Raptor persecution in PDNP in British Birds

A Goshawk exhibiting ‘Maltese moult’ or perhaps that should be ‘Derwent moult’? Photo: Tim Melling

Today British Birds publishes a paper on raptor persecution in the Peak District National Park by Tim Melling, Mark Thomas, Mike Price and Staffan Roos.  Here is the abstract:

Abstract: The Peak District National Park is the southernmost area managed for driven Red Grouse Lagopus lagopus shooting in England. Grouse-moor management includes intensive moorland burning and predator control by gamekeepers. As in many areas with driven grouse shooting, there is evidence that raptors are persecuted by gamekeepers. Grouse-moor management is more intense in the northern part of the National Park, known as the Dark Peak, than elsewhere. We compared the number of confirmed raptor persecution events and the area of moorland burning (as a proxy for driven grouse shooting) in 10-km squares throughout the National Park. We also compared changes in the populations of two raptor species, Northern Goshawk Accipiter gentilis and Peregrine Falcon Falco peregrinus, between 1995 and 2015. The results show a strong association between confirmed raptor persecution incidents and the area of moorland burning. Populations of Goshawks and Peregrines have declined significantly in the Dark Peak over that period, whereas they have shown 5- and 20-fold increases respectively elsewhere in the National Park. Occupancy and breeding success rates are also significantly lower in the Dark Peak. Our results demonstrate strong associations between intensive grouse-moor management, persecution of raptors and negative population impacts on both Goshawk and Peregrine in the Dark Peak; and provide further support for proposals that driven grouse-moor management should be regulated.

This is a great review of the poor state of raptors in those parts of the PDNP where driven grouse shooting is most widespread – elsewhere in the National Park things are going much better. The  maps and graphs illustrate where the areas of heather burning are located and where the raptors are doing well and badly.

The fact that Peregrines and Goshawks have declined in the grouse shooting areas will be familiar news to many readers of this blog, and come as no surprise, but it ought to be a matter of shame to the Moorland Association, the Peak District National Park, Natural England and Defra which is the sponsoring government department for National Parks.  Why is wildlife crime allowed to continue whilst these organisations look on dumbly and fail to address the issues?   The phrase wilful blindness comes to mind.

And this totally unnacceptable level of wildlife crime is replicated in many of our National Parks. It is good that some are beginning to speak out more strongly on the issue but the Peak District has been mealy mouthed and slow to take any action except to set up the failed talking shop of the Peak District Raptor Forum.

Instead of an ‘experiment’ to see what happens when hundreds of Ravens are killed in the uplands we need an experiment where driven grouse shooting ceases in a National Park for a decade to see what biological impacts that would have. Why not start with the Peak District where the problems are well-known and well-monitored?

The National Trust could have brought us closer to that position but failed to grasp the nettle, instead opting for a continumnce of grouse shooting on their land when they had the power to stop it.

Much respect to the raptor workers who have collected these data over many years!  Much ignominy to the decision makers who stand idly by despite the clear evidence of wildlife crime!

And many thanks to British Birds for being the ‘journal of record’ for this type of ornithological analysis and comment.  If you aren’t a BB subscriber then yo0u’re missing out. I’ll come back to other good things in this month’s BB later in the week.

The paper ends with two sentences thus:

Goshawks are now virtually extinct in the Dark Peak, and successful Peregrines occur
only at highly protected sites on land managed by the National Trust or RSPB, yet on nearby land free from driven grouse shooting both species are thriving. Our results provide support for proposals that intensive grouse-moor management should be regulated; only then will it be possible for thousands of people to enjoy displaying birds of prey throughout this National Park.‘.
Too true, too true.





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5 Replies to “Raptor persecution in PDNP in British Birds”

  1. If you live in a rural area, there is a police survey of rural crime going on at present. Why not participate and highlight wildlife crime? It doesn't get much of a mention though. There is room for comments at the end.

  2. Excellent work by the authors of this paper. To me the almost complete wiping out of Peregrines and Goshawks in grouse shooting areas is even more telling than the Hen Harrier decline, especially Peregrines. This is because Peregrines especially are generally do well and thrive outside of grouse shooting areas. What it tacitly says is that raptor persecution in managed grouse shooting areas is at an extraordinary high level, and is almost universal on managed grouse moors.

    This is not a few bad apples, it is self-evidently standard practise on managed grouse moors. What is more, as these birds were doing quite well, even in areas of managed grouse shoots over a decade ago, it suggests an intensification of raptor persecution in recent years, to a level where it is being done on virtually all managed grouse moors with great focus and regularity. It also indicates that detected raptor persecution, where dead raptors are found, satellite tagged birds go missing, traps and poisoned baits are found, video evidence emerges, are just the tip of the iceberg. What is more to achieve this level of the suppression of species indicates a lot of time and effort is put into this activity.

    All the factors tacitly implied by the elimination of most larger breeding raptors on managed grouse moors indicates that all involved in managing grouse moors must be aware to some extent on what is going on, and probably who is responsible. This is simply because the time and effort necessary to create this effect, could not possibly go unnoticed by all those involved in the running of these estates. In other words, it would be impossible for only a handful of people to be involved, without the knowledge of the others involved in this estate management.

    When the overwhelming weight of circumstantial evidence indicates that illegal practise is so widespread to the extent that it is almost universal, it is incumbent on the authorities, from government at every level, to all agencies responsible, to develop policy and strategies to deal with this. Turning a blind eye to what is going on, is to an extent displaying approval of what is going on. The authorities know very well how to deal with this extent of illegal practise through tried and tested strategies developed over the years, and the failure to apply them in this instance, indicates some type of official sanction of these practises at the highest levels.

  3. RPUK are displaying the maps from this paper.
    Some of the symbols, for successful Goshawk nests in 2015, can hardly be separated, even after
    I believe a degree of spacing had been employed,to make them clearer.
    Surely it is implausible that Goshawk could nest this close together ?, birds such as Hen Harrier, or Red Kite will nest in close proximity, but not Goshawk.
    Maybe the Observor could not tell the difference between an active nest and an unused one.
    Then again they could just have been Sparrowhawks ?.

  4. I recently spent 4 days hiking around the Dark Peak and saw not a single buzzard. The valleys here are ideal buzzard habitat and they should be very common. The only viable reason for this is that the birds are being persecuted. The only raptors I saw were a few kestrels, this is a disgrace for a National park and also for the National Trust who's land I walked through regularly.

  5. Mark Thomas of the RSPB was highlighting this report on Today this morning, with very weak and silly responses from Amanda Anderson of the Moorland Association. Mark was angry and Amanda sounded rather flipant, saying that raptors in the Peak district are increasing..... thus purposefully conflating the whole National Park with the Dark Peak. Unfortunately Hen harriers were not mentioned.
    Re the comment on Goshawk density, I remember watching 2 pairs of goshawks displaying close together over the conifers at Lady Bower reservoir in 1995, and I believe the breeding density there was high with at least 3 pairs, those with more local knowledge can maybe clarify this. Raptor surveyors will not mistake sparrowhawks for goshawks.


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