Tag Archives: Peregrine Falcon

“Move along, there’s nothing to see here.”

Spokesperson for the ‘Custodians of the Countryside’.

Bird photographs courtesy of RSPB Birdcrime 2020 [gunsights added by NERF]

“Move along, there’s nothing to see here.” At least that is what the ‘Custodians’ would have us believe. In truth, that is far from the reality that we see on the ground. The latest RSPB Birdcrime Report, covering 2020, puts that nonsense to rest, again.

Whilst the general public were obeying the Government’s instructions to stay at home during the Covid – 19 lockdown to save the lives of our families and neighbours, the raptor killers were plying their trade across the countryside that the ‘Custodians’ were supposed to be protecting. You could be forgiven for asking – ‘how did that work out?’ The simple answer is – not well at all if you were a bird of prey on land used for game shooting. You could also be forgiven for thinking ‘well that is not new’ and you would be correct. The statistic that makes 2020 different is the scale of the killing. Lockdown gave the raptor-killers free reign to go about their daily business without fear of being caught and the latest statistics published by the RSPB reveals just how effective they were. You can read the full Bird Crime Report here.

Across the UK there were 137 confirmed incidents of raptor persecution, the highest annual number recorded by the RSPB and agreed by the National Wildlife Crime Unit. The shocking statistics reveal that there were 57 cases of shooting, 17 cases of trapping and 35 cases of poisoning of birds of prey. In total 63% of the reports came from land associated with game shooting [34% pheasant and partridge shooting, 28% grouse shooting and 1% mixed shooting]. Of the 137 confirmed cases, 99 occurred in England and c 66% of those were located in North Yorkshire making the county the hotspot for bird of prey crime for the 7th year in succession.

Following the release of the latest Birdcrime report there will no doubt be cries of derision from the game shooting industry; shouting foul, it’s nothing to do with us, we have zero tolerance of persecution, it was the bad apple brigade trying to discredit us and anyway 137 is a small number. ‘Nothing to see here, move along’.

Indeed 137 is a small number; but it has to be seen in context when discussing raptor persecution. The real question is not how many victims were found; it is – what percentage of victims were found? Most birds of prey are predominately brownish, perfectly camouflaged, a dead body will cover less than 1000 cm2 and they are killed on hundreds of thousands of hectares of land that is predominately brown. The amazing thing is that any are ever found and the true figure must be very, very significantly higher than the number reported. The phrase ‘the tip of the iceberg’ is frequently used when discussing raptor persecution statistics and it is an accurate description of the scale of the crimes against birds of prey. When searching for the victims of persecution the phrase ‘looking for a needle in a haystack’ is appropriate; but in 2020 no one was allowed to look in the haystack. Unlike the individuals who are employed in the game shooting industry, who were allowed free range over the countryside, the general public were confined within our homes. We were oblivious of how high the body count of protected species was becoming.

The negative media coverage criticizing the game shooting industry over recent weeks has, or should have, caused reputational damage to the industry; but does it care? There have been numerous reports of multi-agency, Police led, raids on shooting estates. Mr Phil Davies, the Countryside Alliance representative on the Raptor Persecution Priority Delivery Group [RPPDG], has rightly been removed from the Group following his involvement in a webinar where fox hunters were advised about tactics that they could use to avoid prosecution when conducting illegal hunts. You can read more about this on the Raptor Persecution UK Blog here.

A damning article entitled ‘Reports of raptor killings soared during the U.K.’s lockdown’, published in the National Geographic, a highly respected publication with global reach, focuses on the disgraceful illegal killing of birds of prey on shooting estates during the Covid lockdown period. You can read the full article here, although you will have to share an email address to read it.

Now we have RSPB Birdcrime spotlighting the fact that 137 confirmed cases of raptor persecution, the highest number on record, were reported in 2020. It also highlights the fact that 63% of the birds of prey that were slaughtered were killed on land associated with game shooting and 40% took place on protected landscapes, in our National Parks and in Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty or their Scottish equivalent.

It is a national disgrace and we all know it, so what response can we expect from the shooting industry in light of this latest report? “Move along, there’s nothing to see here” followed by attacks on the integrity of the RSPB and suggestions that a small amount of persecution is only part of the story, all is well and raptors are thriving. We have heard it all before. It’s as predictable as day follows night.

