in the nesting season but increasingly shooting males away from their nests seems to be a common way of causing nesting failure.

The Forest of Bowland was the scene of the last known locations of Sky and Hope, satellite tagged Hen Harriers, last year.  Bowland Betty was reared in the Forest of Bowland and shot on a visit to Yorkshire.

The Hen Harrier is arguably the most persecuted bird in the UK, despite having full legal protection for over 60 years. Hen Harriers eat Red Grouse adults and chicks and it is almost universally acknowledged that the main problem facing the Hen Harrier is illegal persecution by grouse shooting interests.

Last year there were four pairs of Hen Harrier in England (two in Bowland), and in 2013 there were just two pairs. It seems that some are intent on making sure that none nest successfully this year.

We will return to this subject soon.




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36 Replies to “Three Harriers go missing”

  1. Is this ever going to stop!.

    Perhaps the Hawk and Owl Trust may now wish to re-consider their view on Brood Management, before there are none left to manage.

    1. If one takes the Hawk and Owl Trust at its word, it will forthwith and publicly withdraw its support for hen harrier brood removal (management).

      But I predict we'll hear absolutely nothing from Philip Merricks or anyone else from HOT.

  2. After Sky and Hope the two satellite tagged harriers which went missing last year in the Forest of Bowland, both presumed to have been shot, surely these latest losses should come as no surprise to the RSPB. Its about time the RSPB woke up to the realities of what has been going on in Bowland for many years.

    The truth of the matter is very simple, 9 out of every 10 gamekeepers in Bowland will simply not accept the hen harrier on the moorland they are tasked with protecting. The North West Raptor Group have been saying this for years but were ridiculed for telling the truth. Look what has happened to the eagle owls, vanished without trace after several nests containing eggs were each found abandoned in 2013. Between 2010 and 2014 as many as fifteen peregrine territories throughout Bowland have been found abandoned. This year we can now add at least another two peregrine territories to this list so far.

    I strongly disagree with the RSPB spokesperson who stated in the Lancashire Life Magazine that these disappearance were due to climate change and a lack of prey. This hypothesis is ridiculous when peregrine nests less than a mile or so outside Bowland are all flourishing fledging large broods and without any RSPB protection, and I would add less food availability than in the Forest of Bowland.

    In the light of these tragic events, perhaps those tasked with scheduling Henry's daily itinerary will now decide that it's more appropriate that he should visit the Forest of Bowland to make his presence known?

    1. Martin Harper's blog post about this did not actually say as much but it is pretty clear from what he wrote that he does not believe 'natural causes' are near the top of the list of possible explanations for the disappearance of these birds.

  3. It's the sheer arrogance of these people that gets me as much as the killing. They clearly think not only that they stand above the law and public opinion, but also that people will buy the tired line always trotted out that either 'it's a few rotten apples' spoiling things or simply denying there's a problem at all and the birds have just gone else where. Shameful.

    1. John, if only it was just a few rotten apples there would not really be a problem. The fact is the position which now exists on 99.9% of red grouse moors is dictated by the landowner and an insatiable appetite to shoot more red grouse. This position has existed for over 100 years and it is unlikely to change. The gamekeeper is only following strict orders, to do otherwise would jeopardise any prospects of long-term employment. Most gamekeepers have a house and a family to consider, what would you do if the boot was on your foot?

      1. "9 out of 10 gamekeepers"

        "99.9% of red grouse moor"

        Are these actual figures? Where are they cited or do you really mean 'very many' or 'nearly all'?

        I'm not questioning the sentiment, just the rhetoric.

      2. I wasn't suggesting it was 'a few rotten apples', Terry, but rather that this was the excuse regularly trotted out by apologists for the industry. I couldn't agree with you more regarding your comments on gamekeepers; I have some sympathy for many of them. It's easy to vilify and blame them as the perpetrators, but as you observe with home and livelihood at stake they're between a rock and a hard place. The only way to go is to make those further up the 'chain of command' vulnerable to meaningful sanctions.

  4. I trust we can expect an immediate and strongly-worded statement from the Hawk and Owl Trust removing its support for the ill-fated Hen Harrier Brood Removal Scheme (aka brood management). They cannot credibly pursue such a scheme under these circumstances..... can they.....

    1. The Hawk and Owl Trust need to crawl quietly away under a stone as this has just poured truck loads of ridicule on their ludicrous policies and the RSPB need to stop sitting round tables with these murderous scumbags, prattling on about Diversionary Feeding and "We,ll think about brood management if you promise to be good boys" and urge their million voices to start shouting very loudly about this disgrace to the human race. It is clear beyond doubt that these people are not for negotiating with. It's not a small minority of bad apples and the land owners intend to do precisely nothing about it. They are criminals with utter contempt for the law.

  5. Its blatantly obvious that there is a concerted effort by grouse rearers to solve their problem by extermination- there will be none left by the time the authorities wake up-they need hi tech surveillance now -im sure the military would love to catch the culprits trying out their hardware--needs someone to make it happen

  6. So much for the RSPB's 'fantastic relationship' with the Bowland shooting tenants! Time for a radical change of approach perhaps?

