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Leading naturalist has renewed hope after multiple raptor sightings across Peak District Moorland

The levels of mistrust between those who work in the uplands and certain conservation groups has never been greater, largely due to dishonesty and a cherry-picking approach to science being used to reinforce a preconceived anti-shooting narrative.

Claims have been made by these groups that moorlands are 'ecological deserts' and 'barren wastelands'. An RSPB spokesman even said recently that a ‘bird of prey on a grouse moor is like a turkey spending Christmas at a butcher’s shop’.

Yet gamekeepers, hill farmers, genuine birdwatching enthusiasts, ramblers and many others with a lifelong interest in our uplands, and the wildlife that live there, know how well many species are doing. For example, the BTO’s recent bird breeding survey conducted in the Peak District showed major increases in most bird species, including buzzard, skylark, merlin, peregrine, golden plover, lapwing, curlew amongst others. The Epicollect system, developed by Imperial College London and now used widely by gamekeepers, is also going a long way in recording the data on wildlife numbers, particularly raptors, that are doing well in our uplands.

[Results from the Peak District Bird Survey]

And yet, despite the significant data available to anyone wishing to find it, charitable conservationists – and certain media outlets – so rarely acknowledge the simple fact that wildlife and biodiversity are doing much better on managed moors than on non-managed moors and that raptor numbers are recovering strongly.

It was heartening therefore to see naturalist and award winning author Mark Cocker acknowledge in yesterday’s Guardian that he felt renewed hope after witnessing multiple raptors during his walk across Peak District moorland. He wrote:

“On that cold edge, the sterility seemed palpable - until a peregrine sailed along and fell into a dramatic stoop past the place where I watched. Suddenly two, three, four buzzards rose on a thermal, flapping and falling in displays that circulated around their high pleading calls. With them was a sparrow hawk and, after they had risen and floated away, a raven – “my” raven – performed its own strange display, twisting and synchronising its wingbeats so that it fell earthwards floating on its back. Formerly persecuted to extinction, this quartet would never have been here in the 1970s and, although they are not compensation for my litany of losses, they offer a measure of hope.”

Despite what some charities would have you believe, levels of raptor persecution are now at an all-time low. Furthermore, hen harriers have just had another record breaking year for breeding, with the majority of these nests on driven grouse moors.

That might not fit the narrative of certain conservation charities, particularly ones like the RSPB, which need to raise millions of pounds every month and therefore tie their fundraising efforts to an emotive subject like raptor persecution. But the simple facts are that raptor numbers are increasing dramatically across the UK, and particularly on our managed moorlands.

[Buzzards have increased 1,250% in the Peak District]

Whilst isolated incidents of raptor persecution persist, the grouse industry is unrecognisable from the one 50 years ago and huge efforts are being made by many gamekeepers and landowners to encourage this recovery. The vast majority of raptors that die in the UK die of causes not related to persecution, be it natural causes, predation from other eagles or windfarms.

[Another Sea Eagle killed by a wind turbine]

Another clear indication of increased raptor numbers and the direction of travel is the steadily decreasing number of grouse being shot. Grouse shooting has become environmentally sustainable whilst remaining economically imperative for remote moorland communities.

If this fact was recognised more often by conservation organisations then perhaps a more collaborative approach could be found. One which would be to everyone’s benefit; not least the wildlife of our uplands.


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