Controversial Conservation

September 10th, 2014

Last week we attended the second Controversial Conservation debate hosted by the World Land Trust, on the topic of Killing Other People’s Birds. We heard presentations on various topics from the anthropology of hunters to the slaughter of birds in Malta, but the subject which generated the most passion was the issue of grouse moors and the status of the Hen Harrier in England – an issue still fresh in everyone’s minds following the first Hen Harrier Day in August.

Controversial Conservation debate at the Royal Society, London
Panelists preparing for the debate at the Royal Society. Photo: LPP.

Two of the key figures behind the Hen Harrier Day event at Derwent Dam, Chris Packham and Mark Avery, were among the panel of speakers, and they obviously had a few supporters (ourselves among them) in the audience. Also present were representatives of the shooting fraternity, including writers from the Shooting Times. The Hen Harrier advocates drew accusations of ‘red mist’ and class bias early on in the proceedings, although as the evening progressed it became clear that emotions were running high in both camps.

Controversial Conservation debate at the Royal Society, London
Chris Packham addresses the audience. Photo: LPP.

It was suggested by Andrew Gilruth of the Game & Wildlife Conservation Trust that we all want the same thing, i.e. more Hen Harriers. If this is indeed the case we need to see more pressure put on grouse moor owners to develop a greater tolerance of raptors. Both Chris and Mark claimed to be willing to entertain ‘creative’ solutions like the proposed brood management plan, but not without first seeing evidence that the illegal persecution of raptors is being taken seriously, which would be reflected by an increase of Hen Harrier numbers to a more sustainable level.

We will shortly be posting a summary of the 2014 breeding season for the Peregrine sites we monitor in London. As impressive as Peregrine Falcon numbers are in the capital, there are still large areas of grouse moors in England where the breeding success of Peregrines is artificially low because of persecution (watch a short video of Terry Pickford from the North West Raptor Group speaking about the status of Peregrines on grouse moors in 2014). In our view this situation is totally unacceptable, a view we’d hope few would find controversial.

The World Land Trust have made available audio recordings from the debate here.

If you haven’t already done so you may sign Mark Avery’s petition to ban driven grouse shooting.

Hen Harrier Day 2014

August 17th, 2014

An account of the first Hen Harrier Day at Derwent Dam, August 10th 2014, by David Johnson of the London Peregrine Partnership.

The morning had arrived when I would attend the Hen Harrier Day at Derwent Dam with friends Paul Frost and Chris Sharp and I felt pensive being unsure of what would occur. As we turned up at Derwent the predicted rain was on cue and there were lots of people milling about. At first I didn’t know if they were ramblers or Hen Harrier supporters as everyone was wearing green or black waterproofs and I could only see a handful of white Hen Harrier T-shirts. I need not have worried because they were all Hen Harrier people.

David Johnson wearing his HH Day t-shirt
David Johnson wearing his HH Day t-shirt. Photo: Chris Sharp.

After hanging around for about half an hour we all started walking to the dam. When I arrived I saw the wonderful male Hen Harrier that Findlay Wilde and his brother had made and people were signing the post that supported the bird. The Hen Harrier became a focal point for people to take a photo recording their attendance at the event.

David Johnson and Findlay Wilde's Hen Harrier
David Johnson and fellow HH Day supporters with Findlay Wilde’s Hen Harrier. Photo: Paul Frost. See Findlay Wilde’s HH Day blog post.

We walked over to the bank where Mark Avery and Chris Packham were stood. Mark Avery gave the first speech followed by Chris Packham with Findlay Wilde joining in. They told us just how desperate and pitiful the plight of the Hen Harrier is on the northern uplands of England with only 3 pairs trying to breed instead of the 300 or more that there should be. The reason for this national disgrace is the acceptance by the Grouse industry and their supporters that the illegal killing of Hen Harriers (and other raptors, see Terry Pickford NWRPG On Raptor Persecution July 2014) is allowable and justifiable on Grouse moors. Chris asked the question why is it that there would rightly be a national outrage and severe consequences if he destroyed a national cultural treasure like a Constable landscape but when a gamekeeper / landowner destroys a national natural treasure like a Hen Harrier (of which there are significantly fewer) there is not the same national outrage or severe consequences? He expressed how fed up we all were that after 60 years of waiting for the Grouse industry to get its house in order the situation was now the worst it had ever been with the Hen Harrier on the brink of extinction as a breeding bird in England. We will wait no longer and have to act now. The first Hen Harrier Day is just the beginning. The speeches ended with Chris Packham’s last words to us “WE WILL WIN!”

Chris Packham and Mark Avery
Mark Avery and Chris Packham address the crowd Photo: Paul Frost.

The 570 hardy souls who made the trip in those horrendous conditions from various parts of the UK showed that people do care about this issue. I was especially pleased to see the Labour MP Barry Gardiner (see interview link, below), the Shadow Minister for the Natural Environment, there and actively participating.

