As part of DEFRA’s Hen Harrier Inaction Plan, we know that a ‘reintroduction’ of hen harriers is planned for southern England.
We know that a (flawed) feasibility study funded by Natural England had identified two main areas of interest: Wiltshire and Exmoor (see here). We’ll discuss Wiltshire in a separate blog. This blog is all about the proposed reintroduction of Hen Harriers to Exmoor National Park.
We’ve gleaned the following information from a series of FoIs:
At a Hen Harrier reintroduction project team meeting in July 2016, Adrian Jowitt (from Natural England) reported to the group that he had started conversations with Exmoor National Park Authority (ENPA), the Greater Exmoor Shoot Association (GESA), the National Farmers Union (NFU) and the National Trust (NT). Adrian told the project team that he had a further meeting planned in September but that so far ‘generally feedback has been positive although some concerns about what was in a project of this kind for the land managers, and worries over potential to have to change land management practices in the future should the birds become established. National Trust very positive at both a national and local level. It was agreed that we should invite NT to join this group‘.
The following month (10 August 2016) a ‘Hen Harrier’ meeting was held between Natural England, GESA, Exmoor National Park Authority and an unnamed consultant. What happened at this meeting is simply unbelievable.
Here are the notes from that meeting: brief-note-of-hen-harrier-meeting-aug-10_redacted
The meeting participants felt that ‘it would not be easy to reintroduce hen harriers‘ (although the rationale behind this view wasn’t given) ‘but not impossible‘.
According to the notes from this meeting, ‘the group’s main concern was around sufficient food supplies. Harriers had attempted to nest in recent years but not settled. Lack of food may have been an issue. GESA was keen to trial the reintroduction of red grouse to help secure a reliable food supply. This could have the added benefit of encouraging heathland management‘.
What a brilliant idea. Introduce some red grouse (on the pretence that reintroduced hen harriers will starve without them) and thus pave the way for the development of driven grouse shooting in Exmoor National Park. Yep, that’ll work a treat because everyone knows how well hen harriers do on driven grouse moors. It’s not like there’s ever been a conflict of interest between grouse moor managers and hen harriers. It’s not like grouse moor managers have ever killed so many hen harriers that the HH breeding population is on the point of extinction in England.
Later on in this meeting, it was decided that rather than just focus solely on hen harriers, the project should be seen as ‘bringing moorland birds back to Exmoor – e.g. red (and potentially) black grouse, merlin, ring ouzel etc as well as hen harrier‘.
It was agreed that this idea would be discussed further at GESA’s annual meeting at the end of August. And it was. Here is the agenda for that GESA meeting: greater-exmoor-game-shoots-draft-agenda-aug-31_redacted
We don’t know exactly what was said at that GESA annual meeting at the end of August but we know a little bit. Adrian Jowitt reported back to the HH reintroduction project team in October 2016 and this is what was recorded in the meeting notes:
‘ AJ and [redacted] attended a meeting with Exmoor National Park and GESA. A number of views were expressed, some very positive but one, from the shooting perspective, clearly against the idea of reintroduction. The fears raised were that a reintroduction would lead to increased scrutiny of their legal activities and if the project was unsuccessful the shoots would be blamed. They did not see Harriers as being a direct issue for the shoots‘.
Increased scrutiny of legal activities, eh? What a shocker. Although not a shocker when you start to look at some of the names involved with shoots on Exmoor….some of those names are quite familiar to us and have strong connections to certain grouse moors in northern England and Scotland. It’s no surprise that those individuals would not want increased scrutiny on Exmoor if their activities in the northern uplands are a measure of their attitude to the law.
So what next for the bonkers proposal for Exmoor National Park? Well, it looks like they’re still going for it. Here is some email correspondence from Sept 2016 between Adrian Jowitt and Sarah Bryan of Exmoor National Park Authority (she was Head of Conservation & Access at ENPA at the time these emails were written, but she’s recently been promoted to Chief Exec of ENPA): email-correspondence-sarah-bryan_adrian-jowitt-re-moorland-bird-project-exmoor
An FoI has been submitted to ENPA to find out more details about the planned ‘moorland bird project’.