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The Persecution of Raptors – New Evidence Emerges

It’s an issue we have discussed at length on this blog over the last couple of years and there is no sign of a resolution. Conservation groups have been blaming management practices at grouse moors for the disappearance of a large number of raptors in the UK. The land managers at the grouse moors deny any wrongdoing. But who is right?

The Yorkshire Dales National Park

The Yorkshire Dales has gained an unfortunate reputation for being a raptor persecution hotspot. Now, the Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority (YDNPA) has published a report which looks at the populations of key upland raptor species both nationally and in the 64-year-old park. It doesn’t make great reading if you are concerned about conservation.

The report documents the confirmed incidents of persecution in the National Park between 2007 and 2016. The assessment that an incident of persecution had taken place was based on the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) recording criteria. Forty-six incidents were noted and these included the shooting, trapping and poisoning of birds. There were also 7 incidents in 2017. Six of these were shootings of marsh harriers, a red kite, a sparrowhawk and two buzzards.

Compelling Evidence of Persecution

The authors of the report have concluded that there is compelling evidence that illegal persecution is seriously limiting the populations of hen harriers and peregrine falcons. The available breeding data, the confirmed incidents of persecution and the absence of some species from large areas of suitable habitat make it difficult to come to any other conclusion. The persecution of raptors is almost certainly preventing the colonisation of the National Park by red kites.

Failed Nesting Sites

Sadly, there has not been a successful peregrine nesting attempt on any of the monitored grouse moors in the region since 1997. These species are now absent from the majority of sites in the park where it was found in the 1990s. On the other hand, nest sites away from the grouse moors have proved successful. The grouse moors appear to be the common denominator when it comes to the demise of raptors.

Despite large areas of ideal nesting habitat, there has not been a successful hen harrier nesting attempt in the National Park since 2007. To make matters worse, 11 (19%) of the 59 hen harriers that were satellite tagged by Natural England at sites across northern England and Scotland between 2002 and 2017 are now classed as ‘missing, fate unknown’ in the Yorkshire Dales.

Threatened with Extinction

This is a very serious matter. Hen harriers are threatened with extinction in England because of illegal persecution, according to Natural England. The YDNPA chief executive, David Butterworth, has voiced his frustration that the park has such an unenviable reputation for persecution and that no solutions to the issue have yet been found.

Those associated with the grouse moors deny engaging in any illegal practices but their claims are looking increasingly questionable. This is a conflict which looks set to continue.


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