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)