Over the past few weeks I have watched an exchange of letters in the local paper, The Whitby Gazette. The topic of discussion being Birds Of Prey in The North York Moors National Park.
First and foremost I must highlight that this is not an anti game shoot post. I do in-fact have some level of support for hunting in the area, although my support does stop short of chasing and torturing foxes or killing every bird of prey in sight so that moorland can be managed strictly for Grouse , Partridge and pheasant shooting.
I write this blog post with 20 years experience of visiting The National Park 2 or 3 times per week, yet seeing virtually non of the main bird of prey species there. Twenty years without many sightings tells a story in itself. A twenty minute drive down the A64 shows more Buzzards and Kites than I saw in 20 years in some areas of our National Park. I have lived alongside the National Park for the whole 48 years of my life so far, I am not a “dogooder”, “uneducated” or “miss informed”.
The moorland exists and should be managed for us all, and for all farm animals, game birds and wildlife too. The Moorland should never become a playground for the rich and famous at the cost of everything and everybody else. The job of the National Parks is to manage it for us all, at present I feel they let a lot of us down.
I must note that in recent years our National Park, The North York Moors National Park, and surrounding coastline has seen a significant increase in Birds Of Prey, praise must be given to the park management and some land owners for that.
Various schemes and projects are now in place to encourage these birds back into the park, various landowners are engaged in the schemes. Most farms now have Owl Boxes in their barns and the farmers work with the Hawk And Owl trust to promote the lives and welfare of these wonderful birds. It would seem that barn owl numbers are now on the up.
Even on some large estates managed for Game Shooting there are good populations of birds of prey living side by side with the game birds and clearly left alone by the estate managers and their game keepers. Mulgrave Estate at Sandsend is one fine example of the coexistence of a Game Shoot and Wildlife side by side.
Mulgrave Woods, well in sight of the castle and home of Lord Normanby is home to a large population of Common Buzzard. Lythe Village, Hutton Mulgrave and Skelder tops all have a good population of Buzzards too. One day earlier this spring I witnessed 8 buzzards in one small area above Lythe Village. The birds were in clear view of Mulgrave Estate Game Keepers near by. They have clearly been instructed not to harm the birds. Needlesss to say if I ever witnessed them harm any of the wildlife I would photograph them and present the evidence to the National Park and the Police. I hold no fear of money people or landowners in that regard.
The Mulgrave Estate even has its own breading pair of Peregrine Falcons. Once again they cant have gone un-noticed by estate staff. They actually live and fly each day around the pheasant pens. Its pleasing to know they have so far gone unharmed and over the past few years raised several young families on Mulgrave owned land.
Once again thats proof that the birds and the shoot can coexist successfully. Why would Mulgrave estate want to harm the birds anyway ? The Buzzards eat carrion and the peregrines eat shore waders. Neither birds are a threat to the game birds and its great to see them living in our National Park.
In fact if Mulgrave throw them some of the thousands of dead game birds they shoot every year the Buzzards could well and truelly thrive there. Who eats those tens of thousands of pheasants and partridge the estate breeds to shoot every year ? I imagine most of them would end up in the bin.
So there is hard evidence that not all landowners are killing birds of prey. So far Mulgrave Estate looks to be leading by example. Lets hope it continues that way. If you look a little further into the National Park, there are places with far superior habitat to Mulgrave Estate, yet the birds of prey in those areas are at almost non existent levels.
The Marsh land around Scaling should be home to a mass of birds of prey. If you look at the same type of habitat anywhere outside of a known game bird area and you would see Marsh Harriers, Hen Harriers, Red Kites, Buzzards, etc etc etc. The list of birds that should be there is extensive, the amount of birds that are there is close to zero.
Why would this be ? Great habitat, but no birds of prey ? The same is true right across the national park. The lack of Buzzards, Gosshawks, Hen Harriers, Marsh Harriers is obvious. Isn’t it a massive coincidence that these areas are managed for game shooting ?
