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Reports emerge of nine Hen Harriers predated by a fox on RSPB’s Bowland reserve

Updated: Jun 24, 2020

Reports have been emerging over the weekend that nine Hen Harriers, including seven newly fledged chicks, have been predated by a fox on the RSPB’s flagship reserve in the Forest of Bowland, which they monitor in partnership with United Utilities. This is will come as a huge embarrassment to those responsible at the RSPB for monitoring the project, particularly given the news comes on the same weekend when it was announced that 12 Hen Harrier nests had been reported across grouse shooting estates in Lancashire, Cumbria and Yorkshire. The fact that the RSPB have been unable to protect such a rare nest within a reserve raises serious questions about their priorities. The predation is reported to have been a fox, which could no doubt have been managed with the appropriate predator controls in place. Last year, James Bray, RSPB Bowland Project Officer, said: “I feel really proud to have been involved in helping these chicks to fledge. The increase this year is likely to be a combination of many factors but sensitive management of the estate, ensuring plenty of good nesting habitat, and the fact that hen harriers nested successfully last year, will both have helped.” Quite what he has to be proud about remains unclear. To put this into context: the nine Hen Harriers that were killed in the RSPB’s reserve is 800% higher than the number of Hen Harrier’s that the RSPB accused the grouse shooting industry of being responsible for during what they described as "a surge" in illegal killings of birds of prey. The three confirmed incidents that the RSPB has mentioned, which occurred over a three week period, were nowhere near any shooting estates, yet the RSPB has no qualms in linking this alleged ‘surge’ of incidents to shoots

One RSPB member, who did not want to be named, when asked about the reports of the nine dead Hen Harriers, said: “If these reports turn out to be true then I think there are some serious questions for the RSPB to answer. It’s not rocket science is it? If you want to protect your Hen Harrier nests from harm you need to manage the environment properly, and that means an active – and capable – predator control program in place. We pay our membership fees to see endangered birds protected accordingly.” RSPB members as well as government officials are increasingly concerned by the public mood turning against big organisations wasting public funds, particularly considering the economic crisis we are in. The reality of the situation now is that on the one hand you have a huge amount of private investment going into the management of grouse moors and, as a consequence, hen harrier nests are proven to be flourishing. Yet on the other, you have millions of pounds of public funding going into the RSPB, but they have once again proven that they cannot protect the wildlife they were set up to do look after. As any straight-thinking citizen can attest to, the answer to what is best for both the public purse and protecting wildlife clearly lies in properly managed privately funded moorland. No doubt, as ever, opponents of grouse shooting, will continue to attempt to point the finger at gamekeepers whenever a bird of prey goes missing and not once recognise the vast amount of social, environmental and economic good that gamekeepers provide to their communities.  Given the inability for many of these individuals to ever attempt to show any balance, or even comprehend that birds of prey do in fact overwhelmingly die due to predation or other causes, we thought it would be helpful to remind people of just a few recent causes of death or disappearance. 

2. Sparrowhawk run over and killed by a bus in London

3. Honey Buzzard chicks killed by Goshawk

4. Hen Harriers mutilated by wind turbines 5. Barn Owls and Buzzards starve to death over winter

6. Peregrines caught and stolen to sell in the Middle East Perhaps it is time for raptor enthusiasts to start thanking gamekeepers and landowning conservationists. If they do want to start blaming people for the disappearance of raptors, they could do worse than looking at their own within the RSPB.


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