The 2014 National Peregrine Falcon Breeding Survey

The results of the 2014 national Peregrine Falcon breeding survey have been published in the BTO’s journal, Bird Study, providing an up to date population estimate for the country.

The breeding population of Peregrine Falcon Falco peregrinus in the United Kingdom, Isle of Man and  Channel Islands in 2014  M. W. Wilson, D E Balmer et al

See, https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/00063657.2017.1421610

Members of the Northern England Raptor Forum made a significant contribution to the original survey through voluntary time spent monitoring specific sites and being allocated “random squares”.

The report estimates the overall population in 2014 to be 1769 pairs, an increase of 22% from the last major survey in 2002.  This outwardly encouraging result does however mask an unwelcome but not unexpected contrast in fortunes.  Populations in lowland regions in England have shown a dramatic recovery which is indeed a real success story in the post-pesticides era.   Sadly those in several upland regions have exhibited worrying declines.

This gap is stark and continues to grow.  The report attributes the demise of upland populations to possible decreases in prey availability in some regions and to known, illegal killing and deliberate disturbance especially in upland areas where the land use is predominantly for driven grouse shooting.  The results support earlier published studies including Amar et al (Ref 1) which demonstrated a reduction in site occupancy and breeding success from eyries close to managed grouse moors. Click here to read the abstract.

The situation in the uplands of northern England is perhaps best demonstrated by summarising those results from the survey which specifically covered the EU designated Special Protection Areas (SPAs).

 

In these 3 major SPAs only 4 nests from at least 24 pairs holding territory were known to be successful. This position falls well short of the levels expected from the citations when the SPAs were originally designated. It is clear that the present provisions for Peregrine within our SPAs are wholly insufficient.   SPAs are protected under EU Directives and the survey results expose serious infractions.  The UK government needs to take urgent action to restore the populations of Peregrine and other threatened raptors to a favourable status within our supposedly most protected landscape areas.  The situation of course extends to most upland areas in northern England.

The NERF Annual Reports have documented examples of Peregrines having been the direct target of illegal shootings and poisonings in recent years.

9th March 2018

REF 1 Amar et al . “Linking nest histories, remotely sensed land use data and wildlife crime records to explore the impact of grouse moor management on peregrine falcon populations”. Journal of Biol. Conservation . 145: 86–94.

Advertisements

The Current Status of the Peak District Bird of Prey Initiative

Recent social media publications have referred to the Peak District Bird of Prey Initiative which is in disarray after the members failed to agree a joint statement following the publication of their latest report. The Peak District, including the National Park, has a justified reputation as a raptor persecution hotspot. The laudable aim of the Initiative was to find a new way of parties working together to increase the number of raptors breeding within the National Park. Unfortunately, the Initiative has failed spectacularly with the numbers of breeding pairs of key species falling and not increasing as planned.

NERF members, the Peak District Raptor Monitoring Group, have worked tirelessly within this Initiative and we fully support their frustration both with the Initiative in general and with the response of the Moorland Association in particular. Once again the Moorland Association has nailed its colours to the mast by refusing to acknowledge the true extent of the problem and at the same time continuing their tactics of discrediting the RSPB, volunteer raptor workers and now they have turned their attention to the Police.  According to FOI responses the Moorland Association are refusing to accept that an osprey found in the area with two fractured legs was not the subject of a crime and want the incident expunging from the record. This incident was thoroughly and professionally investigated by Derbyshire Police, the post-mortem results concluded that the osprey had suffered injuries that were consistent with being caught in an illegal spring trap.

What will it take for those in authority, including the Government, to wake up to the fact that the Moorland Association is a lobbying organisation committed only to benefitting their members’ interests?  Of course it is not just within this group where they seek to spread their influence, they are members of PAW and use the same tactics in that forum. It is NERF´s opinion that unless they demonstrate a change in attitude towards species’ protection they should no longer be treated as equals in Bird of Prey protection fora.

NERF fully understands the reasons why the RSPB has withdrawn from the Initiative and we look forward to working together on their Upland Skies project. As for the Peak District Bird of Prey Initiative, 2018 is likely to be the make or break year. Further failure to achieve its stated goals will inevitably lead to a withdrawal of co-operation from NERF members. Whilst this would be regrettable, continuing with the status quo is no longer acceptable.

