Bob was the head of the investigations and species protection team for the RSPB for 14 years, fighting wildlife crime both in the UK and internationally. He is now the Director for OneKind, an animal welfare charity based in Edinburgh, that exposes cruelty and persecution to Scotland’s animals via investigations, research and campaigning.
Like many people, I was dismayed to read an account on this blog that Natural England had permitted a licence for peregrine chicks to be taken from the wild for falconry purposes.
Dave Slater, Natural England’s Director for wildlife licensing, said:
… we granted licences for three falconers to permit the taking of a small number (six in total) of peregrine falcon chicks from the wild for use in falconry. Each falconer intends to take one male and one female chick to form a breeding programme with the other licenseeshttps://naturalengland.blog.gov.uk/2020/04/16/natural-england-issues-licences-for-taking-peregrine-falcons-from-the-wild-for-falconry/
Peregrines are a fully protected species under Schedule 1 of The Wildlife and Countryside Act.
I have some personal history with this species, and its protection in the wild.
One of my favourite paintings, hanging on my wall at home, is a painting of a peregrine falcon in a valley in southern Scotland. Painted by the artist Chris Rose and called ‘The Carrifran lookout’, the bird sits on a boulder looking down the scree slopes and the open ground. The picture reminds me of a time in the 1990s when I was working as a seasonal countryside ranger for the National Trust for Scotland. One of my tasks was to protect peregrine falcons who were nesting at a famous beauty spot.
Peregrines had always fascinated me, this beautiful wild bird of prey, nesting on remote crags, fast in flight, catching other birds on the wing. At the time, I was aware that birds were (and still are) being illegally killed to prevent predation on game birds and racing pigeons. They also have eggs and chicks taken for collections and falconry.
Each year the peregrines seemed to fail at my location, with well-developed eggs, or young chicks going missing each year. My employers had been persuaded by a local police wildlife crime officer, and the RSPB, that something needed to be done. Would the Trust tolerate a painting or rare piece of furniture to be stolen each year? To their credit, the Trust stepped up and employed seasonal rangers at the site and mounted a 24-hour guard. I was lucky enough to be one of those rangers. It was a time I will never forget and had a profound effect on my career. In time, I would become the head of investigations for the RSPB.
A small caravan was moved onsite, and this was the base for the breeding season and helped house me and any volunteers. This was one of my first conservation contracts, so I was desperate that nothing would happen to the birds.
I was doing my usual patrol of the area one day and noticed a rusty white van arrive in the nearby car park. Fearing the worst, I made my way down to see who this was. I was relieved to find it was Dave Dick, the senior investigator for the RSPB in Scotland. From my conversation with Dave, the true reality of the situation, and the criminality involved, became apparent to me. Dave explained that whilst we might be protecting ‘my’ site, other eyries in the area were often targeted by egg and chick thieves. Monitoring undertaken by local licensed raptor study group workers was demonstrating a clear demand for peregrine chicks by criminals, and these peregrine chicks were being taken from the wild to satisfy the demand from falconers.
I spent many days in the field looking for signs of criminality and on occasion, assisted Dave with monitoring sites with a known history of problems. At least the pair I was responsible for did breed successfully and, despite some worrying moments, remained unmolested.
Nowadays, the fortunes of peregrines in the UK are much improved. They are doing better, particularly in our cities and on our coastlines. However, they are still persecuted, particularly in the uplands of the UK in those areas associated with driven grouse shooting, and by individuals involved in the racing of pigeons.
But back to the issues of today. The licensee has said the reason he will be taking chicks from the wild is to provide a supply of captive bred native peregrines for falconry purposes and also has the potential as a source for re-introduction should that ever be required in the future.
Potential re-introductions are one thing (although highly complex), but let’s not overlook the primary purpose of taking these chicks from the wild to breed. Falconry is, to use an old-fashioned expression, a “field sport” that involves killing live quarry. We may associate it with flying displays at hotels and country fairs, but the birds shown there are actually trained to hunt. Twenty years ago, the chairman of the Scottish Hawk Board told a Scottish Parliament committee that “many thousands” of rabbits and hares were killed by hawks and eagles in Scotland each year. And was the kill quick and clean? asked one MSP. “We would hope so”, replied the witness, but his answer left room for doubt:
“Our intention is to dispatch quickly whatever quarry species we are hunting. It is more difficult for smaller hawks to dispatch their quarry as quickly as a golden eagle or other larger bird. Falconers are normally on hand quickly in order to make straight in and dispatch the quarry immediately. We do not just sit there and watch the bird and the rabbit or hare having a fight on the floor—we will make in and dispatch the quarry as soon as practicable.”
And what of the Middle Eastern market, where the offspring of these captured chicks are intended to go? There are already close links between breeders in Scotland and wealthy enthusiasts in Saudi Arabia and the UAE. There, falconry has metamorphosed from an ancient hunting culture into a multi-million dollar, highly competitive industry focused on racing. The birds are prized, but the training is intensive and uses huge numbers of pigeons and quail as feed and lures, while birds learn to kill live prey.