NERF has been calling for the licensing of the shooting industry, with the licence being applied to the land, not the owners or managers of the land, for several years. Once again we reiterate that call for licensing of shooting estates and it has to be implement without further delay. The public require it and our natural environment deserves it. We know that Government Departments set media alerts for reports such as the National Geographic article, Birdcrime and blogs, including the NERF website. Defra Ministers and Natural England know what is happening to our birds of prey, they know the scale of the problem and they know the causes of the problem; it is persecution by individuals connected with games shooting. The RSPB report identifies the fact that of the 186 individuals convicted of raptor persecution 66% were gamekeepers and a further 6% were also connected to the game shooting industry. The Government has published its own data which confirms these facts. How much more evidence do Ministers need before they take meaningful action?

The Government also knows that land management practices on upland shooting estates, which includes heather burning, adds to global warming and destroys countless reptiles, amphibians, the eggs of early ground nesting birds, kills billons of insects, which is the primary food source for upland birds, and leads to increased downstream flooding. Having had these facts reinforced, again, with these latest reports will Defra Ministers and Natural England grasp this nettle with both hands and actually do something about it rather than tinkering around the edges with schemes such as Hen Harrier Brood Management and the ludicrous Hen Harrier Southern Re-introduction proposal. They might; but regrettably the chances of that happening are next to nil under the current Government and we are all the worse off for that.

In theory the Wildlife and Countryside Act provides all of the protection that raptors require. In reality it is inadequate because it fails at the compliance and enforcement stages. It is time for a change of emphasis, a change in enforcement strategy and sentencing guidelines; changes that will actually protect our iconic birds of prey are long overdue. They, and you, deserve nothing less.

If you have information in respect of any bird related crime please contact the RSPB’s confidential hotline on 0300 999 0101

NERF

28 October 2021.

Natural England report confirms breeding Peregrines are missing from the northern uplands due to illegal persecution and deliberate disturbance.

Natural England have recently published:-

 “Definition of Favourable Conservation Status for the Peregrine Falcon Falco peregrinus

                                                                                                         Author: Allan Drewitt (Nov 2020)

http://publications.naturalengland.org.uk/publication/5849435004469248?category=5415044475256832

Peregrine Falcon – Tim Melling

This is part of a wider Natural England project to define the Favourable Conservations Status (FCS) of various habitats and species in England at which they might be considered to be “thriving”.  The project aims to set aspirational levels for species’ populations and habitat conditions that will inform and guide decision makers to help achieve and sustain favourable status.  These analyses are based on ecological evidence and the expertise of specialist groups.

The Northern England Raptor Forum welcomes the report defining the would-be Favourable Conservation Status for the Peregrine Falcon. 

Many of our members have conducted long standing field studies into the fortunes of Peregrines in their area and contributed significant bodies of data to the key published papers that are cited in the Natural England report [Amar A. et al (2012), Melling T. et al (2018), Wilson M.W. et al (2018)].

Whilst the breeding populations of Peregrines in many areas of England have shown a general pattern of increases in recent decades the report makes clear this same trend is not evident in the northern uplands. Here marked losses in the range and population have been experienced and continue to this day. In particular, breeding productivity at sites on or near driven grouse moor estates is half of that found on non-grouse moor habitats.  There are now significant gaps across the northern uplands where Peregrines previously bred and where overall numbers are lower compared to the 1990s and 2000s, for example in the Dark Peak, Bowland Forest and the North Pennine SPA. 

The report concludes that current productivity in these areas is insufficient to allow the population to grow.  Restoration of the Peregrines’ natural range in the northern uplands would result in the presence of 90 pairs (compared with probably less than 20 pairs presently).  Crucially, the report judges that neither the habitat nor food abundance in the northern uplands are limiting to population growth.                                                                                                                                          

The principal reasons that upland Peregrines are faring so badly are given as illegal killing and nest site disturbance and the report makes clear that for a FCS to be achieved in England a significant growth in the northern upland population is now required and these illicit practices must cease.

Natural England have thus defined the underlying problem, which in itself is hardly news to many raptor fieldworkers.  However the FCS report does set an aspirational target for the future which is to be welcomed.  So far so good, the explicit acknowledgement that illegal activities are limiting upland populations is a positive step forward. The FCS has achieved its initial objective but the purpose of the report is inherently limited to just this so action plans with timelines are now needed urgently to deliver the stated goals. We now hope and trust Natural England will lead the way** with a renewed determination.

