Falconry on the moors, CJS

16th November 2011
Moorland thrives as falcons fly high for grouse - Yorkshire Post
A group of falconers have been nominated for a top conservation award. Roger Ratcliffe reports from Levisham Moor
On a beautiful autumn day a speck moves at lightning speed across blue skies over the North York Moors.
Far below, some pointers are being directed through the heather with whistles in search of red grouse. Suddenly, one of the dogs comes to an abrupt halt. It stands absolutely dead still, like a statue, its nostrils sifting the crisp autumnal air, and then it sets off again to follow the scent of a bird. Very soon the grouse is flushed from its hiding place and it rockets across the moor, well beyond the reach of the pointer. Up in the sky, however, the speck is now dropping like a stone. With hardly a beat of its wings, the falcon meets its quarry in mid-air with laser-like precision. The grouse is killed instantly. Yet barely a feather of its plumage seems to have been disturbed when Ralph Watt picks it up and puts it into his bag. The cleanness of the kill, he says, contrasts with the mess that is often made by lead pellets discharged from a shotgun. It is the first kill of the day for the falconers who lease Levisham Moor from its owners, the North York Moors National Park.
These are not the Eton and Harrow-educated, double-barrel-named scions of the English upper classes you might normally associate with the pursuit of game birds across moors like this, however. They count among their number an electrician, a builder’s labourer and a salesman. They are members of the British Falconers’ Club, who 13 years ago set up the Levisham Moor Group and took the sporting lease of a huge area of moorland on the west side of the A169 Pickering to Whitby road.
The National Park wanted the land managed in a way that would maintain the heather and traditional moorland wildlife. It was decided that shooting would not be appropriate in such an accessible and sensitive part of the North York Moors. The group’s work has resulted in a remarkable reversal of fortunes for the moor. When the falconers took the lease in 1999 the population of red grouse was in the teens, and just about the only other creatures living there were adders. Now, the latest grouse count estimates there are between 300 and 400 on the moor.

Not really national news but very important here in the CJS Office, it was on Levisham Moor more years ago than I care to remember that I started my ecologist's career putting in some of the baseline counts for the Park, which in those days were really quite easy because the moor was bereft of wildlife and smothered with molinia and d.flex which made the hundreds of NVC quadrants quite easy - even in the middle of winter!