Here at OneKind we would describe this licence as allowing wild animals to be caught for sport and entertainment. There may be peripheral conservation side-effects, but these have to be set against the long history of illegal taking, both here and overseas. Peregrines should stay where they belong, in the wild.
I will give the final word to Dave Dick. In a comment on Mark’s blog, Dave says:
“As part of this ‘debate’. I would like to remind everyone about the really quite recent history of wild peregrine protection in the UK. Hundreds, if not thousands of local people, while communities in some areas, took part in protecting ‘their’ peregrines during the 1970’s, 1980’s and beyond, protecting nest sites from thefts by falconers, or those providing birds to falconers here and as far away as the far east. They did not do so [protecting falcons] that at some time in the future, when due to their sacrifice – 24hr watches are not easy to sustain – the population recovered enough to allow for the legal removal of these birds progeny, to spend a life in captivity.”[registration_form]
51 Replies to “Guest blog – Peregrines and licences by Bob Elliot”
Thoughtful and compelling, Bob.
I was initially indifferent to these licences but I have come to believe, through reading your post and others Mark has hosted, that there is something underhand and sinister about this whole enterprise. It comes down to this:
These birds are ‘ours’. Scientists and ornithologists amassed the evidence that lead to their protection and the withdrawal of certain pesticides. Conservation NGOs and an army of volunteers created an environment in which the peregrine has begun to flourish: They are now a much loved feature of our towns. In short, peregrines are not a commodity to be taken, bought and sold. They are wild birds and should be kept that way. Leave them alone.
Well said Bob Elliot. As was said at the time when Mark first announced Natural England’s action granting this permit is an utter disgrace. As I said I smell Tory Party pressure behind all this. Nevertheless those in Natural England involved in this should be ashamed of themselves and should resign their post.
With all the other licences granted over the year to people who just want to make money from our wildlife Natural England should be considered are no longer defenders of England’s wildlife.
I don’t agree. Bob and I have known each other for quite sometime and indeed used to belong to the same natural history society in Harrogate. This is almost certainly the first time we have disagreed. To put this in context I have been a raptor nut most of my life ( in my 70th year) and been both a professional and amateur raptor worker for over 35 years. I have been involved in Peregrine protection and lost young to illegal taking.
Yet I see nothing wrong with a small legal take of Peregrines for falconry or breeding for falconry. These birds are not destined for rich Arabs in the Middle East, they are likely to be used by UK falconers. Falconry has been part of our culture for a very long time, to my mind a much more natural way of obtaining wild food than the driven shoot, be that grouse or alien pheasants and partridges.
This take will not have any effect whatsoever on wild populations, talk of conservation on both sides of the argument are to me red herrings. Bob, I suspect is wholly against falconry, as are many others, that is their right, I happen to take a different view.
I have said before that if you look to the USA where without falconer’s setting up and running the Peregrine Fund, Peregrines there may have been lost to pesticides. People like Tom Cade, Bill Burnham, heavily involved in raptor conservation were falconers. I can recall a rather good talk on Gyr Falcons in Greenland at a NERF conference by Bill Heinrich a Peregrine Fund biologist and falconer.
We have much bigger fish to fry, those who routinely illegally kill, maim and trap or prevent from breeding our Peregrines and other protected raptors in the belief that it gives them more game birds to shoot are a far greater threat and problem, than in terms of Peregrine productivity, a tiny falconry take.
As during the original discussions a couple of weeks ago, i am with you on this Paul.
I also stated that i would be quite agreeable to a limited removal of birds such as Goshawk, from the nest, to be flown until adulthood before release.
The re- introduction of the Goshawk, a major success story, was accomplished at almost no cost
to mainstream conservation, and is almost wholly due to falconry interests ( not always intentionally it has to be said !).
Incidentally , on RPUK yesterday, in reply to a query regarding trackers on goshawk, you cited problems with battery charging with birds flying under the canopy much of the time.
However i have recently been reading of tracking studies in the Brecks, and the Forest of Dean , which seemed quite successful.
I agree with you, Paul.
Millsap and Allen (2006) found the falconry harvest in the US had no effect whatsoever on wild stocks, and there is a far broader culture of the practice in that country and has been for decades. In Ireland, where a small wild harvest is licensed annually, peregrine numbers have increased massively in the few decades since it was introduced.
Peregrine numbers are booming now to the point that we are witnessing nestcam brawls as urban non-traditional nesting territories become increasingly competitive. And all while there is a 60% first-year mortality rate in the species (and most other birds of prey, for that matter).
Mr Elliot’s comments on falconry make me wonder how closely he has researched this practice (which is a UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage). He uses the word “kill” in order to attain the maximum emotive resonance about something that is as natural to raptors as a dog chasing a ball. Falconers do not train their birds to “kill” or pursue (you cannot stop a free-flown raptor from being inclined towards these things as they are hard-wired through evolution to do so). Falconers train their birds to return.
