More brood meddling revelations

Following on from yesterday’s blog on some of the details emerging about DEFRA’s hen harrier brood meddling scheme (see here), here are some more revelations that have come to light from a series of FoIs.

There’s a document written by Steve Redpath, Adam Smith (GWCT) and Martin Gillibrand (then secretary of the Moorland Association) dated August 2013. It’s titled ‘Improving the conservation status of hen harriers in the UK – establishing a research trial of a brood management scheme‘.

You can read it here: harrier-trial-brood-management-scheme-final-draft

It’s not clear for whom this document was written, but we’d take a guess that it was produced for DEFRA as an overview of /justification for, a hen harrier brood meddling scheme. Some of the brood meddling plans mentioned in this document may well have been developed further since August 2013. However, there are definitely parts of it still being cited (by Amanda Anderson), word for word, in discussions about the planned 2017 launch of brood meddling.

A few things jumped out at us. The first thing isn’t a revelation as such – the justification for using a brood meddling scheme based on the successful use of this management tool on Montagu’s harriers in western Europe. We’ve heard this a lot, especially from GWCT, and yes, at a superficial level, it does sound like a reasonable comparison. Montagu’s harrier nests in cereal fields are at high risk from mechanised harvesting equipment, and so broods have been removed from the danger areas, captive-reared, and then released back to the wild. And it has worked well.

But what the pro-brood meddlers never mention is the fact that the risk to those Montagu’s harriers is limited to a very short time period when harvesting takes place. Once the crops have been harvested, the risk is gone until harvest time the following year. That is not comparable with the hen harrier situation in the UK. The risk to hen harriers on UK driven grouse moors is year-round. They are killed at the beginning of the breeding season when they try to settle, they are killed during the breeding season, and they are killed during the autumn and winter, particularly at roost sites. Year-round harrier persecution is the name of the game in the UK so to argue that brood meddling will work for hen harriers on grouse moors in the UK just because it’s worked for Montagu’s harriers in agricultural fields abroad is totally absurd. The circumstances are nowhere near comparable.

One revelation that did jump out at us from this document is a sentence in the Introduction section:

Should a trial brood management scheme be successful, the next phase would be to offer this as a management option across the whole of the UK“.


The other revelation we found was this, in the section describing how the trial might work:

Once harriers start settling the trial will commence. As soon as a pair of harriers lays eggs within 10km of another pair, that will activate the brood management scheme. At least one pair must be settled on a grouse moor employing one or more full-time grouse keepers where a suppressed grouse population poses the greatest social, economic and conservation risk“.

Eh? A “suppressed” grouse population? There’s nothing “suppressed” about an artificially-high grouse population with 300-500 birds per sq km, crammed on to a driven grouse moor!

More revelations to follow….

UPDATE 16 Nov 2016: Brood meddling: the role of the International Centre for Birds of Prey (here)

19 Responses to “More brood meddling revelations”

  1. 1 Mike Price
    November 15, 2016 at 5:46 pm

    I have a question with regards to the proposed trigger levels.

    Is there a mistake in the math? Or have I completely misunderstood it?

    Brood meddling will be triggered if the initial ‘ceiling density’ has been reached. For the purposes of this trial, the initial ceiling density is one pair of breeding hen harrier per 80 sq km or 20,000 acres, or a (straight line) distance between pairs of 10km or 6.3 miles.

    If I was to plot 10km in straight line in all directions around a point I would finish with circle with a 10km radius.

    Now I know it’s been a while since I was at school, but I am fairly sure that we used to calculate the area of a circle using the formula Area = π x Radius Squared or (10×10 Radius squared) x 3.14 which gives us a density of one pair per 314km2

    To get the density of 1 pair per 80km2 we would be looking at a straight line distance of 5.05 km

    Is it just me?

    • 2 Mark Telfer
      November 15, 2016 at 6:18 pm

      If there’s a distance of 10km between nests, you’d assume that each pair’s territory extends 5km from the nest, and their territories meet in the middle. Radius of territory is thus 5km and Pi x (radius)squared is 78.5 km2.

    • 3 Bob Eades
      November 15, 2016 at 6:23 pm

      Sounds right. From your calculation, each territory of 80sqkm is a circle radius 5km. If you imagine two adjacent territories, the two circles just touching, the centres (nest sites) will be 10km apart.
      Looks like they got something right!

