RSPB Bowland’s Project Officer, James Bray, talks us through Bowland’s 2019 breeding season, the excitement of 5 rare hen harrier nests, and conditions for the volunteer team as they brave the hills! For decades the Forest of Bowland was the most important site for breeding Hen Harriers in England. So much so, they were formally adopted as the logo of the Forest of Bowland Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB). In some years it was the only place in England that Hen Harriers bred, so their recent temporary loss as a breeding species* was particularly keenly felt by those with an interest in bird of prey conservation. 2018 was the best breeding season for Hen Harriers since the population crashed in 2012. We waited with baited breath for how 2019 would pan out, particularly as we know that a high percentage of young Hen Harriers disappear on driven grouse shooting estates across the country each winter ( see here ). My team of staff and volunteers, together with United Utilities staff and tenants, put everything into monitoring and protecting the birds when they’re here, but hen harriers travel widely and we can’t control what happens when they leave. Many of the chicks that fledged and left Bowland in 2018 did not survive the winter. It is therefore tremendously exciting to announce that we now have chicks in five nests , and some those chicks have already taken their first flights . Photo credit: Young hen harrier chicks in nest – Mick Demain. As we have done in every year since the RSPB started working in Bowland at the start of the 1980s, our team of volunteers and staff have been monitoring and protecting the birds on the estate since the start of Spring, in partnership with the landowner United Utilities and their farming and sporting tenants. In 2018 we had to deal with baking hot conditions (some members of the team took to lying in streams to cool down), whereas this year the weather has been a bit different. Warm calm spells have been rudely interrupted by spells of rain and cold wind, but our staff and volunteers have coped very well with the conditions. Left: Keeping out of the rain and wind – Paul Thomas. Right: The United Utilities estate is also important for a range of other red-listed species such as Ring Ouzel, Cuckoo and Curlew – Mick Demain. The harriers don’t appear to have been affected unduly by the weather either. We have been lucky that whilst there has been heavy rain, the downpours have been relatively short-lived, allowing the males plenty of time to hunt and feed their mates and chicks. It is amazing how quickly the season passes. It does not seem long ago that the beautiful grey males were skydancing over the hills in successful attempts to attract mates. Now, some of the chicks are taking their first flights. For people who have spent every day of the last few months watching over the harriers, this is such a special moment. We still have plenty of work to do to get through to the end of the season as well as to work to ensure that this year is the continuation of a recovery back to the population levels of the 2000s (over a dozen pairs nesting each year) and the population level that the Forest of Bowland Special Protection Area is designated for. Photo credit: One of the nesting females – Jack Ashton Booth I would like to say a huge thank you to the RSPB’s team of staff and volunteers who have put in a huge amount of work to monitor and protect the harriers so far, as well as to United Utilities staff, and their tenants for their amazing support for Hen Harriers and the RSPB’s work to protect them. A final word – we would implore people who are visiting Bowland to look for its amazing wildlife to stay on the paths and tracks during the breeding season to avoid disturbing nesting birds. All of Bowland’s wonderful wildlife can be seen without stepping off a track. * Harriers failed to breed in 2012, for the first time since they recolonised Bowland in the 1950s and didn’t return until 2015 when only a single chick was successfully reared from 7 nesting attempts. Hen Harriers then remained absent as a breeding species for a further two years until 2018.
In hopeful news, rare hen harrier chicks have hatched in four nests in Bowland. RSPB staff and volunteers discovered the nests on the United Utilities Bowland Estate in early spring and have been monitoring them closely ever since. Recently, they obser…
UPDATE: Peregrines in the Forest of Bowland finally brought down by prejudice and misguided politics
Update 26-03-2016 : The list gets longer
Based upon information received last night, we are currently investigating claims sent to us by a concerned Bowland raptor worker that our list of sites was missing 3 peregrine territories he believes are also abandoned. We have now checked out one of these sites and the information has proved valid. Any subsequent additional abandoned sites we are able to verify will be added in RED to our existing list. Any sites discovered to have been reoccupied this season will be changed to GREEN.
We would like to think our treatment of wildlife has improved since 1947 when the first recorded pair of breeding Peregrine falcons located in the Forest of Bowland were shot and their clutch of 4 eggs destroyed by estate gamekeepers. The reality is the situation today on England’s moorland uplands where red grouse are shot is now much worse than it was all those years ago. Throughout a majority of these moorland areas, peregrines and hen harriers are becoming more conspicuous each season by their almost total absence from these regions..
In the spring of 2009 seventeen occupied peregrine territories were recorded by licensed members of the North West Raptor Group in the Forest of Bowland. One year later, in 2010 Natural England, (the Government’s Wildlife Advisor on the Natural Environment) with-held licences which they had previously issued permitting the group to monitor and protect peregrines, including several other threatened raptor species for over thirty five years; just 4 years later fifteen of these historic territories had been found abandoned resulting in the disappearance of the adult falcons..
