Hen Harrier Debate Catch Up

We have tried to give you a round up here of the questions and answers regarding the hen harrier debate that has been raging over the last 24 hours on Mark Avery’s blog. The Hawk and Owl Trust has nothing to hide and is proud of the independent stance that it is taking to secure a genuine conservation future for Hen Harriers.

Our position has been carefully thought through over many years of working with raptors, including a debate and vote by our members at the most recent AGM and then consequently in the following Board of Trustees meeting. It was voted unanimously at both that the Hawk and Owl Trust would involve itself in the Hen Harrier/Grouse Moor issue.

Importantly and as we have repeated time and time again, addressing raptor persecution is a pre-requisite of our talking to Defra and landowners. Until this issue is addressed in a satisfactory manner, any form of management of Hen Harrier is impossible. 

Here are the series of statements that our chairman Mr Philip Merricks posted in response to the various postings on Mark Avery’s blog.  This series of statements strives to answer clearly and simply the Hawk and Owl Trust position.

Philip Merricks, Chairman Hawk and Owl Trust
20 Jan 2015

‘You will be aware that the RSPB formally announced last year that, although they supported a Hen Harrier brood management scheme in principle, they would not support it in practice until forty pairs of Hen Harriers had become established on the moors of Northern England.

This was a good idea as it would have required grouse moor managers to demonstrate that they had stopped persecuting Hen Harriers. But, to get to forty pairs would have taken a long time and as the Hen Harrier is a colonial nesting species, this would have meant that it is likely that in time significant numbers of HHs would have nested on just a few moors and most other moors would have no nests. Which might not have been helpful in getting HHs widely established. And as one MP unhelpfully said at a meeting in the House of Commons, that postponing a brood management scheme trial until forty pairs were established, was similar to a doctor saying to his patient that he wasn’t going to give him any medicine until he was well on the road to recovery.

Hence, the Hawk and Owl Trust Board of Trustees thought long and hard about how real and realistic pressure could be put on grouse moor managers and their gamekeepers to immediately stop persecuting Hen Harriers. The Trustees came up with two immoveable conditions that would need to be agreed to before the Trust would talk to Defra:

1) All Hen Harriers fledged within a brood management scheme trial would be satellite tagged so that their movements could be tracked. And the knowledge that they were tagged (and the fear that other HHs might be) would prevent any gamekeepers from shooting them in the sky.

2) Should any Moorland Association, Game & Wildlife Trust, or National Gamekeepers Organisation member be proved to have illegally interfered with a Hen Harrier nest or to have persecuted a Hen Harrier on their grouse moors, the Hawk & Owl Trust would pull out its expertise from the brood management scheme trial.

It was well understood, appreciated and accepted by Defra and others that these two conditions meant that it would then become in the interests of grouse moor managers to ensure that Hen Harrier persecution would cease – ie that these two conditions would mean that there would be an immediate overriding reason for grouse moor interests to protect Hen Harriers.’


3 Responses to Hen Harrier Debate Catch Up

  1. It is pretty astonishing to hear the Hawk and Owl Trust claim that ‘a Hen Harrier brood management scheme trial…is the way forward for the recovery of Hen Harrier populations’. This is patently absurd.

    Let’s be absolutely clear about the purpose of brood management. It is not, as Andrew Gilruth and others would lead us to believe, a necessary conservation intervention. Hen harriers will recover of their own accord if only the persecution ceased. Rather, it is a tool for keeping the hen harrier population from fully recovering.

    Further, allowing shooting interests to reduce the density of hen harriers in order to tackle a perceived conflict with their commercial interests sets an awful precedent. You’ll recall that the government was forced into a u-turn over its plan to ‘trial’ buzzard brood management. Shooting interests would dearly love to be allowed to legally reduce the populations of buzzards, peregrines, sparrowhawks and other birds of prey, each far more abundant than hen harriers. If one allows them to do this to hen harriers, what possible reason could there be to deny them the right to do it to these other, far more common, birds of prey? It would be illogical to allow it in the case of the near-extinct hen harrier, but not the comparatively abundant buzzard, sparrowhawk etc. What argument would the Hawk and Owl Trust present against this wider suppression of bird of prey populations?

    Brood management is not required to address the so-called human-wildlife conflict. Diversionary feeding works very well in reducing red grouse losses to hen harriers.

    Put simply, the very intensive red grouse management undertaken on driven grouse shooting estates is not sustainable – it’s not an appropriate land-use. It leads not only to conflicts with hen harriers and other predators, but also damage to upland habitats, emissions of biomass carbon and, possibly, increased water run-off and downstream flood risk. Where such intensive management takes place on designated moorland (i.e. SPAs, SACs), it is legally suspect. This land use is not fit for the moorlands upon which it takes place.

    In my view, the way forward is for Defra to put the brood management component of the Hen Harrier Plan in the public domain – with supporting evidence to demonstrate why it is necessary – and allow a period of public consultation. The Hawk and Owl Trust must demand this at least, and should not proceed with its involvement until the results of consultation are known.

    Further, the legality of any brood management on or affecting SPAs should be demonstrated through a Habitats Regulations Assessment (HRA). Again, the Hawk and Owl Trust should not proceed until the results of this assessment are known and consulted upon. As a reputable nature conservation organisation, the Hawk and Owl Trust must know that it would be unlawful to proceed until such an HRA has been completed and has demonstrated that any broad management would not adversely affect any SPAs. Or is the Hawk and Owl Trust saying that the comparatively small shooting community is a very special case indeed, that UK wildlife laws should be suspended to allow them to suppress the hen harrier population so they can pursue their intensive driven grouse shooting? What other minority sectors should be given special dispensation to ignore hard-earned wildlife laws?

  2. Here’s expert (Steve Redpath) social/ecology scientist’s latest paper (Dec 14) on the human;human conflict. This is tough for many to swallow as it points at us, not wildlife, in how we frame the debate.
    There is a serious danger that unless we try something to ‘broker a deal’ to act on some form of pilot Brood management scheme, hen harriers will decline to zero.