Hen harrier reintroduction to southern England: Has France said “Non”?

As many of you will know, part of DEFRA’s ludicrous Hen Harrier Action Plan is the proposed reintroduction (not really a reintroduction) of hen harriers to southern England.

We know, through a series of FoIs, that Salisbury Plain in Wiltshire is the currently proposed reintroduction site and the proposed start date is 2018.

We also know, via FoIs, that several countries had been approached as potential hen harrier donors, including the Netherlands, Spain, Poland and France (see here). Of these, only France seemed a realistic prospect and the Southern Reintroduction Project Team has been spending a lot of time (and tax-payers’ money) on seeking approval from the French authorities.

However, there is a persistent rumour (and we emphasise that this is nothing more than a rumour at the moment, albeit a frequently spoken one by several different sources) that the French Government has said “Non!” to providing the UK with French hen harriers for relocation to Salisbury Plain. The reason for this refusal, according to rumour, might have something to do with Natural England’s outrageous decision to issue a hen harrier brood meddling licence permitting the removal of hen harrier eggs and chicks from grouse moors across northern England.

That would seem a perfectly legitimate reason for the French authorities to refuse – why on earth would they donate hen harriers if those very same hen harriers (assuming they’re not shot on sight) might end up having their future offspring removed from the wild and taken in to captivity, just so a bunch of grouse shooters can kill more red grouse for fun?

Of course, the French authorities’ decision (if true) may have nothing to do with brood meddling at all – it may simply be based on the UK’s complete and utter failure to protect hen harriers from illegal persecution.

We’ve submitted another FoI to Natural England to try and find out what’s going on, but on past performance we’re not holding our breath.

Meanwhile, where does that leave the proposed reintroduction project? Perhaps the Project Team will now approach Scotland for donor birds? We know, via an FoI to SNH, that as of 6 February 2017 SNH had not received any correspondence about being a potential donor source. SNH wrote:

“We can advise there has been no approach from Natural England or others involved with this project, but that if SNH received such a request we would assess it by our own normal licensing processes and the Scottish Translocation Code, as it would relate to a reintroduction project seeking Scottish involvement / donor stock“.

But then there’s Russia. We know, again via FoI, that Philip Merricks of the Hawk & Owl Trust told a Reintroduction Project Team meeting in October 2016, ‘that Russian counterparts had suggested that sourcing birds there was relatively straight forward provided that proper channels were followed’. The Project team ‘agreed to pursue sources closer to home for now’.

So will they now approach Russia to ask them to donate hen harriers for release on Salisbury Plain? Current political sensitivities suggest this might be a bit, er, awkward.

Ever the optimists, here’s the Reintroduction Project Team photographed on a recent training day, just in case:


11 Responses to “Hen harrier reintroduction to southern England: Has France said “Non”?”

  1. 1 Mike Whitehouse
    March 13, 2018 at 1:03 pm

    Brilliant article

  2. 2 Alex Milne
    March 13, 2018 at 1:15 pm

    I’m sure all will be revealed on the 1st of April.

  3. March 13, 2018 at 2:17 pm

    You know this is a sham when under the list of Risks (in their own FOI released document) they didn’t consider persecution on grouse moors as a risk!
    What is interesting is this IS considered a risk to HHAP
    ‘Legal Challenge to Brood Management taints proposals for SR [southern reintroduction], weakening support within the conservation sector and Government’.

    They got that right but what ‘support within the conservation sector’?

  4. 5 Al Woodcock
    March 13, 2018 at 4:17 pm

    If they were introduced onto Salisbury Plain, wouldn’t they just travel to their preferred habitat (the uplands) for the breeding season, where we all know what would happen to them?

    • 6 Messi
      March 14, 2018 at 8:40 pm

      They’d be lucky to get out of the Wessex Downs with their lives given the number of shoots and incidents of persecution north Salisbury Plain Training Area (which itself has some very active shoots conducting all manner of ‘predator control’ operations)

  5. 7 Mick
    March 13, 2018 at 8:09 pm

    Natural England what a set of idiots, why don’t they do the sensible thing and make land owners stop gamekeepers killing these birds. It’s a crime, they should be sacked and jailed.

  6. 8 Tony Warburton MBE
    March 14, 2018 at 2:56 pm

    Al, in answer to your question – “yes”. I suggest we send Mr Merricks to Russia right away to check his ludicrous idea out. I am sure he would get a very warm, much deserved, welcome!

  7. 9 Mole
    March 14, 2018 at 6:05 pm

    I think that I’m correct in saying that there are13 organised pheasant/partridge shoots actually on Salisbury Plain. Wildlife is already being persecuted to protect these shoots. In and around the surrounding areas off the Plain there are a large number of farm shoots. The numbers of theses shoots have increased over the years, to such an extent that I’ve even heard very pro hunting folk complaining of the increasing number of shoots in the area. Red kites are complained about as too many now with the suggestion of a threat to farm stock. So ignorance is still rife in the countryside and old prejudices are ever present. One thing I’ve learnt since moving from city to countryside is that farmers and countryfolk are not always the friends of wildlife and they often know surprisingly little about it all.

  8. 10 nimby
    March 16, 2018 at 12:27 am

    Forgive my ignorance but has there been any public benefit assessment made if public funds are to be used?

    I seem to recall reading somewhere that it was being funded by either the MA or a consortium of their membership which would effectively fund rearing by JP-J et. al.?

    How can NE possibly justify spend when there is wholesale opposition from legitimate conservation NGOs? Yes, I appreciate that I should be directing such questions to NE. Likewise what if any conditions are being attached to supporters of this ‘project’? If it fails will public funds be returned by advocates and supporters?

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