Birds of Prey

Hen Harrier by Amy Lewis

Persecution, poisoning and the decline of birds of prey

The issue:

Birds of prey are fantastic, awe-inspiring and joyful to see but sadly they are disappearing from our local area. Some of these birds are in decline for a number of reasons including:

  • Declining heather moorland and the mosaic of habitat which supports these birds and their young
  • Illegal persecution through poisoning, shooting, etc of birds such as Hen Harriers, Peregrines, Buzzards, Short-Eared Owls and Goshawks by some local grouse moor gamekeepers
  • The use of rodenticide (rat poison) leading to the poisoning of birds such as Barn Owls which prey on affected small mammals

See the 'Evidence and references’ section below for information relating to these issues.

Our position:

  • We support a vision of our local uplands as a mosaic of habitats which supports thriving populations of all the species that should be present in these inspiring places, including birds of prey. We want to see a healthy natural environment, a vibrant economy and thriving communities. Our uplands are wonderful wild places but they could be even better for people and wildlife.
  • We support the careful burning of upland heath as this can help to maintain the special and unique habitat. However, we are strongly against the burning of blanket bog which can destroy the sphagnum mosses - which are at the heart of functioning blanket bogs, and damage the underlying peat.
  • We are against all illegal killing of wildlife, especially our local birds of prey, many of which are internationally and/or locally rare species including the Hen Harrier. The illegal persecution of wildlife must stop now.
  • We are against the use of rodenticide – it should only be used as a last resort when all other methods have failed.

What we have done and will do:

  • Continue to work with and support land owners, land managers, organisations, groups and individuals who share our aim of seeing an increase in breeding pairs of our local birds of prey.
  • Continue to regularly update and raise awareness with the general public and our members about illegal birds of prey persecution on our local Sheffield moorlands – providing factual information and examples wherever possible.
  • Actively promote appropriate campaigns and petitions by others where they coincide with our own position and aims.
  • Regularly review the suppliers we use to ensure we do not support any which have a connection to or have been directly prosecuted for illegal wildlife activity.
  • Continue to manage our Nature Reserves, and the land that we manage on behalf of others, for the benefit of a diverse range of wildlife, including Hen Harriers, Peregrine, Buzzards, Short-Eared Owls and Goshawks.
  • Continue to work with and try to influence others - partners and land owners/managers - to actively manage their land so that wildlife and our local birds of prey can thrive.
  • Continue to work with other Wildlife Trusts to influence national and regional policy makers about the importance of the upland habitat for birds of prey and the many other benefits it provides for people and wildlife generally.
  • Only use rodenticide as a last resort and continue to regularly remind the public and our members about not using rodenticide, unless as a last resort when all other methods have been tried and failed.
  • Celebrate and highlight cases of good practice by local grouse moorland owners and keepers.
  • Contribute to the prevention of the illegal killing of birds of prey by participating in NESTWATCH schemes, promoting ‘sighting’ reporting and raising awareness of what to look for.
  • Work with the local Wildlife Crime Unit to encourage them to actively monitor for illegal activity on our Sheffield moors and enforce existing wildlife legislation more effectively, investing in better detection and policing measures.
  • Work with other Wildlife Trusts to respond to the Hen Harrier Recovery Plan if and when it is launched by DEFRA. We urge the Government to find agreement on Hen Harrier conservation and recovery as quickly as possible – before it is too late.
  • Not support ‘brood management’ (the relocation of Hen Harrier chicks away from a grouse moor) at this time, due to the Hen Harrier breeding pair population being so low (just one pair in our area in 2014).

What you can do:

  • If you are out walking the moors or woodlands and spot Hen Harriers sky dancing, or potential breeding pairs of Peregrine, Short-Eared Owls or Goshawks,  please call and tell us on 0114 263 4335 or the Hen Harrier hotline (RSPB) on 0845 4600121.
  • If you are out walking and notice anything suspicious please try to take a photograph, note carefully the facts of what you saw and where and then report it to your local wildlife crime unit. South Yorkshire Wildlife Crime Unit telelephone number is 101 (not 999).
  • Join your local Bird Study or Raptor Group and help to monitor bird populations – so critical for providing the evidence base. Search online for the group nearest to you.
  • Support our work in this area by making a donation to our Campaigning for Wildlife Fund.
  • Volunteer on one of work days – helping to improve the habitat these and other birds of prey need.
  • Tell others about the impact of rodenticide (see details below in the 'Evidence and Referenes’ section) – help to spread the message about the impact of this chemical on local wildlife and the environment.

