Hen harrier ‘quota’ system nothing more than legalised persecution

HH Laurie CampbellSo here we are again, the Inglorious Twelfth, heralding the start of the grouse-shooting season and the papers are full of the usual guff about how great this ‘sport’ is for the economy, conservation, world peace etc etc, although very little information about the industry’s undeniable link with the illegal persecution of raptors.

One particular story that’s getting a lot of media coverage is the publication of a scientific paper that suggests a hen harrier ‘quota’ system could solve the long-running conflict between grouse-moor management and raptor conservation e.g. see here.

It’s not a new story – this quota system idea, which basically means that once the hen harrier population has reached a certain size, birds will be ‘removed’ from grouse moors so as not to interfere with the profits of driven grouse shooting, has been around since 1998 and has been wheeled out in various guises ever since, notably by Professor Steve Redpath of Aberdeen University who has directed much of the research. Indeed, the quota system was central to the six-year ‘Hen Harrier Dialogue’ talks between the grouse-shooting industry and conservationists, which eventually collapsed because the ‘dialogue’ was seen by the conservationists as a delaying tactic – while everyone was busy ‘talking’ the hen harrier was virtually eradicated as a breeding species in England (see here for why the RSPB walked out, here for why the Northern England Raptor Forum walked out, and here for why the Hawk & Owl Trust walked out).

In the latest paper (see link at foot of this blog entry) a new data model is put forward which demonstrates that ‘across the grouse moors of England there is room for 70 pairs of hen harriers at relatively low cost for grouse shooting’.

At a superficial level, 70 pairs of hen harriers sounds quite good, especially when you consider that this year there are only three reported breeding pairs in the whole of England. However, 70 pairs represents only 20% of the estimated 340 pairs that could inhabit the English uplands. Should we cut our losses and accept that having 20% of the population is better than having the less than 1% of the population that we currently have? We don’t think so.

Why should we accept anything less than 100% of the estimated 340 breeding pairs that could exist? Why should a species of high conservation concern pay the price just so a minority of people can maintain artificially-high populations of red grouse in order to spend a few days each year blasting them from the sky?

There are many other issues, too. Let’s just suppose the quota system was agreed by all the stakeholders and it went ahead. For the first few years, hen harrier chicks would be removed from the grouse moors, reared in captivity and then released ‘elsewhere’. What would happen once the hen harriers have recolonised their former range and filled all the spaces? Where would the hen harrier chicks then be released? The removal of those birds could only ever be a short-term solution until all the vacant territories have been filled. In the long-term, it would undoubtedly lead to calls for a cull.

Then there’s the issue of trust. And it’s a big issue, perhaps the biggest of all. Would we trust the grouse moor owners not to persecute the hen harriers that are ‘allowed’ to breed on grouse moors? Not a chance in hell! This industry has denied involvement in raptor persecution for decades, despite all the evidence against them. They have proved themselves to be untrustworthy and incapable of self-regulation. Why would we trust them to do the right thing now? Come on.

Another concern is the precedent that would be set by this quota system. First hen harriers, but then what? Peregrines? Golden eagles? Short-eared owls? Goshawks? Red kites? Sparrowhawks? Buzzards? Ravens? All of these species are already illegally killed on grouse moors. You can bet your house that if the hen harrier quota system goes ahead, these species will be next on the list. It’s simply a way for the grouse-shooting industry to legalise a crime that they’re already committing.

So what’s the alternative? That’s easy – a ban on driven grouse shooting. An industry that cannot function without relying on illegal persecution has had its day. Sign the petition here.

Download the latest scientific paper on a hen harrier quota system here: Elston et al 2014 HH quota model_JAE


20 Responses to “Hen harrier ‘quota’ system nothing more than legalised persecution”

  1. 1 Audrey Turner
    August 12, 2014 at 11:06 am

    Can anyone point me to the figures showing how much money and how many jobs “Sporting” estates actually create? We hear a fair bit about how much these estates contribute to the local economy, but I’ve not seen actual figures. I’d particularly like to be able to compare this to the amount of subsidies these estates get from taxpayers.

