10
Jul
20

Hen harrier reintroduction to southern England: illegal persecution still ignored

Natural England has been planning a so-called ‘reintroduction’ of hen harriers to southern England since 2016, as part of DEFRA’s ludicrous Hen Harrier Action Plan.

We’ve been blogging about this unhinged proposal for years. As regular blog readers will know, finding out information about this ‘Let’s divert attention from illegal persecution on driven grouse moors’ scheme has been as difficult as finding breeding hen harriers on driven grouse moors. Natural England has been reluctant to share its plans with the general public and all the information we’ve gleaned so far has come from years of submitting Freedom of Information requests.

For new blog readers, some of the key posts are linked at the foot of this blog for those who want to understand the background.

Meanwhile, a recent update on the project has come from the most unlikely of sources  – the newly published ‘official blog’ of the National Gamekeepers Organisation! That blog didn’t get off to a good start – one of its first posts on what it called the ‘wildlife licensing crisis’ was absolutely ripped to shreds by Mark Avery about a week ago (see here – it’s very funny).

The blog’s most recent post is an interview with Simon Lester (Natural England) on the proposed reintroduction of hen harriers to southern England. If alarm bells are ringing, yes, this is the same Simon Lester who was employed as the Head Gamekeeper at the Langholm Moor Demonstration Project until his resignation in 2016 (here), and the same Simon Lester who has argued, without scientific evidence, for the need for legal raptor culling on driven grouse moors (here, here and here), now working for Natural England on a proposed reintroduction project for a species whose population has been decimated by illegal persecution on, er, driven grouse moors.

To read the blog please click here.

In summary, Simon claims the project has strong support from local gamekeepers (well they’re hardly going to admit otherwise, are they?!), doesn’t think that illegal persecution is an issue (although the RSPB begs to differ, here), hints ominously but not overtly about ‘mitigating future problems’ (cough, raptor control, cough), and says that had Covid19 not emerged then harriers could have been brought in from Spain and France this year.

The idea of getting donor hen harriers from Spain and France is interesting, as previously these countries had refused to cooperate given a number of concerns about the status of their own harrier populations but also concerns about the ongoing illegal persecution issue in the UK. How come they’ve had a change of mind?

Well, have a look at this document that we obtained via FoI from Natural England:

Brief Report on Study Visit to Spain and France_Redacted

It’s quite something. It describes how Natural England appears to be using UK tax-payers’ money to fund hen harrier satellite tagging in Spain, and to provide field assistance to a Spanish research team, apparently to appease the Spanish authorities and encourage them to hand over hen harriers for the southern England reintroduction project!

Isn’t this the same Natural England that complains that budget cuts and staff losses prevent it from carrying out its statutory nature conservation duties in England? How much money has it chucked at research in Spain, with what looks like an ulterior motive? This is all very interesting.

Back to Simon’s interview on the National Gamekeepers blog. He is quoted as saying:

The RSPB appear to think that all harriers released will be persecuted. It would be naive to think that something illegal could not happen to a [reintroduced] harrier at some time in the future, but that is no reason to dismiss the reintroduction out of hand. I am sure we and the shooting community will prove them wrong”.

Really? Given that at least 42 hen harriers have ‘disappeared’ in suspicious circumstances or been confirmed illegally killed since 2018 (see here), it’s pretty clear that neither Simon, Natural England or the shooting community are in any position to state with confidence that reintroduced harriers wouldn’t be targeted.

UPDATE 23rd September 2020: Large police operation investigating raptor persecution near proposed release site for hen harriers (here)

____________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Here are some key blogs about the proposed hen harrier reintroduction to southern England:

