DEFRA’s plans unchanged despite loss of 5 breeding hen harriers

A male hen harrierIn June, following the news that five breeding male hen harriers had ‘disappeared’ from active nests this year, one of our blog readers submitted an FoI to DEFRA to ask about the Westminster Government’s contingency plans to protect hen harriers and to deal with the criminals who continue to persecute hen harriers and other wildlife:

Sir/ Madam

I am making a Freedom of Information request regarding hen harriers/ illegal persecution of wildlife.

1) With the recent losses of five male birds in northern England, as published in Natural England’s press release (https://www.gov.uk/government/news/five-hen-harriers-have-now-disappeared-from-northern-england), what is the Government’s contingency plan(s) to prevent the species becoming extinct in the wild in England as a direct result of illegal persecution within the next 5 years, i.e. the duration of this Parliament?  If there are no contingency plans, why are there no contingency plans?

2) In a recent court case in Spain (see http://www.venenono.org/?p=2506 with an English summary available here:https://raptorpersecutionscotland.wordpress.com/2015/06/09/now-thats-a-deterrent/, the sanction imposed on an individual found guilty of a wildlife offence was considerably more severe compared with recent similar incidents in England.  Does the UK Government have any plans to introduce similar sanctions that would act as a meaningful deterrent to wildlife criminals?  If not, why not?

3) Does the Government consider the current sanctions available to Magistrates/ Judges sufficiently severe to act as a deterrent to wildlife criminals, within the context of those imposed in the aforementioned Spanish case?

4) As in Spain, is the Government seriously considering introducing ‘sniffer dogs’ able to detect the use of poisoned bait as described in the article published by Raptor Persecution Scotland? If not, why not?

Many thanks,


Here is DEFRA’s response:


Thank you for your request of 11 June about the illegal persecution of hen harriers. I have been asked to reply.

We share your concerns regarding the recent losses of five hen harriers but are encouraged by the news of several nests this year, following on from four nests in 2014, with 16 fledglings. In 2013, for the first time in over 50 years, there were no known fledglings.

All wild birds are protected under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981, which implements the EC Wild Birds Directive in Great Britain. This provides a powerful framework for the conservation of wild birds, their eggs, nests and habitats. I can assure you that we are committed to ensuring the strict protection afforded to wild birds of prey under our wildlife legislation is effectively enforced. There is a robust legal framework for protecting such birds with strong penalties for offenders, which can include imprisonment.

Despite the protection afforded to birds of prey, it is clear that they continue to be persecuted. To address this, senior Government and enforcement officers in the UK identified raptor persecution as a National Wildlife Crime Priority. Raptor persecution is subject to a prevention, intelligence and enforcement plan led by a senior police officer. The National Wildlife Crime Unit, which is part-funded by Defra, monitors and gathers intelligence on illegal activities affecting birds of prey and provides assistance to police forces when required.

It should be noted that despite instances of poisoning and killing of birds of prey, populations of many species, such as the peregrine falcon, red kite and buzzard have increased. While a small minority is prepared to kill birds of prey and where possible these people are brought to justice, this demonstrates that the policies in place to conserve these species are working.

One of our most threatened birds of prey is the hen harrier and we take the decline in hen harrier populations in England very seriously. In August 2012 Defra established the Hen Harrier Sub-Group of the Uplands Stakeholder Forum whose members include representatives from Natural England, the Moorland Association, the National Gamekeepers’ Organisation, the Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust, National Parks UK and the RSPB.

All members of the Hen Harrier Sub-Group have a common interest to protect hen harriers.  They have made concerted efforts to engage and have produced a Joint Action Plan that contains a suite of actions intended to contribute to the recovery of the hen harrier population in England. The commitment shown by the differing organisations involved in the Sub-Group to help the recovery of one of our most iconic birds demonstrates a desire to bring about behavioural change amongst gamekeepers and confidence that this can be achieved through a package of complementary actions.

The Joint Action Plan includes three measures to stamp out illegal persecution, a trial toolkit comprising two measures for land owners to safely accommodate hen harriers on grouse moors and a measure to reintroduce them to suitable habitat in other parts of England. Defra officials are currently working with Sub-Group members to finalise the Plan.

As previously stated there are already strong penalties in place for people committing offences against birds of prey. You have asked if the Government intends to introduce tougher penalties for those convicted of wildlife crimes. I should first point out that Parliament is responsible for deciding the maximum penalties for offences. There are currently no plans to increase the penalties for offences against wildlife. Within the maximum limits, it is up to the court to decide the appropriate sentence in any case, having taken into account all the facts of the case.

We are aware that sniffer dogs are used in other countries, including Italy, Spain and Greece, to detect poisoned bait but are not aware that enforcement bodies in the UK have this resource or are considering it for the future. This would be a matter for individual Police forces to decide upon.

Yours sincerely,
Charlie Coombs
Customer Contact Unit


7 Responses to “DEFRA’s plans unchanged despite loss of 5 breeding hen harriers”

  1. 1 michael gill
    July 18, 2015 at 12:12 pm

    “All members of the Hen Harrier Sub-Group have a common interest to protect hen harriers.”
    ha ha ha bloody ha

  2. July 18, 2015 at 6:39 pm

    I don’t understand how they can share our concerns about harrier persecution….. and then conclude that all members of the harrier sub-group have the common interest to protect harriers? If they share our concerns then they would kick several groups out because of their conflict of interest.

  3. 3 nirofo
    July 18, 2015 at 9:01 pm

    The same old whitewashed script with the same old hackneyed rhetoric, only thing that changes is the date.

    Don’t these people keep up with the current affairs re raptor persecution, or is it that they are so far up the arse of this government that it would take a stiff shotgun cleaning brush to get them out into the real world !!!

  4. 4 Andrew
    July 18, 2015 at 10:05 pm

    Do they honestly believe the guff that they write ?
    “The commitment shown by the differing organisations involved in the Sub-Group to help the recovery of one of our most iconic birds demonstrates a desire to bring about behavioural change amongst gamekeepers and confidence that this can be achieved through a package of complementary actions.”

  5. 5 Jack Snipe
    July 20, 2015 at 1:31 am

    Does anyone fall for this guff? Is there a sub-group of those who fence stolen property, with the objective to “bring about behavioural change” by housebreakers? As for the species cited which have increased, with the implication that protective legislation is responsible: Peregrines have increased only since adapting to nesting on man-made structures and preying upon street pigeons, Red Kites have been subject to an intensive reintroduction programme, and Buzzards probably increased due to a super-abundance of field voles during the 1980s and 1990s. In fact Buzzard populations have decreased in central and southern Scotland, and possibly more widely, by over 60% since 2008.

    • 6 crypticmirror
      July 20, 2015 at 2:44 pm

      Maybe the best we can hope for is that the poor harriers learn to use green roofed buildings as nesting points instead of moors and move onto industrial and office estates, similar to how peregrines do.

      Incidentally, talking of southern Scotland in general (and the A709-Dumfries-A75) road in particular, are the buzzard poisoners in the area taking tips from the local badger baiters and using the road to dump kills? I’ve noticed that some of the birds laminated to the surface by the milk tankers and forestry lorries are looking very un-crow or un-pheasant like recently. Unfortunately it isn’t really safe for me to stop and examine when I see them, plus they are usually well laminated too.

  6. July 20, 2015 at 5:29 pm

    Just noticed that apparently you are a “customer” of DEFRA… what were you buying?

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