The fifth ‘disappearance’ of a male Hen Harrier from an active nest in England marks 2015 as ‘May mayhem’ year (see here and here). If five male Blackbirds disappeared from a small number of monitored nests it would be pretty odd, and Hen Harriers are designed to live a good deal longer than Blackbirds.
A biologist speaks ‘These can’t all be natural losses – there are just too many of them. Even though we don’t know what happened to each of these individual birds it is clear that something has. The science that has been done on this subject (see references at foot) shows that Hen Harriers are much more likely to disappear if they nest on or near driven grouse moors, and this is backed up by observations of actual pairs. Major studies show that the nesting success and survival of Hen Harriers on grouse moors (the study was done in Scotland) combine to make driven grouse moors a ‘sink’ for the Hen Harrier population. It is the non-grouse moor population (a ‘source’) of Hen Harriers (primarily in NW Scotland and Wales) that send recruits to grouse moors each year. If we could find a way of eliminating illegal killing of Hen Harriers then the UK Hen Harrier population might increase to 2600 pairs (of which c330 would be in England) from its current level of c800 pairs (of which 4 last year were in England)(although people keep telling me that there is a recalculation of these potential figures on the way which has lower (but still high) numbers but it seems a very long time in arriving).’.
A campaigner for Hen Harriers speaks ‘Illegal killing of Hen Harriers on grouse moors is a huge and embarrassing problem for the Westminster government and the Scottish Parliament. It shames the UK. Wildlife crime, involving not only Hen Harriers but Peregrines and eagles too, is rife in the British uplands – no, not every estate is ‘at it’ but enough are to have a massive impact on the range of protected species and their population numbers. It’s the FIFA-shaped elephant in the room. Why aren’t the statutory nature conservation agencies and government departments doing more to counter these wildlife crimes? Defra wasted last year being berated by those who want Defra to introduce a brood-meddling scheme to suit grouse moor owners. The scheme would allow grouse moor owners to remove Hen Harrier chicks from grouse moors so that the losses of Red Grouse are reduced. Defra should stop worrying about Red Grouse losses and start worrying about losses of protected wildlife by criminals. But it appears that Defra are not the least bit bothered about wildlife crime on their watch. The quickest and easiest solution to this state of affairs is to ban driven grouse shooting completely. With male Hen Harriers disappearing unnaturally left, right and centre this year, the criminal elements are hardly showing their readiness to turn over a new leaf. Such activity, and the publicity it receives, will drive more and more people to question the future of grouse shooting in our uplands.’
A real countryman speaks ‘It’s a well known fact that male Hen Harriers are closely related to Mayflies. They are a sign of spring up here in the hills where we shoot Red Grouse. They turn up, fly around looking pretty for a few days, and then their short lives are over and they’re gone. It’s like that every year – always has been. I don’t know why those townies are only just waking up to the fact. I love to see them every year – I keep a special look out for them. Wouldn’t want to miss them!’
PS look at the image of the male Hen Harrier in the article in the Independent. It’s a young male with lots of brown in its plumage. One of the findings of the first paper cited below was that many more male HH on grouse moors (in Scotland) are young males than one would expect, and than occur on non grouse moors. This indicates the high turnover of males on these moors – they just keep disappearing.
PPS But what should we do? More on this tomorrow.
Etheridge, B., Summers, R. W. and Green, R. E. 1997. The effects of illegal killing and destruction of nests by humans on the population dynamics of the Hen Harrier Circus cyaneus in Scotland. Journal of Applied Ecology 34, 1081-1105.
Fielding, A., Haworth, P., Whitfield, P., McLeod, D. & Riley, H. 2011. A Conservation Framework for Hen Harriers in the United Kingdom. JNCC Report 441. Joint Nature Conservation Committee, Peterborough.
Green, R. E. and Etheridge, B. 1999. Breeding success of the hen harrier Circus cyaneus in relation to the distribution of grouse moors and the red fox Vulpes vulpes. Journal of Applied Ecology 36, 472-483.
Hayhow, D. B., Eaton, M. A., Bladwell, S., Etheridge, B., Ewing, S., Ruddock, M., Saunders, R., Sharpe, C., Sim, I. M. W. and Stevenson, A. 2013.The status of the Hen Harrier, Circus cyaneus, in the UK and Isle of Man in 2010. Bird Study 60, 446-458.
Natural England. 2008. A future for the Hen Harrier in England? Natural England.
Redpath S.M. and Thirgood S.J. 1997. Birds of Prey and Red Grouse. Stationary Office, London.
Sim I.M.W., Gibbons D.W., Bainbridge I.P. and Mattingley W.A. 2001. Status of the Hen Harrier Circus Cyaneus in the UK and the Isle of Man in 1998. Bird Study 48, 341–53.
Sim, I. M.W., Dillon, I. A., Eaton, M. A., Etheridge, B., Lindley, P., Riley, H., Saunders, R., Sharpe, C., and Tickner, M. 2007. Status of the Hen Harrier Circus cyaneus in the UK and Isle of Man in 2004, and a comparison with the 1988/89 and 1998 surveys. Bird Study 54, 256-267.
Stott, M. 1998. Hen harrier breeding success on English grouse moors. British Birds 91,107–108.