When will Natural England pull the plug on hen harrier brood meddling?

Following on from the news earlier this week that two of this year’s five brood meddled hen harrier chicks have ‘disappeared’ in suspicious circumstances (both on grouse moors, we’ve been told unofficially), questions have been asked about when Natural England will pull the plug on this outrageous five year ‘trial’.

[The most pitiful photograph of the year: the five brood meddled hen harrier chicks, removed from their nest and parents to appease the grouse shooting industry. After being released again in August, two have since vanished in suspicious circumstances]

Although the corpses of the two ‘missing’ hen harriers haven’t been found (hardly a surprise, those people killing these birds have learned to cover their tracks and destroy the evidence thus preventing any prospect of being prosecuted), expert opinion from both within and outwith the shooting industry is pretty clear about what’s likely to have happened to them:

Natural England does have an exit strategy for the hen harrier brood meddling trial, as laid out in the Project Plan, although the terms of reference are a bit vague, perhaps deliberately so:

So there is scope in this exit strategy to stop the trial at any time rather than having to endure a full five years of this pantomime – that’s good – but look at the section highlighted in red above: it is not clear how many brood meddled hen harriers have to ‘disappear’ or be found and confirmed to have been illegally killed before a decision is made to pull the plug.

We’ve been seeking clarity on this but so far Natural England has dodged the question:

This question was also put directly to Natural England during a meeting with Wild Justice in August. The interim CEO and one of her Directors said they didn’t know off the top of their heads but would find out and get back to us. So far, nothing.

The licence to brood meddle hen harriers in England expires in January 2020 (it was only issued on a two-year basis, for legal reasons) so it’ll be interesting to see whether Natural England issues it again and if so, how it deals with the knowledge that two of the five (and possibly more by then) have most likely been killed on grouse moors.

We’re also still waiting to hear from the court to find out whether Mark Avery and the RSPB can appeal an earlier decision and have the brood meddling ‘trial’ declared unlawful.

19 Responses to “When will Natural England pull the plug on hen harrier brood meddling?”

  1. October 3, 2019 at 10:17 am

    It’s a complete shambles and should never have been undertaken in the first place. It comes of no surprise that birds are once again going missing and what the most likely cause is.

    The shooting industry will never get their own house in order which leaves only one realistic option. Complete ban.

    Tony Juniper has been a total disappointment in his role. Signed off on the murder of 1000’s of badgers with no scientific justification and is also bowing to the shooting lobby with this. NE are simply not fit for purpose.

  2. October 3, 2019 at 10:18 am

    Time for the Hawk and Owl Trust to regain some respect and withdraw from this scheme as they promised.
    Strangely strange, they are silent.

    • October 10, 2019 at 3:35 pm

      From Mark’s blog
      ‘John Ball says:
      October 9, 2019 at 2:00 pm

      Mr Merricks is no longer Chairman of HOT and was replaced in Sept by Henry Robinson.
      Henry Robinson was CLA President during 2014/2015 and Phillip Merricks is currently President of the Kent Branch of the CLA, how cosy!’

  3. October 3, 2019 at 10:18 am

    I can’t see NE fighting a new legal challenge which I expect that Wild Justice would make if a new licence is issued in 2020. Better just not to issue a new licence.
    This has been an absolute disaster from the start many years ago, compounded by the idiotic premature release release of information about a police investigation.
    Compare this with the Scottish Estate who managed to get nearly all the Scottish media, (unbelievably including the BBC) peddling tripe about estate staff searching diligently for a missing tagged raptor.
    Thanks to RPUK and others including the arrival of Nick Lyall, it is to be hoped that this would not be repeated.

  4. 5 AndyH
    October 3, 2019 at 10:26 am

    That photograph of those five brood meddled HH’s is one of the saddest I’ve ever seen; truly wild birds snatched from the nest and placed in a totally alien environment, their fate determined by the very people who have persecuted HH’s to the point of extinction. Anyone with a thinking brain knows that brood meddling is the wrong approach to protecting HH’s. Natural England – please stop pandering to the grouse shooting industry, which itself is a disgrace to our natural heritage.

    • October 3, 2019 at 10:45 am

      Yes that photograph really exposes how sick this scheme is. How there are no bounds to how unnatural attempts will be made to suck up to the grousers.
      Of course if it had been a similar photo of a Critically Endangered species, it would also have been sad but we would have known that it was an absolute last resort. It isn’t. We could ban this mafia type killing with the stroke of a pen if politicians has any guts.

    • 7 Barney
      October 3, 2019 at 9:44 pm

      I absolutely agree Andy it’s heart breaking and should not be happening they should be in a nest on the hills and whoever took them out of the nest should be ashamed of themselves, what do you see when you look in a mirror

  5. 8 Andy Mitchell
    October 3, 2019 at 10:58 am

    As you, and otehrs say, entirely predictable and entirely unacceptable. I think the scheme will be dropped. On a lighter note, can you ask why the person who wrote the project plan suddenly, part way through, found themselves unable to spell ‘dependent’ correctly?

  6. 9 Me
    October 3, 2019 at 11:16 am

    Very, very sad news yet again about our wildlife that can’t defend it’s self from the cowardly, barbaric and brain dead people we have on our planet.We can only hope our voices,petitions,protests etc will get the point across that blood lust sports such as Grouse shooting,trophy hunting etc has no place on our planet.The problem is the brain dead people are the ones with money and therefore bred corruption,sorry,influence on other brain dead people. One day …
    I hope the parents of the five chicks are safe and well ?

