MASS EXTINCTION UNDERWAY V Dec 30, 2008 2:00:53 GMT -5
Post by Big Bunny on Dec 30, 2008 2:00:53 GMT -5
Persecution threat to hen harrier survival
* Alexandra Topping
* The Guardian, Monday 22 December 2008
Continued illegal persecution of hen harriers is pushing the bird of prey to the brink of extinction in England. Photograph: Stephen Murphy/PA
The illegal persecution of hen harriers is pushing the bird of prey to the brink of extinction, the government's protection body has warned. There are now critically low numbers of breeding pairs in suitable breeding habitats, according to a report by Natural England.
Hen harriers have become an "emblem of man's callous disregard" for wildlife, said Natural England chairman Sir Martin Doughty. "Following seven years of intensive monitoring and detailed research, the picture is unequivocal - hen harriers are ... persecuted while they attempt to nest and birds are ... not returning to their breeding areas the following spring," he said.
The birds are traditionally eradicated by gamekeepers because their prey includes young grouse. According to the report, there is evidence that hen harriers are being illegally persecuted - both during the breeding season and at communal roosts in the winter. Only a quarter (26%) of breeding pairs on red grouse moors manage to produce fledged chicks, compared with a 65% success rate in the relatively safe haven of the Bowland fells in Lancashire.
Natural England and the RSPB work with private landowners and gamekeepers to keep birds safe in the Bowland area, the only place in England where numbers have increased since the hen harrier recovery project started in 2002. According to experts, another reason the birds thrive on the Lancashire fells may be because the land is mostly owned by the Queen, the Duke of Westminster and United Utilities, who do not want to face accusations of persecution.
In one 12-month period six birds fitted with satellite transmitters were tracked from Bowland fells into parts of the north Pennines managed as driven grouse moors - and disappeared off the map.
The hen harrier became extinct in the UK in Victorian times and recolonised in Scotland where there are 630 breeding pairs. They began to come back in England in the 1970s, but numbers have fallen dramatically since the 1990s.