The Moorland Association, which represents grouse moor operators in England, today urged that science and facts should dominate the debate over raptor persecution.
Amanda Anderson, Director of the Moorland Association, said:
We need greater use of official facts and science in the debate to end raptor persecution. No-one is denying there is an issue and the law should be applied rigorously where wildlife crime happens – but there needs to be greater recognition of the efforts that have been taken to eradicate the problem.
Grouse moors have been under increased scrutiny in recent weeks and this has led to intense media interest. Sadly, in a polarised debate entire grouse moor operators and gamekeepers are very easily targeted yet huge strides have been made in recent years to deal with this issue. The overwhelming majority of gamekeepers have no truck with wildlife crime of any sort and work hard to conserve a wide range of bird species – including raptors.
There is clear evidence that birds of prey are doing well on grouse moors. Last year was a record-breaking year for hen harrier breeding in England – with the majority of successful nests on grouse moors.
Multiple reports received from our members across the country indicate that raptors were doing well as a result of the reduction in disturbance from members of the public, due to COVID-19 restrictions. In the Peak District we have reports of Peregrines nesting in locations that have not seen such nests in decades. This is following the decline in recorded wildlife crime in the Peak District National Park last year, not to mention eight goshawk nests which succeeded in fledging chicks, after around two decades of failed attempts in the same locations.
Multiple nests of Merlin, the UK’s smallest falcon and one of the three UK raptors of highest conservation priority, have been reported nesting in areas where they have not done for some time in the North York Moors National Park. We also have high hopes for hen harriers – building on the record breeding successes of 2019 which saw a total of 15 nests, 12 of which were successful fledging 47 young.
As restrictions ease, however, those sites are now being inadvertently disturbed by returning visitors. This can cause breeding attempts to fail. If you see and hear birds of prey ‘chittering’ you are too close and should move on quickly.
Grouse moors owners and keepers are working in partnership with police in Operation Owl – and initiative started in Yorkshire to raise awareness of raptor persecution.
The Moorland Association, alongside the rest of the sector, set out our zero-tolerance approach to wildlife crime earlier this year. This included recommendations that all shooting leases, contracts and other documents include clauses affirming the laws against the persecution of raptors. It also outlines the launch of training initiatives and a sector-wide awareness campaign.
We encourage reporting of any information about incidents and our members have been the eyes and ears on the ground during the coronavirus lockdown, reporting suspicious incidents such as suspected egg theft, criminal damage to conservation equipment, fly tipping and accidental fire starting or arson.
All of us must recognise that there are legitimate points and views held by both sides. Too often the debate degenerates into mud-slinging and name calling – with minimal facts and science. That must change.
Operation Owl is a national partnership which is led by the Raptor Persecution Priority Delivery Group.