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, e.g. because the model could not use English data to calculate the potential population in England because there is so little actual data to use.
Nonetheless because the modelling of potential population was based on data drawn from actual surveys, e.g. 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, in 2014 there were three breeding pairs. 2015 saw England’s biggest increase in years with six successful nests, but this was down to just three again in both 2016 and 2017.
The ‘missing’ hen harriers may be due to a number of reasons, and the 2011 report consider a number of constraints in turn eg 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’.
In 2016, Defra produced a Joint Hen Harrier Action Plan supported by the Game & Wildlife Conservation Trust, Moorland Association, National Gamekeepers Organisation, National Parks UK, Natural England and the RSPB. The RSPB later withdrew its support, later also terminating its involvement in the Peak District Bird of Prey Initiative.
Our main concerns in supporting the plan are:
- Brood management (removal of chicks to an alternative location).
On 16 January 2018, Natural England issued a license permitting the trial of a brood management scheme for hen harriers. Neither The Wildlife Trusts or RSPB support this decision. Click here to read The Wildlife Trusts’ response to these proposals.
- Hen harrier reintroduction. Both proposals seem to avoid the underlying issue of illegal wildlife persecution.
In March 2019 a report called ‘Patterns of satellite tagged hen harrier disappearances suggest widespread illegal killing on British grouse moors‘ was published in Nature Communications which showed hen harriers are significantly more likely to die on grouse moors than other habitats, with the majority of birds killed illegally. Click here to read the report.
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 forty years.
- For peregrine, their data shows that, despite growth in the White Peak from 6 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 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 across Sheffield and Rotherham:
- Confirmed shooting of a red kite in South Yorkshire (Birdcrime 2016)
- Confirmed shooting of a buzzard in South Yorkshire (Birdcrime 2015)
- Successful prosecution of an individual in Sheffield possessing two wild tawny owls and a homemade trap to capture wild birds (CPS v Martin, Sheffield Magistrates 2015)
- Robbery of a peregrine chick from a nest in South Yorkshire, 2015 (RSPB Legal Eagle 78, P13)
- RSPB Wildlife crime report 2013 p 14-15 etc
- 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
2 Impact of Peatland Burning
There is growing evidence that peatland burning is damaging the ecosystems of the moorlands. See this research summary here as an example.
The most recent data from The Barn Owl Trust shows 2016 was a poor breeding year for Barn Owls, but with marked geographical variation, consistent with survey results in 2015. The data received from 32 monitoring schemes shows that the number of nesting pairs in the UK in 2016 was 6% below the all-years average and the average number of young in the nest was 7% below. You can visit the Barn Owl Trust’s website to see the national data.
Barn Owls are affected by rodenticide, or rat poison, as they are at the higher end of the food chain and eat rodents so accumulate the poison in their bodies over time.
According to the latest government figures, 87% of barn owls contain rodenticide. Although the proportion that die as a direct result is thought to be low, sub-lethal doses may reduce their ability to cope during hard times. The UK Rodenticide Stewardship Regime came into force in 2016, which aims to achieve a substantial reduction in unwanted contamination by 2020. Barn owls are the ‘sentinel’ (indicator) species being monitored for the scheme, so this is a hopeful recent development which could help to improve the fortunes of these much-loved birds.