Shameful Natural England issues another licence for hen harrier brood meddling

Last week, Natural England announced that it had issued another licence to enable hen harrier brood meddling to take place this year.

For new blog readers, hen harrier brood meddling is a conservation sham sanctioned by DEFRA and carried out by Natural England, in cahoots with the very industry responsible for the species’ catastrophic decline in England.

It is supposed to test whether those people responsible for killing hen harriers illegally would stop killing hen harriers if the chicks were brood meddled (removed from the grouse moor in June at the critical grouse-rearing stage and then returned to the wild in August). We all know this won’t work because we know that young hen harriers are killed routinely during the grouse shooting season, and especially in September and October and yet still DEFRA, Natural England and their grouse shooting mates have pressed ahead with this five year ‘trial’. For more background on hen harrier brood meddling see here.

Here is a copy of Natural England’s recent announcement:

Breeding hen harriers in England are at a critical population level. Natural England is involved in a number of initiatives to help ensure hen harriers recover including Defra’s Hen Harrier Recovery Plan.

One of these initiatives is the hen harrier brood management trial. The 5 year brood management trial is designed to determine how many hen harriers can live alongside grouse before they have an impact on grouse numbers through predating them. Natural England is also involved in monitoring surveys, protecting hen harriers from persecution and exploring re-introduction into the South of England.

Brood management involves the removal of hen harrier eggs and/or chicks to a dedicated hatching and rearing facility, where they are hand-reared in captivity, before being transferred to specially-constructed pens in hen harrier breeding habitat, from which they are then re-introduced into the wild in the uplands of northern England.

We issued the first 2 year trial licence in 2018. Earlier this year we received an application to renew this licence for a further two years. A renewal licence application has now been processed and we issued the licence on 20th May 2020.

Successful brood management intervention took place in 2019. All five chicks from the intervention nest were successfully raised to become healthy fledglings and released. That is a strong success rate compared to the 2018 nesting data which show that five of the 14 wild nests failed entirely and only two of the 14 wild nests were able to fledge five chicks.

We understand that some people may have questions and concerns over the taking of birds from the wild and so I wanted to outline more about this decision.

Evidence suggests that hand-rearing hen harriers in captivity before releasing them into the wild can lead to an improvement in their numbers and therefore their conservation status. Brood management is the sixth action within the Defra Hen Harrier Recovery Plan. One of the success criteria of the plan is to build confidence with land managers that thriving harrier populations can coexist with local business interests and contribute to a thriving rural economy.

This intervention may only occur in areas where there are already enough hen harrier nests to protect their numbers in the local population. The ‘trigger’ for brood management to commence is two successful nests occurring within 10km of each other, on a grouse moor.

The licence is time-limited for a 2-year period and places stringent conditions on the trial. We have rigorously scrutinised the licence application and will work closely with the licence applicant throughout the duration of the trial to ensure that all elements are carried out proportionately and effectively, to bring about the best possible outcome for hen harriers.

The applicant will have to provide evidence that they have taken every precaution to ensure the welfare of the birds or local populations are not affected.

We understand that there are active hen harrier nests this year that meet the licensed criteria for trial brood management and willing landowners who want to be part of the trial.

We will shortly publish the redacted licence and a link will be provided here.


There is so much to say about this, but we’ll come back to it in separate blogs.

For now, we have asked Natural England to provide the following information:

  • What is the status of the five satellite-tagged hen harrier chicks from the 2019 brood meddled nest? The last we heard three of the five had ‘disappeared’ (here) although then one came back online (here) and it then became apparent that some of the satellite tags used last year were different to the tags used previously and were not as reliable (see here). [SEE UPDATE AT FOOT OF BLOG]
  • Can we see a copy of the annual report of the 2019 brood meddling trial that the HH Brood Meddling Project Team is required to provide, as laid out in the Brood Meddling Management Plan.
  • Can we see a copy of the approved minutes of the Scientific Advisory Group’s meetings, to date.
  • Can we see the ‘report by licensee of action taken under the 2019 licence’ which was due to be submitted to NE no later than 14 days after the licence expired (20 Jan 2020) as a condition (#8) of last year’s licence.

More soon, including some shocking new information…….

[Sketch by Gerard Hobley]

UPDATE 8 June 2020: The five brood meddled hen harriers from 2019 are all ‘missing’ (see here)

14 Responses to “Shameful Natural England issues another licence for hen harrier brood meddling”

  1. May 28, 2020 at 6:28 pm

    What happened to their undertaking that no licence would be issued in the face of ongoing persecution?