Evidence and references:

1. Illegal Killing of Birds of Prey

1a. Hen Harriers

A Joint Nature Conservation Committee commissioned report in 2011 provided an estimate of the potential Hen Harrier population that England could support as 323–340 pairs. Notes of caution were given in the research because the model could not use English data to calculate the potential population in England because there is so little actual data to use. See the report in the download table below, or click here.

Nonetheless because the modelling of the potential population was based on data drawn from actual surveys in Scotland, where birds were subject to limiting factors such as illegal persecution, predation (which could affect productivity), prey densities (voles cycle) and habitat quality (heather cover for nesting birds), this potential population estimate was still felt to be conservative given the potential habitat available in England.

In 2013 there were no breeding pairs in England and in 2014 there were just three.

The ‘missing’ hen harriers may be due to a number of reasons, and the 2011 report considers a number of constraints in turn: grazing, predation, climate, wind farms. But the two main issues identified were persecution and, in one Scottish region, prey shortages. Nesting/foraging habitat and predation pressures may also be locally important eg buzzards preying on hen harrier chicks. The 2011 report concludes that ‘England is unlikely to achieve this (favourable conservation status for hen harriers) unless illegal persecution is significantly reduced’.

1b. Peregrines, buzzards, short-eared owls and goshawks

Within the Sheffield boundary, which includes the moors above Howden Reservoir, the South Peak Raptor Study Group (SPRSG) have monitored birds of prey in the Upper Derwentdale area since the late 1990s, and some of their members have monitored the area for more than 40 years.

  • For the Peregrine, their data shows that, despite growth in the White Peak from six successful nesting sites in 2000 to more than 32 sites in 2011, sites in Derwentdale remained between 2 to 4 over the same period.
  • For the Buzzard, their data shows that, despite exponential growth in the White Peak from 11 successful fledglings in 2000 to over 37 in 2011, successful fledglings in Derwentdale remained at 0 over the same period.

The ‘missing’ birds of prey recorded by the SPRSG may be due to a number of reasons, but given the amount of habitat available and the success of sites nearby, it is suspected that illegal persecution has had a significant impact.

From RSPB Crime Report 2013, evidence for the decline in birds of prey from our northwest Sheffield moors is also indicated by the following data:

  • In 1998, there were 15 Goshawk and 4 Peregrine territories.
  • In 2013, there was just 1 Goshawk and 1 Peregrine breeding territory on the grouse moorlands between Sheffield and the Derwent Valley.
  • Away from the grouse moors, in the south of the Peak District, Goshawk is still doing well, with 13 known breeding pairs.

Evidence has been collated by the RSPB that strongly points to illegal persecution in our local patch:

  • Successful prosecution of a gamekeeper illegally baiting to take birds of prey in Upper Derwentdale (Police v Glenn Brown, Chesterfield Magistrates Court 2011)
  • Peak Malpractice published in 2007 (see below to download)
  • RSPB Wildlife crime report 2013 p 14-15 etc (see below to download)

2. Rodenticide

Last year was a good breeding year for Barn Owls, possibly due to favourable weather conditions. The previous year (2013) was disastrous so this was welcome news. A national Barn Owl Population Survey illustrated this positive change in the Barn Owl’s fortunes - please go to the Barn Owl Trusts website ( to see the national data. Or download the report below. This was also supported by local observations such as two broods being successfully reared by one pair in an owl box in the local Rotherham area.

However, Barn Owls are affected by rodenticide, as they are at the higher end of the food chain and eat rodents. So they accumulate the poison in their bodies over time. The Barn Owl Trust estimates that 84% of Barn Owls in the UK contain highly toxic rat poison.

Staff at Hen Harrier Day, August 2014


Hen Harrier Day, August 2014

Staff braved the weather to attend Hen Harrier Day on August 10th. The turnout was great, and the mood was positive.



FilenameFile size
Joint Nature Conservation Committee report, 20111.35 MB
Peak Malpractice, 2007270.16 KB
RSPB wildlife crime report, 20071.62 MB
UK barn owl population, 20133.6 MB