As always, without proof its difficult to do anything at all about it, and this is what the Game Shooters rely on… A lack of Evidence. With my own eyes I have seen people shooting in this area during the close season. What is it they are shooting ?? Only three weeks ago I witnessed two men shooting a firearm from on top of a van parked in Gorse and heavy undergrowth near Lealholm Moor. The moment they saw me with my camera they left rather quickly. What were they up to ? Are they killing Birds of Prey ?
The National Park Management always claim they have lack of staff and resources to be able to do anything about it. Thats not an excuse Im willing to accept. We need to see more protection of the National Parks wildlife and we need to see some prosecutions of anyone harming birds of prey, otherwise what is the point of a National Park if your going to let wealthy landowners kill everything in sight ?
Not only is it bad enough letting the moors be taken over by heavy industry, Its sad to think the Parks aren’t capable of looking after the wildlife and keeping it safe. The National Parks need to take a leaf out of the books of the The National Trust in Derbyshire where several high status game shoots have been shut down and lost thier license to shoot due to persecution of birds of prey.
We all know what is going, the general public aren’t stupid, we know the birds of prey aren’t allergic to our moorland. Its clear they are being harmed / killed in significant numbers and always on land managed for game shooting.
With Regard to the belittling of Chris Packham in certain quarters, what Im observing is similar to the situation with Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall and the nations fishermen.
Through the 70’s, 80’s and 90’s and early 2000’s illegal fishing and over fishing was rife, yet the fishing fraternity would have non of it. Denial was, and still is massively apparent in some quarters. Mention the name Hugh Fearnley in company of most fishermen and you were instantly branded an idiot, an outsider, a dogooder.
“How could anyone not involved in fishing ever be allowed an opinion” they said. Thankfully Hugh Was allowed an opinion by those who counted most, the politicians and policy makers. Hopefully the fish stocks are on the mend. Time will tell, well done Hugh for at least trying to do something.
The countryside Gentry are treating Chris Packham with the same level of disrespect and the same dirty tricks, Labelling him “Thick”, “un-informed” “A do-gooder”. Calling for him to loose his Job and income at the BBC. When I see this type of behaviour it always reminds me of a well known line from Shakespeare – “The lady doth protest too much, methinks”. Its clear to me that the landowners and countryside shooters are in fear of Chris Packham and want him gone, shut up, as soon as possible.
Thankfully I doubt he will be going anywhere fast, he seems to have the support of his bosses, and he seems to have the ear of the nation with his campaign. So lets look at it objectively. The shooters can take 2 routes out of this position.
They can if they choose, continue to lie and try to discredit the likes of Packham. Personally I think thats a risky route to take. The general public has attitude and appetite for change, and the politicians, now more than ever are listening to their constituents. Fox hunting debate and subsequent ban being just one example of that appetite for change. The people of the nation are becoming ever more aware of nature and the environment. Those wanting to harm it still further are surely on a hiding to nothing in the long run.
The second approach ?? Speak to Mulgrave Estates. They can tell you how nature and a shoot can coexist. Whilst we have no official word from Mulgrave its very clear that Birds Of prey are not currently being harmed on thier land, either that or their game keeper is a dreadful shot. One hopes he doesnt loose his job if his boss reads this.
With regards to local media attention to this story, its clear that the local paper, The Whitby Gazette has courted some publicity through running with the story and letters about Birds Of Prey. Perhaps they would consider running a well researched article on the subject looking at all sides of the debate and story.
I would love to see a local Journalist discuss the issue with managers from each shoot. Perhaps they could even submit a questionnaire to the estate owners and managers “What level of discipline would your staff recieve if you found them to be harming any wildlife – Birds of prey especially” Id love to hear the answer to that question.
As stated right at the start of the article, I am not anti game shooting, but I am 100% against the harming of wildlife in our National Park. If the 2 cant coexist then the shooting should be off the cards until wildlife recovers. National Park staff should be managing the park for the masses, not the wealthy few, currently they are letting us down.