Hen harrier satellite tag data to be presented in……Vancouver!

Natural England has been using tax payers’ money to fit satellite tags to young hen harriers in England for over ten years.

Since then, there has been a steady stream of reports of those tagged harriers ‘disappearing’ in suspicious circumstances on grouse moors, or being found illegally shot (often on grouse moors), or occasionally dying from natural causes.

We, and several others, have been asking Natural England to release the geographic data for several years because we believe the data will demonstrate a strong link between the locations of ‘disappearing’ hen harriers and land managed for driven grouse shooting (in exactly the same way ‘disappearing’ sat tagged golden eagles have been strongly linked to land managed for grouse shooting). These hen harrier data should be in the public domain, not just because we’ve paid for the data collection, but because these data could provide the evidence we need to apply badly needed pressure on the Government to take action against the criminals within the grouse shooting industry who continue to persecute this species.

However, Natural England has steadfastly refused to release the data, first telling us that the data were part of a PhD study and so couldn’t be released prior to the PhD submission. Then when we found out that the PhD had been abandoned after 11(!) years of ‘study’, NE told us last year that the data wouldn’t be released because an analysis was being undertaken by external academics and would be submitted for peer-review publication in 2018.

We have been highly critical of NE’s refusal to discuss these data and have suggested (here and here) that NE is involved in a massive cover-up to suppress these data to protect the interests of the grouse shooting industry; an industry NE is supporting through its ludicrous hen harrier brood meddling scheme.

Well, after another year of waiting for these data to emerge, it now appears that an analysis has been completed and the findings will be presented at a scientific conference in August……but you’ll have to go to Vancouver to find out the results!

The following is an abstract that has been accepted for presentation at the International Ornithological Congress on 25th August 2018:

Disappointingly, this abstract does not reveal any of the findings but it is interesting to note that Professor Stephen Redpath is listed as a co-author – that’ll be Stephen Redpath who is heavily involved in Natural England’s scandalous hen harrier brood meddling proposal (currently facing two legal challenges, from Mark Avery and the RSPB) and the proposed ‘reintroduction’ of hen harriers to southern England (more on this subject shortly).

If, as we fully expect, the results of this sat tag data analysis do implicate grouse moor management with the suspicious disappearance of hen harriers, that’ll lead to Natural England facing further awkward questions (and perhaps further legal challenges) about how its actions are failing to help the hen harrier (a species it has a statutory duty to protect) and instead how it’s actions are helping to shield the grouse shooting industry criminals from facing justice.

Unfortunately we won’t be in Vancouver to listen to Dr Arj Amar’s presentation (which undoubtedly will be very good), but we know a few who will and we’ll ask them to try and attend this talk and provide us with some details.

We’ll also be asking Natural England to release the findings of this analysis, even if they’re only preliminary results.

12 Responses to “Hen harrier satellite tag data to be presented in……Vancouver!”

  1. 1 Alex Milne
    July 10, 2018 at 12:00 pm

    Perhaps Natural England believe we will have by now forgotten about the large numbers of birds they have tagged, and that the results can be safely released. No doubt they will claim that as a result of their recent actions Hen Harriers now face a resurgence in England. If only the pesky conservationists had waited, and not interfered, there would be lots more imported birds in the South, and grouse moor owners now wish to see some birds of prey on their land. No doubt the media will fall for this ploy, but I and many more will not.

  2. 2 Richard Ebbs
    July 10, 2018 at 12:29 pm

    Is the reason you won’t have a presence a financial one? If so I’m sure a crowdfunding project would solve the problem!

    [Ed: thanks Richard, but no, it’s not for financial reasons – got other plans for that week!]

  3. July 10, 2018 at 2:01 pm

    I think a rather pertinent question is whether this will also be submitted to a (reputable) journal to be peer-reviewed and published, and if so, where and when. You don’t think they might try to get away with just this use of the data, do you? I know Arjun Amar reasonably well from his time here in Orkney studying Hen Harriers. I’d be surprised if he was involved in anything underhand.

    • July 10, 2018 at 2:46 pm

      We have every confidence that if Arj Amar consider the analysis scientifically robust, he will ensure it’s submitted to a suitably reputable journal for publication.

      The question will be whether the analysis is complete at this stage, or whether he’s just presenting a preliminary analysis with further work needed before submission.

    • 5 Ian Cole
      July 11, 2018 at 7:16 am

      And if you know anything about Orkney you will know 3 things:
      There’s a healthy hen harrier population.
      There are no grouse moors.
      There are no gamekeepers.

      • July 11, 2018 at 9:27 am

        Nearly true – we do have grouse moors, but not moors managed for grouse. The shooting lobby will tell you that that is why we don’t have many grouse, which are the mainstay of the Scottish rural economy – we are very impoverished here in Orkney! They will also tell you that there are lots of Hen Harriers because their main diet is the Orkney Vole. The Orkney Vole is only in danger from the recently introduced Stoat. All of which presents conundrums; not many grouse, but harriers don’t take many. Harriers eat voles but there’s lots of them. The answer is, of course, no gamekeepers.

  4. 7 crypticmirror
    July 10, 2018 at 5:37 pm

    You can bet the shooting lobby already has had a leaked sneak peak. We’ll probably see pre-written press releases from them as soon as the talk ends (or sooner if they much up the timezones).

  5. 8 lazerock
    July 10, 2018 at 7:22 pm

    An outside shot, but is it possible that the presentation might be webcasted from the conference, either live or later?

  6. July 10, 2018 at 7:40 pm

    This is most definitely political, or rather due to the political regime now in government. In late 2008 Natural England produced a report based on detailed monitoring of Hen Harriers and attempted nesting called “A Future For The Hen Harrier in England”. This report unequivocally blamed persecution by grouse shooting interests for the lack of breeding Hen Harriers in England and their low numbers.

    I will directly quote from the Natural England web page at the time describing this report – “Detailed monitoring work since 2002 has shown that the critically low breeding numbers and patchy distribution of the hen harrier in England is a result of persecution – both in the breeding season, and at communal roosts in the winter – especially on areas managed for red grouse or with game rearing interests.” This is now archived content on the National Archives, and was removed from the Natural England website not long after the change of political regime.

    The big question is this. If Natural England could unequivocally state that persecution by shooting interests was the main reason for the low Hen Harrier numbers and failed nesting attempts in England, in 2008-2009, and publish a summary of their findings, then why are they so loathe do so now? I believe the answer is obvious. Up until 2010 Natural England was overseen by a different political regime. In reality it is nothing to do with Natural England and everything to do with NE’s current political masters.

  7. 10 Ken Brown
    July 10, 2018 at 10:48 pm

    If analysis is over then they ought to release the raw data as soon as conference speech complete. Then other researchers can see if their conclusions agree ..

  8. July 12, 2018 at 3:06 pm

    It may not be a bad thing that the report sees the light of day at the International Ornithological Conference. It might even be beneficial, dependant on content and reactions to it. I can’t imagine how it would even be possible to keep it under wraps after that – quite the opposite. Who knows ? – It may even be a constructive measure to get it past any controlling individuals or “partners” here.

  9. July 13, 2018 at 9:43 am

    [Ed: Comment deleted. Mark, please stop spamming this site and please stop writing libellous tosh. Thanks]

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