  7. You have no grounds whatsoever for making any assumptions or deductions.
    Many or most birds fail to breed for various reasons. The weather alone up here is cold and wet this spring lots of species have lost or failed their first brood. On the Bowland Fells birds have been killed by Eagle Owls.

    1. Disappearance rate of breeding harrier males on grouse moors 60-70%
      Disappearance of breeding harrier males in other habitats 1-2% (mainly by eagle predation)
      Eagle Owls in Bowland have been proved to have taken one non-nesting harrier in all their years of presence so hardly a major threat. Your next excuse please!

    2. Robert - you illustrate nicely why the Hawk and Owl Trust's harrier removal programme won't address on-going persecution. The game management industry displays zero good will. It continues to deny just as you do. Those who conduct persecution feel zero heat from their industry representatives - Countryside Alliance, Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust, National Gamekeepers Organisation - and those game management organisations sit back, watch the persecution, and watch Merricks and the Hawk and Owl Trust valiantly urge on-lookers to trust them.

    3. The Met Office records show that 'up there' it has been both considerably less cold and considerably les wet than normal.

    4. Given the context, including location, past history and comparisons with Hen Harrier survival elsewhere, you would have to be hopelessly naive or swayed by self interest not to conclude that the most likely reason, by a very wide margin, for the disappearance of male Hen Harriers in this area is deliberate persecution. Further it's not simply a question of broods failing or being lost, but birds disappearing; very different circumstances. Such denial of the obvious would be comic were it not so damaging.

  8. This is of course tragic news and little other than a successful prosecution will lessen the blow. It is as it was in the Dales nearly 15 years ago protect nests and they kill the hunting male, well away from the nest. It demonstrates quite clearly that at least part of the grouse industry has not changed at all despite some whisperings in late winter. However it is absolutely scandalous that there are those who use this tragedy as an opportunity to criticize the committment and efficiency of RSPB, their volunteers, UU and its tenants for their own aggrandisment. Martin's blog makes it quite clear this happened off UU land. Yes its appalling, yes it makes me as a harrier man unbelievably angry but let's point the finger where it truly belongs please, at Bowlands private estates and their employees! I wonder what the view of Merricks at HOT is now?

    1. Paul.

      My comments are not an opportunistic stab at the RSPB. an organisation of which I am a willing paying member. I am merely saying that on this particular issue, its my opinion that they should toughen their stance. You rightly say that the finger of blame must point firmly at the perpetrators of this vile act but it disappoints me that the RSPB are so willing to find a compromise. The people responsible for these ongoing atrocities are cold hearted criminals and should be treated as such.The RSPB have a huge support base and thus the potential to carry a lot of influence. We are on the brink of losing one of our most iconic native species as a breeding species due to the greed and contempt of an over privileged few and I would like the RSPB to use their weight to promote public outrage, which they seem reluctant to do so far.

      1. I don't think that RSPB are as compromising as you suggest, although I don't entirely disagree with you. That is fine but you by no means were the main target of my comment. They know who they are!

    2. Paul - I not sure what you mean when you say that Martin's blog makes it quite clear that this happened off UU land.
      I've just checked and Martin Harper's blog says: 'All three of the nests affected are on the United Utilities Bowland Estate.'

      1. Alan - as I understand it, it is believed that the males 'disappeared' when off feeding.

        1. Thanks, Mark - apologies if I seemed to be nit-picking.
          What I was getting at was that if there was any realistic likelihood that the birds disappeared on UU land, it would underline the point made by Sandra Padfield above, that the 'fantastic relationship' the RSPB enjoys with the 'water company, United Utilities, and their shooting and farming tenants' may not have counted for much.

  9. It just shows how untouchable these people think they are, as despite all of the recent publicity about the plight of the hen harrier, it's still business as usual on the grouse moors. When things like this continue to happen, it's hard to see how the hen harrier has a future in England.

    One solution would have been the banning of driven grouse shooting, but despite the success of Mark's petition with over 22 000 signatures it could have had even more impact if the conservation organisations had got behind it. The lack of support from them has been disappointing to say the least.

    I was pretty neutral on game bird shooting, but the more I've learnt about the snares, stink pits, poisonings etc I would happily see it banned. An industry that kills huge numbers of mammals and birds, both legally and illegally (estimated at 4.5 million/year), releases 50 million non native birds into the countryside every year, turns the uplands into heather monoculture and pollutes rivers and the atmosphere should have no place in a modern society. It even has the audacity to claim it has good conservation credentials just because a few species can benefit from its land management. What is particularly perverse is that the public pay for this in subsidies worth millions per year (in 2012-13 the payment for grouse moors in England was more than £17 million).

