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Thursday, 3 February, 2000, 13:38 GMT
New hope for birds of prey

The report says there is hope for birds of prey The report says there is hope for birds of prey


By Environment Correspondent Alex Kirby

Prospects for some of the United Kingdom's most striking birds of prey could soon begin to improve, according to the Joint Nature Conservation Committee (JNCC), the government's national wildlife advisor.

The JNCC says the results of a five-year study by the UK raptor working group are an important step forward for conservation, and for enabling birds of prey to co-exist with game and other birds.


grouse The report says raptors are not reducing grouse numbers
The JNCC was a member of the group, which included representatives from the racing pigeon community, upland and lowland game interests, and voluntary conservation groups.

It says the group's report "provides clear scientific evidence to show that numbers of the UK's best-known raptors, such as hen harrier, peregrine, sparrowhawk and kestrel, are still under major threat of decline".

Population levels of some species have not increased significantly in the last decade. There are only 19 breeding pairs of hen harriers in the whole of England, 13 of them in the Forest of Bowland in Lancashire.

But the report does identify what the JNCC calls "a range of practical and immediate measures" to try to address some of the threats.

It says racing pigeons can be protected by reorganising race routes and delaying the start of the racing season for old birds.

The report found evidence from rings in raptors' nests that pigeons have to be lost for at least a year before a bird of prey will eat them.

Alternative food

It says raptors are not the reason for the decline in farmland songbirds, and are not to blame for falls in grouse numbers.

Among its recommendations for reducing the impact of raptors on grouse is the use of supplementary feeding.

Sue Ellis of English Nature, another member of the working group, told BBC News Online: "You can do it by putting up wooden dovecotes on grouse moors.


pigeon Racing pigeons and raptors can co-exist
"You fill the dovecotes with dead rats and mice, and they provide an alternative food source for the hen harriers, which then ignore the grouse".

But Dr Stephen Tapper, of the Game Conservancy Trust, which was also part of the working group, told BBC News Online the system had yet to prove itself.

"It's been done experimentally, but there's nothing in the report to show that it will work to increase grouse numbers.

"There's not much comfort in the report for the owners of grouse moors. One has decided his moor is no longer viable, because of the harriers, and others can see their land going the same way.

"The useful thing is that everyone is prepared to see this as a serious problem and to look for a constructive way out. The report is an important milestone - but we don't know how many miles we still have to go."

The report also found that illegal persecution is still a major threat. There have been 371 reported incidents of illegal killing of raptors in the last five years. The actual figure is likely to be much higher.

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