Bowland harriers

Stephen Murphy of Natural England is backing up the Moorland Association’s nonsense that having brood meddling is turning gamekeepers into good guys according to a report in the Lancashire Post.

I’m looking forward to writing in some detail about brood meddling again when we receive judgement from Ms Justice Lang but as we said when we started the judicial review process, brood meddling ‘takes criminal activity as its starting point and looks to ease the path for those who break the law, often for profit, for the purpose of shooting Red Grouse

Murphy’s suggestion is that making Bowland an SPA on the basis of its wintering Hen Harrier populations would make a difference to the birds’ fortunes. I’d like to hear the arguments behind that and whether his organisation is actually planning to do anything along those lines. It’s a bit odd for NE to tell councillors that SPA status is needed when it already exists and is in NE’s gift not that of the audience. Puzzling!

Murphy did not explain why the area of intensive driven grouse shooting in the Forest of Bowland was so bereft of Hen Harriers in 2018 given that gamekeepers had such confidence in brood meddling.

County Councillor Cosima Towneley, Conservative, may not be aware of the irony of her reported statement that ‘…it’s often best when people don’t interfere’ but she is absolutely correct. the interference that Hen Harriers don’t need is attention from shooting interests including brood meddling.

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20 Replies to “Bowland harriers”

  1. In 2002 when Stephen Murphy came into Bowland with the Hen Harrier recovery programme, there were around 20 breeding Harriers. By 2015/16 there were none. Some recovery! Even in those days he was more on the Keepers side than the Harriers, praising them for the good job they were doing.

    1. Bill - working with the shooting industry is a fair enough approach until it proves to be fruitless. That point came years ago. Natural England have forgotten who they work for and what their job is.

  2. I used to have some respect for Murphy, at least as a fellow Harrier field worker, that has been eroding for a long time. First it was the promises that actually he couldn't deliver and of course support for the NE position on last fixes. In the case of the last item what was especially galling was the claim that NERF supported the NE position ( I was NERF chair at the time), we never did!
    Question for him, where is the evidence that potential ( because it has not happened yet!) BM is working? There have still been no nests on a "private" grouse moor and the rate of killing young harriers, next seasons potential breeders, has not reduced has it?
    Bowland is already an SPA for harriers ffs. Sorry Steve credibility now all shot to pieces, rather like our beloved harriers!

  3. I know little of the management structure of Natural England but am aware that some members of the Board are established and renowned ornithologists and environmentalists. One is Andy Clements, Director of BTO, who I hold in high esteem. See his profile in "Behind the Binoculars" or here

    I often wonder how much influence the Board Members have and whether they are approached for advice on subjects in which they are expert. Does Andy have any problems, I wonder, when decisions on such as Brood Meddling are pontificated on and if he has signed off the NE decisions. I have not seen any BTO comments on BM, have you Mark.

    1. Richard - thanks. BTO is not a conservation organisation so you are very unlikely to get a view out of them on this or any other tricky conservation issue. |I don't have any problem with that because I recognise the BTO for what it is - a scientific organisation that mobilises birders like you and me to collect data. But Andy chaired the NE Scientific Advisory Committee that recommended brood-meddling to the NE Board so Andy himself has skin in this game (but the BTO does not).

      1. Wow - as a BTO member, Garden Birdwatch Ambassador, fully qualified ringer and ringing trainer, I am horrified that Andy Clements has allowed himself to become embroiled in this nonsense. It shows a lack of judgement, which is extremely worrying given the amount of responsibility he has for the credibility of the organisation. The BTO has to be disinterested and beyond partisan involvement. They supply the ammunition, they don't take up weapons.

        To have the head man directly involved in something so controversial, could seriously undermine that credibility. We already had Louise Mensch and other Tories mendaciously attacking the BTO because of Chris Packham's (now finished) presidency. This is probably more serious, as he is the highest paid and highest profile executive of the organisation.

  4. The very idea that designating Bowland as an SPA for wintering Hen Harriers might help their presence beyond what little the breeding designation has done, is frankly ludicrous, as I'm sure we all acknowledge.
    I tend towards anthropomorphism in animals, as I believe that they are capable of many emotions and possibly thought as well as instinct. I realise however that Hen Harriers do not have the ability to detect which estates may be safe to roost or breed upon. If I thought they might be able to read signs or maps, I'd happily pay to erect large ones in the obvious areas of Bowland, letting the raptors know which areas were safe to breed or roost. Few areas in Bowland would qualify as safe, but luckily there were some success stories in Bowland in 2018.
    I would have expected that Stephen Murphy would have the knowledge to provide such an up to date map or listing himself, as Natural England’s lead ornithologist, but perhaps not.

