The RSPB has ceased its involvement in the Peak District Bird of Prey Initiative after the charity claims the multi-partnership project continually failed to improve the fortunes of raptors in the Dark Peak.
Five land management and conservation organisations have been involved in the Peak District Bird of Prey Initiative which was set up in 2011 to boost bird of prey populations in the Dark Peak - which is the northern part of the Peak District.
But Richard Barnard, the RSPB’s Area Conservation Manager for Yorkshire and the Peak District, fears some group members are failing to acknowledge that the main reason birds of prey are doing so badly in the Dark Peak is because of illegal persecution such as shooting, trapping and poisoning.
The project had set five-year targets for healthy sustainable breeding populations of three species including the merlin, peregrine and short-eared owl, and from 2016 expanded these targets to include the hen harrier and goshawk. This was in response to low numbers, poor breeding success and illegal persecution of birds of prey.
However, the Initiative failed to meet any of these targets, according to the RSPB, and for some species the situation has continued to worsen.
The RSPB stated that last year no peregrines successfully bred in the Dark Peak for the first time since 1984.
Mr Barnard, the RSPB’s Area Conservation Manager for Yorkshire and the Peak District, said: “We have committed a lot of time and energy to make this project a success but it’s clear that this is not going to happen.
“Despite five years of monitoring data, and the presentation of clear evidence from local raptor groups and the RSPB, some members of the group are still failing to acknowledge that the main reason birds of prey are doing so badly in the Dark Peak is because of illegal persecution such as shooting, trapping and poisoning.
“By refusing to admit the scale of the problem, and its clear link with land used for driven grouse shooting, which is highlighted in numerous studies and reports, these members have frustrated any possibility of progress.”
Bird of prey persecution has cast a shadow over the Dark Peak for many years.
The RSPB’s 2006 Peak Malpractice Report and the 2007 Update chronicled numerous confirmed incidents against birds of prey and charted serious declines of several raptor species such as goshawks, which pointed to sustained and widespread persecution in the area.
Despite the paucity of birds of prey, illegal activity has continued in the Dark Peak since the formation of the Initiative, according to the RSPB.
The RSPB highlighted that in May 2015 a covert camera recorded four shots being fired at an active goshawk nest in the middle of the night in the Derwent Valley.
And in February 2016 footage was published which showed an armed man crouched close to a plastic hen harrier decoy on a grouse moor, according to the RSPB. It is thought he was positioned to lure in a female hen harrier that had been seen the previous day.
Mr Barnard added: “The failure of the Initiative’s voluntary approach by land managers, their representative bodies and statutory organisations to help birds of prey, exemplifies why the RSPB is calling for the introduction of a licensing system for driven grouse shooting.
“Proper regulation would help birds of prey to recover in areas like the Dark Peak and would drive up standards in an industry whose reputation has been severely tarnished in recent years.
“Having left the Initiative, we will now be focusing our efforts in the Peak District on working in partnership with like-minded organisations to improve the fortunes of birds of prey through our continuing Investigations work, management of our landholdings, ongoing monitoring and reporting, and the development of Upland Skies, a large-scale people engagement and conservation project aimed at enthusing local people about birds of prey.”
Amanda Anderson, director of the Moorland Association, stated that the RSPB and the rest of the Initiative all want an improved assemblage of birds of prey across the National Park but she added that there is a disagreement on how to achieve that.
The Park Authority admitted the scheme was not working but said it had taken steps to work more closely with landowners and gamekeepers.