Yorkshire Dales National Park “not natural country for hen harriers & red kites” according to National Park Authority Board member

The Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority (YDNPA) held a Board meeting earlier this week to discuss proposals for determining several ‘priority species’ that need additional help to thrive within the National Park.

The draft list includes a number of raptor species, including hen harrier, red kite and peregrine. There is a long and well-documented history of the persecution of all three species within the Yorkshire Dales National Park and the neighbouring Nidderdale AONB in areas dominated by driven grouse moors (e.g. see here and here) so it’s no surprise to see these three species highlighted as needing additional conservation measures.

Photo by Ruth Tingay

The YDNPA meeting on 13th December started with a presentation by Dr Tony Serjeant, the Senior Wildlife Conservation Officer, outlining the Authority’s proposals and then Board members were invited to comment and ask questions of YDNPA staff, prior to a vote.

The comments of two Board members, Councillor Yvonne Peacock and farmer Allen Kirkbride, were astounding. And I mean absolutely gob-smacking in the extent of their ignorance. That these two individuals should be considered competent to serve on the YDNPA Board to discuss matters of environmental significance is extremely worrying. I don’t doubt that they have important experience and expertise in some other areas, but their ecological illiteracy is just embarrassing.

Some of the comments were picked up and published in an article on the website Richmondshire Today (here) but it’s worth listening to them in full and in the context of the wider discussion. Fortunately, the YDNPA records its meetings and an audio recording of this particular discussion can be heard here.

First up was Councillor Yvonne Peacock, speaking about the inclusion of the house sparrow on the list of potential priority species (recording starts at 23.25 mins):

“We’ve got the house sparrow there, and yet we’ve got these great big sparrowhawks that take every garden bird imaginable, no doubt the house sparrow as well. How do we actively, you know, preserve these birds when we have like a conflict in, well the Government’s law I should say, I just find that it is so difficult, so, that’s probably my ignorance, but it’s just a question really”.

Then we had Wensleydale farmer Allen Kirkbride, responding to Tony Serjeant’s comment that raptor persecution in the National Park needs to end, and highlighting that although red kites have been seen prospecting and flying over the National Park, there still aren’t any records of breeding attempts (recording starts at 34.23 mins):

“Hen harriers, John, is it true that there’s certain [inaudible] they breed them and let, er, I think there was four hen harriers, and let them go [Ed: I presume he means hen harrier brood meddling]. The story is that two of them were later traced to the south of Spain, another one to the south of England, and another one disappeared. The thing is about letting these birds of prey go, especially hen harriers, it’s not natural country for them, we’ve never had hen harriers up here. You can introduce them but obviously they don’t want to stay. It’s fine making, you know, a lot of noise about hen harriers but they don’t, you know, you can let them go but if they don’t want to stay they won’t stay.

Earlier this year, red kites, we did have round us up to eight and it was quite a sight, but they’ve all flown off elsewhere and you know, I don’t, you know, they say all this PR, somebody’s [inaudible] with them, I don’t think they are, I just don’t think they want to stay around this area ‘cos it’s not natural area for them, and they just fly away, on, you know, to their own accord”.

Christ on a bike! Can somebody please educate Mr Kirkbride about hen harrier dispersal strategies? And about the extent of raptor persecution inside the Yorkshire Dales National Park. Ironically, this Board meeting took place one day before North Yorkshire Police issued the appeal for information about four hen harrier chicks that had been stamped to death in their nest, on a grouse moor, inside the National Park.

All credit to Dr Tony Serjeant, who managed to respond to both Board members without any hint of frustration. There were strong similarities to the Cairngorms National Park Authority Board meeting I blogged about last year (see here) where CNPA staff had to deal with some near-hysteria Board members’ responses when they learned that tackling intensive gamebird management was in the Park’s plan.

Tony Serjeant also told Mr Kirkbride that hen harriers were currently breeding in the YDNP but he only had figures from about two years ago. He said he couldn’t provide details of the current status of hen harriers in the Yorkshire Dales National Park because “Natural England seems to be rather reticent in letting us have the latest [hen harrier] figures for what’s going on, and that’s a little bit disappointing“.

That’s interesting, espeically given the supposed ‘partnership’ between Natural England and the YDNPA on the ‘Yorkshire Dales Birds of Prey Partnership‘!