I also at this stage have to ask if his idea of the predator-prey dynamic is one of “killing” because if so it discredits him somewhat from a nuanced conversation about wild falcons and falconry. The 60% first mortality rate I mentioned above is largely due to starvation. It is very hard for birds of prey in the wild with most pursuits unsuccessful. The success rate in falconry is a replica of this because the species that are hunted live with that same wild threat and thus are often able to evade it. The difference with a falconry bird is that it gets fed at the end of the day regardless. If Mr Elliot had bothered to look into falconry a bit deeper rather than making up his own conclusions, he would also know that a falconer can have a super day out and not catch a thing. If “killing” is your thing, a shotgun or a domestic cat would be more useful than a falconry bird that requires huge time and management with little return in terms of, to use Mr Elliot’s language, “kills”.
Also, the idea that British peregrines are somehow prized items for wealthy Arabs is a myth perpetuated by people who possibly need to have a look at their personal feelings about that part of the world. The Arab market is supplied by captive bred birds, with gyr and gyr-hybrids being most sought after as size is viewed as a premium.
To close, I also want to mention some species – the peregrine, the Mauritius kestrel, the Saker falcon, the lugger falcon. What do they have in common? Conservation projects involving these birds would have been impossible without falconers’ involvement.
The issue isn’t really about the pros and cons of falconry. It is about NE saying it is OK to take a few peregrines from the wild. It is not needed any more than brood meddling is.
It is a bit like them saying it is OK to go shoplifting as long as you only take items of less than £10.
NE is on the wrong side once again.
I was going to respond to Ms White’s post but you have made point better than I could. I don’t doubt that taking a few peregrines from the wild would have little or no effect on wild populations. Perhaps taking a lot might not, either. But that’s not the point. Why can’t they be left alone? We’re always fiddling about. Have some bloody patience and let things find their own level, for pity’s sake. Stop pandering to human vanity.
It seems to be always the same: Decades of persecution followed by frenzied efforts to restore the population and then, as if a switch has been flicked, it’s either a resource to be exploited or a convenient scapegoat. Peregrines and badgers, respectively.
Would one of the advocates please explain: What is so hard about leaving these animals the fuck alone?
What’s wrong is that it is a simplistic, utopian ideal in a world where the footprint of humanity is now too large and intrusive to just “leave these animals the fuck alone”. Peregrines are thriving in urban centres now across the world on manmade buildings. We have interfered too much with wildlife to just leave it alone. It needs to be managed and interacted with. If we had had that attitude of putting wildlife in a distant corner and not interacting with it, the peregrine’s recovery following DDT would not have been the success it was. It required captive breeding using wild falcons, electronic incubators, abseiling down on to cliff faces and artificial hack boxes and food supplies. Your ideal of letting nature take its course is very nice but no longer practical or wise in a western landscape almost entirely engineered by man. “Wilderness” in its true sense only barely exists any more and given a toss-up between it and a modern city metropolis, I can tell you which one you are more likely to see a peregrine in on any given day. Peregrine numbers are not “restored” – they have far exceeded any numbers since records began because human construction no longer restricts their nesting territories to crags and cliffs. Where I live, there is a nest on a power station. Below it is a colony of terns for whom the idea of peregrines nesting right above them and picking them off is a relatively new development. By your logic, a green listed species is more important than an amber listed one. A conservationist can’t use your fairytale logic of “well let’s just leave them alone and it’ll all be fine”.
Also there are no pros to falconry, only cons.
Cute. Make sure you relay this considered scientific opinion to UNESCO and the 90 countries around the world where it is practised.
What a blind argument about language. Bob uses the word ‘kill’ precisely once in the context of falconry, twice if you count ‘killing’, three fewer times than you yourself. Yet you condemn it as emotive use of language when it seems to me entirely straight. Perhaps you find the word ‘die’ overly emotive, and prefer to say ‘pass away’, ‘go to rest’, or similar. Bit awkward to keep writing “caused a pigeon to pass on” though.
Meanwhile you yourself use the word ‘harvest’ twice, apparently oblivious of a euphemism that amounts to misuse of the language and heedless of a category mistake that distresses those who passionately believe that the right place for wild animals is the wild.
Thank you Mr Cranston but the word harvest is not an abuse of language because by definition “to harvest” something means that that thing is sustainable.
But instead of just focusing on semantics, do you have anything to offer about the other points I raise? Might I suggest that at the core of this entire debate, it comes down to conflicting views of conservation – your protectionist attitude which wants a glass screen put up around “certain” wildlife, and mine, which says that if two out of the three falcon chicks in a nest are not going to see out their first winter, harvest a tiny tiny percentage of these for a practical solution. Similarly, I support removing secondary eaglets to be used in reintroduction schemes instead of losing that resource to hungry older siblings.
Hilary White. This is not a reintroduction program by any stretch of the imagination. I would assume that the people who have worked so hard over the years reintroducing Eagles etc. would be as horrified at NE’s. decision as I am. I am very concerned about what happens when these Peregrines go off to Scotland.
I am 100% with Alick, as you would expect.
“Leave the fuck alone” seems pretty good advice to me.
You say that”Wildlife needs to be managed and interacted with”. If so why is Mark Avery challenging brood meddling in the courts of this land, with our money?
