Good report on a bad state of affairs

The lack of birds of prey, due to high levels of illegal persecution, in many upland so-called protected areas (AONBs and National Parks) is a disgrace that is becoming clearer and clearer to the public at large.

And this report on the state of affairs for the Nidderdale AONB is another welcome step forward in publicising the issue.

The incidence of raptor persecution in this small upland area with many grouse moors is not secret. When I stayed in another AONB, the Forest of Bowland, back in July I was told by a local that she liked Red Kites but knew that she wouldn’t see them in her neighbourhood because they all get bumped off in Nidderdale. When wildlife crime becomes that commonplace a story then it really is an open secret.

To be fair, the Nidderdale AONB Management Plan 2019-24 contains the following sentiment;

…many of Nidderdale’s internationally designated moorland sites are defined by the Government’s conservation advisers as in need of modified management. Aims in the Plan commit the AONB to working with the industry to promote best-practice while at the same time working with industry representatives, the police and others to put an end to the illegal persecution of birds of prey

So this raptor report should be seen in the context of an AONB which is leading the way in saying the right things on this subject.

Quotes from this report include:

The issue of wildlife crime, in particular bird of prey persecution, features prominently in comments submitted to the Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) and was raised as a key issue in the 2019 Nidderdale AONB Management Plan 2019-2024 public consultation.

Although there is no comprehensive monitoring programme for buzzard in the AONB, available records suggest that while widespread in the AONB as a non-breeding species, the breeding population is lower than would be expected given the available habitat.

Red kite currently breeds in the very south of the AONB. Persecution incidents in the Washburn Valley and Upper Nidderdale appear to be preventing the expansion of the breeding population into these areas.

Despite large areas of potentially suitable breeding habitat, there were no successful hen harrier breeding attempts in Nidderdale between 2005 and 20181. Nidderdale is also an important area for wintering hen harrier, with a number of known roost sites. Ofthe 59 hen harriers that were satellite tagged by Natural England across northern England and Scotland between 2017 and 2017, seven (12%) are classified as ‘missing fate unknown’ in Nidderdale AONB, or close to its boundary. A further bird classified as ‘recovered – persecuted’ was recovered from within the AONB. A recent research paper by Murgatroyd et al. (2019) looked at the patterns of disappearances of satellite tagged hen harriers and concluded ‘that hen harriers in Britain suffer elevated levels of mortality on grouse moors, which is most likely the result of illegal killing’. They found that this pattern was apparent in protected areas in northern England, including Nidderdale AONB.

… traditional territories on areas not managed for grouse, including at Coldstones Quarry, regularly occupied and successfully fledging young. In contrast there has not been a known successful peregrine nesting attempt on any of the traditional grouse moor sites since 1998. There is no natural explanation for this difference.

There are a small number of successful breeding records of merlin reported in the north of the AONB each year, but again there appear to be large areas of potentially suitable habitats that are not occupied. The populations of all three species [merlin, goshawk, short-eared owl] are judged to be well below the natural carrying capacity of the area.

Realisation is growing of the need for change, partly because locals see their area being mentioned often as a wildlife crime hotspot – which it is – and can only see downsides to that reputation.

the report does have a couple of useful maps but this one, frpom Raptor Persecution UK, would have brought home the message even more strongly.

Map of Niddedale AONB (yellow outline) with confirmed illegally killed Red Kites (red dots), disappeared Hen Harriers (orange stars), where Bowland Betty was recovered (red star) and an approximate location of River’s last resting place (which we now know should be much closer to the red star denoting Bowland Betty)

But very well done to the Nidderdale AONB for saying the right things on this subject.

What will the Glover report say on this subject – it will be a poor show if it remains silent.

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10 Replies to “Good report on a bad state of affairs”

  1. I love Nidderdale and spend a lot of time walking both dale and moors. It deserves to be better known and it is a great shame that it wasn't included in the recent expansion of the Yorkshire Dales National Park. An extension eastward to embrace Nidderdale would bring an influx of visitors, especially from the east and from nearby Leeds. Increasing numbers of visitors can mean potentially more wtinesses to illegal activity.

    1. Walk on any grouse shooting estate in the YDNP or Nidderdale AONB and you will meet few others during the day especially if you are off a track or path. There is fundamentally no difference in detection rate in the Nidderdale AONB from that of the YDNP. What we need for change to take place is for those owners and agents instructing game keepers to completely change the message, few if any persecute without instruction. Walk these places with eyes and ears open but even then seeing a crime being committed is unlikely, such things take place when the culprit believes he is truly alone. I've been regularly on those moors for nearly 50 years and not witnessed a wildlife crime taking place.
      Better still support the call to ban driven grouse shooting

  2. The managers of Peregrine territories 1, 2 & 3 should be locked up and the key should be go 'missing'.
    That is an incredibly stark and detailed view of what all the raptor workers in the Pennines and NY Moors must be dealing with constantly. They all deserve medals. Terry Pickford's description of the situation in Bowland is pretty much identical.
    To be brutally honest, which the report is only saying between the lines, it's a fucking disgrace. The only silver lining is that people are waking up.