Perhaps Natural England only provides data to organisations that have ‘donated‘ some cash??

Anyway, the outcome of the YDNPA Board meeting was that the approach taken to identify the priority species was approved by the Board and a final list will be published in June 2023 (see YDNPA press release here).

27 thoughts on “Yorkshire Dales National Park “not natural country for hen harriers & red kites” according to National Park Authority Board member”

  1. This isn’t ignorance ‘ this is fingers in the ears humming and saying we’re not listening like kids in a playground ‘ we know it’s shooting that’s behind it ‘ don’t think it will be stopped so time for a bit of education and compromise would be a start ‘ and as for those big nasty sparrowhawk’s god help her if she comes into contact with a eagle 🦅 just my opinion and as Clint Eastwood says opinions are like arseholes everybody has one .

  2. Is it natural country for pheasant one wonders!!! Is it even the natural continent for pheasant never mind country.

  3. Ignorance has never been a hindrance to serving on such committees and Nidderdale AONB probably has its share of similar idiots, numbwits and prejudiced fools ( choose as appropriate). Educating oneself about subjects to be discussed is obviously an alien concept to these folk. Councillor Peacock sounds as if she is of the CA/Songbird survival view of nature, Any epithet I used about her would need to be censored, suffice to say my dog has more brains. Perhaps the NP should send out some background papers assuming these folk can read as to why these species need to be considered, may be they do. I’m surprised that Wigeon, Teal, Redshank, Dunlin, Merlin, Raven and Twite don’t make that list given both national and regional declines. Why is Polecat and Pine Marten not on the list of mammals one wonders, the cynic in me says politics. I can think of other invertebrates and plants which if you know the area should be included too. I had been told previously that there is almost no co-operation between NP staff and the NE Hen Harrier folk, perhaps they should try getting a staffer to put in an FOI!

  4. If one chooses, by way of hegemonic power sinews, people to the YDNPA who have been part of heirarchial networks for generations then they are what one might call “set in their ways” having historically followed both the interests and the advice of the large landowners and their employees. Fealty that has endured over centuries is still the dominant form of getting things done “quietly” , though now unofficial, and is extremely hard to displace.
    !i had personal experience of how difficult life can be made for you if you first ignore the word in the ear and then the warnings. I expereinced all sorts of issues from council employees, charity management bodies and unexplainable decisions made by the police authorities.
    Any newcomers moving to these areas understand that to remain in these areas one must remain out of site and agreeable to whatever is happening in the field of country sports.
    It is not surprising to me that those esconsed in the area with commercial interests take little interest in the environment as that is seen as solely the business of the large landowners. Ideed, if they wish to continue to flourish in these areas then taking an interest in these issues would “upset the apple cart” and, as a rule, they take the path of least resistance by simply doing as expected i.e. mundance comments designed to illustrate that they are taking no interest.
    Difficult to shift.

  5. Some of these people are too ignorant to appreciate how little they know.
    And ‘The Fifer’ is spot on about pheasants (and RL Partridges for that ,matter).

  6. Because the environment and ecology of the national park has been degraded so much over the past centuries, there are so many species that need recovery plans that the park just can’t prioritise them all unfortunately and I bet staff would love to help more. It’s an unenviable Hobson’s choice. And the outlook of a lot of people living in the park has been degraded so much that they can’t conceive of a richer environment with far more diverse habitats and species. Their minds are in straight jackets having been conditioned by the powers that be

  7. It is a matter of fact that no qualifications are required to be (a) a Councillor or (b) a farmer.

    (If you put) Garbage in, (you get) garbage out.

    If anyone remembers, last January the Government launched a consultation on the future of our National Parks and Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty (15 January 2022 to 9 April 2022).

    The RSPB asked members to respond (February 2022).

    One of its questions was about the makeup of the Boards which govern these bodies, and the Government were suggesting more local Councillors should be appointed (greater democracy, and all that…)

    Along with the RSPB, I said no: what we needed were more professional environmentalists.

    As far as I can see, the Government (Defra) are still “analysing your feedback”.

    But how many people responded?

  8. Isn’t ”Richmondshire” Rishi Sunak country? And aren’t these the people he will meet at his local constituency Christmas drinks do?