Paul, thank you for those comments, falconers are not a threat to raptor populations and I only support falconry because I know 100% it benefits raptor conservation. I’ve actually been involved with getting 5 peregrines back to the wild and when the public have sick and injured raptors its quite often falconers who come forward to care and rehab them, not the RSPB !
Its quite interesting to read older books such as “Birds of Scotland” from 1953 by Baxter & Rintoul, highly respected ornithologists that describe the taking of peregrines for falconry in their book from a neutral point of view based on their research with no negativity but then did they have the vested interests in creating a monster to slay like todays NGO’s so they can attract public donations ? The RSPB are still using the peregrine in their money begging campaigns when the BTO were talking about a “super recovery” in 1991. Sorry but from where I’m standing I see some of these organisations using birds like the peregrine as a symbol of a threatened species to raise money as bordering on obtaining funds by deception.
There are sensible people like yourself who care about raptors likely without a salary and have a balanced approach to sustainable use, you are the kind of person falconers want to work with to establish a captive bred native population with as least impact on the wild population as possible and then the next time there’s a threat to our wild population we have a source of native birds for release instead of these multi million pound translocation projects, like the Irish Golden Eagle project, taking 80 eagles from Scotland with nearly 60 dying because of poor food source. This project was asking one of the peregrine licensee’s why the eaglets were in such poor condition and he had to educate them on whole animal diets.
As you’ve highlighted with the P-Fund in the US, falconers care about raptor conservation and have a wealth of knowledge that ornithologists dont have, we need to work together !
Bear Bating and Hare Coursing were a tradition for a very long time indeed as well. You cannot use time and tradition to justify and defend your opinions; they do not make right what was wrong all along.
Bear bating and hare coursing are now illegal, falconry is not and never will be ! Many raptor species around the world would be extinct now without the help and knowledge of falconers !
It was VE Day on Friday, a celebration of victory over a fascist regime that wanted to control every single part of peoples lives but nearly half a million British people paid the ultimate sacrifice so we could live in freedom, freedom within the parameters of the law and that what I’m doing ! If you dont like the law dont waste your time wishing things were different, try and change it, simple as that !
You, and people like you, will never take away a freedom someone has given me through their ultimate sacrifice simply by trying to ram your opinion down my throat because I wont accept it !
Totally agree with you Bob. Anyone who has spent hours,weeks and months of their lives in all weathers trying to protect Peregrines from the theft of their eggs and pre-fledged young ,will feel sick to their stomachs that someone can be granted a license to walk in and take wild birds primarily for Falconry , which has had a dodgy history without doubt.
A close family friend, deeply involved in flying, and breeding Raptors, has explained to me how
this plan is supposed to work.
The birds taken from the wild would be located with various breeders, the offspring from this initial stock, would in turn produce chicks that would be given to falconers wishing to fly them.
These falconers would be selected on a form of lottery basis, after initial application, and approval.
None of these donated birds would be allowed to enter any breeding programme, be passed to any third party, nor be named on any export licence.
The only monetary transaction, would be a possible donation to cover the costs of raising the chicks, to the age of transfer to the selected party.
My friend genuinely believes that this is a not for profit undertaking, and i trust his judgement.
However, i realise this does not address other concerns individuals may have, concerning falconry in general, or removing birds from the wild, previous generations of which have been the subject of protection schemes by many dedicated people.
I appreciate you trying to explain the project but my experience of the last few week people aren’t really interested in the truth.
Falconers were protecting peregrines before the 1954 protection of birds act, the first sustainable use laws for raptors, going back 500 years, were there to control the take of birds for falconry. The trouble is these people who like to think they’re the great defenders of the peregrine have only been around for 40 years and how no knowledge of history so they like to think they invented raptor protection, they didn’t ! Even in my life time I’ve met old falconers who were taking peregrines either side of WW2 that would have been shot, they’d remove the young, wild hack them, trap one or two birds up for falconry use and let the remaining birds go back to the wild, birds that would destined to have been shot, along with their parents, the latter usually saved because of the intervention of the falconer. They had relationship with gamekeepers before legal protection came into force that saved many a peregrine from being killed.
Mary Queen of Scots had peregrines from Abbey Craig, where the Wallace monument stands today and her son James VI kept a mews of falcons at Holyrood Palace. Robert the Bruce kept a mews of falcons and indeed, we would have never known the name of Robert the Bruce without falconry as his parents met in Ayrshire while his Mother was out hawking.
Falconers have been behind just about every reintroduction programme in the world, from the Mauritius Kestrel to the Californian Condor which have taken a lot more time and energy than taking birds from somewhere else and dumping in an degraded environment with little understanding of the consequences !
There are many virtuous positions taken in conservation circles or by the public on conservation topics, trophy hunting, exotic pet trade, rewilding etc etc etc. Many who spout their view are often woefully uninformed or care far more about “dying in their hill” than they do the actual wildlife. I am not saying that applies to the author or any commentators on here but you have to factor in reality. There is a demand for these birds. That demand will be met one way or the other. Surely satisfying that demand in a regulated and controlled way is better than it being satisfied illegally, unmonitored and underground? We can all argue about whether it is right or wrong to practice falconry or take animals from the wild but the fact is that it will happen either way. It’s about time we all started being a bit more pragmatic in conservation and accept that there may have to be some necessary evils to achieve the greater good, at least in the short – medium term while we hopefully are able to achieve societal and political shift in values and empathy towards nature.
