This is a guest blog by Paul Irving: a naturalist and ringer based in north Wales. All views his own (but I just happen to agree with him 100%).
Some little while ago I wrote on Facebook about the success this year of Hen Harriers, that much maligned and persecuted raptor of our uplands. Since then I have requested more information from Natural England about this and got it. However, firstly let’s revisit the figures from the United Utilities estate in Bowland, which has, since 1981, had RSPB wardens monitoring these birds during the breeding season.
This year there were 13 attempts, with 11 successes rearing 39 chicks. That is a pair every 770 ha and a successful nest every 900 ha, with a mean of 3 chicks per attempt.
Now if our grouse moors had that sort of density and success rate (and in the natural world they should) that would be 387 successes out of 452 nests, rearing 1356 chicks. Rather better than what has actually happened.
Let’s look at grouse moors ( excluding United Utilities estates in Bowland):
On tenanted moors there were 7 nests, with 4 successes rearing 15 young.
On owned grouse moors without brood meddling and / or diversionary feeding:
Durham: 2 nests, 1 success, 1 fledged, 0.5 per attempt
Cumbria: 3 nests, 3 successes, 9 fledged, 3 per attempt
Lancashire: 3, nests 3, successes 7, fledged, 2.33 per attempt
North Yorkshire Moors: 2 nests 0 successes and 0 reared
On owned Grouse moors with brood meddling and/or diversionary feeding
Durham 1 nest, 1 success, 1 fledged, 1 per attempt
Cumbria: 1 nest, 1 success, 4 fledged, 4 per attempt
Lancashire: 1 nest, 1 success, 4 fledged, 4 per attempt
North Yorkshire Moors: 5 nests, 5 successes, 14 fledged, 2.8 per attempt
So, to me, both sets of Durham nests look highly suspicious: one might suggest illegal egg shaking as an explanation. The North Yorkshire nests without figures also look highly suspicious. Hardly 1000+ chicks from over 450 nests is it? WTF is the grouse shooting industry bragging for?
Away from grouse moors there were 9 attempts with 6 successes rearing 21 chicks 2.5 per attempt.
The moorland owners keep saying how good the figures for grouse moors are and, frankly, without United Utilities estates, with its RSPB wardening, or the awful brood meddling, or artificial diversionary feeding, they are clearly not. Remember that next time they brag about it. The other thing to note is that, of the failures on grouse moors, 8 were suspicious and reported to the police.
Also, on the Moorland Association website it puts forward the claim of 200 pairs of Merlins on grouse moors in North Yorkshire, which is about half the number found in the ’94 survey when the population was at an apparent peak. The real figure will be considerably less than 100 pairs I suggest.
*Editor’s Note: The following are my personal views, and are not necessarily shared by the other members of our ringing group.
For those not aware of the idea of brood meddling and diversionary feeding, these are the mechanisms within Natural England’s Hen Harrier Action Plan to try and stop grouse moor owners and their minions from breaking the law and illegally killing Hen Harriers. The Hen Harrier Action Plan was disowned by the RSPB, who were initially involved in the scheme, but left it once the details were announced and it became clear that its principal aim is to allow grouse moor owners to limit the number of Hen Harriers on their land to an arbitrarily determined density of one pair per 10 ha, and failed entirely to address the illegal actions associated with the industry. Brood meddling is the removal of chicks from the nest, to be reared elsewhere, and released away from the moors, in the hope that this wide-ranging species would not return to the area. Diversionary feeding is the provision of food for the adults feeding young, so that they don’t hunt for food and take the odd Red Grouse chick.
What Natural England’s plans are for stopping the illegal slaughter by these grouse moor criminals of Goshawks, Peregrines, Buzzards, Red Kites and Short-eared Owls has not yet been disclosed.
One last point: the RSPB manage their heather habitats needed by Red Grouse by mechanical means, rather than the quick and dirty, peat destroying, carbon dioxide and methane releasing, burning of the heather, as practised by most commercial grouse moors.