RSPB joins legal challenge against Hen Harrier brood meddling licence

In January this year, Natural England issued a licence to Jemima Parry-Jones (International Centre for Birds of Prey, Newent, Glos) permitting the controversial removal of hen harrier eggs and chicks from some nests on grouse moors in Northern England, to protect artificially-high stocks of red grouse being farmed for shooting. The licence permits the ICBP to rear the young hen harriers in captivity and then release them in August back to the same grouse moor areas from where they were removed, where they will once again be put at risk of being illegally killed.

This licence is fundamental to DEFRA’s hen harrier brood meddling plan, which forms part of its ludicrous Hen Harrier Action Plan. For background reading on hen harrier brood meddling, please see here. The ICBP is being paid by the Moorland Association to undertake the brood meddling work, and the licence is supported by the members of the Hen Harrier Brood Meddling Project Board, which includes Rob Cooke (Natural England), Adrian Jowitt (Natural England), Steve Redpath (Aberdeen University), Jemima Parry-Jones (ICBP), Adrian Smith (GWCT), Philip Merricks (Hawk & Owl Trust), Amanda Anderson (Moorland Association), Robert Benson (Moorland Association).

In early February, lawyers acting on behalf of Mark Avery decided to challenge the lawfulness of Natural England’s decision to issue this licence by way of a judicial review. The lawyers agreed to work at reduced rates and Mark successfully raised over £26,000 via crowdfunding to support the legal action.

In late February Mark’s lawyers sent a ‘pre-action protocol letter’ to Natural England, outlining the perceived legal inadequacies of the decision to issue the licence. The letter also invited Natural England to revoke the licence and undertake a proper public consultation on the issue of hen harrier brood meddling.

This pre-action protocol letter is the first step in the process of judicial review and Natural England should respond within 14 days (deadline 14 March 2018). If Mark’s lawyers find Natural England’s response inadequate, they will move to begin formal legal proceedings via judicial review.

Today, the RSPB has announced that it, too, has started proceedings and has sent its own pre-action protocol letter to Natural England. We don’t know the details of that letter but we expect the specifics to be very similar to the letter sent by Mark’s lawyers.

We now have to wait for Natural England’s response(s).

Assuming Natural England stands by its decision-making process, and permission is granted by the courts to proceed with a full judicial review, we might expect Natural England to temporarily suspend the brood meddling licence while legal proceedings are underway, much in the way that SNH suspended its General Licence Restriction on Raeshaw Estate while that judicial review was heard.

Interesting times ahead.

UPDATE 17 April 2018: Legal challenge against hen harrier brood meddling continues, x2 (here)


21 Responses to “RSPB joins legal challenge against Hen Harrier brood meddling licence”

  1. 1 Nick
    March 9, 2018 at 2:26 pm

    Well done to all those who are standing up for the persecuted wildlife of this country

  2. 2 Alex Milne
    March 9, 2018 at 2:47 pm

    I’m not convinced that grouse moor owners will be prepared to allow one Harrier to nest and lay eggs, never mind 2 within 10km. Can the Moorland Association convince their members to allow birds to nest? Seems unlikely to me. It’s a far cry from seeing them out of the window every day.
    Anyway, I welcome RSPB, even if they took a while to get there.

    • March 9, 2018 at 3:56 pm

      There’s a certain arrogance shown when anyone can talk of the near certainty that HHs will attempt to nest anyway in present situation – where are they going to appear from? Or does someone know, with certainty, that birds appear every year and are routinely prevented from breeding successfully? Or is this simply a PR exercise aimed at appearing to “be good” in the knowledge that birds are unlikely ever to be allowed to breed? It’s all about adult HHs being given the chance to settle into the area without interference. How can anyone easily prove that’s going to be allowed to happen without constant independent supervision?

      • March 10, 2018 at 11:14 am

        ‘Or does someone know, with certainty, that birds appear every year and are routinely prevented from breeding successfully?’
        I though that that was what the satellite data was showing and that was what all the police reports of pole traps and dummy Hen Harriers etc. was all about. I have seen Hen Harriers recently in winter in the Forest of Bowland but from what i read in these comments they are virtually never seen by birders in the Dales and NYM. I presume that means they are killed as soon as they appear. I just checked on BirdTrack but Hen Harrier (and many raptors are not shown), for obvious reasons.

        • March 10, 2018 at 2:31 pm

          Just to remove any doubt – the “someone” I’m referring to here could be any local owner or employee who may know that for this proposal to have any chance of “success” has to be based on their knowledge that preventative measures to breeding are known to have been taken in the past, inferring that this is a compromise that they’ve had to make to stave of the threat of licensing or a total ban.