    • November 15, 2016 at 7:17 pm

      1 pair per 80km2 is less than a third of the density which Potts (1998), [the grousers bible according to Gilruth], states at 25km2 per suitable habitat would have little effect on shooting bags.
      Potts estimated that this would mean 1660 breeding females. So even if this brood persecution worked we are supposed to accept a density which if ‘rolled out’ for the whole of the UK would give us c518 pairs, considerably less than the c749 pairs in 2004!

      The The Hen Harrier Conservation framework puts the potential at 2514–2653 pairs and ‘favourable status’ was given as 2.12 pairs per 100km, which they considered conservative (Fielding et al. 2011).

      As you say, ‘is it just me?’. Maybe my maths is totally wrong.

      Ref: Thirgood, S., et al., Raptors and Red Grouse: Conservation conflicts and management solutions. Conservation Biology, 2000. 14(1): p. 95-104.
      Potts, G.R., Global dispersion of nesting hen harriers Circus cyaneus; implications for grouse moors in the UK. Ibis, 1998. 140(1): p. 76-88.
      Fielding, A., et al., A Conservation Framework for Hen Harriers in the United Kingdom. JNCC Report, 2011. 441: p. i-viii, 1-82.

      • 6 Derik Palmer
        November 15, 2016 at 8:40 pm

        No, I think you have exactly right. Its GWCT and the Moorland Association who’ve got it wrong, but where’s the surprise there?

  2. November 15, 2016 at 5:48 pm

    I’m sure others better versed in the topic than myself will post measured, referenced and erudite responses but I suspect none will better sum up the gut reaction of readers of this blog than the Cockney exclamation ” ‘ere, yer ‘avin a larf, intcha!”

  3. November 15, 2016 at 6:10 pm

    When i read this by Redpath (main author) i lost any trust in his credibility, not as a scientist but as a conservationist

    ‘An alternative approach to reduce breeding densities is to scare hen harriers away in spring, using agricultural gas guns, falconry eagles or people. The use of falconry eagles is not considered to be feasible by falconers (Anon., 2007). Disturbance by people may be effective at preventing harriers from settling in specific areas. Indeed, keepers may currently be employing this technique on some estates (Tapper, unpub). However, these practices would be illegal if used within the breeding season.’

    From ‘People and nature in conflict: can we reconcile hen harrier conservation and game management? Redpath, Amar, Smith, Thompson &n Thirgood’

  4. November 15, 2016 at 6:30 pm

    “Should a trial brood management scheme be successful, the next phase would be to offer this as a management option across the whole of the UK”

    WHO the hell do these arrogant anti-democratic charlatans think they are? They are not offering their “made up” crap to Scotland! Where are the papers linking them to the Scottish Government? I think I will asking questions of Roseanna Cunningham.

    It does sound like there has been some sort of secret deal to remove protection from the Hen Harrier.

  5. 12 S TUCKER
    November 15, 2016 at 6:40 pm

    Steve Redpath is focused on conflict resolution: for an updated perspective I would suggest you read the book he edited last year. “Conflicts In Conservation”. In direct correspondence with me he said that he is not absolutely in favour of brood meddling but in favour of trialling it in one area to see whether it is feasible.

    Personally, I don’t think there should be any scheme put in place that does not demand an absolute cessation of illegal and environmentally damaging activities before it is even discussed.

    • November 15, 2016 at 11:24 pm

      Anyone who thinks that working with the, more and more open about their criminal activities, shooting lobby, is naive in the extreme if they think they are not going to be used by them to wipe out harriers…your last sentence is exactly right…but its not going to happen is it?

    • 14 Dylanben
      November 19, 2016 at 1:50 pm

      It’s not going to happen because, by agreeing to do so, they would be admitting something which they deny occurs.

  6. 15 steve macsweeney
    November 15, 2016 at 6:53 pm

    It’s a joke!
    Economic risk? To how many.
    Conservation risk –to what, hundreds of friggin’ grouse
    Social risk–sorry you got me there.

  7. 16 Alan
    November 15, 2016 at 8:05 pm

    Has Steve Redpath lost his compass?

  8. 17 Rob Mann
    December 10, 2016 at 2:12 am

    As always you’re dong a great job in defending our raptors. Please could you avoid “Jesus” as an expletive that I find hurtful, unscientific, and possibly an own goal bearing in mind that in him all things will be made new. Keep up the great work! Rob Mann

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