Raptor Persecution Raising Awareness Day – Grassington Saturday 11 August 20

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”

 

Sgt Grainger – North Yorkshire Police

Rhodri Thomas – Peak District National Park Authority

James Bray – RSPB Bowland Project Officer

Well attended throughout the day

Ian Court – Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority

Guy Shorrock – Senior Investigations Officer, RSPB

Chief Inspector Louise Hubble – National Wildlife Crime Unit

 

Advertisements

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

Raptor Persecution Awareness Open-Day – updated speaker list

The Northern England Raptor Forum is hosting this event to help raise public awareness of the levels of illegal persecution faced by raptors in northern England and the threats posed to our wildlife heritage.

Admission is free and open to all.  Why not come along and show your support with the added bonus of being able to enjoy a day in the Yorkshire Dales?

Venue:- Grassington Devonshire Institute, Grassington Village, North Yorks, BD23 5 AZ

Date & time:- Saturday 11th August 2018,    1000 – 1400 hrs

Access:- The  Institute can be found at the top of Main Street in Grassington.  There is a medium sized carpark 50 metres distant with wheelchair access to the building from the Moor Lane entrance. However the recommended main car Park  is at the Yorkshire Dales National Park site just off the B6265, Hebden Road in the lower part of the village (5-10 mins walk). 

The indoor meeting room will hold display stands with representatives on hand to answer questions and there will be a rolling series of short presentations (10-15 minutes) from expert speakers.  The aim is to raise awareness of how the continued illegal persecution of raptors in the uplands of northern England is significantly suppressing the number of breeding birds and their productivity and impacts on the opportunities for us all to experience these wonderful birds in their natural habitat. Speakers will highlight the current evidence of persecution and draw attention to initiatives in place, or still needed, to combat the problem.

The event is open to all on a ‘drop-by-any-time-and-stay-as-long-as-you-wish’ basis.

This is not a day of ‘protest’ needing placards or banners.  It is a day where the focus will be on the presentation of evidence-based data from long-term, detailed studies which will demonstrate the threats faced by birds of prey in the region’s uplands and the actions now required.

About The Northern England Raptor Forum

The Northern England Raptor Forum [NERF] represents volunteer Raptor Study Groups committed to the long-term monitoring of the populations of key raptor species across the region.  Our study areas cover the Pennine Chain from Northumberland to the South Peak district and extend to Cheshire, Manchester, the Forest of Bowland and the North York Moors. Species studied include Hen Harrier, Marsh Harrier, Goshawk, Red Kite, Peregrine, Merlin, Short-eared Owl and Raven in addition to sample populations of commoner species.

Extensive annual monitoring of bird of prey species by NERF members has served to highlight the sad plight of some iconic raptors in the uplands of northern England.  Species such as Hen Harrier, Red Kite, Goshawk, Peregrine, Short-eared Owl and Raven are substantially under-represented in eminently suitable breeding habitat across the region, even within our designated Special Protection Areas [SPAs], National Parks and AONBs.  Whilst there are a number of causes for this it is widely accepted that illegal persecution, especially on land managed for driven grouse shooting, is a significant factor.  North Yorkshire has the unfortunate reputation of topping the RSPB’s Birdcrime tables, followed closely by the Peak District but the problem really extends throughout the region.  The number of confirmed persecution reports undoubtedly only represents the ‘tip of an iceberg’, with the majority of crimes going unreported

The information collected by members provides the most comprehensive data-set available based wholly on the evidence of extensive fieldwork and is published in the NERF Annual Review.  The data on breeding outcomes is used to inform species’ conservation and protection measures through its provision to the BTO, the national Rare Breeding Birds Panel, Natural England and the RSPB.

NERF is a member of the Police / Defra led Partnership for Action Against Wildlife Crime [PAW] under the Raptor Persecution Priority Delivery Group [RPPDG] and is a past recipient of the prestigious PAW ‘Partner of the Year’ award.  NERF acts as a specialist consultant for the RSPB’s Hen Harrier, (EU) LIFE+ Project.

NERF has also co-authored several published scientific papers relating to birds of prey including the results of the BTO’s 2014 National Peregrine Survey and the RSPB’s 2016 National Hen Harrier Survey.

See our website for more information raptorforum.co.uk 

_    _   _   _   _   _

NERF believes that:-

# People must speak out clearly against raptor persecution

# RPPDG members must demonstrate how their organisation is delivering the aims of the Group or consider their position on the Group

# More police resources are needed to fulfil the investigative and prosecution expectations of the public and the RPPDG [an essential part of Defra’s Hen Harrier Emergency Recovery Plan]

# Defra and Natural England should abandon any plans for Hen Harrier brood management

# Defra and Natural England should instead focus on restoring species’ populations within formally designated Special Protection Areas to at least those originally cited

# Responsible shooting estates should have nothing to fear from the idea of introducing a licensing system for driven grouse shoots, a policy supported by NERF

Raptor Persecution Awareness Raising Day

Northern England Raptor Forum (NERF) will be hosting a raptor persecution awareness day on Saturday 11th August 2018, in support of Hen Harrier day.

Raptor persecution takes place in all of the NERF study areas and involves a wide variety of species.  For this reason, NERF have chosen to highlight the problem as a whole rather than focus solely on Hen Harriers.

There will be presentations from Chief Inspector Louise Hubble, Head of the National Wildlife Crime Unit and North Yorkshire Police Operation Owl, the RSPB Investigations Team and James Bray – RSPB Bowland Project Officer with more to be confirmed. 

Raptor Persecution Awareness Raising Day
Grassington Institute, Grassington, North Yorkshire. BD23 5AZ
Saturday 11th August 2018, 10:00 and 14:00 hours.

NERF supports the petition to license driven grouse shooting https://raptorforum.wordpress.com/2018/01/15/petition-to-license-driven-red-grouse-shooting/

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.

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