28 Nov 2016 – Hen Harrier reintroduction to southern England: an update (here)

3 Jan 2017 – Hen harrier reintroduction to southern England: the feasibility/scoping report (here)

8 Jan 2017 – Hen harrier reintroduction to southern England: the project group and their timeline (here)

9 Jan 2017 – Hen harrier reintroduction to southern England: who’s funding it? (here)

9 Jan 2017 – Hen harrier reintroduction to southern England: a bonkers proposal for Exmoor National Park (here)

12 Jan 2017 – Hen harrier reintroduction to southern England: Wiltshire (here)

14 Feb 2017: Leaked email reveals Natural England’s views on Hen Harrier Action Plan (here)

23 Feb 2017: Hen harrier reintroduction to southern England: donor countries (here)

19 July 2017: Hen harrier reintroduction to southern England: new project manager appointed (here)

20 July 2017: Hen harrier reintroduction to southern England: Dartmoor as potential new release site (here)

20 July 2017: Hen harrier reintroduction to southern England: revised costs (here)

21 July 2017: Hen harrier reintroduction to southern England: project team vists France (here)

27 July 2017: RSPB statement on hen harrier reintroduction to southern England (here)

15 Aug 2017: Natural England Board making up justification for hen harrier southern reintroduction (here)

24 October 2017: Hen harrier reintroduction to southern England: Natural England delays release of information (here)

11 December 2017: Hen harrier reintroduction to southern England: report of fieldtrip to France (potential donor country) (here)

12 December 2017: 2018 start date for reintroduction of hen harrier to southern England? (here)

14 January 2018: Stop illegal persecution then no need for reintroduction of hen harrier to southern England, says DEFRA Minister (here)

13 March 2018: Hen harrier reintroduction to southern England: has France said “Non”? (here)

28 February 2019: Satellite-tagged hen harrier Vulcan disappears near proposed reintroduction site in southern England (here)

10 March 2019: Hen harrier reintroduction to southern England: Natural England suggests persecution not an issue (here)


46 Responses to “Hen harrier reintroduction to southern England: illegal persecution still ignored”


  1. 1 Paul Fisher
    July 10, 2020 at 2:52 pm

    Haven’t you just added another dead HH to your list from Bodmin Moor? Barney wasn’t it? And isn’t Bodmin Moor in the south?
    I really don’t want my hard earned money to be spent like this. Let’s be clear, NE do not have any of their own money. It’s our money. How about paying the nurses a little more, I’d like that.

  2. 3 Andy Mitchell
    July 10, 2020 at 3:24 pm

    Another little gem I picked out of the interview was “The majority of the keepers are so used to working with a more than healthy population of buzzards and kites”. A more than healthy population? What, one that needs controlling to make it healthy? These little slips give so much away. You would think that that might happen in a live recorded interview but in a written piece? It defines the mindset of such people.

    • 4 Mike Haden
      July 11, 2020 at 10:27 am

      I love it when these people use that fact that you can regularly see a species they take it to mean that it should be killed .

      I keep hearing that there are too many Wood pigeons, well there use to be too many starlings too many sparrows etc.

      We need to start to challenge the meaning of the term more than healthy, surely if these people are real conservationist then they will realise that If left alone predator/prey populations are self governing, provided 50million units of prey species aren’t released in an unregulated manner every year.

  3. 5 Keith Dancey
    July 10, 2020 at 4:13 pm

    More evidence(?) of the influence on Natural England by Tony Juniper CBE – ex-Executive Director of Friends of the Earth, ex-Vice Chairman of Friends of the Earth International, ex-Green Party Parliamentary candidate for Cambridge, ex-President of the Royal Society for Wildlife Trusts, ex-Director of Advocacy and Campaigns at WWF, ‘famous conservationist’ and ‘special pal of Prince Charles’ – currently Chairman of Natural England.

    Spit.

  4. 6 alancranston
    July 10, 2020 at 4:20 pm

    Most public servants are – or should be – aware not only that they a re spending our money but of so-called ‘opportunity costs’ – the loss of other alternatives when one is chosen. Both have plainly gone way out of the window here. I don’t know how NE cost tag-fitting (including staff costs etc) but let’s say £515k is 100 tags – ten per year for ten years or a variant. Or maybe five specialist field staff for two years. The HHAP was always bonkers but has now spun way out of control and should be shut down immediately on public accounting grounds if no other.