I’m looking forward to your developed views on achieving societal and political shift in values and empathy towards nature. I’ve always found that quite hard – it’s easy to say we should all do it, but harder to say how. I thought Bob’s blog made a good stab at saying why he was emotionally engaged with the issue, and perhaps thus how others might be too. Of course I recognise that you “are not saying” that he’s taking a virtuous position or spouting views, but your post does sort of put you on the spot for how you would do better.
Cliches such as ‘factoring in reality’ are not very helpful or kind to people who deal with reality on a daily basis. How exactly do you propose to ‘factor in reality’ to the damage caused by the surge in enthusiasm for traditional Chinese medicine. Pragmatic regulation, you appear to suggest. How would that work exactly?
I’m in TOTAL Agreement with you Bob.As part of a group of People who has tried to Protect Nesting Peregrine’s since the early 1990s. Voluntarily,When the Eggs and Young have been taken ,Adults shot,not to mention losses to the vagaries of our Britlish weather.For me and many others this is the biggest kick in the teeth .I am absolutely appalled by this decision by Natural England to grant these licenses for falconry.
So are we just taking this lying down then? Shrugging our shoulders and going home because the licence has been granted? Surely we should now be considering direct protest against the environmental vandals///nest thieves… sorry “falconers” involved. Or are we going to be “reasonable” and “civil” again?
The flaw is in the primary legislation. The ability to challenge, the right to be consulted and access to information is severely curtailed. Which is why just about the only way to effect any change or to get anyone in Government to take concerns in any way seriously is to go to court. Hence Wild Justice.
NE knew this decision would go down badly so that’s why there was Juniper’s blog and such like, to soften the blow. But NE has no choice; if the law allows it and the applicant meets the tests, they must grant the licence.
In the quote from myself that Bob has used, I pointed out just one unpleasant side effect of the decision to reverse decades of government policy and allow licensed removal of peregrines from the wild – namely that it is a slap in the face to all those good people who protected them from theft for falconry…but a direct effect on conservation of all wild birds is involved here, namely that the next time some falconer is caught helping himself to a wild peregrine chick his court defence will be “my client forgot/found it too bureaucratic/didnt understand the paperwork – re getting a licence” and the sheriff or judge will take that into account.NE have just seriously damaged the protection of peregrines and indeed all “desirable” raptors in this country. Thats how reality works out there…I repeat, the object in working to protect peregrines in the UK was not to provided a population large enough that it could be pillaged, it was to return an important part of our natural heritage to something like a natural balance – to be enjoyed by all. Lastly, to suggest that this travesty is to provide a captive population which will someday be used to bolster the wild population is just a self serving lie.How many hundred peregrine eggs and chicks were stolen in the 70s, 80s and 90s by falconry interests in this country and beyond? How many of the peregrines held by UK falconers right now were actually from wild taken stock?..I can hardly believe we are going over this old ground again in 2020. Shame on you NE.
Its funny that when I called you (Dave Dick) about the peregrine nest site at the Black Esk being blown up by FCS you said you were too busy to come over to take a look and it was me who was left to fight FCS and contact Elaine Murray MSP which led to me meeting a senior manager of FCS at the site to pressure them to address the destruction.
Where were you when a friend and I offered a £1500 reward for information leading to the prosecution of the person who poisoned the peregrine at the Ravenscraig site ?
Where were you after the Cook Report when everyone had lost interest in the Auchenstrone crag site and I was putting pressure on Tilhill to make sure the contractors locked the gates so no one could drive up to the crag ?
TOO BUSY eh ?
I know the history of what went on in the 70’s & 80’s, I spent 30 years suffering government inspections and an accompanying police cars sitting on my drive, being forced to man handle birds that saw me as a partner so inspectors who quite often couldn’t tell the difference between a peregrine and a lanner falcon could read ring numbers, then up until dna I was guilty until I proved my innocence !
You tell me this Mr Dick, how long do the sons have to pay for the sins of their fathers, how long ? Long enough for you to make a living out of creating a monster to justify your knight in shining armour delusion !
Again, a highly appropriate comment, Dick. I ‘m beginning to think some surprising people have lost sight of the ‘context’ of this particular decision. An interesting report in The Times today quotes Mr Wall’s true opinion of anyone who disagrees with that decision and interestingly tells us that all the breeders involved live in Scotland but will be taking the birds from somewhere in England. At least SNH had the sense to refuse them.
Sandra Padfield, thanks. I was asking this question last week about where the Peregrines were heading. I did think they might be going to Scotland and now Mr Wall has confirmed it. Yes, Mr Wall was refused permission to take wild birds in Scotland by SNH, which makes the whole thing even more bizarre. Has NE knowingly issued these licences for Perigrines to be taken from places in England to go to Scotland? I will ask the same question as last week, who overseas this ‘project’? Surely SNH have no confidence in this. Mr Wall says they are going to ‘breeders’ in Scotland. I thought he said they were going to ‘falconers’. Two very different things.
