Birds of prey including Hen Harriers, Goshawks, Peregrine Falcons, Red Kites, Short-eared Owls and Ravens are very heavily and routinely persecuted, killed, in the North of England. Hen Harriers have been pushed to the point of extinction as a breeding species in England for decades. In 2018 the number of breeding pairs in England increased from 3 to 9 pairs and this has been flagged a good year for Hen Harriers, but is it really? No it is not; 2018 was another disastrous years for Hen Harriers and the spin doctors from the grouse shooting industry who claim otherwise are just that, spin doctors. What is true is that the only two females attempting to breed on a private driven grouse moor in England, laying 4 and 6 eggs with a polygamous male, failed in unexplained circumstance.
There is sufficient habitat to accommodate more than 300 breeding pairs of Hen Harriers so 9 pairs are a blip. A positive blip but hardly a reason to break out the champagne. The question is what causes the discrepancy between the scientifically projected figures for the Hen Harrier population and reality? The answer is both simple and obvious. All of the published research, including research published by Natural England, shows that the primary cause for this problem is persecution, birds being killed, predominately killed on land managed for driven grouse shooting; the preferred habitat for Hen Harriers. The connection between low Hen Harrier numbers and their dependency on heather moor is irrefutable and yet the grouse moor managers and their representatives, cry foul, fake news, we are good for managing land for waders. Waders? What about Hen Harriers? What about other birds of prey?
It is not just Hen Harriers that are severely and systematically killed on grouse moors. Every predatory bird species that uses heather moor habitat for breeding, feeding or over-flying suffers the same fate. Goshawks, Red Kites, Peregrine Falcons, Raven and Short-eared Owls are all under-represented, a euphemism for killed, in the uplands of the North of England. The common denominator of all of this under representation is that they all are in some way dependent on heather moorland. For several years North Yorkshire had been at the head of the bird of prey crime statistics, followed closely by the Peak District National Park.
To bring this tragic information to the attention of general public the Northern England Raptor Forum [NERF], a coalition of 10 Raptor Study Groups monitoring birds of prey along the Pennine Chain from the South Peak District to the Scottish border together with Cheshire, Greater Manchester, the Forest of Bowland and the North York Moors, organised a Raptor Persecution Awareness Day. The event, held at the Grassington Institute on Saturday 11 August, was supported by 100 plus attendees. Presentations in support of the event were made by Chief Inspector Louise Hubble, the head of the National Wildlife Crime Unit, Sgt Grainger, North Yorkshire Police Wildlife Crime Unit, James Bray, RSPB Project Officer for Bowland, Guy Shorrock, RSPB Senior Investigations Officer, Rhodri Thomas, Peak District National Park Authority and Ian Court, Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority. Consensus amongst all of the speakers was that bird of prey persecution was having a serious, negative impact in the North of England and that the criminals, for that is what they are, must be held to account for their actions. It is gratifying to learn that all of the organisations present are working towards a positive outcome.
Steve Downing, NERF Chairman said,
“The persecution of birds of prey in the 21st century is a national disgrace which is prosecuted by individuals predominately involved in the grouse shooting industry. It is clear that the industry is incapable of regulating itself and NERF is demanding that Government introduces a system licensing for grouse shooting. Additionally NERF believes that grouse moor owners should be held accountable for the actions of their staff if they persecute birds of prey and that the Government should introduce vicarious liability legislation”