  9. Counter intuitively National Park authority governance is “local” weighted. The majority of NPA members are appointed by constituent local authorities including some parish representatives. Sadly some, probably far too many, NPA members have scant interest in the statutory purposes of National Park designation and see their role making sure that the designation does not hinder wider local authority or parish interests.

  10. The NYCC website indicates that Yvonne Peacock is the elected Conservative party councillor for Upper Wensleydale, an area known for it’s grouse moors. Perhaps her ignorance of environmental and wildlife matters plays well with ensuring she supports policies which retain the status quo?

    Allen Kirkbride features on the website “Farmers- voices from the land”. It is therefore disappointing that he is somewhat ignorant of the wildlife in the part of Wensleydale where he farms, as the moors around Askrigg are part of the Bolton estate, an estate where the landowner, Lord Bolton has done an awful lot of very positive conservation work. It is the estate which welcomed osprey’s back, built a purpose nesting site for them and where they successfully bred this year. It is the same estate where red kite and buzzard will frequently be seen flying over the moors, and where active work to conserve endangered curlews is undertaken.
    Perhaps most alarming is what appears to be his belief that the lack of Hen Harriers over the moors of the Yorkshire Dales is because the Dales doesn’t offer suitable habitation and the birds don’t want to stay and migrate elsewhere; rather than an understanding that the lack of Hen Harriers might be because of the illegal persecution they suffer, which ensures they are unable repopulate land which should offer them suitable habitation.

    Both these YDNPA members might do well to spend a day with Lord Bolton’s team, the Yorkshire Wildlife Trust or the local Richmond- Hambleton RSPB group where they might learn a lot about about the wildlife in the area which they represent.

    It is widely accepted that good decisions can only be made when one is in possession of all the facts, and one has the intellect and intelligence to weigh up the value of all those facts.

    Keith’s comments about the make of National Parks and AONB boards is extremely relevant, as he is absolutely right to suggest these boards are not filled with more councillors or politicians.
    Sadly time and time again, we have seen the election of some very ignorant and inept politicians either because of the entrenched political party/social class system which heavily influences voters choices, or because of the rise of the populist politician, who plays to voters fears and prejudices.

    Keith is right when he suggests National Park and AONB boards need to be made up of professional experts- any diversification should come from ensuring these experts reflect the diverse needs of all who are governed by the boards decisions.
    What the boards don’t need is ignorant or misguided individuals who can thwart the boards ability to make good decisions through their ability to vote on matters which they don’t fully understand.

  11. As a regular reader of this blog, and a YDNPA resident who knows of both the aforementioned councillors and with no connections to shooting, in fact quite the opposite, while I cannot defend their comments in this instance I will defend their positions as local members on the committee. Formal education and qualification should not be a prerequisite for these posts as such education often removes common sense or reinforces a blinkered view without balance. If we want to see what qualified professionals in the park do consider the number of plastic tree guards now littering the hills in the name of woodland regeneration, (sponsored by ‘green grants’), that will undoubtedly make their way into water courses and never be removed appearing as micro plastics in our oceans. There should be NO persecution both sides need to engage in rational discussions not remain as polarised opposites, it’s about the quality of the arguments not the quantity which often devalue the debate.

    1. I think you’ll find conservation professionals are moving away from plastic tree guards for alternatives and a lot of volunteer hours are spent collecting ones that are already out there. There seems to be far more plastic in the environment from visitors and farming litter than conservation work. Everyone should be working together so park management boards should reflect that with professionals having an equal say to locals if we’re going to boost biodiversity and reach Net Zero and 30×30 goals

    2. I do agree with you but we are not getting ‘quality’ on this important subject matter – from these two councillors at least, they are in fact holding things back either deliberately or through genuine innocent ignorance.

    3. Hi Dales Prospector,

      I’d agree that the quality of the argument is more important than the quantity, but quality is not what was on display from these two councillors on this particular subject.

      I’d also agree that “formal education and qualification should not be a prerequisite for these posts”, necessarily, but your view that “such education often removes common sense or reinforces a blinkered view without balance” is without merit. One of the main skills, if not THE skill that is learned at undergraduate level is the ability for critical thinking. That’s the polar opposite of what you’ve just described.

    4. “As a regular reader of this blog, and a YDNPA resident who knows of both the aforementioned councillors…”

      Really? Since only ONE is identified as a councillor, you obviously don’t know them that well.

