22
Apr
21

Breach of hen harrier diversionary feeding licence on North Yorkshire grouse moor

A few days ago I was informed that there may have been a suspected breach of a hen harrier diversionary feeding licence last weekend, on a grouse moor in North Yorkshire.

Observers were monitoring what they believed to be an active hen harrier nest. Their observation position was approximately one mile from the nest site so as not to disturb the breeding attempt.

During this period, they observed and filmed a buggy carrying two individuals, being driven towards the nest site. It stopped and one person got out and appeared to be placing something on top of a fencepost, before returning to the buggy and driving towards the nest. Both individuals exited the buggy, walked in to the heather to the nest, flushed off a very agitated female hen harrier, did something at the nest that wasn’t clear (one individual was crouching down and the other appeared to be taking photos of the dive-bombing female) before returning to the buggy and driving away.

[Screengrab from the video footage, filmed from approx one mile away, showing two individuals walking from the buggy towards the hen harrier nest]

I’ve been told by a number of people that this was a gamekeeper and a Natural England employee, but I have been unable to verify this. I understand that the nest contained five eggs that the female was incubating.

It was suggested to me that before visiting the nest, one of the individuals had been setting out food as part of a diversionary feeding strategy, which is encouraged as part of DEFRA’s Hen Harrier Action Plan. However, the licence that permits diversionary feeding (CL25) sets out quite clearly that diversionary feeding can ONLY begin after the eggs have hatched, and not before:

I don’t know what the exact reasoning is behind this restriction of not being permitted to provide diversionary food prior to the chicks hatching but an educated guess would be that it would limit unnecessary disturbance in the vicinity of the harrier’s nest at a highly sensitive period, especially as the licence notes that red grouse are unlikely to be taken by hen harriers during the incubation period, so diversionary feeding shouldn’t be necessary.

The restriction may also be related to the fact that as a general rule of thumb, most raptors, if disturbed, are more likely to desert their nest during the incubation period than they would be had they reached the nestling period, presumably because they’ve invested much more in the breeding attempt by the nestling stage.

However, the reasoning behind the restriction isn’t really the issue right now. The issue is that there has been a potential breach of a licence condition. Here’s what Natural England’s CL25 licence says might happen if there is a failure to comply with the terms and conditions of the licence:

I contacted North Yorkshire Police to ask whether a potential licence breach would be enforced by the police or by another agency. A police spokesperson told me that Natural England would be the enforcement agency and it was also confirmed that yes, this licence breach had occurred last weekend.

The police spokesperson said that NE had given assurances that the individual concerned ‘had been spoken to’ and that ‘the activity had ceased in accordance with guidelines’. Natural England apparently said there was ‘no malicious intent in any activity’ although it’s not clear how they assessed that.

Interesting. I’ve written to Natural England today to ask them about any potential enforcement action they may be taking against this estate for failing to comply with the terms and conditions of the licence.

My money is on there being absolutely zero enforcement action taken, given Natural England’s track record of happily working in cahoots with the very industry responsible for the hen harrier’s catastrophic decline in England in their scandalous hen harrier brood meddling conservation scam.

Actually, I wonder whether this nest will be targeted for brood meddling this year and if so, whether this ‘extended’ diversionary feeding (and who knows how long it had been going on?) will be mentioned to the Scientific Advisory Committee scrutinising the supposed rigour (ahem) of the brood meddling trial?

UPDATE 4th May 2021: Grouse-shooting estate under investigation for alleged breach of hen harrier diversionary feeding licence (here)


34 Responses to “Breach of hen harrier diversionary feeding licence on North Yorkshire grouse moor”


  1. April 22, 2021 at 3:14 pm

    It’s small wonder that the hen harrier is going extinct in this country when the worst that can happen when you disturb a nesting female is getting a ‘talking to’ by someone from Natural England. And then NE wonders why we have no confidence in the organisation as a regulator.

  2. 2 Deadpool
    April 22, 2021 at 3:14 pm

    More bullshit from you as usual. Headline: “breach of hen harrier diversionary feeding licence on north yorkshire grouse moor” A serious breach then?? Followed by: “I was informed that there may have been a suspected breach of a hen harrier diversionary feeding licence last weekend” when you actually HEARD from SOMEONE ELSE who shall remain NAMELESS that there MAY have been a SUSPECTED breach. This is why you are never taken seriously, it’s nothing more than fake headlines and allegations with no substance or evidence, yet the idiots who follow you drink it all in. Perhaps you should wait and find out the FACTS for once??

  3. 10 Andy Mitchell
    April 22, 2021 at 3:28 pm

    We can presume that the NE employee has a Schedule 1 licence as well because the diversionary feeding licence clearly doesn’t allow the nest to be visited, quote from above “You must not visit the nest to see if the eggs have hatched.” Or do they?