          • March 10, 2018 at 3:26 pm

            I see what you mean, i think.
            I have tried to imagine what level of organization it would required for a decision to be made to allow one or two pairs to breed, as Alex hints at. Previously i have thought of the organized crime element as being more like criminals and their bosses turning a blind eye and profiting collectively from the crime of others i.e. not highly organized at all and certainly not under control of the xxxxxxxxx xxxxxxxxx. But i guess it wouldn’t be too hard for neighbouring criminals to meet at the pub or call up each other and say ‘we have a pair 10km from an RSPB nest, maybe we’ll give xxxxxxxxxxx a call, so you can carry on as usual, wink, wink’. Word would get around quickly to other grouse moors. There would have to be a pay off, and the only thing i can think of, is they would take it in turns. That would take the organized crime element to a whole new level and seems entirely possible. In which case legalizing brood persecution would be incentivising and increasing mafia like activity.

            • March 10, 2018 at 4:13 pm

              Anand….that organised element is exactly what is taking place…I have direct knowledge of keepers contacting each other to complain if one doesnt wipe out a harrier on his side of a march boundary….the same applies to golden eagles in at least one grouse moor in South Scotland. Ive also known of keepers getting together in an organised nighttime drive to flush out and kill a nesting harrier – again in South Scotland….all these cases known or reported to the police.

    • 8 Mick
      March 10, 2018 at 12:54 am

      I think we might see one or two hen harriers allowed to breed on English driven grouse moors this year. I think driven grouse shooting is under so much pressure that they’ll let one or two slip though. They’ll do it as a propaganda exercise in an attempt to reduce some of the pressure they’re coming under. They’ll claim that the brood meddling is working and then revert to type.

      Not to allow any to successfully breed on driven grouse moors this year would be madness and they’ll just take them out later anyway and hide the evidence.

  3. 9 Messi
    March 9, 2018 at 3:12 pm

    I have a great deal of respect for how the RSPB has conducted itself in this regard. Like Mark, it’s evidently taken its time to consider its options carefully, and to work out if it has a strong enough case for JR, and its decision is all the more significant and potentially impactful for this. I very much hope that both Mark Avery and the RSPB are successful in their respective challenges.

    • 10 Messi
      March 9, 2018 at 3:14 pm

      Shame the RSPB is being so bleeding impotent regarding pursuing grouse moor licensing in England though!

    • 11 Paul Fisher
      March 9, 2018 at 3:35 pm

      I would have had a great deal more respect for the RSPB had they had the graciousness to acknowledge Mark Avery in this mornings announcement.
      For sure they would not have done this had they not been pushed into it.
      Will they now explain their decision in a full article in the next edition of ‘Natures Home’? Don’t hold your breath.
      We resigned our membership of HOT over this issue and the disgraceful way Merricks has controlled things and we have come very close to doing the same thing with the RSPB, dispite being ‘lifers’.
      Now, having jumped on the bandwagon, they need to show some real spirit and go the whole hog. Yes, even protect raptors!!

    • 12 Simon Tucker
      March 10, 2018 at 6:29 pm

      I am getting sick and tired of the ignmorant numpties using any excuse to attack the RSPB. They are the ONLY organisation that have a hope of taking on the shooting lobby, the ONLY organisation with the expertise to do the job, but they are also constrained by laws passed by this execrable government designed to castrate such campaigning organisations. They are not perfect but they use their mass membership to fund the investigations into raptor persecution – but they also have to ensure they don’t alienate that membership, so they have to do thing in a considered and responsible manner.

  4. March 9, 2018 at 3:53 pm

    A lot will depend on the judge of the day, if he or she is right wing both these cases will go down the pan. The rule of law will not have any bearing on the case as it has been and will be bent to satisfy the court of the day, the more so pertaining to wildlife as they (the courts) are notiously weak on anything to do with flora and flora.

    • March 9, 2018 at 4:39 pm

      It’s all a bit hypothetical and I don’t think anything we say here will have any influential effect. I would have thought that there would be a recognised risk by leaning too far to the right (or left), especially in the Brexit climate. I see your point but I don’t think we’re anywhere near the situation in the US. I see the judiciary here and now as at least having the impression of appearing “centre ground”, more especially where there might be an obvious link made to an individual’s background, education etc. It can work in your favour in a high profile, public interest case that has a better than normal chance of going to appeal – one side benefitting from and happy to have publicity more than the other. It goes without saying though – it would be difficult to find an individual in the upper echelons of the judiciary who wont have a friend or colleague, in some way connected to grouse shooting.

      • March 10, 2018 at 8:58 pm

        wjspeirs.. “I don’t think anything we say here will have any influential effect.” early on when this blog was still RPS, I made a similar comment about the scottish justice system..and was amazed to be contacted directly by a Crown Office official who said he was sending a police officer to take my statement!…Instead I sent the official an e mail containing chapter and verse of several official complaints I had made at the various times…all of which had resulted in apologies. End of correspondence!…This stuff is real alright…

  5. 16 Jimmy
    March 9, 2018 at 3:53 pm

    About time – NE policy of treating these grouse estates with kid gloves has failed at every level, time for a steel capped boot approach to the issue!!

  6. 17 Loki
    March 9, 2018 at 9:26 pm

    Am I being naive? Why would someone like Professor Steve Redpath – a conservation professional support this crazy scheme? How is this conservation?

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