      “Formal education and qualification should not be a prerequisite for these posts as such education often removes common sense or reinforces a blinkered view without balance.”

      What utter rubbish. Does your pro-ignorance, anti-formal education views extend to every area? Health? Engineering?

      Or are these apparently ‘special effects’ of education-and-qualifications in ‘removing common sense and reinforcing blinkered views’ restricted only to ecology? I wonder why that would be, then?

      “it’s about the quality of the arguments not the quantity which often devalue the debate.”

      So, what do you make of the QUALITY of this, from Councillor Peacock: “we’ve got these great big sparrowhawks that take every garden bird imaginable”

      Does that, in your opinion, represent ‘common sense’ and an ‘unblinkered view’?

      And what about the QUALITY of this, from FARMER Kirkbride: “The thing is about letting these birds of prey go, especially hen harriers, it’s not natural country for them, we’ve never had hen harriers up here” and “red kites, we did have round us up to eight and it was quite a sight, but they’ve all flown off elsewhere… ‘cos it’s not natural area for them”

      Are those examples of the kind of ‘common sense’ and ‘unblinkered views’ which any National Park governing body should cherish?

      And to think that no Council or Farmer has ever planted any tree, anywhere, with a plastic guard!

      1. Ouch, to call my option ill informed would be polite but to call it ignorant is just rude especially when then supported by such an inaccurate misrepresentation of the original comment thus supporting the view that the argument is devalued by polarised, blinkered, quantity not quality replies.
        Fact 1, both these people are councillors at varying levels although not stated in the blog.
        Fact 2, I acknowledged their comments were wrong, I also took time to listen to the full meeting to apply context since I was surprised by their comments. (One councillor actually stated they were questioning from a position of ignorance and merely asked for an informed response).
        Fact 3 I was referring to the value of local members in the wider context of their contribution to all areas YDNPA portfolio.
        Fact 5 I stated I do not participate or have any bias towards country sport, in fact quite the opposite.
        Fact 6 I in no way implied I supported plastic tree guards regardless of the installer.
        Fact 7 I did not dismiss formal education, my own teaching me to analyse and question before proceeding.

        If your inaccurate representation of my original comment helps you to proclaim my ignorance then so be it but you should be trying to encourage moderate conservationists to support you not slamming the door in their face if they don’t fully support your view.

        1. “both these people are councillors at varying levels although not stated in the blog”

          Well, thank you for that. It just goes to show how dangerous are Defra’s proposals to *increase* representation on National Park Authority and Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty Boards with yet more politicians.

          But you still claimed that “education often removes common sense or reinforces a blinkered view without balance” which is utter rubbish.

          How does any formal ‘education’ often remove ‘common sense’ or ‘reinforce a blinkered view without balance’?

          How can you say that without being antipathetic to education? Where is your evidence to support this outrageous claim? And what forms your so-called ‘balance’ against expertise? Can it be ‘ignorance’?

          “I was referring to the value of local members in the wider context of their contribution to all areas YDNPA portfolio”

          Who says that there are no expert *local* ecologists living in the Yorkshire Dales National Park area?

          “I in no way implied I supported plastic tree guards regardless of the installer”

          Who said you did? You made the fatuous comment: “If we want to see what qualified professionals in the park do consider the number of plastic tree guards now littering the hills in the name of woodland regeneration” trying desperately to somehow discredit ‘qualifications’. My riposte was, of course, sarcastic.

  12. It sounds to me as if they genuinely don’t understand and, perhaps realise they don’t understand. People tend to have their own circle of expertise. I think they and others in similar positions, might welcome a workshop which would help give them a greater insight into the principles of ecology and how these apply to National Parks and the species within them. Many people know about behaviours such as migration, for example, but will not have thought it through in terms of their own back yard. An informative workshop, where people feel safe to ask questions without embarrassment, in a relaxed and friendly atmosphere would go a long way towards helping redress this apparent lack of understanding.

    1. “It sounds to me as if they genuinely don’t understand and, perhaps realise they don’t understand.”

      Should they, in which case, be running a National Park Authority?

  13. I agree with Paul Irving. Cllr. Peacock seems to be quoting Songbird Survival’s nonsense, I’ve had the misforunte to deal with SS’s disciples in the past.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: