Poor old Duke

We are often told that Hen Harriers depend on grouse moors for their survival – this is a big lie rather than a small one. The fact is that Hen Harrier breeding success over a long period of time (in England and Scotland) and survival (as measured by the lack of survival of satellite-tagged birds by Natural England) is very poor on intensively-managed grouse moors.

But those are large-scale analyses (and obviously powerful because of that), so let’s just illustrate what that actually means on the ground in one corner of the English uplands.

Let’s have a look at the Forest of Bowland Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, whose logo happens to be a Hen Harrier. It’s not a random choice, this area has been at times the stronghold of this bird in England. Although it’s difficult to believe these days (when some recent years have seen a complete absence of breeding), there have often been double-figured numbers of Hen Harrier nests here in the past. And that’s why part of this area is designated by the UK as a Special Protection Area for birds under the EU Birds Directive. The Bowland Fells SPA qualified for this designation by holding significant proportion of the UK breeding population – 13 pairs over a period of years.

There are many landowners in this area but the three largest are United Utilities plc (what used to be called a water company – which owns part of this catchment to maintain water quality and which does have a few days grouse shooting on its land each year but cannot remotely be called a grouse moor), the Abbeystead Estate (owned by the Duke of Westminster) and the Bleasdale Estate (owned by businessman Jeremy Duckworth).

The land ownerships are roughly in the following proportions:

Estate% of HHSAs by area% of Bowland Fells SPA by area
Abbeystead
1647
United Utilities7034
Bleasdale910
The rest58

Abbeystead Estate is a famous grouse moor – it holds the record for the most Red Grouse shot in a single day in the UK. Can you guess how many Red Grouse were shot by eight ‘guns’ on 12 August 1915?

Did you guess 2929? That’s more than 350 dead birds for each shooter – what sport eh? But those were the days when Abbeystead was owned by the Earls of Sefton, the Grosvenor family acquired the moor in 1980.

You’d think that a famous grouse moor, owned by His Grace the Duke of Westminster, usually the highest ranking UK-born individual in the Sunday Times Rich List, and the most recently created Dukedom in the UK, with a wealth of £10bn, would be in a perfect position to demonstrate the value of driven grouse moors for Hen Harriers – particularly at this former stronghold for the bird, and particularly because of his large land holding.

But poor old (actually, rather young) Duke of Westminster. No nesting Hen Harriers on Abbeystead this year despite there being five successful pairs on the adjacent United Utilities land (where the birds are guarded by volunteers organised by the RSPB and United Utilities). His Grace must be gutted. All that prime Hen Harrier habitat in an area whose very logo is the Hen Harrier, all those gamekeepers looking after the Hen Harriers and not a thing to show for it.

Maybe there’ll be lots next year, although recent history suggests not, as I am told (by local, experienced, raptor workers) that the last time that Hen Harriers nested successfully on the Abbeystead Estate was 2003 – so don’t hold your breath! All but one of the successful Hen Harrier nests in the last decade in Bowland has been on the United Utilities land.

So in passing we must note too, that the other large grouse shooting estate in Bowland has been unlucky in attracting and keeping safe Hen Harriers too – the Bleasdale Estate’s last reported successful Hen Harrier nest was in 1993. In fact, Bleasdale Estate has been unlucky with its breeding Peregrine Falcons too in recent years (see a disturbing video here).

It’s a shame that being very rich, and owning lots of land in a prime location doesn’t seem to guarantee the riches of successful Hen Harrier nests. I’d recommend that His Grace and Mr Duckworth get in touch with the RSPB team operating locally to discover the secret of getting successful Hen Harrier nests in the Bowland Fells. But until they do, can we hear a little less about how great are driven grouse moors for the threatened Hen Harrier, please?

For all sorts of reasons, I’d be delighted if you would give your support to this e-petition.

Please sign this e-petition by Chris Packham calling for a ban of driven grouse shooting.

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9 Replies to “Poor old Duke”

  1. Some more news about Abbeystead Estate here:-
    https://www.thevisitor.co.uk/news/duke-of-westminster-s-controlled-heather-fires-on-abbeystead-estate-slammed-as-environmentally-destructive-1-9961227

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  2. I thought I had all the individual estate data for Bowland but I cannot find it. Between 1981 and 2005
    the following nesting attempts occurred
    United Utilities Estate 153
    Bleasdale Estate 37
    Abbeystead Estate 34
    Clapham Estate 15
    Although it is a disappointingly long while since Abbeystead or Bleasdale hosted successful nests I had thought it was 2010 and 2003 respectively, but I may have been misinformed. However in that long period all those Pennine grouse moors in North Yorkshire only hosted 25 attempts of which only 6 were successful. So much for grouse moors are good for nesting Harriers, given most failures had all the hallmarks of human interference one way or another.

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  3. It might be pertinent to point out that His (Dis) Grace is President of the North of England Zoological Society, the parent charity for Chester Zoo.

    They are a good, reputable charity doing a lot of decent work both inside the Zoo and overseas in the field. Lobbying them to point out some home truths to the dear peer might prove fruitful.

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  4. I have used this exact argument to shut down numerous trolls who where wielding the ‘Driven Grouse Moors are Nirvana for Hen Harriers’ line once the facts were pointed out as you have in your blog, they all, without fail, disappeared under their bridges. Great blog with good detail on the land apportionment in Bowland.

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  5. Tom Quinn's book ("The Reluctant Billionaire: The Tragic Life of Gerald Grosvenor, Sixth Duke of Westminster") about the previous DoW is worth a read. He was said to have had no interest in “non-shootable features of the countryside” and to have left his head keeper 5 grand upon his death (when his £9 billion was bequeathed to the current DoW, of course).

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    1. I had this book from a friend and have passed it on to other friends with an interest in Bowland. I met Gerald Grosvenor I think three times and whilst we conversed amongst others we certainly didn't like each other, although politeness ruled. If you read this book you will discover that not only was he happiest in the countryside shooting at things he thought conservationists were all rather "pink" including RSPB and there was nothing he detested more than the slightest whiff of socialism and anything that impinged badly on his and the estates interests. A life long Tory he resigned from the party in anger when the major government made it possible for leasees to buy the freehold of their property outright more easily.
      As I say whilst always polite I found his views typical of the most ignorant of the "huntin' shootin' and fishin' brigade." One hopes the current Duke is better but I'd not hold my breath.

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  6. I remember reading in his obituary that when asked by a young entrepreneur for advice on how to succeed ,he replied " Have an ancestor that was very friendly with William the Conqueror"
    Funny, but just about sums it all up.

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