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RSPB exits ‘failed’ bird of prey conservation partnership

The RSPB has decided to leave the Peak District Bird of Prey Initiative, voicing concerns that it has not been effective due to the Moorland Association’s refusal to take any action towards reducing, nor in fact even acknowledging the unlawful killing of raptors to protect game birds.

The Moorland Association was just one of the partners that made up the Peak District Bird of Prey Initiative, along with the National Trust, Natural England, Peak District National Park Authority and RSPB. The initiative began in 2011 with the aim to develop more healthy and sustainable breeding populations of three target species- Merlin, Peregrine Falcon and Short-eared Owl. In 2016, this extended to include the Hen Harrier and Goshawk.

However, the initiative’s 2016-2017 report had to admit: ‘It is widely agreed that in terms of increased raptor populations in the Dark Peak, the Peak District Bird of Prey Initiative 2012-2015 failed to meet its targets.’ It is notable that one area which in particular is spotlighted by the report is the failure to move past the impasse which has arisen ‘in the relationships between raptor fieldworkers and gamekeepers.’

Recorded since the 2015 review, the Initiative report says that there have been numerous incidents recorded which might lead to the conclusion that increased strictness surrounding the practice of gamekeeping must be put in place if healthy Birds of Prey breeding populations are to be ensured. Such incidents include the shooting of a peregrine falcon, the damaging of goshawk eggs and nests, the shooting of a buzzard, the death of a merlin after injuries were sustained in an illegally set trap, and many other cases where human involvement is reasonably suspected in the killing or harming of birds of prey and their living environments.

It is with this in mind that Peak District National Park Authority have expressed disappointment at the failure of the Initiative to achieve the goals set out at the beginning of the process, and also, indicating the severity of the problems at hand, have said:

‘In recent weeks we have taken steps to work more directly with local landowners, shoot owners, agents and gamekeepers with the intention of achieving a significant increase in the numbers of birds of prey during the coming breeding season. We also welcome the police’s greater engagement and continue to support officers to tackle illegal activity of any type within the Peak District National Park.’

It seems however that at least one of the organisations of this erstwhile partnership that made up Peak District Bird of Prey Initiative have acted as somewhat of a stumbling block in the alleviation of this particular issue, as David Hunt from the RSPB, about the failure of this program, said, ‘there’s been a refusal from one of the partners in the Initiative, the Moorland Association, to acknowledge that one of the leading contributing factors in this drop in numbers is illegal killing of birds of prey.’

Amanda Anderson meanwhile of the Moorland Association has stated: ‘We’re all really disappointed that [the RSPB] left this really important collaborative Initiative. We all want the same thing, and that’s a sustainable, healthy assemblage of birds of prey across the Peak District National Park. We just differ in our view of how to achieve that.’

Such a statement reveals that there is currently a rift in the discussion of how best to improve the living and breeding conditions of birds of prey, and that, at present, the key players from either camp are not seeing eye to eye.


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