If you’re interested in the truth which doesn’t appear to be something that many are too interested in, NE have several tiers of processing, a licensing committee then a higher committee advised by specialists and then a team of lawyers that go over everything in fine detail. SNH bat a few emails around between a licensing officer, the licensing manager and the senior manager then flip a two headed coin to confirm their incompetent negative view. So SNH are prepared to ignore the law and pursue their own agenda, something that many on here accuse gamekeepers of doing !
I feel moved to respond Ms White’s patronising and arrogant response. Patronising because she accuses me of applying ‘fairy tale logic’ and arrogant because she appears imbued with the Old Testament nonsense that ‘man [and woman?] shall have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth’ (Genesis 1:26-28).
I am well aware of the need to intervene on some occasions to protect, promote and provide conditions for threatened species to recover. I’ve been involved in these schemes myself. Once the species is on a sound footing then it deserves to be left alone.
Whatever you might think, abundance does not signal the re-starting of the previously accepted exploitation of the species as playthings for a minority. If you are so sure of your ground perhaps you, your fellow enthusiasts and Natural England should be prepared to open the whole enterprise to public consultation. Then we will know what real people think.
And while you are at it, what not declare your interest?
Ok, firstly quoting scripture doesn’t strengthen your argument, especially when it fails to illustrate anything. I am not “saying humans are great and we rule the animal world” – I’m saying that the natural world is now heavily influenced by the footprint of man and therefore has been put off balance by us. I used the local power station near me to illustrate this idea – To me, it is wonderful that peregrines are nesting there, but not for the terns.
To your point about falconers treating these birds like “playthings”, i refer to my earlier point about natural first-year mortality. I’d prefer a healthy, fit immaculate falconers bird being flown every day to a dead wild youngster that is part of that natural death toll, but that’s just me.
As for opening the debate to the public, I’m afraid I can’t help you as I am not a citizen of the UK. Does that preclude me from this debate? Maybe, but I live in a country that has a tiny wild take for licensed falconers and it has worked very well for decades. Peregrines thrive, the disturbance is minimal.
Also, falconers rehabilitate and release way more wild raptors than they harvest and this is the same around the world. Therefore, falconry is actually a net contributor to wild populations of birds of prey.
I still am not getting any better arguments here other than “I don’t personally agree with it so I want it banned”. Does anybody have sound, formulated arguments against this licence by NE other than “leave them alone”? I’m genuinely interested to hear.
Hilary – you have a point except that you don’t have much of an argument either, do you. The people who think differently from you think it’s not nice to take young falcons from the wild for human purposes – that’s a valid view. You seem to think that there is a real conservation value in doing it – I don’t think there really is. So your argument is either flawed, in my view, or actually comes down to ‘I think it would be nice if people could do this’ which is a valid view, but not one which is firmly embedded in any moral high ground, and it does take you back to Alick’s point about dominion over the natural world. We have here a clash of two world views – and neither of you is going to persuade the other (is my guess).
Thank you, Mark, yes you are probably correct in that there is an impasse here.
To strip my standpoint right down to its bare bones, I personally believe that nature should be interacted with and engaged with rather than put behind a screen and fenced off. Doing that, in my opinion, furthers society’s growing disconnect with the natural world. A child who picks up a snail and examines it has a better appreciation of that snail than one who looks at it on TV. Given the imbalances mankind has imposed on the natural world, we now must manage it using the best scientific principles to try and maintain biodiversity at all costs. Falconry is one of many sustainable ways to interact with nature that has no adverse affect on the natural world and in fact can make a great contribution. It comes with a legacy of involvement in huge raptor conservation victories and deserves credit for that. Vilifying it as some kind of Victorian practice akin to egg-collecting etc is grossly misinformed. (Might I add that under “falconry” I do not speak on behalf of those who keep birds of prey as pets or those who break the law).
Also central to this discussion, I feel, is the profile of the Peregrine itself, an emotive species prone to hyperbole and inextricably associated with outdated notions of peril and extinction threat. We should celebrate its abundance and move on to other bird species that truly need our concern, but it sometimes seems that it is easier to get righteous passions going for peregrine falcons than it is for Ring Ouzels or Corn Buntings.
My apologies, I of course meant I do NOT speak on behalf of those who keep birds of prey as pets or break the law.
Hilary – thank you.