  7. October 3, 2019 at 12:17 pm

    ‘I hope the parents of the five chicks are safe and well ?’
    To help answer that question you only need to look as far as the Nidderdale Birds of Prey Report 2019
    and to know that Territory 2 in the Peregrine section is on Swinton Estate which was co-incidentally the estate which for a short time hosted the the brood ‘managed’ nest.
    Beyond that

  8. October 3, 2019 at 1:42 pm

    Maybe there’s a question to be asked about imprinting – as obscure as that might seem – I don’t know the details of how they were raised pre-release . Hopefully not fed by a “keeper” (as in zookeeper) dressed in tweeds and a deerstalker carrying a “stick” under his arm. The point I’m making is – who is making sure that they’re being raised to genuinely fear human contact. I’ve go as far as to say that if a “falconer based” approach to raising chicks is being adopted this outcome would have been even more predictable. I may be wrong, of course, but this would clearly suggest a highly questionable use of funding and resources and undeniably underline the root cause of the problem – persecution. Having been given the opportunity, brood meddling has proved that it can never be a solution to it.

  9. October 3, 2019 at 3:37 pm

    I think the big problem for Natural England and Tony Juniper is their stupid backing of a stupid scheme which was rather obviously going to go pear-shaped. This set up a certain dynamic i.e. they set themselves up. If they abandon it and admit it was a disastrous failure, this raises the uncomfortable question for them of why they ever backed this idiotic scheme in the first place. After all they can’t say they weren’t warned about what would happen.

    Unfortunately, in cases like this where people set themselves up, they tend to just plough on with it anyway. The idiotic Badger cull is a great example. Not only is it not working, but just as the leading scientific experts predicted, bTB cases are actually rising in cull areas, But they carry on with it, and carry on expanding it simply because admitting it isn’t working would raise big questions about why they ignored the advice of the leading scientific experts in the first place.

  10. October 3, 2019 at 5:01 pm

    The thing about using public money for political purposes is that it is really hard to justify. Expose the funding to audit.

  11. 14 Anon
    October 3, 2019 at 6:23 pm

    The people at NE aren’t daft. They have made it clear (in writing) that estates needed to make sure their staff were on their best behaviour. And it appears they might not have been. More importantly, by issuing their spun press release without the knowledge of NE, the Moorland Association have shown they are not a trusted partner. That, in itself, should be enough for NE to pull the plug on this trial – maybe the trial was really to test the conduct of partner organisations. In this respect, I would suggest it has been a resounding success!

    • October 3, 2019 at 8:38 pm

      If they had that power over their members it would be an admission that the whole racket is organized crime in the sense that it is a group activity which benefits everyone. The ability to curtail that crime admits that it was organized in the first place, like Anderson’s ‘if we let them in’ comment and the stopping of raptor killing at Langholm.
      I think it would be absurd for them and NE to think MA have that kind of influence over their members.
      Although it is organized crime the criminals are out of control. I have no evidence to back this up but looking at the recent events in government makes me sure that for the privileged elite, self interest is their only principal and i can’t imagine them taking orders from anyone. They don’t obey the law of the land or fear the police and courts, why should they obey the MA? To me it is absurd that the people who invented this madness thought they would.

  12. 16 Iain Gibson
    October 3, 2019 at 6:43 pm

    Are we living on two different planets? It certainly seems to be the case regarding a variety of different factors regarding the reality of harrier behaviour. This sickening (to me) experiment misses a rather important ethical v unethical measure of simple philosophy, i.e. an honest and deep understanding of nature. In some cases the proponents of identifying ‘the enemies’ as some sort of threat to human satisfaction in killing red grouse is a philosophical aberration which still remains in the remnants of our evolution from primitive savages to a modicum of civilisation. The thought of what kind of world we are creating is both deeply worrying and frustrating.

  13. 17 John Clare
    October 3, 2019 at 8:42 pm

    NE has a straightforward get-out from this crazy situation. It’s my belief that they only gave themselves a licence in the first instance because it was a ‘trial’ – to see what happens (seem to have heard that term somewhere else not long ago). They might well argue that the trial was a success and that it’s apparently only been scuppered by rogue gamekeeping elements operating on a business as usual basis. However, the whole caboodle is so tainted, with birds disappearing and project partners doing their own thing, that they would be wise to seize the opportunity to drop the meddling process once the current licence expires next January. Unwittingly, the MA may have done us all a big favour.

  14. 18 Anon
    October 4, 2019 at 6:56 am

    What I’m saying is that NE may have knowingly trapped the MA, giving them the chance to prove that they, and their members, could do brood meddling responsibly and properly and in partnership. And the trial of this has shown that the MA cannot do this. We must remember that this trial was never about improving the conservation status of the Hen Harrier. This trial, translocating a few broods, was never going to result in Hen Harrier population increases. Neither might upscaling it to 10 broods – which might well be illegal as HRA might suggest it will have a significant impact on the SPA donor populations. Put another way, the trial has proven to NE that brood meddling is not a sensible conservation option that NE should pursue. Job done – so NE can now put this daft and expensive option in the bin and get on with backing what is needed to save Hen Harriers which is increasing adult survival.

    • October 4, 2019 at 9:27 am

      One would hope that, especially with Tony Juniper involved but their general attitude and the extension of the badger cull indicate otherwise. When the other 2 tagged birds get killed will Juniper wake up. Will Jemima Parry-Jones want to continue with this another time?

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