  5. 7 alancranston
    July 10, 2020 at 4:20 pm

    Most public servants are – or should be – aware not only that they are spending our money but of so-called ‘opportunity costs’ – the loss of other alternatives when one is chosen. Both have plainly gone way out of the window here. I don’t know how NE cost tag-fitting (including staff costs etc) but let’s say £515k is 100 tags – ten per year for ten years or a variant. Or maybe five specialist field staff for two years. The HHAP was always bonkers but has now spun way out of control and should be shut down immediately on public accounting grounds if no other.

  6. 8 sog
    July 10, 2020 at 7:24 pm

    I licked on the link to Mark Avery’s comments, my PC security software warned me not to go there. Has his site been attacked?

    The warning was “Website blocked due to a suspicious top level domain (TLD)”. I have no understanding of these things.

    • July 10, 2020 at 7:45 pm

      Hi sog

      Hmm, the link works ok at this end so not sure what’s going on there.

      If you go directly to Mark’s blog and type ‘riddled with errors’ in to the search box, his blog of July 2nd will come up.

  7. 10 Ian Carter
    July 10, 2020 at 8:54 pm

    The successful red kite reintroduction in southern England was carried out partly because illegal persecution was preventing recovery of the birds in Wales. How is this so different? Do you think the kite project was a bad idea?

    • 11 Keith Dancey
      July 11, 2020 at 10:48 am

      “The successful red kite reintroduction in southern England was carried out partly because illegal persecution was preventing recovery of the birds in Wales.”

      Not true. Despite years of encouragement, the Welsh Kites repeatedly failed to colonise further afield. As absolute proof that targeted persecution was not even ‘partly’ responsible is the fact that when introduced Red Kites were released in the Chilterns they immediately began colonising new territories, and targeted persecution was minimal.

      Why do *you* think ALL the brood-meddled Hen Harriers have suddenly ‘disappeared’, the vast majority over shooting estates? Do you think they were released near shooting estates?

      • 12 Ian Carter
        July 11, 2020 at 11:29 am

        Hi Keith, I didn’t say ‘targeted’ persecution. You are wrong about the kite project. Ongoing illegal persecution was helping to slow spread from Wales and it was proving impossible to stop. So the decision was taken to reintroduce birds elsewhere.

        100s of southern kites have been lost through persecution but levels are low enough to allow the population to increase.

        As an aside, the brood managed birds were indeed released close to shooting estates as I understand it.

        • 13 Keith Dancey
          July 11, 2020 at 1:01 pm

          “Ongoing illegal persecution was helping to slow spread from Wales”

          There wasn’t any significant spread from the Welsh Red Kites in decades due, mostly, to low chick production from the lack of suitable habitat: their numbers remained stubbornly low. But there was from those released in the Chilterns because the habitat was far better. Targeted persecution of these Red Kites failed to prevent widespread colonisation.

          You may be correct about the brood-meddled Hen Harrier’s release site(s) (being too close to shooting estates) but it remains that although northern UK Hen Harriers often visit the south they do not breed there, while all young Hen Harriers roam widely, especially to upland areas, where they are heavily targeted by the shooting industry all year round.

          Clearly, Red Kites did not.

          • 14 Peter Crispin Hack
            July 11, 2020 at 3:57 pm

            The low chick production was probably due to the fact that RK’s in wales were deeply in bred and descended from one female and two males in about 1933 and were on the very edge of their range in the Cambrians; a German Kite arrived by chnace in the Llandovery area in about 1979 and improved productivity substantially in that area ; persecution in Wales re shot birds has never been high; as there are not as substantial hunting interests, there was a substantive problem with egg collectors with as many as 8 nests lost in 1985 post a book by one of them in great detail; which led to a letter of mine in the Times re Red Kite extinction as it was 1/3 of the then population; it was that that led in part to the reintroduction programme and a strong resolution to resolve the issue.

          • 15 Peter Hack
            July 11, 2020 at 3:58 pm

            Egg collecting is no longer the problem it once was.