    1. That's easy Alex, private estates entirely unsafe, United Utilities land close to boundaries with private estates neither entirely safe or entirely unsafe. Centre of United Utilities land safe.

  5. When I first met Stephen Murphy he gave me the impression he really intended to do his best for the Hen Harrier, and I believed him. He told me he was looking forward to working with the members of the North West Raptor Group and hoped he could gain valuable experience in the field from our group. Like most people Stephen was a little wet behind the ears when it came to the activities of Bowland gamekeepers. On one occasion Paul Stott and I came across Stephen walking on a part of the Abbeystead estate well known for its grit-stone ground cover. When Paul asked Stephen what he was doing his reply was that he had been advised by estate gamekeepers this region was the best on the estate for breeding Hen Harriers. Clearly the information Stephen had been given was incorrect and very misleading, as the area was totally unsuitable for breeding Hen Harriers.

    I have always had some empathy for Stephen and the job he was trying his best to carry out, believing his heart was in the right place, but he had been tasked with completing the job from hell with all the cards stacked against him from the very beginning. Like many raptor workers I have always found it curious why Stephen failed to complete his Phd which had been ongoing for ten years. The Hen Harrier data that Stephen had collated in Bowland during this period was without doubt very important and valuable information, in particular those details pertaining to persecution. Sadly this data to all intent and purpose appears to be subjected to the Official Secrets Act. I was advised several years ago the data was withheld to prevent the embarrassment of the estate owners and their gamekeepers.

    Based upon my 52 years working with raptors in the Forest of Bowland, together with my personal experience of two generations of the regions gamekeepers, I can say with accuracy the attitude by the regions gamekeepers towards the Hen Harrier and Peregrine has changed very little if at all throughout this period. Persecution of protected raptors is at an all time high, being much worse than it was 4 decades ago. In the early 1970's and 80's at least some Hen Harriers successfully managed to fledge their young on the privately owned estates. Sadly this is no longer the case, as both the Hen Harrier and Peregrine are conspicuous by their total absence from these moorland regions following their extensive and sustained persecution. Brood medling will only make a bad situation worse by providing more birds for the gamekeepers to destroy.

    1. Well said, Terry. I see your facebook post on this subject has smoked out the enemy, with the ****** *********** lying through his teeth as usual. 😉

  6. This opens up a whole new perspective.
    I thought Murphy was a independent scientist and that his silence was to maintain that independence and neutrality and perhaps confidentiality.
    If he can speak now then why couldn't he speak out at the spatial and temporal patterns of missing Hen Harriers e.g. the Roeburndale NE fledglings from 2010?
    On 31st October i spoke to 'Lorraine' from the Lancashire police wildlife section who told me that she had recently spoken to Steve Murphy who, she said, didn't know about the 2 Roeburndale (obviously killed), NE Hen Harriers in 2010. I thought 'i must be misunderstanding something because i don't see how that is possible! Wasn't that his thesis? Perhaps she meant that he didn't know they were killed in the same area as Sky and Hope four years later.' That is what i thought at the time. Now i have my doubts.
    This is all very odd. Natural England could shed no light on why those 2 bird which 'disappeared within 2 days of each other and extremely close to where Sky and Hope 'disappeared' in 2014 and then Thor last year and all within a 2.5 mile radius were not in the police or public domain at the time of Thor's 'demise'. Why didn't Steve Murphy and/or NE inform the RSPB of the 2 'missing' Hen Harriers from 4 years earlier when the RSPB made such a huge campaign about Sky and Hope in 2014 or in 2018 with Thor? If we could see these patterns from the NE data why couldn't they? That is not a rhetorical question, i seriously don't understand. Incompetence or wilful blindness or answers which spring to mind.
    A spokesperson from NE told me on the phone when i made a FOI request that they have no documented evidence that the police had been informed about the 2 NE birds but it was routine for all failed tags therefore it must have happened informally by phone. What? A police matter, a a potential crime with no documentation? The police don't know anything about the two Hen Harriers from 2010 and Nick Lyall didn't know about them when he gave the press release about Thor this autumn even though i had complained to the police about this weeks before, as soon as the NE data was released as it stuck out like a sore thumb.
    On 19th October i asked Nick Lyall why the missing NE Hen Harriers were not known to the police. He wrote back the next day 'Thanks for your email. I will be speaking to the NWCU this coming week about the links you have highlighted to me.' I wrote back immediately 'please could you confirm that Lancashire police were informed of the 'missing' NE Bowland birds in 2010?'
    He replied immediately 'I have asked the NWCU to confirm for me.'
    I waited 5 weeks and asked again. No reply. I asked again and got the reply 'I have replied a couple of times. I am unable to share any further information with you on police and NE investigations.' I asked immediately whether there were e-mails i had missed but obviously not because that was 20 days ago and again no reply. This is openness and transparency, apparently.
    I didn't want to bring this up because if the grousers are crying over Nick Lyall that is great, our real enemies are the criminals and that has to be our main focus but the police and Natural England including it seems Steve Murphy need in turn to also realise we are not the enemy either and i definitely don't feel like they are acting in the public interest in this, more like protecting their backs and closing ranks.
    The only thing that makes these 5 (possibly 6) killed birds unremarkable is that looking at RPUK's maps they are not unique. The clusters of killed bird and known crime maps regularly posted on RPUK are common place in Scotland and as shown as recently as 2 days ago in Nidderdale are shocking but not much different from the Bowland crime hot spot.
    There are signs that NE have learnt from these past blunders (much better press releases about recent crimes) probably due to our pestering and RSPB's shaming them on 'how it is supposed to be done' so hopefully the future is not going to be as shambolic as the past which they appear to be so ashamed of and so keen to cover up.

