We are often told that Hen Harriers depend on grouse moors for their survival – this is a big lie rather than a small one. The fact is that Hen Harrier breeding success over a long period of time (in England and Scotland) and survival (as measured by the lack of survival of satellite-tagged birds by Natural England) is very poor on intensively-managed grouse moors.
But those are large-scale analyses (and obviously powerful because of that), so let’s just illustrate what that actually means on the ground in one corner of the English uplands.
Let’s have a look at the Forest of Bowland Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, whose logo happens to be a Hen Harrier. It’s not a random choice, this area has been at times the stronghold of this bird in England. Although it’s difficult to believe these days (when some recent years have seen a complete absence of breeding), there have often been double-figured numbers of Hen Harrier nests here in the past. And that’s why part of this area is designated by the UK as a Special Protection Area for birds under the EU Birds Directive. The Bowland Fells SPA qualified for this designation by holding significant proportion of the UK breeding population – 13 pairs over a period of years.
There are many landowners in this area but the three largest are United Utilities plc (what used to be called a water company – which owns part of this catchment to maintain water quality and which does have a few days grouse shooting on its land each year but cannot remotely be called a grouse moor), the Abbeystead Estate (owned by the Duke of Westminster) and the Bleasdale Estate (owned by businessman Jeremy Duckworth).
The land ownerships are roughly in the following proportions:
|Estate||% of HHSAs by area||% of Bowland Fells SPA by area|
Did you guess 2929? That’s more than 350 dead birds for each shooter – what sport eh? But those were the days when Abbeystead was owned by the Earls of Sefton, the Grosvenor family acquired the moor in 1980.
You’d think that a famous grouse moor, owned by His Grace the Duke of Westminster, usually the highest ranking UK-born individual in the Sunday Times Rich List, and the most recently created Dukedom in the UK, with a wealth of £10bn, would be in a perfect position to demonstrate the value of driven grouse moors for Hen Harriers – particularly at this former stronghold for the bird, and particularly because of his large land holding.
But poor old (actually, rather young) Duke of Westminster. No nesting Hen Harriers on Abbeystead this year despite there being five successful pairs on the adjacent United Utilities land (where the birds are guarded by volunteers organised by the RSPB and United Utilities). His Grace must be gutted. All that prime Hen Harrier habitat in an area whose very logo is the Hen Harrier, all those gamekeepers looking after the Hen Harriers and not a thing to show for it.
Maybe there’ll be lots next year, although recent history suggests not, as I am told (by local, experienced, raptor workers) that the last time that Hen Harriers nested successfully on the Abbeystead Estate was 2003 – so don’t hold your breath! All but one of the successful Hen Harrier nests in the last decade in Bowland has been on the United Utilities land.
So in passing we must note too, that the other large grouse shooting estate in Bowland has been unlucky in attracting and keeping safe Hen Harriers too – the Bleasdale Estate’s last reported successful Hen Harrier nest was in 1993. In fact, Bleasdale Estate has been unlucky with its breeding Peregrine Falcons too in recent years (see a disturbing video here).
It’s a shame that being very rich, and owning lots of land in a prime location doesn’t seem to guarantee the riches of successful Hen Harrier nests. I’d recommend that His Grace and Mr Duckworth get in touch with the RSPB team operating locally to discover the secret of getting successful Hen Harrier nests in the Bowland Fells. But until they do, can we hear a little less about how great are driven grouse moors for the threatened Hen Harrier, please?
For all sorts of reasons, I’d be delighted if you would give your support to this e-petition.