1st Feb 2018

Response to the Defra Announcement of plans for Hen Harrier Brood Management

Defra has announced approval by Natural England of advanced plans to introduce brood management trials for Hen Harriers in 2018. See   https://www.gov.uk/government/news/innovative-licence-issued-to-help-hen-harrier

This is not wholly unexpected since the concept featured in Defra’s six point Hen Harrier Emergency Action Plan issued in January 2016.

The Northern England Raptor Forum was not consulted by the overseeing Upland Stakeholder Group during the plan’s evolution and NERF was refused a seat at the table. Nonetheless NERF has to date been willing and able to directly support certain features of the Defra plan; in particular, Action 1 – monitoring populations, Action 3 – the work of the Raptor Persecution Priority Delivery Group hosted by the National Wildlife Crime Unit, and Action 4 – nest and winter roost protection.   Indeed NERF members, along with other groups, have devoted endless hours of entirely voluntary fieldwork in monitoring & protection effort towards these aims.  Despite little acknowledgement from the Defra Stakeholder Group the reality is that the Hen Harrier’s status in the uplands of northern England would be far less well understood without NERF’s contribution.

Whilst ensuring that evidence-based data on the Hen Harrier’s true status is available as a fundamental input to the process, NERF throughout has been resolutely opposed to the inclusion of Brood Management in the Action Plan.   We have previously set out our reasons, In the following public statements “Statement on Hen Harrier Brood Management”“The Defra Hen Harrier Emergency Action Plan – Assessment of Year 1” and “Response to the publication of RSPB Birdcrime 2016” .

To recap on NERF’s reasons for opposing brood management and the initial research trials:-

  • The Hen Harrier is near extinct as a breeding species in England (an average of just 3 successful nests per year over the last 9 years, ranging 0-6 nests annually) and is threatened thoughout the year as the pattern of disappearance of satellite tagged juvenile birds confirms.
  • Bowland and the North Pennine Special Protection Areas {SPAs} are both designated for their supposed breeding populations of Hen Harrier at 13 and 11 pairs respectively. In 2016 and 2017 there were none in either.  The UK government has a legal responsibility to correct these serious infractions and restore the species to a favourable status.
  • Given the species’ fragile status we would expect Natural England to be focused on protection and addressing the known principal reason for the species’ demise which by their own admission (‘A Future for the Hen Harrier?’ NE 2008) is that of illegal persecution.
  • Recent nesting pairs have only occurred on land which is not used for driven grouse shooting. As such breeding birds cannot possibly impact on the overall economics of driven grouse shooting estates. To contemplate interference via brood management with potentially the very first nesting pair to repopulate any one or more estates is outrageous and an affront to sound species’ conservation.
  • Research has shown the natural carrying capacity of Hen Harrier habitat in northern England to be 300+ pairs! Therefore as a minimum we would expect to see the upland SPAs, protected under EU Directives, demonstrably supporting their designated populations of Hen Harrier. Across the whole region we’d also expect to have at least 70 breeding pairs, below which published reports show there would be no economic impact on Red Grouse numbers. Only when these thresholds are reached should the case for brood management be considered anew.
  • Adequate protection against illegal persecution must be evidenced first and a growth in breeding numbers seen. There is no point in expending an estimated £0.9-1.2 million, to release young birds after hand rearing, into a dangerous environment where continuing illegal persecution severely diminishes their chances of surviving their first winter.

In respect of the Defra / Natural England announcement, made on 16 Jan 18, confirming the intention to pursue brood management (subject to nests being found),  NERF continues to see brood management chiefly as a tool to increase grouse bags and little to do with the committed conservation of Hen Harrier in England. In our view it is certainly not, as its title suggests, a ‘help to Hen Harriers’ nor does it represent ‘the best possible outcome’ for them.  We cannot accept legitimising the removal of Hen Harriers from our moors given their tenuous status. The announcement amazingly gives no recognition of the underlying issue of illegal persecution.  Worryingly there is no suggestion within the terms of the research trial of a limit being set on the number of nests that might be targeted during the research period.

NERF is left dismayed that Defra and Natural England, as protectors of our natural environment should promote this untimely and unnecessary intervention which is seems wholly contrary to the best principles of conservation.  As such NERF members are now intent on re-evaluating areas of cooperation with Natural England.

