Wednesday, 6 April 2016

Hen Harriers on Bowland © Raptor Politics

What surprises await our threatened raptors on red grouse moors in 2016?

Will the 2016 breeding season be worse or better for ‘protected raptors like the hen harrier and peregrine that have the misfortune to venture onto moorland in northern England where red grouse are shot for sport? We would like to think the situation will improve this season, but we remain pessimistic based upon last year’s disappearances of hen harriers and peregrines from areas classified as SSSi’s and SPA’s in Lancashire’s Forest of Bowland and at Geltsdale in the northern Pennines. The lack of any contingency plans for dealing with last season’s hen harrier catastrophe was unfortunate and hopefully the mistakes made will not be repeated once again for a second season.
Hen Harrier Logo
This depiction of a hen harrier remains the proud logo for the Forest of Bowland AONB, despite the almost total eradication of successful nesting hen harrier on all but one estate.

Last year a number of gas guns were strategically installed on moorland in southern Scotland and on one estate adjoining the RSPB’s Geltsdale reserve where they appear to have been used to cause maximum disturbance to hen harriers by frightening them away before settling on moorland to breed. One pair of harriers regularly observed last spring on the Croglin estate were persuaded to up sticks crossing the boundary fence onto the RSPB’s Geltsdale Nature Reserve where they eventually managed to lay a clutch of eggs. Disappointingly the nest and eggs were eventually abandoned by the female hen harrier after her mate failed to return from a hunting trip he had undertaken onto the adjoining grouse moor at Croglin.
One of the missing Male Hen Harrier photographed in the Forest of  Bowland on its way to hunt for food on an adjoining estate.
Several hen harrier nests in 2015 established on the United Utilities estate in the Forest of Bowland, collectively estimated to contain as many as twenty five eggs, were abandoned after 4 male hen harriers failed to return to their territories after they had gone in search of prey to feed their respective female mates. The disappearance from English grouse moors of so many male hen harriers in one season clearly demonstrated this was a well planned and executed new strategy implemented to ensure the failure of nests and the impossibility of ever tracing those criminals responsible.  In our view because of the success of this illegal scheme last year, there is a very strong possibility this untraceable hen harrier cleansing methodology is likely to be adopted once again this season, but over a much wider moorland area in northern England, and possibly even in parts of Scotland.
In in a recent comment posted on Martin Harper’s blog, it was suggested to the RSPB the Society should this season consider the implementation of suitable contingency plans designed to deal with a repeat of last year’s criminal activity i.e., the licensed collection of all abandoned clutches of  hen harrier eggs before they go cold following the disappearance of male hen harriers, placing rescued eggs into suitable incubators.
hen-harrier-sat-tag-01In a second comment posted on Raptor Politics it was suggested by Terry Pickford any eggs rescued from abandoned harrier nests this season should be placed under the control of a competent and experienced captive breeding establishment where the rescued eggs could be incubated professionally. Any eggs that hatched could then be hacked into the wild in line with DEFRA’s unpopular brood management proposals in the south of England by experienced and trained professionals who deal with captive bred birds of prey for a living. Terry explained the rationale behind his controversial suggestion in this way; we know the reasons why DEFRA would never sanction the reintroduction of fledged hen harriers on grouse moors in the north of England, these birds would never be welcomed by estates or their gamekeepers quickly disappearing presumed to have been shot. All hen harrier chicks produced must each be fitted with a satellite tag before being hacked into the wild in the south of England. Now the important part according to Terry; these harriers must ALL be tracked to establish what happens to them after fledging. If any or all the harriers make their way back onto grouse moors in the north of England and survive for more than eighteen months or longer, this may establish DERFA’s plans are worth more consideration. On the other hand if a majority of hen harriers released in the south make their way north onto grouse moors then subsequently disappear along with their trackers, this would clearly establish the futility of DEFRA’s brood manipulation proposals once and for all.
What ever happens to breeding hen harriers this year on England’s northern uplands, we support Terry Pickford’s suggestion. Making the best use of all hen harriers raised in captivity obtained from abandoned rescued eggs is well worth exploring in the way he has suggested. Utilising abandoned eggs rescued which then hatch and then released reduces the pressure on other dwindling hen harrier populations elsewhere.
Bowland Eagle Owls
eagle owl web-1
Finally it has been brought to our notice by one of our followers that a territorial pair of eagle owls, for a second season, has been located in the Forest of Bowland. We were informed information of the existence of the pair was posted two weeks ago by Chrissie Harper on her Facebook page, attached here. Chrissie, responsibly made no reference to where these birds were established in Bowland, but asked all her followers on FaceBook to support her ‘Save and Protect the Bowland Eagle Owls Campaign .’ A report on Eagle Owls in England pointed out that the eagle owls in Bowland in particular had been subjected to irresponsible disturbance at their nesting sites and was one of the main cause of territories being abandoned.
Abandoned Eagle Owl Nest 2013 Forest of Bowland
Last year a local Bowland resident contacted Raptor Politics informing us that last spring he had witnessed three wardens tasked with protecting eagle owls inside Bowland visiting an occupied eagle owl nest possibly containing eggs. We understand shortly after the visit had been carried out the nest was known to have been deserted. For those of you that are not aware of the scientific advice regarding eagle owl behaviour and nest visits be aware: Eagle owl nests should on no account be visited either prior to eggs being laid, when eggs are contained inside a nest, or when the nest contains small chicks. Sadly this accepted official advice is all too often disregarded in the Forest of  Bowland.
Second Abandoned Eagle Owl Nest 2013 Forest of Bowland
It seems strange that when it comes to licensed visits to all English hen harrier nests official approval from Natural England to do so must first be obtained, even when visiting harrier nests in Bowland. Why then when visiting an eagle owl nest which is likely to result in the nest being abandoned are these visits encouraged?
Related Articles
Legal Loopholes being used to deter raptors from settling on moorland to breed
A fourth male hen harrier reported missing from an active nest in the northern Pennines 
Natural England hen harrier satellite tracking programme results 
The not so mysterious disappearance of England’s lost Hen Harriers
Raptor persecution in our modern society, a symbol of a feudal system of Raptor Management