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Menopausal Mother Nature

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Hen Harriers in the news

A Hen Harrier called River fitted with a satellite tag at a nest in the Forest of Bowland in summer 2018. Photo: RSPB

The RSPB has announced that 22 Hen Harriers have fledged from five successful nests in the Forest of Bowland – all on land owned and managed by United Utilities where they own land to protect their water catchments. This land has a few days grouse shooting on it but, despite the fact that it comprises only a third of the total area of the SPA, it seems it has all Bowland’s nesting Hen Harriers within its boundaries.

The owners of the other land (some of which is mapped by Natural England as Hen Harrier Sensitive Areas!!) within the SPA, including the Duke of Westminster (Abbeystead Estate), must feel absolutely gutted that yet again, by complete chance, all the Hen Harriers in Bowland have avoided their grouse moor landholdings and sought out the land managed for water resources instead.

Fledging is just a step on the journey of a young Hen Harrier. We know from bitter experience that some Hen Harriers fledged in Bowland don’t live very long and don’t travel very far.

This map shows another part of Bowland – not owned by United Utilities as far as I can tell – where five recently-fledged Hen Harriers have ceased tansmitting within a few weeks of fledging – none made it to Christmas let alone made it to breed themselves (most likely in their second year of life).

These are the short life statistics of those five birds:

The locations of five Hen Harriers whose satellite tags have mysteriously ceased to transmit in and adjacent to an SPA set up to protect Hen Harriers:

  • SD596621 tag id 94591 tagged by NE 23 June 2010, ceased transmitting 18 Aug 2010
  • SD617605 ‘Hope’ tagged by RSPB summer 2014, ceased transmitting 13 September 2014
  • SD624632 Thor tagged by RSPB summer 2018, ceased transmitting 3 October 2018
  • SD634615 ‘Sky’ tagged by RSPB summer 2014, ceased transmitting 10 September 2014
  • SD673604 tag id 58870 tagged by NE 12 July 2010, ceased transmitting 21 August 2010

So, one smallish part of Bowland is where Hen Harriers raise their young and another smallish part of Bowland is where many of them disappear and cease sending signals via their satellite transmitters.

Some satellite-tagged Hen Harriers travel much further before they disappear mysteriously, and for some it isn’t so mysterious. Two female birds, Bowland Betty and River travelled from Lancashire to Nidderdale in Yorkshire where they both were found dead on the grouse moors of the Swinton Estate, and both had been shot (though not necessarily exactly where they were found) .

The Swinton Estate is thought to be where Natural England licensed brood meddling of Hen Harriers this year – an interesting choice considering the fact that two corpses of shot Hen Harriers have been recovered on that land.

Brood meddling, sometimes called brood management, is a controversial part of a government Hen Harrier Plan which is opposed by most raptor workers and conservation professionals (and me!).

The new Natural England Chair, my mate Tony Juniper, was interviewed by Patrick Barkham in the Guardian today. I think it’s times I unveiled my new Natural England logo, with juniper growing out of the house (drawn by @cartoonralph) to mark this day. It’s too early to say whether the juniper shoots are window dressing or real green shoots of recovery of Natural England’s moral compass.

Patrick quizzed Tony on Hen Harriers and whilst Tony was right to say ‘It’s pretty unequivocal that it [illegal killing by grouse moor interests] is still a problem‘ he then went on to sound like a fool when he was quoted as saying that the “brood management” trial ‘was vital to ensure shooting stakeholders assisted the hen harrier’s recovery‘ because that sounds like the clearest description of giving the criminals what they want that you can possibly get. And it doesn’t seem to have worked in Bowland does it? 100% of the Hen Harriers on 34% of the land – none of it owned and managed for intensive grouse shooting. The conservationists are delivering and the grouse shooting estates are not.

Natural England is on the wrong side of the argument and the wrong side of the line dividing the good guys from the bad guys. This positioning isn’t Tony’s fault, it was a side of the line chosen many years ago and dictated by Defra, but even the great communicator, my mate Tony, can’t make it sound at all sensible. A word of advice, Tony, you’ll have as much success in persuading the world that Natural England is on the right side in this debate as you do that they are the good guys in the badger cull.

Tony went on to say ‘We’ve got more chance of convincing those people to come on the journey if they can see that they’ve got part of what they think is the solution for them also on the table. My only benchmark is whether the hen harrier recovers or not. That’s all I’m concerned about.’. Well, Tony, you’ve only just arrived as a player in this issue and you aren’t making a very good job of it. Your organisation is appeasing those interests who don’t give a flying fig about Hen Harriers and whom your own data indicate as the problem. All the interest groups and individuals who really do care about the Hen Harrier are against brood meddling. You might want to refuse to answer questions on brood meddling in future on the grounds that ‘this was the last guy’s mistake, not mine’ rather than digging yourself into a self-chosen hole.

And brood meddling doesn’t stop fledged Hen Harriers being shot on grouse moors does it? Ask those five fledged Hen Harriers who lasted just a few weeks in Bowland, and then ask Bowland Betty and River – except you can’t ask any of them because they were killed in grouse shooting areas and brood meddling would have done nothing to save them. What will make a gamekeeper in Durham refrain from shooting a Hen Harrier that was brood-meddled in Yorkshire? As he lines it up in his sights he won’t even know that it was a brood-meddled bird – and honestly, do you think he’ll care?

Here are some images of dead Hen Harriers – all killed in grouse moor areas.

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