    • 2 Ash
      August 12, 2014 at 11:18 am

      I agree! If these “sporting” estates boost employment, tourism or other economic benefits for the nation the figures should be available somewhere!

      • 3 keen birder.
        August 13, 2014 at 10:52 pm

        I think the quota idea is not good, not right at all to be meddling with these last few birds,, just allow them to breed up and be unmolested if possible. I also think the licencing system being talked about is not policeable, if my keeper was in bother and I had then lost my licence to have a grouse shoot, I would say to him alright John, youre now a shepherd keep up the good work and we will see you in August and turn up to shoot as usual, now who is going to police that, its a none starter, the law is already there to protect, though as we all know very difficult to enforce.

    • 4 keen birder.
      August 13, 2014 at 10:40 pm

      Don’t think they receive any special subsidies, except the single farm payment, which all farmers and landowners can claim, I saw on the television news on the 12th that grouse shooting generates 50 million £ per annum for the economy, this sounds like a very high figure to me and I don’t believe it.

  2. August 12, 2014 at 11:14 am

    Talk of quotas both irritates and annoys me intensely. It also makes me feel very uneasy for the future. When is some realistic value going to be applied to our natural heritage? Why should it be acceptable to even consider a potential loss of 80% of a given species? Would we ever consider aspects of our cultural heritage being treated in the same way ? Sorry , chaps , we’re going to have to throw 80% of our most valuable national art treasures away to ensure some spurious activity can continue to flourish on the site of the former gallery. Let’s get things in absolute perspective and ensure that our natural heritage, of which Hen Harriers are an integral and important part, begins to have utter relevance associated with it, not some convenient transferable or disposable value that suits the material objectives of a minority. You are right to raise the wider point of what would happen to other species. I think we can guess that, in time, when convenience dictated, the same approach would be suggested. I contend that the answer to quotas is a “No” from the very start before any precedence is set.

  3. 6 Chris Roberts
    August 12, 2014 at 12:06 pm

    All a quota means is trying to appease the criminal element of our society. Crime should never be allowed to pay, which is what it would mean should these criminals get their way. The law should come down harder on the very few that do get caught, instead of treating them with kid gloves. Banning this blood lust ‘sport’ is the only solution.

  4. 7 Nikki MacLeod
    August 12, 2014 at 12:33 pm

    It’s exactly like the legalised shooting of seals for daring to try and eat their natural diet. QUite sickening.

  5. 8 Mr Greer Hart, senior
    August 12, 2014 at 1:09 pm

    What I have never been able to understand, is the lack of real response from our politicians, especially those who profess to want to have a more humane society. That, of course, just involves humans, and omits a more stringent attitude towards the abuse of animals and the conservation of threatened species. People come first is the usual cry, and serious attention to the natural world, and that of the status of animals, are not being given the resources to enable law enforcement to be more effective in rooting out those who defy any protection laws we have.

    Not being disparaging of the valiant efforts of the SSPCA and the RSPCA, in responding to animal cruelty and the threats to wildlife, I find that their efforts and that of the RSPB, the Wildlife Trusts and other groups fighting to save our landscape and its wildlife, are profoundly confounded in their efforts by a many “taloned” overlordship, determined to maintain the status quo that gives absolute power to be defiant of the law, and humane common sense. The fact is, we are not the subservient, forelock touching people we once were, to those who did as they pleased in our countryside. We have become aware of the terrible plight our planet’s wildlife is facing, with the iconic Big Cats, the Elephant and the Rhino on the danger list of extermination. Yet, here we have trophy hunters buying the right to shoot these creatures and many more, e.g. Namibia auctions animals that can be shot to the highest bidder, and were recently offering up a Giraffe. The WWF embarrassed itself, when its royal representative in Spain, the old king, was exposed as having shot an Elephant and other big game, with his blatant posing with their carcases. The shooting “industry” in the UK is host to such people, and they bring profit. Millions of pounds are wasted each year protecting wildlife, and trying to prosecute those who are illegally killing our birds of prey, and other creatures seen as “vermin”.