          • 16 Peter Hack
            July 11, 2020 at 4:06 pm

            There was and is abundant suitable habitat for RK’s in Wales, low chick productivity was due on a poor gene pool as Welsh Kites were descendedd from one female and two males in 1933 ish, a German female arrived in about 1978 to the Llandovery area and productivity soared south of the main Welsh Kite population on the edge of the Cambrians. Low spread was also hampered by egg collectors with as many as 8/25 lost in 1985 after a detailed book by one of them, this led to a Letter of mine in The Times re extinction of the RK in Britain; that led to a resolve to “sort out the RK” and the re introduction was in initiated in England around 1987/88 as I remember but no Welsh birds were released due to their vulnerability.

            • 17 Peter Hack
              July 12, 2020 at 10:18 am

              Did nt mean to put this up twice; my post seemed to fade so I wondered what had happened..fyi….I have called for the closure of Red Kite feeding stations in Wales as RK’s are now out competing buzzards….so the wheel of time turns; once again the mortgaged nature conservation establishment is way behind the curve …certainly my view is widely held in mid Wales but not by anyone rather well paid to have a view; wait until its safe eh ?

  8. 18 Nimby
    July 10, 2020 at 11:17 pm

    If grouse shooting estates and their gamekeepers are conservationists as they claim, why is the public funding their project to provide more targets for the few rotten apples to shoot/poison/trap?

    I’m somewhat surprised that I still find myself surprised at the vast sums of public money that is expended on distraction projects by Natural England to facilitate vanity media spin for their landowning pals.

    Why is any of this barmy scheme financed through public funding? I must have missed some evidence based report able to guarantee the birds from this scheme would not meet untimely ends and that there would be pecuniary penalties levied on signatories for failure – what a naive notion ;(

    Conversely they haven’t enough staff to undertake site assessments etc. Sorry but at the risk of incurring NE staff wrath, it’s perhaps time they were subject of a cull or at least from Site Managers upwards? It’s certainly not the new organisation we were duped into believing would deliver

    • 19 Mike Whitehouse
      July 11, 2020 at 9:36 am

      Perhaps they get 1 Hen Harrier free for every million game-birds that are imported each year from the continent.?

  9. 20 Spaghnum Morose
    July 11, 2020 at 12:16 am

    Why doesn’t NE store the DNA of the birds regularly found shot in the north of England, before they are completely extinguished from that region (won’t be too long, their partners are working as hard as they can). Then, when all sporting shooting is eventually banned (in 30-40yrs time), native Harriers can be resurrected and celebrated and everyone will be thankful of NE ‘s foresightedness. Only joking…for now.

  10. 21 Secret squirrel
    July 11, 2020 at 12:58 am

    Only NE could employ a Gamekeeper (strangely autocorrect wanted to change that to gangster) to run a conservation project for a species persecuted by gamekeepers.

    The disparaging remark about the RSPB is telling

  11. 22 Alan
    July 11, 2020 at 5:08 am

    I cannot think why these people want to bring birds from the continent when its quite obvious they will be persecuted poisoned shot or trapped by English gamekeepers.

  12. 23 Sandra Padfield
    July 11, 2020 at 9:01 am

    I’m confused, the name of the project manager is Simon Lee? Where does Simon Lester come into it?

    • 24 Keith Dancey
      July 11, 2020 at 10:51 am

      Yes, you are confused. Try reading the article again.

      • 25 Sandra Padfield
        July 11, 2020 at 1:36 pm

        The NGO’s blog report gives the distinct impression that Simon Lester is running the show for NE, yet the FoI document names a certain Simon Lee as the Project Manager. I was seeking some clarification for their respective roles. But thank you for your rude response Mr Dancey.

    • 27 Paul V Irving
      July 11, 2020 at 11:26 am

      He is an ex gamekeeper who worked on Langholm 2 and now works on this project for NE. Letting the fox in the hen house so to speak. He is holding a male Montagu’s Harrier a bird many real raptor workers and conservationists would give their eyeteeth to handle.