  7. I'm wondering how designating Bowland as an S.P.A (again !) for wintering Hen harriers can possibly protect them from the undoubted persecution they suffer at the hands of the Grouse shooting industry .Just look at the statistics in the last decade of falling breeding pairs
    As Paul said,there were no successful Hen Harrier nests on any privately owned Grouse moor in England last year.Damning indeed.
    My experience with Stephen Murphy was in regards to monitoring 2 nesting attempts on a privately owned Grouse moor.He was less than hands on and uncommunicative at least with those trying to protect the nests.He was also very quick to praise the keepers on this estate. Both nests failed due to unknown circumstances,the total of 10 eggs were left in the nests.

  8. For some reason I have been unable to like or dislike comments on your Blog for the past few days,wonder if others are having problems too ?

  9. SPA's are for the habitats supporting the birds...not the birds themselves.
    The birds are protected by a different section of the legislation.
    Hen Harriers (birds , nests ,eggs,chicks,disturbance,killing etc) have the same level of protection inside and outside an SPA.......for all that this is worth.

    1. This of course is true but SPA designation also of course contains the species for which that designation is for and expected population levels. Bowland persistently fails on that score and this should be a very big political lever to use against DEFRAs indifference and NEs incompetence but they are not paying any attention, other than to tell us their ludicrous plan including BM will work.------ It won't the game lobbies attitude, arrogance and we know best shite will ensure that. What we need desperately is more and more brutal enforcement, we all know who is guilty in this.
      Terry is right Murphy, whatever his good intentions has been completely undermined by wider political issues and the kowtowing of DEFRA and NE to the game and landowner lobby. Result is there are fewer Peregrines and Hen Harriers in Bowland and the wider uplands of Northern England than at any time since the eighties and none nesting at all on all the private grouse moors.
      In many ways Murphy is just a victim of a totally corrupt system, almost as much as the birds are victims of appalling establishment indifference and serious organised wildlife crime.

  10. The Hen Harrier may well be a protected species under existing legislation inside and outside the SPA, but in reality their protection counts for nothing on 99.9 % of red grouse moors. This situation as we all know is because the legislation is not enforced and estate gamekeeper are able to undermine the legislation by acting with complete impunity without fear of being successfully prosecuted for their crimes. This fact was graphically illustrated last year in the unsuccessful prosecution of a gamekeeper after 9 wildlife charges, including the killing of a breeding pair of peregrines in Bowland were dismissed by the court. The current situation on grouse moors is nothing less then raptor cleansing, and will continue if left unchecked until not a single Peregrine, Hen Harrier, Short-eared owl and Goshawk remains alive.

  11. Whilst I agree that keepers and estates are apparently and literally getting away with what you and I might call murder Terry, I think you are wrong to say that the legislation does not and is not being applied. It clearly does apply, keepers sometimes are in court and are even found guilty on occasion. This indicates that the legislation clearly does apply but the real problems are twofold. We both know who commits the crimes but it is very difficult to get the evidence to convict and even when that does happen the penalties applied are poor to laughable if it wasn't such a tragedy. The other problem and in some ways it is more serious is that the commissioners of these crimes, the agents, head keepers and owners are not appearing in court charged with criminal conspiracy or vicarious liability because when the laws were framed this was deliberately excluded. We need that to change and desperately need more and better, more intelligence led enforcement, these people are organised and serious criminals and that is the way we should see and define them. One day we will win the birds we both care about deserve nothing less of us.


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