    1. I have long said that if Peregrines only nested in our uplands then their current status would be similar to that of Hen Harrier or golden Eagle in grouse moor areas. They are after all largely limited to traditional sites which once found are known forever by conservationists and criminals alike. I used to monitor some of these nest sites although others did it before me and you are right it is a fucking disgrace. I used to have to tell a keeper when I was visiting one of the territory 1 sites, he once told me that he had seen a big white falcon roosting there in early February one year. I always wondered if he killed it as he probably did with many of the sites Peregrines. I knew somebody at the first meeting of that keeper and the new ( and still) tenant after Sir Joseph Nickerson died ( a man who instructed the keeper to leave the Peregrines alone) the keeper was told that if the Peregrines were still there on the next visit he was out of a job------- the moor belongs to Yorkshire Water!
      Territory 2 is on Swinton Estate.

      1. I have long said that if Peregrines only nested in our uplands then their current status would be similar to that of Hen Harrier or Golden Eagle in grouse moor areas'.
        Yes, we mustn't let anyone in the on-coming debate on DGS get away with the 'Peregrines are increasing' lie. Same goes for Buzzards in Nidderdale. I only mentioned Peregrines because the report goes into so much detail. The smoking gun is there for all to see, unless you want to not to.
        In all the time i have been reading reports and studies, i can't recall one that hits home more hard than this one on the state of affairs on driven grouse moors and that is because it is so immediate and local. Of course the satellite tagged data and Brian Etheridge's study were equally damning but this one shows the end result. Raptor deserts right there in front of us.
        Why isn't this is the media?

  3. AONB's and NP's are landscape designations. In our sectoral world there's minimal overlap with nature conservation - they are two different groups that barely interact. the idea that NP status would make things better is, sadly, laughable. I was staggered to hear that HH had been taken from nests in the NYMNP for brood meddling - I'm not aware of a single successful HH nest in the NYM since I went to work there in 1977 so how do 2 nests suddenly produce young for brood meddling ? And how do the tiny number of rotten eggs so closely match the nesting attempts of English HH ? Prasad's somewhat unparliamentary language sums the situation up quite succinctly.

    1. Those Hen Harrier nests were both in the Nidderdale AONB Rod. There are places that we barely recognise that Hen Harriers a naturally drawn to, I think we are beginning to understand this but not entirely why. The East Nidderdale Moors are one of those places if left entirely alone the area would have a permanent population at a density that Bowland ( originally colonised in the same year!) used to have. Of course that is entirely unacceptable to the grouse shooting cabal. Its also probable that if grouse moor Peregrines in the Nidderdale AONB were unmolested that there would be at least two more territories. There are five places in the northern part of the AONB ( Nidderdale proper) where Goshawks have displayed and probably that number of sites in the Washburn too. In the early to mid nineties there were quite probably 25-30 pairs of Merlin nesting, whilst there have been declines probably associated with climate change (lower altitude sites being abandoned) and at least one site lost because of open access climbing there should still be more than there are. In the grouse moor areas Buzzard density is the same as it was 25 years ago during early colonisation. Yet there are still those in the community and authority that "forelock tug" to the big landowners who employ the keepers.
      This history is the problem with the idea of licencing grouse moor shoots because currently I'd not give a licence to any of them in this area ever!

  4. It is good that the AONB report is saying the right things, However I am afraid the persons who commit these wildlife crimes are little more than thugs that pay off attention to good words. Really the only way to stop.this thuggery is to ban driven grouse shooting and to impose severe penalties on land owners where wildlife crime takes place. The landowners should under the law be compelled to contributed to funding an independent policing system on their lands such that if a wildlife crime is committed on their land they suffer a heavy penalty.
    I think think something on these lines would sooner or later reduce wildlife crimes considerably. I am afraid fine words in reports will do nothing to stop the thugs acting as they do. We have to be as ruthless as they are, after all they are our birds of prey and they belong to all of us.

  5. 'When wildlife crime becomes that commonplace a story then it really is an open secret.' Spot on Mark. In his book 'Linescapes' Hugh Warwick mentions that he was once doing some research for an article that was to go into BBC Wildlife Magazine which entailed him driving round an upland area of Northumbria. After a while he noticed that at regular intervals there would be a dead rabbit on the road. This was so peculiar that when he stopped off at a local pub for lunch he mentioned it. Straight away he was told that game keepers were putting the dead rabbits on the road in order to attract certain types of birds on to the road in the hope they'd be hit by a vehicle, this was to kill them while avoiding charges of illegal persecution. Unless some very fast thinking drinker or bar staff had a very creative imagination that allowed them to pull the non local's leg, this was an extraordinary admission of what can only be attempted raptor killing - common knowledge even to those not involved in it. This method sounds like it would have a degree of success if it was being carried out long enough to be known about locally. Nasty and bonkers, but sounds all too feasible. It's quite shocking how often even in general books about nature in Britain stories like this crop up. A ban can't come quick enough, this insanity should never have been inflicted on the land, wildlife and rational people.


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