Posted 30th Apr 2018 by Peter Byrne
A study has found goshawk and peregrine falcon numbers are considerably lower in areas of the Peak District which are managed for driven grouse shooting, compared to the rest of the National Park
The paper, published in the journal British Birds, found there was a significant association between confirmed raptor persecution incidents and moorland burning - a practice associated with the management of driven grouse moors. It has been found populations of goshawk and peregrine falcons are in catastrophic decline in northern Dark Peak, yet their numbers were increasing in the nearby southern White Peak, where there are virtually no driven grouse moors present.
This is the first time there has been an association found between declining goshawk populations and moorland burning, confirming fears that driven grouse shooting, coupled with its associated raptor persecution, is causing the demise of this species.
One of the authors of the paper, the RSPB's Tim Melling, said: "In the Dark Peak, birds of prey are notable by their absence. This should be a stronghold for goshawks and peregrines, but sadly our data shows this area to be a bird crime hotspot leading to almost local extinctions of these species.
“Birds like peregrines – the fastest birds in the world – and goshawk – a striking and elusive hunter – are not only a vital part of the ecosystem but are a joy to behold. They should be in abundance here but sadly the Dark Peak is now proving a black hole for these birds of prey.”
The Peak District National Park was once a renowned place to go and see goshawks, with 17 pairs recorded as recently as 1995 in the Dark Peak. Yet by 2015, numbers dipped to just two, with neither managing to breed. Goshawk were twice as likely to breed successfully in the White Peak as opposed to the Dark Peak, while peregrines were three times more likely.
The illegal persecution of birds of prey is a persistent problem throughout the UK, with the RSPB now calling on the government to introduce a system of licensing for driven grouse shooting, and regionally, the inclusion of practical measures in the Peak District National Park Management Plan to address the issue.
Chris Packham, TV broadcaster and Vice President of the RSPB, said: "Our national parks should be awe inspiring places filled with nature and beauty, providing a connection for people to the natural world. This isn’t the case in the parts of the Peak District National Park where driven grouse shooting predominates. We are being robbed of the magnificence of birds of prey by an industry out of time and out of touch with the majority of the British people. It is time to make the changes that are needed to return our National Parks to what they were meant to be”.
Angela Smith MP for Penistone and Stockbridge and Species Champion for the hen harrier said: “It is more than ten years since the issue of bird of prey persecution was brought to my attention and it seems that the situation has not improved with the elimination of both Goshawks and Peregrines from my own parliamentary constituency. Regulation of driven grouse shooting is inevitable unless those who engage in the sport are prepared to tackle effectively law-breaking within its ranks.”
Images courtesy of Tim Malling / RSPB Images