  13. 28 Anthony
    July 11, 2020 at 9:30 am

    Well it seems abundantly clear from the above opinion piece that the only person not actually getting their hands dirty on the reintroduction and conservation work is the author. Who it seems is critical of all others involved in the work but other than trolling them is not constructivly contributing to the work. Just my opinion. Perhaps step back from the embittered contrarian position and make some positive contribution.

    • 29 Keith Dancey
      July 11, 2020 at 10:54 am

      “Perhaps step back from the embittered contrarian position and make some positive contribution.”

      You mean like ‘brood meddling’? You have read what has happened to them, haven’t you?

  14. 30 Paul V Irving
    July 11, 2020 at 11:22 am

    This facile project started as a distraction tactic suggestion in one of those futile hen Harrier meetings held under the auspices of the Environment Council. The few conservationists there saw through it straight away shame NE did not. All efforts should be being put into solving the problems in the uplands, even if that means jailing game keepers or putting severe limits on DGS. If our upland Harrier population was allowed to rise to a natural level they would naturally recolonise lowlands. Doing anything else is chucking money and effort down the drain.

    • 31 Spaghnum Morose
      July 11, 2020 at 12:43 pm

      Fully agree, but I would say lets aim to get legislation to jail the Agents (I think of them like the Robert Duvall character in the Godfather). Theres only a handful to aim for and they are behind 3/4 of all the slaughter of raptors in north of England. Young wanna-be keepers are ten a penny and will keep coming dumbly forward anyway, following the same methods. Plus I would chuckle to think of those plummy accent well healed parasites heading nervously across the landing to the showers in Wakefield prison.

      • 32 Paul V Irving
        July 11, 2020 at 1:51 pm

        I used to say and I still believe it one plummy voiced criminal with a Sir or Duke in front of his named jailed even just for a few weeks for something one of his keepers did and most persecution would stop pretty damned quickly. That is also the reason that Westminster refuses to consider Vicarious liability, the risk of one of their own or an aristo going to jail.

      • July 12, 2020 at 5:22 pm

        That`s exactly what should be done and we all know it. Does anyone know how we can achieve it though?

        • 34 Spaghnum Morose
          July 13, 2020 at 12:15 pm

          I don’t think there is a magic bullet for this except phone bugging (which will never happen) but continued pressure on all fronts ‘behind the dam’ coupled with (sometime in the next 20yrs) a shift to the left at Westminster will be needed (although it hasn’t made an overnight change in Scotland.) I do know that these “Guru” Agents have pissed off quite a few old timer Headkeepers by advising Owners to boot them out and get a new team in, etc. If one of them started talking it would at least shine a light on the Agents role…but the mafia like code of silence is strong!

  15. 35 Jill Willmott
    July 11, 2020 at 6:52 pm

    Something I can’t understand is Why Salisbury Plain? It’s Chalk country, therefore no heather, or indeed a lot of cover for a ground nesting bird.
    Surely Exmoor, Dartmoor and Bodmin Moor would be better, not forgetting the New Forest, all being heather moorland, with good nesting opportunities.
    I may well be missing a point here,and I’m happy to be corrected, but I’m pretty sure chalk grassland is unsuitable for Hen Harriers, and would have them making a beeline for more suitable country?

    • 36 Keith Dancey
      July 11, 2020 at 7:03 pm

      The answer is that the proponents are hoping that lowland Hen Harriers from the continent, and translocated to Salisbury Plain, will stick to that environment, and not wander to upland areas, even as juveniles.

      [Ed: rest of comment deleted]

    • 37 sog
      July 11, 2020 at 11:39 pm

      I know the Perimeter Track along part of the north scarp of Salisbury Plain.The army land there is mostly unimproved grassland, formerly farmed. There is farmland outside this, with corn and barley crops. I read on here (I think) that continental birds nest in cornfields.

      • 38 jill willmott
        July 12, 2020 at 8:59 am

        Thank you, but I still don’t understand why brood meddled birds would want to stay in an area so different from their regular type nesting grounds, when there are better around; and it appears from the areas they were shot in , that most have a homing instinct.

