Hen Harriers return to Wharfedale moorland

Well, well, well. Who could possibly have predicted this etc etc. In what must be one of grouse shooting’s worst-case scenarios coming true, a previously ‘dead’ moorland that banned grouse shooting activities (ie high levels of raptor persecution and rotational burning) has reportedly sprung back to life, birds of prey have started to roost, and peatland habitats have begun to regenerate. After all the time and money grouse shooting’s lobbyists have spent telling us that without the skilled management techniques (ie high levels of raptor persecution and rotational burning) of the ‘conservationists with guns’ Britain’s uplands would simply curl up and waste away…

That was always nonsense. Grouse shooting is underpinned with wildlife crime (and ‘wilful blindness’ of it), with gamekeepers under orders to eradicate any ‘threats’ to grouse, and provably suppressing populations of species like Hen Harriers and Golden Eagles. Stop the illegal killings and of course they will come back, helping rebalance biodiversity. Replace a destructive industry and encourage wildlife instead (perhaps with an eye to setting up much-needed educational eco-tourism), and of course the countryside begins to heal.

Grouse shooting has always been a niche hobby, and with public disgust growing and results like these proving what we’ve all suspected anyway, hopefully its demise grows ever closer…

(Kudos NG Bailey, and kudos the Yorkshire Post and journalist Grace Newton for continuing to speak up for wildlife in a region that has repeatedly been acknowledged as the worst for raptor persecution in the UK.)


Hen harriers have roosted on part of a moor after the landowner banned grouse shooting leases from being renewed.

The endangered raptors – which feed on young grouse – have been recorded this year on land that is part of the Denton Hall estate in Wharfedale.

The estate, between Ilkley and Otley, was previously the seat of several prominent Yorkshire families, including the Wyvills of Constable Burton Hall, before it was sold to engineering firm NG Bailey in 1976.

Last year, NG Bailey announced that they would no longer lease out Denton Moor to shoots after a number of suspicious incidents involving wildlife persecution.

A gamekeeper employed by the tenant was convicted of killing a badger in an illegal snare and a marsh harrier was shot at and its nest destroyed in 2017, though no charges were ever brought.

NG Bailey ended the arrangement after stating that these incidents did not reflect the company’s ethics and values.

This week they confirmed that hen harriers had been spotted on the moor again following a period of sympathetic landscape management.

An estate spokesman said: “It’s fantastic to see that a number of hen harriers have established a roost on our estate. We take our responsibilities for the moorland very seriously and ensure it is managed respectfully, maintaining an exceptional habitat for all wildlife and plants.”

Peatland habitat on the moor is also starting to regenerate, with the expansion of important plant life such as sphagnum moss.

Healthy peatlands are crucial for locking carbon into the ground to tackle climate change, creating rich biodiversity and reducing flood risk in the valley below by holding back large amounts of water.

Ban Bloodsports on Yorkshire’s Moors spokesman Luke Steele added: “The sight of hen harriers returning to roost is an amazing natural spectacle that must be protected for future generations to experience. It’s fantastic to see these magnificent birds of prey choosing Denton Moor to make their home.

“NG Bailey’s conservation drive to restore the hen harrier population in Wharfedale is not only commendable, but represents a symbol of hope for threatened wildlife everywhere.”

Grace Newton, Yorkshire Post, 11 Dec 20