I asked for your views on eagle owls apparently beating up (maybe eating up) hen harriers in the Forest of Bowland.Since then things have moved on and it seems that the pair of eagle owls in question has disappeared leaving one dead chick, one nearly dead chick and one chick which will follow in the same way soon. I don't know where the adults have gone - it's possible they gave up their breeding attempt and left their chicks to die and it is possible they were disturbed or otherwise more finally interfered with. I do hope that no one has been getting at these birds - such behaviour would be both illegal and unkind. And needless to say, although I will say it anyway, the RSPB has played no part in harming these birds. But your views on eagle owls have included the following from various places:Correspondent A: Dear Mark, I have read your blog re the above,and in which you ask for views, I give you my thoughts herewith. It is indeed disturbing that an Eagle Owl should prey on such a rare and iconic breeding bird as a nesting Hen Harrier. As you rightly point out if we had the Golden Eagle as the top natural preditor in the Forest of Bowland area this might well put nature back in balance. Before reacting too much we need to be sure exactly why hen harriers are so scarce. This is presumably down to man's presecution. If that could be eliminated and hen harriers numbers increased then presumably the odd hen harrier lost to an eagle old would not matter too much. However all this correcting of the balance of nature takes a long time and as far as breeding hen harriers are concerned in this country and especially in the Forest of Bowland, there may not be too much time. I do think it is vital that the Hen Harrier is conserved as a breeding bird in England. This needs to be the first and top priority, in my opinion, especially with the doubtful authenticity of the origins of the current Eagle Owls in this country. So for the time being I would suggest monitoring the situation. However if the Eagle Owl is shown to be a major threat to the few breeding Hen Harriers in England, because there is not enough time for the Harrier numbers to increase sufficiently to be unaffected by Owl predation, then a strictly local cull of the Owl may need to be considered and carried out.Correspondent B (from Birdguides): Eagle Owls not native? Are you sure about that? There are archaelogical records to begin with (The History of British Birds, D.W. Yalden and U. Albarella, Oxford.). Re-colonisation also not out of the question in the post-persecution era , though that obviously doesn't include Hen Harriers!Correspondent C (from Birdguides): There is archaeological evidence for woolly mammoths too! However, the British Isles have changed a wee bit since then and Eagle Owls have NOT been proven to occur naturally during the last several hundred years. Cull these escaped Eagle Owls now before (like other escapees/deliberate releases before them) they become too widespread to contain!Correspondent D (from Birdguides): With so little ground left for nesting birds of prey on moorland it is not surprising that there is conflict between these birds of prey. If only they could spread out on the rest of moorland but they are then removed by Red Grouse moor owners. It is not the case that Britain is too small an island for such a native owl but sadly the island has too many greedy land owners who do not want to share the land with others.Correspondent E (from Birdguides): With an estimated 9-10 captive Eagle Owls escaping into the wild every year, and all other things taken into account, if we're talking about the balance of probability it seems reasonable to assume these birds aren't natural (re?-)coloniser. That's why it's very troubling to read this story, and disappointing to see certain well known BOP conservationists joining the welcome party for this species. Yes, landowners should be held more responsible for their disregard/antipathy for our native birds of prey, but why in the mean time we should accept another man-made threat to Hen Harriers is beyond me.Correspondent F (from Facebook): Its interesting - after one confirmed incident are we going to see the Eagle Owl blamed (and subsequently persecuted) for the entire population crash of breeding HH in England? (A little bit like the topical urban fox situation in London). The more numerous (and dangerous) predator needs to be tackled first - the good old grousemoor owner.
Correspondent G (from Facebook): I think there is genuine concern about this problem because of what we know about Dutch EOs. They seem to specifically target large raptors. The reason why incidents are so low in the UK is that EOs (probably all escapees or second generation young) are not well established. The more acute issue is that HH numbers are so low outside Scotland that they probably cannot sustain these losses along with persecution from gamekeepers and poor productivity during wet summers. Extinction often has multiple causes so that even a trivial threat can be the tipping point.
Correspondent H (from Facebook) : I find your blog fair to a point Mark but Natural England and the RSPB should have done more to protect the Hen harrier from it's biggest predator the game keeper and estate managers, now when the situation is becoming desperate it is very easy to blame something else. The Eagle owl may have been filmed chasing a harrier but it certainly wasn't seen catching it and eating it. The pellets from the EEO nest site have been studied and their diet consisted of Rabbit, Pheasant, Pigeon and Grouse, no Harrier remains were found at all. These large estates are only interested in one thing the revenue that grouse and pheasant shooting bring in, anything that threatens that is deemed as fodder for the gun this is what needs sorting out.
Correspondent I (from Facebook): I think the threat to hen harriers is even more acute because their numbers are so low as a result of the shooting industry. The RSPB and other organisations work really hard to prevent bird of prey persecution. I'd like to see the shooting industry do more to put its own house in order - but I'm not holding my breath!
Correspondent J: I am appalled to hear from regular observers of the EURASIAN EAGLE OWL population in the Forest of Bowland, Lancashire, that two of the adults which were attending three fledged owlets have been destroyed, presumably shot dead. Rumours are rife that the RSPB were involved in the killing, following the publication (and promotion of the incident via video evidence by a popular birding press website) of a video showing one of the adults attacking an adult female Hen Harrier which was nesting close by within the Eagle Owl's territory.With just 6 pairs of Hen Harrier now known to be breeding in England and southern Scotland, and the continuation of well-keepered grouse estates to ensure that all are destroyed, the viability of the Hen Harrier population is tenuous at best, unless a 24-hour guard is made of EACH and EVERY nest-site (which is virtually impossible, as the birds continually breed on private moors with no general access).In my exchanges with land gentry/gamekeepers of recent years, and from additional information supplied by those studying the Eagle Owl population in Britain, it seems that the Eagle Owl is not one of their primary targets and they have largely been left alone, and hence why the population in Britain in recent years has exploded and reached as high as 44 territorial pairs in total. If true, it is therefore shameful that the RSPB and English Nature are illegally extinguishing Eagle Owls, as by taking such drastic action, not only will we lose the Hen Harriers but the Eagle Owls too. We have already seen a once thriving Northern Goshawk population in Bowland destroyed, so at this rate, the valley will soon fall silentAt the very least, attempts should be made to catch these Eagle Owls in the wild in Britain, particularly if authorities are intent in not allowing them to survive side-by-side with our native wildlife.And there is lots more too. Just to stress - there is no truth in the suggestion that the RSPB has been involved in the killing of these eagle owls. I don't think we know that they have been killed but that must be a possibility. And opinions seem very divided on this whole issue.
It is very unfortunate that this debate is focussed on Hen Harriers. The important point is that Eagle Owls are not native here. They should not be here. They are a top predator: who knows what other problems they will cause. That the government agencies responsible for safeguarding the UK's biodiversity have allowed an introduced population to become established is a scandal.
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