**Defra defines a key role of Natural England as:- “… delivering the environmental priorities of central government. Its general purpose is to ensure that the natural environment is conserved, enhanced and managed for the benefit of present and future generations    

NERF   January 11th 2021                                                                                                    

References

Amar, A., Court, I.R., Davison, M., Downing, S., Grimshaw, Pickford, T., & Raw, D. 2012. Linking nest histories, remotely sensed land use data and wildlife crime records to explore the impact of grouse moor management on peregrine falcon populations. Biological Conservation. 145:86-94

Melling, T., Thomas, M., Price, M. & Roos, Staffan. 2018. Raptor persecution in the Peak District National Park. British Birds 111:275-29

Wilson, M. W., Balmer D. E., Jones, K., King, V. A., Raw, D., Rollie, C. J., Rooney, E., Ruddock, M., Smith, G. D., Stevenson, A., Stirling-Aird, P. K., Wernham, C. V., Weston, J. M. & Noble, D. G. 2018. The breeding population of Peregrine Falcon Falco peregrinus in the United Kingdom, Isle of Man and Channel Islands in 2014. Bird Study

Licences to take wild Peregrine chicks – Part 2

On the 15th April 2020 Dave Slater, Director for wildlife licensing confirmed that Natural England had licenced the removal of 6 Peregrine chicks from the wild, by three individuals, over the next 2 years. [see here]

Understandably both Raptor Workers, who are committed to monitoring and protecting these magnificent birds, and members of the public who delight in seeing the masters of the skies in both wild places and our cities. NERF was dismayed by this decision and posted this response on the NERF website.

On the 20th April 2020 NERF wrote to Lord Goldsmith of Richmond, the Minister of State for the Pacific and the Environment. His portfolio includes the UK environment and conservation. In the letter we reminded him that the country was currently in lockdown as a result of the Covid – 19 pandemic and that the BTO has, understandably, suspended all Wildlife and Countryside licences and ringing permits for the foreseeable future. These restrictions apply to England’s rarest and most endangered species. At the same time Natural England has licenced the removal of 6 Peregrine chicks from the wild. It is NERF’s opinion that this is both unreasonable and irresponsible at the present time. The removal of these chicks cannot be classed as ‘front-line work’ and the multiple journeys to and from the nests cannot be classed as ‘essential’ under the Corona Virus Regulations.

Accessing Peregrine nests is a dangerous activity and an accident and subsequent rescue would put unnecessary stress on both the rescue and medical services. The British Mountaineering Council [BMC] has warned climbers and hill walkers to curtail their activities during the pandemic and that the Mountain Rescue Teams are also in lockdown and unavailable in case of an accident.

NERF has called on Lord Goldsmith to suspend the licences during 2020. The full text of the letter can be read [here]

Similarly we wrote to Tony Juniper, Chairman of natural England. The full text of the letter can be read [here]

Twelve days later neither Lord Goldsmith nor Mr Juniper have responded to our letters. Time is pressing and we await their responses.

NERF

2 May 2020

Peregrine shot dead at Elton reservoir, Bury

Peregrine Falcons epitomize everyone’s vision of a top avian predator. They are sleek, elegant and phenomenally fast, stooping on their prey at up to 200 kilometres per hour.

Whilst urban Peregrines populations are increasing slightly their rural relatives are not faring so well. NERF members have been monitoring Peregrine nests for decades and there is a large body of evidence, gathered by experienced, licensed fieldworkers, to demonstrate that persecution, the killing of Peregrine Falcons, is continuing to have a detrimental impact on their numbers.

Whilst it is extremely disappointing to learn that another one of these magnificent has been killed, regrettably it comes as no surprise.

Following a report on a local Facebook group page that there was a dead Peregrine at the foot of a pylon on the Elton Reservoir local nature reserve, Bury a birdwatcher went in search of the bird and found the corpse beneath the pylon on 7th May [12th May in the papers – what do you think?]. A Peregrine had been watched regularly on the same pylon by local birdwatchers and was last recorded there, alive, on 30th April.

When the body was recovered it was evident that it had badly scavenged, however an x-ray organised by RSPCA Inspector Paul Heaton, a member of the NERF affiliated Manchester Raptor Group, revealed that there was an air pellet or a bullet embedded in the body.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A post mortem is to be conducted by the RSPCA to remove the air pellet or bullet, which may assist the Police in their investigations to trace the culprit.

Despite the fact that the two local landowners had not given anyone permission to shoot over their respective land local people have reported that someone was shooting wood pigeons illegally in the area.

NERF would like to thank the RSPCA for taking the lead in the investigation of the killing of this Peregrine Falcon.

Eldon Reservoir is popular with dog walkers and the RSPCA have launched an appeal for information surrounding the killing of this magnificent bird. If you have any information that would aid the investigation please contact the authorities.

There are several ways to pass on information confidentially; you can contact:

  • The Police on 101
  • Crimestoppers on 0800 555111
  • RSPCA Investigations on 0300 1234 999
  • RSPB Investigation Team on 01767 680551
  • RSPB hotline on 0300 999 0101

 

NERF

15 May 2019

Dark Peak Peregrine ‘abandons’ nest containing three eggs. Really?