18 Jan 18

Petition to license Driven Red Grouse shooting

From the very beginnings of driven grouse shooting individuals within the industry have been wreaking havoc in the northern uplands. Birds of Prey have been systematically killed in significant numbers with the single aim of increasing the stock of Red Grouse for commercial reasons, including elevating the land value of the estates. Red Kites, Goshawks, Peregrine Falcons, Raven and Short-eared Owls remain absent or substantially under-represented in vast swathes of eminently suitable habitat across the Pennine chain, the Forest of Bowland and the North York Moors. Hen Harriers in particular have been pushed to the brink of extinction as a breeding species throughout the region. All of the available evidence indicates that persecution on some grouse moors is the main driver limiting both regional and national populations of these species.

It is not only birds of prey that suffer from illegality or inappropriate upland management. To achieve high densities of Red Grouse the industry annually burns vast tracts of heather moor resulting in the death of countless numbers of reptiles, amphibians, early ground nesting birds , their invertebrate prey and reducing botanic diversity in the process. Heather burning regimes are now widely acknowledged to reduce the carbon storage capacity within the peat and that the process adds to the risks associated with global warming. It also adversely affects water quality and increases flood risk for downstream communities.

Traditionally the “very British” way of dealing with such issues has been through self-regulation. Representatives of the shooting industry have for many, many years attempted to reassure the public that self-regulation works and that they are best positioned to secure the future of our uplands, their overall biodiversity and the birds of prey that should thrive there. Evidence proves that this is far from the true. Self-regulation by this industry does not work, has never worked and despite reassurances to the contrary will never work in the future.

It is NERF’s opinion that the time for ineffective self-regulation is over. It is time for the Government to acknowledge that many of those controlling the Red Grouse shooting industry cannot be trusted to self-regulate and cannot be trusted to protect our birds of prey. The only way to deal with the environmental and conservation problems emanating from driven Red Grouse shooting is to introduce a robust system of licensing applicable to the landowners, estate managers and their staff. This is surely a reasonable and sensible approach and as with every other licensing system those not involved in criminality will have nothing to fear from a robust licensing system.

NERF supports the current petition to license Driven Red Grouse Shooting. To add your support please sign the petition at https://petition.parliament.uk/petitions/207482

15 January 2018

2016 Annual Review – available to Purchase

There are a limited number of copies of the 2016 Annual Review available for purchase, at the fantastic price of just £5.00 plus £1.58 postage.

Please note conference attendee’s should have received a free copy of the report on the day of the conference, if anyone who attended didn’t pick a free copy then please do let us know using the link below.

Please use the form available here to request copies or email ajudithsmith@gmail.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

PAW – Raptor Persecution Priority Delivery Group Persecution maps England and Wales

Raptor persecution is widely acknowledged by Defra, Natural England and conservation NGOs, including NERF, to be adversely affecting many, if not all, of our iconic bird of prey species. It is also widely accepted that the majority of the people responsible for this persecution are to be found within the ranks of the game shooting industry. Of course this not new, some raptor species have been limited by persecution in terms of both population and distribution for tens of decades. From the perspective of the members of NERF this is particularly acute in the uplands of the North of England. Goshawk, Red Kites, Peregrines, Short-eared Owls and Raven are all but non-existent across vast swathes of suitable habitat along the Pennine Chain, in the Forest of Bowland and on the North York Moors. Breeding Hen Harriers are absent in all of the NERF study areas other than Northumberland where they breed on land that is not used for grouse shooting. This is despite the fact that the northern uplands contain SPAs that are designated for Hen Harriers.