One of the reasons why Peregrines are such an emotive species is that here in the UK they are still persecuted very heavily by pigeon racers/fanciers and by gamekeepers on grouse moors. The latter is a particular affront to many people where in some of the wildest places in the UK, our uplands, Peregrine nests routinely fail through ongoing systematice human intervention over 60 years after they were given full protection. Here is a link https://markavery.info/2011/11/11/peregrines-moor/ to a scientific paper on that subject but there is a lot more too (apologies if you know this already but you did say you’re writing from another country (and very welcome you are too)). This is probably a better link https://markavery.info/2017/10/18/dr-coffeys-reading-list-3/
So, although Peregrine populations in the UK are increasing, this is mostly in lowland areas whereas there is very little progress in uplands areas (where, actually, populations are stable (and low) or declining). It would be nice if falconers were involved in this debate on the side of the birds they claim to admire so much – but their absence is very noteworthy. It’s almost as if all fieldsports stick together…
Thank you, Mark. I can’t put it better. The sharp differences in world view that Ms White and I have expressed are perhaps irreconcilable, perhaps not. Either way, one might argue, the decision about whether to take BoP pulli from nests is less one of science and conservation than one of ethics.
An ethical decision is not a personal one when it concerns shared, scarce resources. The tragedy here is the lack of opportunity afforded by the regulator to express a contrary view, never mind the lack of influence. In the circumstances, it is hardly surprising a minority seeks to exploit the weaknesses in legislation and policy.
Alick – thank you, too.
Can you explain to me the difference between taking chicks from a Hen Harrier’s nest in the north and transporting them down south compared to taking chicks from a Peregrine’s nest down south and transporting them up north to Scotland. They are both protected species.
The similarity is that NE agree and authorise both.
Mike – I can try.
NE aren’t licensing taking of Hen Harrier chicks from nests in the north of England and taking them south for a reintroduction programme (is that what you meant?). The chicks for a southern reintroduction would come from Europe (although there seem to be big problems in getting anyone to cooperate – probably because real conservationists abroad are just as against brood meddling as real conservationists at home). NE did not even think (not for long anyway) of licensing chick removal from areas in the north of England for a reintroduction down south because, quite palpably, the status of the species in the north of England is not in good condition. Therefore it would fail the test of being a donor population which could sustain harvesting.
Falconry appears to be one of the activities for which NE can license removal of Peregrine chicks under the Wildlife and Countryside Act and the Peregrine population is now large and increasing (and the stipulation about third chicks further reduces any likely population impact) so the conservation case is weak.
How have I done?
I think the issue here is, these birds will not be released into the wild. Mr Wall is a former professional falcon breeder so it’s not surprising we are dubious about the plans for the Peregrines. I also have an issue with NE giving permission for this when SNH did not. These birds are going to Scotland so it seems odd that Mr Wall went to NE in the first place and that NE think so differently from SNH. According to Mr Wall almost all captive bred Peregrines in the UK are hybrid/foreign species (Times article) so forgive us if we are suspicious of his motives. It’s whether you believe this project will have any real conservation merit.
The court judgement of the 2015 buzzard judicial review made it clear public opinion wasn’t relevant to licensing decisions under Section 16 of the WCA or dont you have any respect for the law ?
I respect Marks right as part of Wild Justice to challenge issues they disagree with through the courts, that is their right, and when a court judgement is made it has to be adhered to whether you like it or not !
People on here shout and scream about the persecution of raptors by criminals who break the law and yet they show little respect for the law when it suits their agenda.
Mark, I think you are fully aware of the point I was trying to highlight. See my other contributions to this thread.
NE/Defra have authorised the licensed taking of Hen Harrier chicks from nests in the north of England, taking them south for an intended reintroduction programme back up north again, as you are fully aware!
I can’t get my head around taking Harrier chicks bad; taking peregrine chicks not so bad. It is the principle that matters here and the example it sets for other protected birds.
Mike – no I wasn’t fully aware of the point you were making because you didn’t make it very clearly.
The brood meddling project, since that is, it seems, what you are talking about, is a conservation project (although NE say, and to be fair the judge agreed with them, that this bit of it is ‘research’). As a conservation project undertaken in SPAs and with Annex 1 species NE need to show that they have considered alternatives to this course of action for the purpose of conserving Hen Harriers. We claimed, and still do, that they haven’t considered alternatives and that therefore the brood meddling licence is illegal.
Taking Peregrines for the purpose of falconry is a listed action under the WCA which NE can licence. If I were very, very rich then I might take a punt on trying to show that this licence is illegal – but I’m not, so I won’t. You can. Or you could start a campaign to change the law so that this is no longer a licensable action. that would be anothr approach.
That’s the difference as I understand it.
You’re entitled to think that both are bad, or both are good, or either combination of good and bad – but the law looks like it might not be much help with one of these – but I’m not a lawyer.
How am I doing now?
You have made things much clearer thank you.
This all started with a quote from Bob Elliott – “Like many people, I was dismayed to read an account on this blog that Natural England had permitted a licence for peregrine chicks to be taken from the wild for falconry purposes”. Lots of comment later and I, like Bob, am still dismayed. I have become a fan of Alick however!
Keep up the good work. Thanks
Mike – thank you!
Why, thank you, sir. Follow me on Twitter. I tend to be slightly less grumpy there. @alicksimmons
Mark, can I just highlight one important point in relation to comments on “other satisfactory solutions”, case law has made it clear that other solutions have to be considered within the principle of proportionality so its not just a case of is there an alternative, the possible negative effect of the action has to be considered and if it is minimal then the action can be licensed.