Hope springs eternal”.

So said Alexander Pope in his ‘Essay on Man’ written in 1732. This is a metaphor for man’s ability to keep on hoping that everything will work out for the best in the end no matter what the odds and it perfectly sums up the attitude of Raptor Workers at the start of every breeding season.

Autumn and winter in the northern uplands can be long, cold, wet dreary months. Eventually the wet grey days and long dark nights give way to warmer days; the clocks go forward and nature wakes up and bursts into life again.

However; despite following Pope’s philosophy spring time in the northern uplands always induces a mixture of elation and trepidation for NERF members. Having spent hundreds of long cold hours on the fells monitoring and protecting Hen Harriers on their roosts, often in dreadful weather, spring offers new hope. With luck the coming raptor breeding season will be successful; the weather will be kind, prey will be plentiful, clutch sizes will be large and by mid-summer young fledglings will be on the wing. That’s the hope but unfortunately the spectre of raptor persecution is never far away.

We understandably spend a great deal of time discussing and condemning Hen Harrier persecution however we shouldn’t lose sight of the fact that there is evidence  that all bird of prey species face the threat of persecution throughout the whole of the NERF raptor study area. Along with Hen Harriers we know that Buzzards, Goshawks, Short-eared Owls and Peregrine Falcons remain victims of egg collectors and they continue to be trapped, poisoned and shot to death annually. The problem is particularly acute in North Yorkshire and the Dark Peak but no region is totally immune.

Peregrine populations have been suppressed by persecution in the northern uplands for decades and in the Dark Peak Peregrines have had a torrid time for many, many years. This latest incident, which occurred in the Peak District National Park, involved an active Peregrine nest where the adults ‘disappeared’ leaving 3 unhatched eggs.

On the 26th of March 2019 two licensed Raptor Workers, from the Peak District Raptor Monitoring Group, were checking an historic peregrine breeding site on a remote crag on a grouse moor in the Glossop area when they witnessed a food pass between a male and female Peregrine Falcon. Along with this observation the Raptor Workers watched the adult male drive off a Kestrel that had strayed into the potential breeding area. From experience they quickly realised that this was a precursor to a breeding attempt and determined that they would return two weeks later.

The Raptor Workers returned to check on progress at the breeding site on the 8th of April 2019. After observing the nest site from a suitable distance for some considerable time they were dismayed when they realised that there were no adults present on the crag. In order to confirm whether or not the Peregrines had actually commenced breeding they made a licensed visit to the nesting ledge and there they discovered three cold Peregrine Falcon eggs. Whilst we may never know what actually occurred at this site research tells us that Peregrine falcons do not abandon their eggs unless one or both of the birds have been either killed or kept off of their nest for a very long period of time. The average incubation period for Peregrine eggs is 31 days [BTO] and yet adults are so committed to hatching their eggs they will continued incubating infertile eggs for periods considerably longer that the normal 31 days. Taking into account that the adults were absent, that the eggs were cold, that the nest was located in an area where raptor persecution is rife it is difficult to perceive a cause of this failure that doesn’t involve human interference at the site.

Peregrines are one of the earliest raptors to breed and this incident reminds all of us, not just Raptor Workers, that we must be vigilant whilst monitoring, or simply enjoying watching, all raptor breeding attempts. They are all vulnerable and NERF will play its part in protecting them in the months and years ahead. To some, following the philosophy ‘hope springs eternal’ may appear naïve when persecution of birds of prey continues apace. However; if we lose hope we lose everything. We will never lose hope; our magnificent birds of prey deserve no less. Persecution is pernicious and there is no place for it in modern day society.

For future information on the level of raptor persecution in the Dark Peak click on the links below.

Peak Malpractice 2006 – RSPB,
Peak Malpractice update 2007 – RSPB,
The Peak District Bird of Prey Initiative 2018 – Peak District National Park Authority, National Trust, Moorland Association, Natural England and both of the local Raptor Groups [The RSPB left the Initiative in early 2018 due to a lack of progress and ongoing raptor persecution incidents].
Raptor Persecution in the Peak District National Park – Melling et al 2018, highlighting the fortunes of breeding peregrine and goshawk in the Peak District National Park and the association of raptor persecution with driven grouse shooting.

This incident has been reported to the Police. If you have any information that would aid the investigation please contact the authorities. There are several ways to pass on information; you can contact:

  • The Police on 101
  • Crimestoppers on 0800 555111
  • RSPB Investigation Team on 01767 680551
  • RSPB hotline on 0300 999 0101

NERF

18 April 2019