  2. 4 Jimmy
    May 28, 2020 at 8:03 pm

    A total joke – the UK is becoming a banana republic when it comes to such matters

  3. 5 Keith Dancey
    May 28, 2020 at 8:45 pm

    Tony Juniper is a hypocrite.

  4. 6 WTF
    May 28, 2020 at 8:49 pm

    Another question for NE. What are their criteria for determining that a Hen Harrier population is ‘thriving’?

    • 7 Iain Gibson
      May 29, 2020 at 12:02 pm

      Apparently thriving = two successful nests 10km apart. That is just feeble. In my study area at least, “thriving” amounts to 5-10 successful pairs in a 10km square. I’d be very interested to hear how they intend to measure the impact of harriers on grouse chicks. On my study area we assessed prey species brought to nests with CCTV at two nests per year during a period of high productivity by red grouse, and NOT A SINGLE GROUSE CHICK was among the prey recorded. By far the most prominent prey items were Meadow Pipits and Field Voles and a handful of other common species, but NO GROUSE CHICKS (or adults, although one adult female harrier was observed, post-breeding, taking a full-grown grouse).

  5. 8 Paul V Irving
    May 28, 2020 at 9:51 pm

    “The 5 year brood management trial is designed to determine how many hen harriers can live alongside grouse before they have an impact on grouse numbers through predating them.”
    How is this trial going to show this, can they explain please because I think its Bullshit.
    ” The ‘trigger’ for brood management to commence is two successful nests occurring within 10km of each other, on a grouse moor.” said without irony or shame , We should be asking them where this figure came from because as far as I am aware it is not from any of the modelling. Is it what the Moorland Assoc will put up with?

    Shame Shame Shame on NE and DEFRA, we expect no better from the Grouse cabal.

    • 9 Paul V Irving
      May 29, 2020 at 11:07 am

      Actually these two sentences I lifted from the NE statement cannot both be meaningful because you cannot “determine how many hen harriers can live alongside grouse before they have an impact on grouse numbers through predating them.” if as soon as there are pairs within 10km you remove the young of all but one pair.
      One wonders if the Harrier population were really to grow ( something all raptor folk whoever they work for want) how many broods could be thus managed. I suspect very few, certainly a lot less than ten. What happens then?
      It might also be a sensible thing to ask the estates surrounding where BM takes place and where the “donor ” young go what they think and whether it has changed their minds at all about Hen Harriers. My guess not one iota.

  6. 10 workshy333
    May 30, 2020 at 9:48 am

    I do wonder how long this BM is supposed to go on for? Until it succeeds, whatever that means, or fails?Are there people that will go out, year on year and remove chicks for the sake of the endangered grouse population, or for the sake of the more ‘in danger’ HH population? Or until there are so many HHs due to this programmes success that we dont need to worry about a few HHs getting killed by trigger happy countryside protectors. It does not seem like a sustainable long term programme, let alone the clear ‘wrongness’ of it.

  7. 12 Tonyb
    May 30, 2020 at 4:10 pm

    It is supposed to test whether those people responsible for killing hen harriers illegally would stop killing hen harriers if the chicks were brood meddled ——————-They will never stop until a few of them are sent to prison!

  8. 13 Nick Power
    July 8, 2020 at 2:33 am

    Success you raise 5 chicks realease them 1 doesn’t make the channel crossing and the other 4 return and immediately disappear on and around grouse Moors.
    It’s obvious that Grouse Moors are incredibly dangerous environments for Hen Harriers and we should either
    A. Get rid of Grouse Moors so that the Hen Harriers have a chance of survival
    B. Fence off all Grouse Moors make them a no fly zone for Hen Harriers for their Safety build giant Avery’s to keep the Grouse Moors in and the Harriers out
    Ok I know A and B would be far to expensive to do and may be a touch silly so I’ve racked my brains and I’ve got one more idea.
    We investigate all the disappearances theres only a handful of them left so shouldn’t be too difficult especially as many have radio tags
    We find out what happened investigate all the murders of these internationally and domestically protected species and prosecute them to the fullest extent of the Law?

    Which what you should have been doing in the first place and stop giving out licenses to undertake an experiment which after 2 years has zero young adult Hen Harriers who will succeed and increase the current population which is what you are trying to do

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