It is self-evident that if this situation is to be reversed then persecution must be reduced significantly; it is extremely unlikely that it will ever be eliminated altogether. NERF has worked tirelessly within the RPPDG to find a solution to what appears to be an intractable problem, even though the solution is simple enough. All that needs to happen is for the criminals, for that is what they are, to stop killing birds of prey, stop committing crime. There is also a burden on the shooting industry to ensure that the members of the various representative bodies comply with the legislation. They also need to acknowledge that they, like the rest of society, have a duty to assist the Police and the prosecuting authorities to bring the criminals before the courts. The evidence suggests that the shooting organisations are failing in this respect and they are also failing to fulfil their wider social responsibilities by putting self-interest before protecting the natural environment, despite constantly claiming to be the real custodians of the countryside.Mapping out the extent and location of crimes and putting the information into the public domain is clearly beneficial and that is what the RPPDG maps were supposed to do. Unfortunately whilst the concept is laudable it is NERF’s position that the published maps fail to deliver the purported intended outcome. The maps do not include all forms of raptor persecution, they do not follow the National Wildlife Crime Unit’s definition of a raptor persecution crime. The methodology for mapping the data does not follow the Home Office guideline that the Police should follow the policy of one victim / one crime. They take no account of the guideline that if a witness reports a crime then it will be recorded as such until the subsequent investigation concludes that no crime occurred. The policy of only mapping raptor persecution offences where there is a recovered body, a positive forensic report or a conviction is fundamentally flawed.

Take these two examples:

  • a reliable witness finds what appears to be a poisoned bait, next to which there is a dead Buzzard. The witness follows the published advice and photographs the scene, takes a GPS grid reference, covers the bodies with vegetation to prevent further poisonings and reports the incident to the Police. The Police subsequently attend the scene to find that the suspected bait and the Buzzard have been removed. There is enough evidence to record and investigate the incident and the Police do so. Unfortunately the RPPDG ‘no body – no crime’ rule means that the incident will not make it on to the map
  • an experienced Raptor Worker is monitoring a Peregrine nest from a distance with binoculars when a person comes in to view and shoots one of the birds. The shooter picks up the body and walks off. The witness is too far away to intervene, and let’s be reasonable the criminal has a gun and direct intervention may not be the best policy at that time. The Raptor Worker reports the event to the Police and they duly record the incident. Following an investigation the person responsible for killing the Peregrine is not identified and the case is closed, undetected. Once again this incident fails the RPPDG ‘no body test and / or conviction test’ and doesn’t make it on to the maps

There is also no recognition that any attempt to commit a crime against a raptor is a crime. Take the second incident, above, for example. The shooter takes two shots but misses the Peregrine; clearly an attempt to kill it. Whilst the Police would record the incident as attempted offence it would not make it on to the RPPDG maps. Why not? Collectively the Police already have the data of all raptor related incidents reported to them therefore it is regrettable that the RPPDG, via the NWCU, insists that it is necessary to filter this data in a way that reduces the actual numbers of offences published in the public domain. There is no doubt that some individuals and organisations involved in the shooting industry will point to the maps to ‘prove beyond reasonable doubt’ that the number of incidents of raptor persecution is extremely low and a vindication that self-regulation is functioning perfectly well.

This restriction on how crimes are mapped by the NWCU would not be tolerated by society for any other form of criminality; nor should it be. Why then should raptor persecution related crimes be any different? Of course they should not. The Police have the data, they have had it for years, and it should be mapped according to the Home Office guidelines. NERF has pointed this out to the RPPDG on every occasion that the maps have been discussed; unfortunately our opinions have been ignored. NERF recognises that the full extent of raptor persecution will never be known to the authorities, they are committed in a shadowy world where offences are committed in remote locations often on terrain that is difficult to negotiate. There are relatively few people monitoring raptors and the likelihood of an individual witnessing a crime being committed against a bird of prey is miniscule. However, acknowledging that the true extent of the problem will never be known is a far cry from designing a system that, in NERF’s opinion, deliberately sets out to minimise the problem. It is inexplicable and unacceptable. Consequently NERF is unable to support the publication of the maps in the present format.

The Defra / RPPDG press release suggests that the mapping the will assist the Police in their efforts to prevent and detect raptor persecution. This statement is ludicrous; it will do no such thing. Whilst crime pattern analysis is a very valuable tool, used to advise Police Commanders how they can deploy their resources in a more effective way theses maps will do nothing to prevent or detect raptor related crimes unless Police Forces allocate sufficient resources to the deal with the problem. In the current financial situation where Police numbers are being reduced significantly NERF believes that nationally we will not see an increase in the number of Police Officers that are dedicated to deal with wildlife crime, including raptor related crime.

