I can't help but comment on the press release by Natural England and subsequent blog post by Mark Avery (Conservation Director) at RSPB regarding the CCTV recording of an Eagle Owl harassing a female Hen Harrier at a nest site in Bowland. Given that there is recently being a Risk Assessment running with Fera regarding Eagle Owls one has to wonder about the timing of the release of this statement.
The story is getting a great deal of mileage and press as well as lots of comments. I've no doubt the shooting press will also pick up on it and it will appear in their magazines and websites. The obvious fact is it's predation and if Hen Harrier numbers were at a reasonable number in England of say 2 or 300 pairs then an incident of this nature wouldn't matter too much.
I spent much of the early afternoon reading published information from the BOU on the status of Eagle Owl and from the World Owl Trust (I suggest you set aside an hour minimum to take these in). I've also read a lot of mis-information, opinion presented as fact and attempts at sensationalism from some observers that ought to know better.
I have reached some conclusions though.
1. It strikes me that with a minimum escape figure numbering tens of birds annually the authorities should focus on restricting any further imports and introducing controls that would see existing birds ringed or tagged. Beefed up licence conditions including appropriate handling and traing certification might reduce the number of accidental escapes.
2. Research into the existing breeding birds is urgently required to document the diet of breeding Eagle Owl in the UK and should be undertaken by an independant authority.
3. Given the improvements in satellite tracking technology and the wealth of information derived from the use of it with re-introductions it should not be beyond the bounds of possibility to start sat tracking young birds from some of the (alleged) 44 breeding pairs.
Interesting that despite reports of the demise of the Bowland Eagle Owls, one observer reported two sightings today, one of a bird carrying food in Bowland. Same pair or different birds, who knows? but the story on these birds is far from over.
Edit : Have just seen and read the distressing news that three chicks have starved after the parents deserted (reason unknown), full story and pictures here. If the allegation that the RSPB and Natural England were aware of this for 10 days and did nothing are true then they should hang their heads in shame.