Hen Harriers – the English cohort of 2018

In recent days there has been a great deal of positive publicity surrounding the breeding success of Hen Harriers in the North of England during 2018. There is no doubt that the increase in both the numbers of chicks fledging and the distribution of the successful nests is very welcome news indeed.

NERF members in the Dark Peak, the Forest of Bowland and Northumberland were involved in locating the nests, then helping to monitor them throughout the breeding season before ringing and fitting satellite tags to the young. Working in various essential partnerships with the National Trust, United Utilities, the Forestry Commission and the RSPB the long hours, on the hills over many months, certainly paid dividends and everyone involved should be congratulated.

Interestingly it comes as no surprise to read that the Moorland Association tells a different story, claiming that the success is solely down to their members and those of the GWCT stating that the ‘Key to this success has been an unprecedented 21 chicks fledged from land managed for grouse shooting; over 60% of this year’s young (34)’. The question here is, ‘what has changed in 2018’? Is the Moorland Association suggesting that the numbers have increased because fewer of their members killed Hen Harriers this year than in previous years?

The phrase ‘land managed for grouse shooting’ is an interesting one. Dealing only with the nests monitored by NERF members; it is a fact that there are shooting tenants on the land where both the Derbyshire and Lancashire nests, 4 and 13 chicks respectively, were situated. However, it would be more accurate to describe the nest in Derbyshire as being ‘on land owned by the National Trust, managed as a public amenity’ and the 3 Lancashire nests as being ‘on land owned by United Utilities, managed to produce water resources for the north-west and as an upland nature reserve in partnership with the RSPB’.

Having claimed the credit for this year’s ‘unprecedented’ number of Hen Harrier fledglings they fail to mention that two nests, containing 4 and 6 eggs respectively, failed in unexplained circumstances on what is unquestionably a grouse moor in West Yorkshire.

Readers will no doubt separate spin from reality and come to their own conclusions about the contribution that the Moorland Association actually made to this year’s success.

2018 has been announced as a great year for the Hen Harriers in the North of England, but was it? That depends on how the ‘success’ is measured:

  • if the number of chicks fledging this year is compared to the numbers fledging in recent years then it is a good year
  • if the number of pairs breeding in the North of England, 9 pairs – 2 of which had polygamous males, is measured against the SPA designations, 11 in the North Pennine Moors and 13 in the Bowland Fells the situation doesn’t look so good after all. We should have seen 24 pairs, not 9, and if they produced an average of 4 chicks per nest then we would have seen 96 chicks not 34 the situation looks disastrous if the 9 pairs are measured against the projected carrying capacity of 332 pairs across the North of England moors

NERF both recognises and celebrates this year’s first steps in the improved fortunes of English Hen Harriers but it is too soon to break out the champagne. Twenty-eight of 34 English chicks fledged from the nests were monitored by NERF in 2018 and many of these chicks were fitted with satellite tags as part of the RSPB’s Hen Harrier LIFE + Project. These chicks are already flying free and some have dispersed from their natal areas. If future trends can be predicted by past events then regrettably many of the cohort of 2018 will have joined the ranks of the ‘disappeared’ by Christmas, never to be heard of again. Unfortunately it is not just the satellite tagged birds that will die in unexplained circumstances; logic would suggest that many more birds will join the ‘disappeared’ and history teaches us that they will be predominantly lost on land dedicated to driven grouse shooting.

It is understandable that the recent publicity about birds of prey has focussed on the good news about Hen Harriers but we must not lose sight of the fact that it is not just Hen Harriers that are persecuted on grouse moors. Marsh Harriers, Peregrine Falcons, Short-eared Owls, Goshawks and Red Kites are also under-represented in the same areas and there is no doubt that persecution continues to play a significant part in suppressing these populations.

With the Moorland Association claiming that they have full commitment to securing a healthy population of Hen Harriers NERF expects the same commitment, not spin or rhetoric, to be shown towards reducing persecution of all Birds of Prey on grouse moors in the northern uplands. Time will tell!

To highlight the plight of raptors across the North of England NERF is holding a Raptor Persecution Awareness Day at The Devonshire Institute, Grassington, North Yorkshire on 11th August. Further information is available on the NERF website. Speakers at the event include the Head of the National Wildlife Crime Unit, a North Yorkshire Police Wildlife Crime Office, a RSPB Senior Investigations Officer, and representatives from the Yorkshire Dales National Park, Peak District National Park and the RSPB Bowland Project Officer.

NERF

5th August 2018

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