    Yes, we should not concede a concession giving the shooters a quota for Hen Harriers, and then, eventually other birds. The battle has to continue, and one task to be accomplished would be rousing the public to lobby their political representatives and their party leaders, to take a look at better ways of managing our landscape, that would mean effective controls over shooting estates, and the removals of subsidies that are only prolonging the existence of these anachronisms. Our Justice system in the UK does not stand in high standing with many people, and one source of that lack of confidence, is from the public concern being shown over the bias being shown by it for those involved in blood sports. Most of our politicians have narrow awareness of many serious issues that are undermining the fabric of our society. Remove that stranglehold in our education and public information systems, that have conferred some kind of respect and thankfulness to hunter landowners, in giving us a wonderful countryside filled with wildlife, with the aid of their angelic gamekeepers. Show the children the suffering of animals in snares, the writhing pain of being poisoned and being blown apart by a gun. Show them how more beautiful Britain could become, by letting its creatures come back on the scene. Reward those estates, farms and landowners who make the changes, to a more humane way of making a living.

  6. 9 Michael Watts
    August 12, 2014 at 1:41 pm

    So, their notion of compromise is that the country should accept their preferred option of quotas, we should ignore the illegality of their actions; doubtless they would seek an alteration in wildlife legislation that would enable them to continue killing our most magnificent species of birds, unhindered by such trifling matters as the law . Hmm, I don’t think so. Although we are implored not to talk of class conflict, this clash typifies modern Britain. The rich on one side, getting away with blue murder, with the plebs on the other, deploring the lack of justice . Nothing changes:-

    Sheep farming ensures that grazing, combined with periodic heather burning, perpetuates a plagioclimax habitat that is expressly tailored for rearing red grouse and the perpetuation of the shoot. This anachronistic land management regime prevents natural re-colonization of the uplands by shrubs and trees; thereby creating a biological wasteland fit only for sheep and grouse and the prolongation of the legacy of the land clearances enacted through the Parliamentary Acts of Enclosure.

  7. August 12, 2014 at 2:31 pm

    hows about they obey the law and cease persecution immediately or grouse shooting be ended entirely.
    the shooting industry contributes a miniscule ammount as a proportion of GDP, consumes a large ammount in terms of public subsidy, is extremely detrimental to blanket bogs and operates on an entirely criminal basis in performing wholesale persecution of our native raptors.
    their compromise is they won’t be performing illegal actions if these actions are made legal.
    that is not a compromise.
    the criminals would simply have to go and get another job doing something else

  8. 11 Karl
    August 12, 2014 at 6:17 pm

    #Audrey – Grouse shooting contributes about £80 Million plus multiplier effects.

    • August 12, 2014 at 11:17 pm

      And that figure is substantiated where?
      Over what period?

    • 13 Marco McGinty
      August 13, 2014 at 2:21 am

      But where do these figures come from, Karl? Is it from the shooting industry, governmental departments (with a vested interest in the industry), or a completely independent source?

      Whenever we hear about the economic benefits that shooting brings, this should be countered immediately with how much it costs the taxpayer? There are the millions of pounds of subsidies, then there are all the costs associated with the criminal side of shooting, illegal persecution, criminal investigations, court cases, etc. Once all of that is factored in, the “benefits” soon begin to wane.

      • 14 keen birder.
        August 15, 2014 at 10:41 pm

        It will not cost the tax payer anything, the only subsidys that landowners can claim is the single farm payment, unless they are in a stewardship scheme, which is to benefit the environment. You could say it costs the taxpayer a lot to send police to football matches. Forestry or sheep farming would replace grouse if it were stopped, then the heather would go. Theres no doubt about that.
        The shooting fraternity must change their attitude towards the law regarding wildlife.

