Wednesday, 16 May 2012

The Last English Hen Harrier?

I don't normally use my blog to report on news items in the biodiversity press, but I received an update email this morning from the Wildlife Trust that included a shocking piece on the fact that there is only one pair of Hen Harriers breeding in England this year and none so far in Bowland, just to the east of me. As I said before this really is shocking and this shouldn't be happening in England in the 21st century. It is time that we heard from DEFRA, Natural England and the British Government as to what they are going to do about this awful state of affairs. I know what I would do, but it isn't repeatable here.

Below you will find the article that shocked me this morning.

The future for England’s most threatened bird of prey – Hen Harrier – is looking bleak, as the species teeters on the brink of extinction as a breeding bird.
Early reports indicate that only one pair of the species is showing signs of nesting in England. If this continues it will be the worst year for Hen Harrier since it recolonised England, following extinction in the late 19th century. Worryingly, there are currently no birds attempting to nest in the Bowland Fells, Lancashire, the bird’s only stronghold in England in recent decades.
Martin Harper, RSPB Conservation Director, said: “Hen Harrier is noted for its wonderful rollercoaster display flight, but the bird’s population in England is on a rollercoaster ride itself. After recolonising England, the bird is now perilously close to being wiped out again as a result of decades of persecution.”
The RSPB’s Dr Andre Farrar monitored the species in the 1980s. Commenting on the situation today, he said: “When I started monitoring Hen Harriers, I had no idea that 2012 would be so bleak. When I started, the harriers were just establishing themselves in England after Victorian intolerance and extermination. Bowland has been their stronghold for decades – nesting attempts in other parts of England are infrequent and inconsistent. There are just too few of them in the English uplands.”
Andrew Gouldstone, a conservation manager with the RSPB in Lancashire, said: “The sight of Hen Harriers is one of the joys of spending time in the hills of Bowland. The RSPB has been working with its partners for over three decades to safeguard Hen Harrier nests here. Bowland is still a safe place for the bird but protecting them away from their breeding grounds is very difficult, and we may be about to lose them as a result.”
Government-commissioned, independent research has shown that the English uplands could support more than 300 pairs of Hen Harrier. The authors conclude that persecution associated with the practice of driven grouse shooting, is to blame for the harrier’s plight. Natural England has previously concluded that very few harrier nesting attempts are successful on grouse moors, there is compelling evidence that persecution continues, both during and following the breeding season, and persecution continues to limit Hen Harrier recovery in England. 
The Government has, via the England Biodiversity Strategy, committed to prevent human-induced extinctions of threatened species by 2020. The extinction of Hen Harrier as a breeding species for a second time looks unavoidable, unless an emergency recovery programme is put in place and there is a rapid and sustained reduction in persecution of these birds.
Martin Harper added: “DEFRA ministers have one chance to avoid breaking a promise. We’re doing everything we can, but the government and its conservation and enforcement agencies need to step up to the challenge of securing the future of Hen Harrier in England. The problem of illegal killing is well understood – we now need Government to bring solutions to the table.”
The situation has become so dire that the RSPB has relaunched its Hen Harrier hotline, to enable the public to report any sighting of these birds during the breeding season in England. The Harrier Hotline number is 0845 4600121 (calls charged at local rate). Reports can also be e-mailed to  Reports of sightings should include the date and location of sighting, with a six-figure grid reference where possible.

In fact you might have noticed that I have changed my 'header' to a picture of some young Hen Harriers that I had the privilege of assisting a very good friend of mine to ring and wing tag a few year's ago. Let's hope that they make a come back and long may Hen Harriers 'sky dance' over the moors of England.


Stringer said...

A prominent large estate in Bowland has recently employed a new head keeper who comes from a Scottish estate with a serious rep for slaughtering "vermin" !

Since this had happened there seems to be an absence of HHs at winter roost sites around those parts.... a interesting coincidence.

Good honest CUNTRY folk ? You decide......

Fleetwood Birder said...

I had heard the same. There's nowt honest about 'em, but CUNTRY folk they are indeed!

On a different more positive note I have another blog that I am doing with my good mate Ian. In fact it is Ian that is doing most of the birding for it! It can be found at i.e. Fleetwood Bird Observatory!

MorningAJ said...

I thought they were increasing. I had no idea it had got this bad. If we can manage to improve red kite numbers, surely we can do it for others.

Fleetwood Birder said...

We could easily improve the fortunes for Hen Harriers AJ, but unfortunately some of the wealthy folk who own Grouse moors don't want them in case they take some of their precious Grouse, and they go out of their way to persecute the Hen Harriers. Victorian attitudes prevailing in the 21st century I'm afraid. We need strong action by government to tackle some of these misguided and obscene people!

Pete Woodruff said...

Good to see you flagging up this subject Sean, something we could really do with reading/and doing something about lets say on a weekly basis, yet I see no evidence of any interest - and the matter never gets a mention - on the Hen Harrier plight from virtually ANYONE within my own birding area and I can never understand why. I'm always bashing on about it on Birds2blog but rarely get a response if only to show an interest.

Fleetwood Birder said...

I received an email Pete from a friend who said that the government should ban grouse shooting until there are a 100 pairs of Hen Harriers breeding in England. I'm inclined to agree!

Stringer said...

BRILLIANT !! I'm sure our lovely conservation minded tory government would love that suggestion !!

Sadly I suspect while the boys in blue are in power we will never see any positive new legislation to tackle this problem. Why would the torys want to upset their rich moorland owning supporters ?..... It stinks !!

If you asked the whole country if they would support a ban on grouse shooting until HH were back as established breeders I’m sure there would be majority support, but still the rich moor owning minority continue with their “traditional ways” ! Democracy ?..... I think not !!

I fear the only hope HHs have is for climate change to remove red grouse from England altogether ! Even then I suspect the moor owners would find something else to shoot as “sport” and another reason to try and justify their illegal slaughter of HHs and other raptors.....

BirderRon said...

Yes, I agree with that but I would be even more inclined to agree if the ban on shooting was permanant though. Surely in this day and age we should be past shooting wild birds for food!

Fleetwood Birder said...

I think sadly you're right G.

Pete Marsh said...

Has anyone discovered a way of directly contacting the Duke of Westminster as opposed to a 'standard' response from a flunky down the line?

A friend of mine was subject to intense scrutiny bordering on harassment yesterday (being followed on a quad-bike by a keeper) whilst checking out a Bowland upper valley on a public footpath for Wood Warbler. Unsurprisingly, this was on the Abbeystead estate and the 'crime' was that she called into the keeper's house to determine exactly where the footpath (the map appeared to show it running through the yard) was.

Fleetwood Birder said...

I'm not sure whether anyone has tried that Pete, although presumably the RSPB in Bowland might have. The charity that I used to work for tried to have some dialogue with him over funding and didn't get anyhere. Inicdentally those that were involved were suitably unimpressed with the conservation work, or should I say lack of it, that he had carried out on his large lowland estate. When I am next speaking to a few of my contacts I'll try and find out whether the former has been attempted.