It is NERF’s opinion that the publication of raptor persecution maps is fundamentally a good idea; the public have a right to know that birds of prey are being killed for pleasure or profit and the Government has a duty to ensure that they know the true extent of the problem. However; NERF’s position is unambiguous; the data used to populate the maps is incomplete and the scheme needs to be redesigned and implemented in a format that accurately depicts the true extent and impact of raptor persecution. Raptor persecution is a serious problem, it needs to be acknowledged as such by the authorities and tackled appropriately. Once this is done NERF will reverse its current position and support an improved mapping scheme. Not-with-standing our position in respect of the raptor persecution maps NERF will continue, as a member of the RPPDG, to work for the benefit of birds of prey.

Northern England Raptor Forum

15 December 2017

NERF’s response to the publication of RSPB Birdcrime 2016

The recent publication of the RSPB Birdcrime 2016 has once again highlighted the criminal activity that has resulted in the persecution of Birds of Prey, much of which took place within the geographical areas monitored by NERF Raptor Study Groups. Whilst some members of the shooting industry have sought to dismiss the report, pointing out that the number of annual prosecutions for persecution is minuscule, it is clear that in some areas – particularly those associated with gamebird shooting, that raptor persecution is undiminished.

The RSPB 2016 Bird Crime report can be read here

In Birdcrime the RSPB reported that there were a total of 81 confirmed incidents of Bird of Prey persecution across the UK during 2016. Fifty-three [65%] of these confirmed incidents took place in England. Disappointingly this is consistent with the 5 year average of 54 raptor related crimes per annum. The graph also highlights the fact that across the UK the overall number of persecution incidents, from 2000 onward, continues to increase.

Graph courtesy of RSPB Investigations.

It is clear from data collated by NERF members over many years that raptor populations, particularly in areas where the intensification of land management for game bird production has been, or is being, undertaken, are seriously adversely affected. It is not only Hen Harrier populations that are being suppressed, other raptor species specifically Goshawk, Peregrine, Red Kite and Common Buzzard populations are also under sustained threat in many areas. These species, often referred to as ‘black hole species’, are frequently absent despite the extensive availability of both excellent habitat and abundant prey.

In addition to recording the absence of ‘black hole species’ NERF members also monitor breeding attempts of these species at some sites that regularly fail in inexplicable circumstances on, or adjacent to, land used for game bird shooting. This is in stark contrast to the presence and productivity of breeding raptors that NERF members record away from this form of intensive land management. Without any other acceptable explanation to account for this disparity NERF can only conclude that these absences and continual breeding attempt failures are due to persecution.

The depressing plight of Peregrine Falcons across the NERF study areas was highlighted in the Amar et al scientific paper which was co-authored by NERF members. The paper identified that Peregrines fared less favourably on intensively managed grouse moors than they did away from grouse moors. Additionally the evidence revealed that where Peregrines were successful their productivity was in keeping with birds breeding away from grouse moors. The conclusion was that persecution rather than prey availability was the main driver for this difference. Data collated by NERF in the intervening years indicates that whilst the national Peregrine population has increased slightly the situation on land associated with game bird management in the northern uplands remains unchanged.

Click the above image to download the full Amar et al scientific paper exploring the impact of grouse moor management on peregrine falcon populations

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Following the release of the Birdcrime 2016 report senior representatives of both the Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority and the Nidderdale Area of Natural Outstanding Beauty have voiced their concerns about the adverse effects and reputational damage that the killing of birds of prey is having within their respective areas of responsibility. These timely interventions are very welcome and NERF looks forwards to hearing similar, unconditional statements of support for protected wildlife from other prominent national organisations who have an obligation to protect our national heritage.

The statements can be read by following the links below.

http://www.yorkshiredales.org.uk/living-and-working/other-services/press-office/news/recent/statement-on-rspbs-birdcrime-report

http://nidderdaleaonb.org.uk/news/persecution-birds-prey-north-yorkshire

Similarly, in an article published in the November / December issue of The Shooting Times and repeated in the Times newspaper, Christopher Graffius, the CEO of the British Association for Shooting and Conservation [BASC] condemned raptor persecution by individuals connected with the shooting industry. He said “All of us [shooting organisations] need to realise that the killing of raptors is doing us no favours. It risks terminal damage to the sport…..” Mr Graffius also acknowledged that c70% of individuals convicted of raptor persecution since 1990 were gamekeepers employed on shooting estates. In the article Mr Graffius further acknowledged that “I know it’s not all keepers but the figures of those caught and convicted must be the tip of the iceberg….”NERF fully supports this assertion.