I really hope that together we can end this hideous raptor persecution in the UK once and for all. It will take time, but we are in the right that’s why I believe WE WILL WIN. Please NEVER EVER give up on this we are in it for the long haul.

If you want to help please sign the petition to ban driven Grouse moor shooting.

Videos from Hen Harrier Day: interviews with Chris Packham and Barry Gardiner MP.

Chris Packham’s short film about HH Day. | Lush cosmetics

Some of the 570-strong crowd
Some of the 570-strong crowd that attended the event at Derwent Dam. Photo: Paul Frost.

2014 season update

August 8th, 2014

If you’re wondering how the birds have fared this season, we’ll bring you a summary at the end of the month when most of the juveniles will begin dispersing.

In the meantime we’re supporting the first Hen Harrier Day, a project which is close to our hearts. The Peregrine Falcon’s colonisation of cities has been a success story. Kestrels, Sparrowhawks and one or two owl species have also found a way to survive in small numbers in our larger parks and gardens, living alongside the city’s human population with little or no conflict of interest. By contrast, those raptors which make their homes on or near grouse moors in England are at a high risk of illegal persecution. The Hen Harrier in particular is in danger of disappearing as a breeding bird, a situation many people would agree is completely unacceptable.

For more information on the plight of the Hen Harrier see Arjun Amar’s recent article for the BOU blog. For more information on Hen Harrier Day please visit the BAWC website. If you’d like to show your support for the Hen Harrier please sign the petition to ban grouse shooting created by Dr Mark Avery.

What’s going on?

March 9th, 2014

Starting with some good news, David Johnson has had his Schedule 1 License renewed for the 2014 breeding season, with Stuart Harrington and Tony Duckett being his accredited agents.

Breeding season 2013

Adult feeding young at the nest © Tony Duckett

2013 was another successful year for Peregrine Falcons in the London area. Ten birds fledged from sites that we were directly involved with, although the full figure for London was of course higher. Notable failures included the Parliament pair, which decided to ignore their usual scrape and the pair in Sutton, which briefly reloacted to an unknown site during the early stages of the breeding season and returned without young.

One of the big surprises of the season was the successful breeding attempt by a pair whose site had been disturbed in 2012. This pair found itself an alternative site in an unexpected location, fledging 3 young (see ’site 1′ below for an update for 2014).

Recently fledged juveniles © Tony Duckett

Updates for 2014

All accessible sites have been visited and old dirty nesting material (substrate) has been replaced with new clean shingle. Unfortunately at least one site has been hit by this winter’s wet weather.

Site 1 has been flooded. Scaffolding had to be put up (during the non-breeding season when the site is not under license) to allow the leak to be fixed. The resident pair have moved to another building close by, where thankfully a nesting tray was installed in 2012. The birds have been seen perched very close to the tray which is a good sign. As usual all the relevant people have been informed of the birds presence and have agreed to stay off the roof until after the breeding season.

Elsewhere, other factors have come into play which have resulted in the loss of potential nest sites. Site 2, for example, was successful last year, fledging two female chicks. During the non-breeding season the owners of the site took steps to deter the birds from returning. This is unfortunate, but ultimately something that we have to accept (more on this in a future blog post).

Other recent news includes the sighting of a pair seen displaying over a currently unoccupied (but previously successful) site in central London. This site still has a purpose-built box in place should a new pair decide to take up residence.

Meanwhile in Sutton, the resident pair have been seen tending to their old scrape, which they last used in 2012. The pair’s absence last year remains unexplained, however we are all hopeful that the birds remain on site where local volunteers can be on hand to help the fledglings should they get into difficulty.

As the days lengthen our resident pairs will make themselves seen and heard as they busy themselves mating and acting out courtship rituals in preparation for egg laying.1 Let us know if you notice Peregrine Falcon activity around tall buildings in your area.

Keep looking up, you may see a Peregrine or hear one.

1As this post was being prepared, we heard via Nathalie Mahieu that an egg was laid on Saturday evening at the Charing Cross Hospital site in south west London.

A fall from grace

April 22nd, 2013

One morning last week we received a call from the operations manager of a building in London informing us that a Peregrine Falcon had become trapped on their rooftop. Fortunately we still had gloves and a box on standby from last season, so after a few phone calls and a short tube journey later we had someone on site to help rescue the bird.

Preparing the nesting tray
In a tight spot

The Peregrine, an adult male, had blood on its right shoulder and on one side of its head. Birds of prey need to be in top condition to survive in the wild, so we decided it would need to be checked by a vet before being released. The RSPCA were informed of the situation and we liaised with them to find a local vet. In the meantime the bird was transported to Regent’s Park, where it remained in the care of our experienced Schedule 1 license holder, wildlife officer Dave Johnson.

Close-up of the nesting tray
The Peregrine prior to being caught for release © Tony Duckett

The RSPCA found a vet and the bird was taken in for a thorough assessment. It was deemed fit for release and returned to Dave Johnson, who took it to a suitable location before releasing it.

We sincerely thank Madeleine, for reporting the bird to us and her assistance in its rescue, and the Royal Veterinary College, London.

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