The RSPB have published a well-timed article (as in, it’s near the start of the grouse massacre ‘season’ and a wandering immature Bearded Bulture has drawn huge numbers of birders to the area) looking at what they are describing, without exaggeration, as a ‘catalogue of bird crimes in the Peak District National Park’.
Before reposting the RSPB’s press-release, it’s worth understanding first just what our ‘national parks’ really are. Looking back at his role as Chris Packham’s Minister for Upland Ecology, and sitting with walking distance of the Peaks, Dr Mark Avery explained in a podcast on the eve of Hen Harrier Day last year that “…our national parks are national parks in name only – when I think of the Peak District National Park I don’t think it’s akin to Yosemite – we ought to put ‘delivering nature’ back into national parks…“.
The term ‘national park’ probably conjures up images of the most protected, most beautiful landscapes in the country, but the Peak District ‘national park’ is largely privately-owned land that park authorities have no powers over. As the website of the Peak District National Park states, “More than 95% of land in the National Park is in private ownership. The National Park Authority has no legal or statutory role to regulate shooting other than on land it owns, which comprises between 4-5% of the National Park”.
That raptor persecution is rife in the Peak District won’t come as a surprise to many people anyway. In 2017 a survey published by the Peak District Birds of Prey Initiative showed that Peregrines had failed to breed in the Dark Peak for the first time since they recolonised in 1984 and stated that “It is widely agreed that in terms of increased raptor populations in the Dark Peak, the Peak District Bird of Prey Initiative 2012-2015 failed to meet its targets“.
It certainly won’t come as a surprise to the RSPB. In the 2017 RSPB Bird Crime Report it was clearly stated that, “In the Peak District, a recent report confirms the link between driven grouse shooting and raptor persecution“. In April 2018 Mark Thomas (now Head of Investigations at the RSPB) uploaded a powerful video to YouTube titled ‘Raptor Persecution in the Peak District National Park‘, prior to a paper in British Birds which started with “As in many areas with driven grouse shooting, there is evidence that raptors are persecuted by gamekeepers“. Kevin Cox, chair of the RSPB, was quoted in The Independent in March 2019 saying that, “National parks are not delivering for wildlife and are often in worse condition than areas outside the park”, and that even calling them ‘national parks’ was “misleading because practices including farming, tourism and grouse shooting were doing so much damage“
Interestingly even local media (which perhaps might have once swallowed the ‘Glorious Twelfth’ line) are pointing out just how damaging the grouse industry has become, with Ken Bennett of The Oldham Times singling out Saddleworth Moor via his headline: “Saddleworth moor ‘one of worst areas for illegal killings of birds of prey'”. Saddleworth is just a few miles from Oldham and has an Oldham postcode. Imagine if all media close to these notorious hot spots began to reflect on the impact shooting estates are having on their local areas…
So, this is just another in a long list of warnings that grouse moors = wildlife crime, and that birds of prey within so-called ‘national parks’ have remarkably little effective protection.
…A number of shooting, suspected poisoning and nest robbery incidents involving birds of prey in the Peak District National Park have come to light since lockdown, raising fears for the bird’s safety and once more bringing into focus the ongoing problem with raptor persecution in the Peak District.
In the north of the National Park, the remains of a short-eared owl, an amber-listed species, were found on a grouse moor near Glossop on 7 May. A post-mortem recently concluded that shooting had been the cause of death. No leads were forthcoming from police enquiries.
On 11 May, a buzzard was found mortally wounded on land managed for gamebird shooting near Diggle. It was found alive but with terrible injuries and sadly had to be euthanized. An x-ray revealed six pieces of shot lodged in the bird’s body.
Near Agden Reservoir, an area dominated by driven grouse moors, four raven chicks were found dead in a nest also on 11 May. The parent birds had been seen bringing food to the young, then vanished without explanation. The chicks were almost at the point of fledging, and the RSPB say the adults were exceptionally unlikely abandon the nest at that stage. The incident is being investigated by South Yorkshire Police. Finally, in the north, test results are awaited in connection with an adult peregrine found dead in the Upper Derwent Valley.
In the south of the Park, a buzzard and two peregrines are being tested for poison after being found dead in Staffordshire.
In mid-June, Derbyshire Police issued an appeal for information after three peregrine nests were robbed of their eggs, all within the National Park. The RSPB alerted the police about one of the incidents.
Finally, two further incidents occurred in Derbyshire just outside the Park. On 1 April 2020, an eyewitness reported seeing two buzzards being shot near Ashbourne. A member of the public was watching the two birds circling a wood, on land managed for pheasant shooting, when he heard a shot and saw the birds fall. A dead kestrel and a buzzard have also gone for poison testing: they were found near Glapwell, where several buzzards were found poisoned in 2016.
All birds of prey are protected by the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981. To intentionally kill or injure one is a criminal offence, punishable by an unlimited fine or up to six months in jail.
The RSPB’s data shows the northern Peak District to be one of the UK’s worst bird of prey persecution blackspots. In 2018, a scientific article published in the journal British Birds, cemented the link between raptor persecution and land managed for driven grouse shooting in the Peak District National Park.
Mark Thomas, RSPB Head of Investigations UK, said:
“Parts of the Peak District National Park have a notoriously bad reputation for raptor persecution, especially those areas which are dominated by land used for driven grouse shooting. These further incidents, many which occurred during lockdown, add yet more evidence and weight to the calls for tighter regulation. National Parks should be safe havens for birds of prey, as well as places for people to enjoy nature. We need the public to be our eyes and ears and report anything suspicious to the police.‘New catalogue of bird of prey crimes in Peak District National Park’, RSPB, July 2020
The big question now is, What will we do about it? In our opinion grouse shooting has had way too many chances to clean up its act already. It isn’t going to. It must be ended and ‘national parks’ rebuilt to support wildlife and the ecotourism that would it would create.
Meanwhile the RSPB is consulting on so-called ‘gamebird’ shooting at the moment. With such clear links between shooting and raptor persecution, it’s somewhat surprising that ‘shooting organisations’ have been widely involved….but more on that tomorrow.