    1. The conservation orgs could certainly have done more to get behind Mark's campaign, even doing as the RSPB did and giving him an opportunity to state his case alongside a rep from the grouse moors for 'balance', would have brought the issue into greater public focus. However, it was really down to Friends of the Earth, Greenpeace, the various Green Parties etc to get behind the epetition, the range and seriousness of issues involved certainly warranted it especially as this is horrendous ecological and environmental damage just to SHOOT BIRDS!!! Could have easily added tens of thousands of signatures, frustrating!

  10. It really seems like consensus seeking is having no effect. Horrified at this news and the criminals who are continuing to get away with wildlife crime.

  11. I'm angry about this, but not shocked. Makes a total mockery of HoTs position on Brood Meddling, if the shooting industry can't accept 3 pairs of Hen Harrier on the moors, where will be the broods to meddle with. Looking forward to Philip Merricks denouncing this crime, & declaring he can't work with a group of people who continue to have no concept of legality.

    1. There was talk of another 'ban grouse shooting petition', so maybe another in parallel - remove subsidy on grouse moors?

      ok, n'owt is likely to change but at least the pubic will not be providing the perpetrators with agri-welfare payments?

  12. The only hope of getting Hen Harriers breeding on English moors is either politicians taking radical steps with serious penalties to owners of guilty estates.Chance of that happening is nil.
    The only other possible thing to maybe at least bring pressure to bear and force politicians to think about helping Hen Harriers is if the RSPB which is the only organisation with enough members to have any effect decided they would enter the fray and not sit on their a**** on the fence.Chance of that seems after waiting several years now absolutely nil.
    They are of course too busy recruiting new members and giving nature a home.
    Ironic does not begin to describe the fact that the most deserving case of a English home is the Hen Harrier.
    Of course they are not the ones breaking the law but they seem very reluctant to do anything that would help Hen Harriers.

  13. Les - I agree that it would have been great if the organisations that you mention had supported the petition, but I think the primary reason for the petition was due to the plight of the hen harrier. Obviously there are more issues than this (which are included in the petition) and I could be wrong, but I wonder if Mark would have gone ahead with the petition if there had been a healthy population of hen harriers in England?

    Because of this, I feel that the RSPB and Wildlife Trusts should have done more, by actually supporting the petition and in the case of the RSPB, by not offering an unworkable alternative in licencing. After all this is their area of expertise and they also have a combined membership of more than 1.8 million (although there will be junior members to take away and some overlap between the two). When you look at those figures, the petition should easily have achieved 100 000, which would have generated debate in parliament. The Green Party, FOE and Greenpeace on the other hand only have 55 000, 100 000 and 130 000 members, although PR campaigns by all of the groups will obviously reach more than members.

    1. Apus apus - no probably not, if there had been 50-100 pairs of Hen Harrier in England. But now we have the bit between our teeth (and there are no more HH) there are lots and lots of reasons why we should end driven grouse shooting. And the HH is just one of many. In fact, there are so many reasons why we should ban driven grouse shooting that I wrote a book about it! Inglorious - conflict in the uplands. published on 30 July this year by Bloomsbury - and available to order right now from Bloomsbury website.

    2. I totally agree that the membership of RSPB (and I'm one of them) plus wildlife trusts far exceeds that of Greenpeace, FoE, Green parties etc BUT thay are considerably more restrained in what they can do and say compared to independent orgs such as FoE which specifically do not take sponsorship and don't have nature reserves which require you work with sporting estates and farms etc as they are your neighbours. There is a downside as well as a privilege in being able to pursue on the ground conservation. If an organisation such as the Scottish Wildlife Trust came out and said grouse moors and open hill deer stalking are utter crap let's get rid of them they'd get themselves in a hell of a lot of trouble and I appreciate why they can't just come out and say so. There's a reason why groups like FoE exist and in terms of complimenting the work of the conservation groups on the natural environment and wildlife they are just not doing their bit - Friends of the Earth Scotland is particularly awful and I hope to be presenting a motion at their AGM that they adopt a formal campaign against bad estates - about bloody time they did. It's the RSPB membership that really let Mark down, the RSPB didn't do a bad job of letting Mark state his case and Simon Barnes wasn't exactly shy in saying what he thought of raptor persecution in the RSPB magazine. Yet member support was derisory. Not entirely surprised, years ago on a government scheme where I had to knock on doors to inform people about cutting fuel costs and carbon emissions I encountered one couple with RSPB sticker on their door. When I told them I was a member too the reply I got was 'Should be RSPR - Royal Society for the Protection of Raptors' turned out they were part owners of a shoot in Fife - and oh yes the sea eagles over there were causing all sorts of problems (such as?) one of them fell out of a tree and because it was so big gave 'their man' a jolly big fright! I was in their house and doing my job so kept my mouth shut - now wish I hadn't.

  14. I see the harrier tagging is an EU Life funded project. Can't we get these vile #$#$# at least on the grounds of theft / wasting public money? Civil suit etc? Like doing Capone for tax evasion I know, but it's another route to fight them.


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