        • 39 Keith Dancey
          July 12, 2020 at 11:53 am

          I’ve just had an interesting exchange with Simon Lester, but Raptor Persecution will not allow me to post…

          [Ed: Keith, please stop being an arse. You are free to post but if you keep trying to post the personal details of others (whether they are public servant or not) you will be banned. I can’t make it any clearer than that]

    • 40 sog
      July 12, 2020 at 5:29 pm

      European birds nesting in corn crops – see para 4 of the gamekeepers blog linked to above.

  16. 41 Barney
    July 12, 2020 at 6:56 pm

    This should be illegal it’s just natural England pandering to the shooting fraternity again, they will do anything but the obvious which is to uphold the law and ban this Victorian pass time, it’s riddled in crime yet nobody will stand up to them, it’s a disgrace.
    Harriers will not stay where they are put they will go where they want and that is where the food is and where other harriers are and in this country it is the Heather clad hills of the north, I urge other countries to take notice any harriers you send here will be shot at some point so don’t send them

  17. 42 John L
    July 13, 2020 at 9:53 am

    Having read through the blog –
    The simple fact is- the UK as a nation is NOT dealing with the real underlying issue, which is illegal killing and persecution of Hen Harriers, (and other species of raptors) by what is by the way it acts, appears to be a powerful elite behaving like serious organised crime.
    The influence of those behind this persecution has reached into business, politics , and would now appear to have extended into state institutions like Natural England?

    Rather than spend £500,000 on schemes like the one proposed, would it not be better to spend this money on tackling the root issue?
    – that is the exposure and prosecution of those behind the raptor persecution, the land owners who permit their employees to engage in criminal behavior, and the political manipulation which no doubt takes place to prevent the necessary changes to legislation to effectively eradicate raptor persecution once and for all.

    The grouse moors of the northern UK are the natural habitat for Hen Harriers, and many other species of birds of prey.
    The focus should be making these places safe for raptors, dealing with the criminality, dealing with ecological and environmental issues created by poor grouse moor management, and putting in place robust legislation and effective law enforcement.

    The more I learn about what is actually taking place in our countryside- the more inclined I am to believe that this is not simply “willful blindness”, but is systematic political control and behavior by a powerful elite to ensure their interests, wealth and way of life are maintained.

    Their ideology and control of the countryside is being challenged by a population who are increasingly valuing the importance of the environment and nature conservation.

    History tells us this powerful elite will use every means possible, to ensure their power and influence is not eroded.

    Those with power create legislation to legitimize their power and stabilize their power base. They will also use that influence to block or water down any legislation which erodes their power, whilst still giving a perception that democracy has not been undermined. One, only has to look at the misinformation, and bad science they frequently use when challenged!

    It would appear to me, that many of these Hen Harrier projects are a manifestation of that influence???
    It throws to the public, a perception that something positive is being done to improve Hen Harrier conservation, without actually dealing with the real issue which underlies the poor conservation status in the first place.

    If one looks at the evolvement of legislation, then there will be a long hard battle before any real positive changes to the management of the countryside and conservation are implemented and made truly effective.

    In the meantime, conservationists can only expose what is truly happening; and rally under the banner of “Hope”!!

    • 43 Dougie
      July 13, 2020 at 10:08 am

      The simple fact is- the UK as a nation is NOT dealing with the real underlying issue, which is illegal killing and persecution of Hen Harriers, (and other species of raptors) by what is by the way it acts, appears to be a powerful elite behaving like serious organised crime.
      The influence of those behind this persecution has reached into business, politics , and would now appear to have extended into state institutions like Natural England?

      CORRECT !

    • 44 Keith Dancey
      July 13, 2020 at 1:57 pm

      “The simple fact is- the UK as a nation is NOT dealing with the real underlying issue, which is illegal killing and persecution of Hen Harriers, (and other species of raptors) by what is by the way it acts, appears to be a powerful elite behaving like serious organised crime.”

      It comes from the Head of State being a lifelong shooter. Simple as that. Establishment protection for a ‘sport’ which is unacceptable.

      That Head of State is also the Patron of the RSPB.


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