        • 15 Marco McGinty
          August 16, 2014 at 1:14 am

          There are various subsidies that the shooting industry benefits from. A quick Google search produces the following articles. These suggest that subsidies totalling many millions of pounds are ploughed into grouse estates each year, on top of CAP payments and other farming subsidies, so there is a huge cost to the taxpayer.

          Policing costs inside a football ground, are met by the home club, and not at the expense of the taxpayer, so that cannot be used as a comparison. As for the habitat issue, if there was a switch to walked-up shooting, then shooting continues, with smaller numbers of grouse being shot (but at the same price), predators are permitted to co-exist, and the habitat remains. There is no reason whatsoever to suggest that heather moors will disappear.

    • 16 Marco McGinty
      August 13, 2014 at 2:40 am

      Another issue requiring a definitive answer; Of all these millions of pounds, how much of it is swiftly transferred into offshore bank accounts and tax avoidance schemes? When the subsidies, investigations and court costs are all totted up, then added to all of the money that has been shifted to avoid and evade tax, the benefits of shooting to the UK economy, if there are any, will be negligible.

  9. 17 Circus maxima
    August 12, 2014 at 7:08 pm

    Who is actually funding this research???

    Who would pay for this ridiculous idea….the cost of rearing and translocating and release would be many times the cost of diversionary feeding…. if the poor landowners cant afford the feeding then they wont afford the translocation…. so in the end the harriers will pay because the liberated keepers will simply maintain their quota by standing on the eggs.

    And Steve seems to overlook the issue of potential success! What if all the translocation sites gradually become occupied? Where is he going to send the chicks…Rockall? Oh I know we could just let the keepers kill them….

    Sorry Steve…your research does for moorland ecology what Lamarck did for genetics… and for clarities sake, that’s not an accolade.

  10. 18 Jimmy
    August 12, 2014 at 11:21 pm

    Its a trojan horse plan that will eventually lead to calls for caps on the population of all raptors. I wouldn’t trust the grouse lobby to tell me the time of day.

  11. 19 Marco McGinty
    August 13, 2014 at 12:48 am

    This has to be one of the most ludicrous suggestions in the history of humankind. Lacking in thought or sensibility, it could only have emanated from those with an interest in the shooting industry.

    RPS has already acknowledge that 70 nesting pairs of Hen Harriers in England would be of little consequence to grouse populations, and the report also states that at the lowest densities there could be 35 nesting pairs (and presumably even less of a problem), yet the whole of England in 2013 could not account for one successful pair. Can this lot be trusted, to carry out such a programme, free from prejudice and in an honest and sensible manner? Well, if the following statement (from the report) is anything to go by, the short answer would be no.

    “A negotiated solution will require both groups of stakeholders to be explicit about their goals – what level of impact are grouse managers prepared to tolerate, and what densities of harriers can conservation organisations
    live with?”

    From this statement, there is a clear implication that grouse managers have not been very tolerant of Hen Harriers in the past, and one could easily argue that the statement implies that illegal raptor persecution is a grouse management tool. Indeed, as a result of the low Hen Harrier breeding population in England, the law breaking appears to have been going on for decades. Their intolerance, both on and away from grouse moors, has clearly shown that their preferred numbers of breeding Hen Harriers is zero, and any self-respecting conservationist would require that the full complement of Hen Harriers is a necessity for a healthy environment.

    So, ignore completely and do not enter dialogue on the issue, as acceptance will only set a precedent for, and will be used a step forward for eventual legalised killing.

    Back to the drawing board for the criminals.

  12. 20 keen birder.
    August 15, 2014 at 10:50 pm

    Its a none starter quotas, stupid. its a sick joke, I can just imagine it, have you had your quota yet ha ha ha ha haa bla blah. Humbug absolute humbug, the rspb needs to be buying up a lot of moorland, ..

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