Aug 072016

The Forest of Bowland is an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty and used to be the last stronghold of the Hen Harrier in England. When you drive into the area you are welcomed by a sign illustrated with a Hen Harrier (alternative sign here and a wag has made a point with this one). The symbol is is now quite ironic and a continual reminder of the embarrassing fact that there are now no Hen Harriers breeding in the Forest of Bowland. The Hen Harriers used to breed on North West Water / United Utilities land but recently not at all on the driven grouse estates. Incidentally but not co-incidentally there were also no Peregrines breeding on the Forest of Bowland this year and as Terry Pickford writes, that to his knowledge, this is for the first time.
In the 1990s my sister’s neighbour used to say he saw a Hen Harrier every day around the farm on his way to work and he worried about them taking his hens. Sadly no more.
The Forest of Bowland also used to have several pairs of Peregrines. One pair bred for a few years in an abandoned quarry on my sister’s farm but only when disturbed at its territory in a nearby working quarry. One year at least, that I know of, it was disturbed by the nearby working-quarry owner’s son using the quarry for ‘target practice’ – only a caution was given, naturally. I myself even discovered an alternative walk-in nest-site which this pair used one year. It was a terrible choice as it was basically nesting on the ground with a slight ledge and so the pair must have had good reason to desert the perfect site in the working-quarry. By that time my sister’s old quarry was too overgrown with trees for the Peregrines.
So the situation is, to say the least, dire and has no doubt pushed many people to sign the petition for a ban on driven grouse shooting. Here is a summary of the Hen Harrier situation in 2012 by John Armitage. In 1991 there were 18 successful nests and even as recently as 2009 there were 17 successful nests. So what is happening? Well it is obvious but here is a description of what happened to 22 Peregrine breeding attempts this year. That might give a clue.
I am sure that there are those who would like the sign for the Forest of Bowland changed but it should stay as a permanent reminder of the state of affairs and perhaps in the not to distant future it will be a symbol, not of failure but success. I notice the official site for the Forest of Bowland, which even has the symbol of a Hen Harrier as its logo, doesn’t even note the existence of Hen Harrier Day in spite of several events in the area.

The Bowland Brewery makes a pale ale called Hen Harrier and is promoting the cause of the missing Hen Harriers. For this it has been rewarded with internet abuse. That was enough for me so I (and many others) ordered a case. Very good beer it is too.

 August 7, 2016

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