There is also a fundamental wildlife management principle known as the precautionary principle, this plays a big role in the peregrine licenses as its unknown what effect the use of non native peregrine sub-species could be having on our native population and given the species is at the top of the food chain it could easily collapse within a relatively short space of time, as it did in the 60’s so as a precaution its benficial to have a native captive bred population. This kind of issue is addressed by the IUCN’s policy on captive breeding, in that captive populations should be created when there will be little or no negative impact on the conservation status of the species, not when its reached threatened or endangered levels.
Could you tell me why Hen Harrier brood management is “meddling” and Golden Eagle translocation’s aren’t ? 6 week old eagle chicks being removed from nests of twins when there’s likely around 200 dead Golden Eagle chicks in Scotland every year due to the Cane & Abel syndrome, shouldn’t they be seen as an alternative solution ? The Southern Scotland translocation has been licensed with no assessment the impact the translocation’s will have on the peregrine populations in that region as Golden Eagles predate peregrine chicks from the nest but no one is up in arms over this because to the uninformed it looks like a great idea !
gary – thanks.
Your first para – yep, tht is more or less right.
Your second papra – that’s not really what the precautionary princviple is, and my view, others may differ, is that the chance of a massive fall in Peregrine numbes is very small and the benefit of having captive-bred UK-sourced Peregrines in that case would be a very small advantage. So, although it appears, maybe, probably, to be lawful I think the conservation justification for the licensing is woefully small.
Your third para – yes I can. Reintroductions are governed by a set of IUCN guidelines. They involve, as I’m sure you know, a whole pile of criteria and tests. They are about the circumstances under which one should consider restocking an area with a species that used to live there. they include stuff about knowing the reasons why the species decklined in that place and being pretty sure that those reasons are now sufficiently reduced to allow a good chance of success these days (I paraphrase). Brood meddling of Hen Harriers is not a reintroduction the birds are there already! And the release of the birds into the same general area cannot in anyway be satisfied thatthe reasons for their poor status are sufficiently reduced because the English HH population is near its all-time low right now because of perecution. Added to which HH fly around, and NE’s own data (which they failed to analyse for themselves for years) shows that death rates on grouse moors are very high. brood meddling is suppossed to be an experiment to see if the criminals that kill HH will kill them a bit less if they are given part of what they get from killing them on grouse moors through the project – ie an absence of a living brood of HH being fed Red Grouse through the sunmmer. It’s a conservation measure which has to be considered up against all the alternative conservation measures for saving HH – such as catching the criminals!
The example of the anatum peregrine in the US disproves you position on the unlikelihood of a sudden collapse in the peregrine population. About ten years ago I made the RSPB aware of papers showing the build up of flame retardant residues in peregrines, the threats are still there. There was a muscle wasting disease in captive peregrines only ten years ago that the specialist avian vets couldn’t get to the bottom of. A seat belt always seems pointless until you have a head on collision with another vehicle.
Its just a shame SNH haven’t read the IUCN guidance on translocation because it was never established why the eagle population had declined in the south of Scotland other than possibly afforestation and climate change, things that couldn’t be addressed and certainly there was no impact assessment on the effect of release eagles may have on other raptor species in this region, many old eagle sites now taken over by Peregrines.
I accept there is some persecution of HH but there are also environmental issues that have added pressure. If the brood management scheme helps to increase the number of HH then I dont see an issue, if that increase is then persecuted then you will be proven right and further action taken but doing nothing isn’t an option when a species reaches a critical level.
It just seems to me that some groups are very selective in what they term as persecution and are reluctant to criticise government policy that destroys ecosystems when they are reliant on funding from that same government ! The RSPB are quite happy about 2000 gannets chicks being clubbed to death every year on an island that’s a nesting ground for several other red listed species, has seen a collapse of the breeding storm petrel population there and has just about every environmental protection going, funny that ! How many millions do that get from Scot Gov every year ?
To Bob Elliot.
I haven’t only been working on this peregrine project, I have also been lobbying Defra to review the code of practice which relates to Section 14 of the WCA and lost non native species. You work for an animal welfare charity, what are you doing about captive non native species of birds that are lost from aviaries because there’s no double door system, that are terrified of the outside world, likely to starve to death or at best survive and breed, like the parakeets down south and disrupt our native species. People use the word “falconry” but this actually only covers a small minority of raptor keepers, the majority are now kept as pets, such as Harris Hawks which are now living free in the wild in England.
You talk about your fond memories of watching peregrines, how would you feel if you knew that those peregrines were no longer native peregrines but crosses with Spanish brookie peregrines or Canadian Peales peregrines, or any of the other 19 sub-species of peregrine from around the world, does that matter to you ? It does me !
I’ve put myself out there to abuse and threats from both sides because I care about our very special native peregrine, abuse from people who dont know me or what I know and threats from people who are quite happy hiding their commercial interests behind the art of “falconry”. I’ve put the emotions to one side and like wild justice focused on the law to try to change things. No one seems to dwell on the fact Peter Scott was a wildfowler before he established the Wildfowl Trust !
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