Click to read full article

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

NERF applauds this intervention from BASC and we would like to offer our support for the stance that Mr Graffius and BASC are taking against raptor persecution. This progressive viewpoint from a leading representative of the shooting community is a very welcome change from the usual response raptor workers have come to expect from some sectors of the industry. The traditional response is to attempt to deflect responsibility for raptor related crimes away from the shooting industry, often towards the very people who spend countless hours rigorously protecting Birds of Prey. Alternatively the industry representatives frequently attempt to minimise the adverse impact that raptor persecution has on the viability of local populations.

Birds of prey have been protected in the UK since 1954 and yet there are still large areas of the country, particularly in the northern uplands of England, where persecution is endemic. The shooting industry is very well represented on the Police led Partnership for Action Against Wildlife Crime [PAW] Raptor Persecution Priority Delivery Group [RPPDG] and it is incumbent on other sectors of the industry to follow the BASC lead and acknowledge that it is not just ‘a few bad apples’ who are responsible for killing Birds of Prey. On the contrary whilst we acknowledge that not all those employed in game bird management are involved in raptor persecution the problem is widespread. The shooting industry claims to be the ‘custodian of the countryside’; however there is little, if any, evidence to support that claim. NERF believes that there needs to be a tangible, discernible shift in their attitude towards criminality if we are to succeed in bringing raptor persecution to an end. Simply participating in the RPPDG and condemning individual cases after the event is no longer adequate or acceptable. Affirmative action, not platitudes is what is required.

For members of the public who are not involved in Bird of Prey monitoring it must appear somewhat ridiculous that in the 21st century conservationists still have to call on sections of the shooting industry to simply obey the law and stop killing protected species, an activity that some undertake to increase bag numbers and the profitability of their shooting estate. This type of criminality would not be tolerated in any other business and cannot be tolerated in respect of Birds of Prey.

The 2017 Hen Harrier breeding season has once again been disastrous for the species, with only three pairs successfully rearing young in England. All three nests were in the Northumberland National Park and none were on a grouse moor. Despite warm words and assurances that ‘progress is being made’ from Natural England and the shooting industry NERF is unable to discern any evidence to support that claim and this assertion should be abandoned forthwith. Consequently NERF’s position on the Hen Harrier Recovery Plan remains unchanged, indeed after its second full year it is clear that it has yet to deliver on any of the tangible and beneficial outcome. Changes in the collective mind-set within the shooting industry is certainly needed. NERF’s position statement is available at:

https://raptorforum.files.wordpress.com/2017/04/thedefrahenharrieractionplan.pdf

NERF’s position that no progress is being made with respect to improving the distribution and breeding success of the English Hen Harrier population is supported by the Chairman of the Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority who said in his response to the publication of Birdcrime “Only when we start to see a number of successful [Hen Harrier] nest sites will we be able to say that things are really improving”.

On the positive side the struggle (for that is what it is) goes on to protect our national heritage allowing iconic raptor species to prosper in their natural environment. There are many individuals, including volunteers – largely unknown to the general public, who are working tirelessly to highlight the issues of raptor persecution in the hope that they will see a real change in the culture that has allowed these criminal practices to continue for so long. NERF would like to offer you our heartfelt thanks for the unceasing hard work that you undertake.

In addition to the volunteers there are professionals who are equally committed to ending raptor persecution and to bringing those responsible before the courts. North Yorkshire has for years been at the head of Bird of Prey persecution list of reported incidents, an unenviable reputation to hold. NERF therefore congratulates Dave Jones, Chief Constable of the North Yorkshire Police, for deploying a dedicated Rural Crime Team, which also has responsibility for investigating wildlife crime. NERF members are always available to offer expert advice to the Unit where needed.

Finally NERF would like to both praise and thank the RSPB Investigations Team for undertaking the vital work of investigating raptor persecution, not without personal risk, and for assisting the prosecuting authorities to obtain invaluable evidence when offences have been committed. It is not easy to withstand the constant barrage of attacks on the Team’s professionalism and integrity, particularly when those attacks are made by individuals and organisations who should, and actually do, know better. Congratulations and keep up the excellent work assured that you have the full support of NERF.