In 2014 taking into account the unprecedented disappearance of so many Peregrines in such a short time frame from one moorland region, Terry Pickford a founder member of the NWRG (1967) appealed Natural England’s decision asking them to reinstate his license, they refused. The 3 reasons provided by Natural England for their decision were as ridiculous as they were illogical, read below..
- Terry was advised other licence holders had been appointed to cover this region. (Terry had worked in Bowland since 1975 protecting peregrines
- Terry’s presence would cause unnecessary disturbance to nests. (What nests, by this time the peregrine was almost extinct in Bowland?
- Issuing Terry with license would cause duplication of nest visits. (How could anyone duplicate visits to nests that no longer existed?
Based upon valid arguments contained in Terry Pickford’s licence reinstatement request, amongst other facts, he highlighted that Peregrines and a high number of their nests were being destroyed at an unprecedented rate on estates in Bowland; who’s interests were Natural England really trying to protect by refusing to reinstate his Bowland licence we might ask?
Putting Natural England’s decision into perspective it is important to point out Terry Pickford has held a BTO class ‘A’ ringing permit since 1986 authorising him to ring nestlings at the nests of the 6 schedule 1 raptor species listed in the table below. He currently holds a scientific disturbance licence for Peregrine (Cumbria Only), Goshawk (Lancashire and Cumbria), Red Kite (South Cumbria & Lancashire), Osprey (Cumbria & Lancashire), Barn Owl, Golden Eagle (Scotland). Natural England for some curious reason refuse to issue a Peregrine licence for use in Bowland to any member of the NWRG where persecution is widespread, but on the other hand are happy to support his licence for use in Cumbria where persecution is very low.
- Hen Harrier
- Red Kite
- Golden Eagle (Scotland)
Taking into account what has taken place in Bowland since 2010, there can no longer be any doubt it was not the Peregrines or their nests Natural England were concerned about saving. Natural England in reaching their decision refusing to reinstate the license of an extremely experienced and conscientious field worker chose instead to ignore the systematic extermination of a protected species taking place in the Forest of Bowland. In our view this was a misguided attempt to prevent the embarrassment of estates by covering up the illegal killing of Peregrines and the destruction of historic nest sites taking place with impunity. Keeping Terry Pickford together with the rest of the membership of the NWRG out of Bowland, would in some people’s warped opinion conveniently keep this important criminal activity from becoming public knowledge.
Just in case you are one of the sceptics, we have added details of twenty one Peregrine territories below, which are known to have been abandoned inside the boundary of the Forest of Bowland since 2010. You may feel these desertions are coincidental, but you would be wrong. An RSPB spokesperson writing in the Lancashire Life in 2014 explained these losses, details which were never published within the annual RSPB Crime Report Figures as even suspicious, were the result of climate change and the lack of suitable prey, plus possibly some persecution. Well the RSPB would know because they are paid to protect raptors inside the Forest of Bowland.
Trough Bank, (3 alternate sites abandoned)
Burn Fell (3 alternate sites abandoned)
Lythe Fell, (3 alternate sites abandoned)
Langden Head, (2 alternate sites abandoned)
Brennand Fell, (3 alternate sites abandoned)
Bleadale, (3 alternate sites abandoned)
Burnslack Fell, (1 site recorded, used once before being abandoned)
- Hareden, (1 site recorded, found abandoned 20th March 2016)
- Grindleton Fell. (1 site recorded containing 2 chicks. 1 chick shot. 2nd chick observed on wing one mile from nest) Shoot closed down. No charges brought following police investigation into actions of tenant gamekeeper.
Threaphaw Fell, (Nesting Ledge Destroyed)
Marshaw Fell, (1 site Nesting Ledge Destroyed, 2 additional sites abandoned)
Hawthornthwaite Fell, (3 additional sites abandoned)
Catshaw Greave, ( site abandoned, traps and grit trays placed close to nests)
Foxdale Beck, (3 alternate sites each abandoned)
Mallowdale Pike, (In 2010, 2 nestlings disappeared, site abandoned ever since)
Tarnbrook Fell, (Nesting Ledge Destroyed prior to 2010)
- Grizedale Fell, (Nesting site on ground burnt out)
- Luddock Fell, (Nesting site on ground burnt out)
- Bleasdale Moor, (Clutch of 3 eggs disappeared within one day of nest being located 2015, site now abandoned)
- Greenbank Fell, (3 additional sites abandoned)(Clutches of Eggs disappeared, 2006, 2007, also in 2013, 14. (Site abandoned since single male peregrine disappeared in 2015.)
- Cloughton Quarry, Nesting ledge destroyed 2015, suspected clutch of eggs disappeared in 2014. ( Site found abandoned March 2016)
- Birket Fell, (Nesting Ledge destroyed in 2010/11 site abandoned)