  4. 11 Paul V Irving
    April 22, 2021 at 3:34 pm

    As somebody who in the past visited many Hen Harrier nests whatever was happening here was bad practice whether or not it was in breach of a licence, you do not linger at a nest with eggs. If you must check it you do so either when the female is off after a food pass and check it quickly and in the right time and place she doesn’t even know you have checked the nest or walk past it look in and keep moving away. Harriers can and do sometimes desert if you linger specially in early incubation, although it has never happened to me I do know of cases. Also why does the keeper need to view the nest contents at all? All as I say very bad practice whatever the purpose. Feeding at this stage is not only pointless as they are taking no young grouse but may be counter productive potentially attracting carrion feeders and potential nest predators to the vicinity of the nest. Somebody from NE needs a severe arse kicking. Even where keepers were co-operative we never allowed them near a nest with eggs if remotely possible.

    • 12 Mike M.
      April 22, 2021 at 7:11 pm

      All said and done, does anyone want to offer odds on the outcome for this particular nest on the basis of these NE led shenanigans?

  5. 13 Yorkshire pudding
    April 22, 2021 at 4:16 pm

    Sets a dangerous precedent. NE going to look very hypocritical trying to prosecute anyone for a licence breach when their own staff do it and only get a talking to.

  6. 14 Paul V Irving
    April 22, 2021 at 4:39 pm

    I suppose technically if the NE worker is there to check nest contents under his own licence that is not a breach but the estate worker is in breach of the supplementary feeding licence and protocol. As an aside aren’t the estate rather taking the piss, even if we leave aside for the moment all the legitimate objections to BM, surely feeding or BM not both. Given the average reduction in grouse take elicited by feeding, at normal harrier densities as found in North Yorkshire in recent years there is absolutely no scientific justification for BM ( not that there is in reality anyway).
    Perhaps that is one of the reasons the knowledgeable raptor workers, as represented by NERF, were excluded from the process that came up with the current morally bankrupt scheme.

    • 15 WTF
      April 22, 2021 at 7:23 pm

      Assuming that it was, in fact, food being put out and that it was done by the estate worker (as far as I can see it has not actually been reported which person was which), is it not incredible that the supposed NE worker was apparently prepared to be party to this apparent breach of the rules? If the scenario has been correctly reported, it is not just the estate which has egg on its face! It is intriguing that NY Police were fully up to speed regarding both the breach of rules and corrective action taken, begging the question who reported the matter to them and when. Bit of a can of worms here if you ask me.

  7. 16 Keith Dancey
    April 22, 2021 at 5:33 pm

    It looks to me like Natural England are actively collaborating with the persecution of Hen Harriers.

  8. 19 John Howard Morgan
    April 22, 2021 at 7:12 pm

    Stop all the pussy-footing around. The Victorian pastime of DGS needs to join its initiators as part of history.

  9. 20 Ian
    April 22, 2021 at 8:08 pm

    I understood that intentional disturbance of a nesting bird is a criminal offence in its own right?

    • 21 Paul V Irving
      April 22, 2021 at 8:15 pm

      Not if you have the appropriate Schedule One licence , which is essentially a derogation of the law for the holder under specific circumstances.

      • 22 Ian Malone
        April 24, 2021 at 2:05 pm

        Even a licence comes with conditions and guides , as proof of its worth should not licences be revoked at the slights infringement.

    • 23 Lizzybusy
      April 22, 2021 at 11:02 pm

      Paul is right.

      Under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 (WCA) Protection of wild birds, their nests and eggs. Part 1, S5 …

      “if any person intentionally or recklessly – (a) disturbs any wild bird included in Schedule 1 while it is building a nest or is in, on or near a nest containing eggs or young or (b) disturbs dependent young of such a bird he shall be guilty of an offence.” Hen Harriers are included in Schedule 1 so are protected under this section of the WCA.

      However, under S16(1) of the same Wildlife and Countryside Act, Power to Grant Licences the offence set out in S5 (above) does not apply “to anything done … (c) for the purpose of conserving birds … if it is done under and in accordance with the terms of a licence granted by the appropriate authority”

      In this case, the type of licence applied for was a Class Licence – specifically a CL25. According to Defra, Class Licences are granted to individuals undertaking “work that needs a specific skill or experience to avoid risk to the conservation or welfare of a protected species”.

      My understanding of this blog is that it appears that one of the individuals may not have possessed a Licence so could be in breach of S5 WCA by disturbing the Hen Harrier at the nest. The other individual observed in this event may, by his/her actions, have breached the terms of their Licence by their reckless behaviour. It’s interesting that Natural England appear to have nicely dodged the issue of recklessness by stating that there was “no malicious intent in any activity”.

      Those acts by the two individuals are potential criminal offences under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 because the protection from prosecution for a breach of the law under S5 WCA offered by a Licence may have been lost. That is why this potential breach is important.

      • 24 Paul V Irving
        April 23, 2021 at 7:44 am

        A licence holder may take up to two people with him to a nest under that licence provided he finds that necessary and it can be justified. Note TWO I know of one Schedule One licensee now deceased who on occasion took up to 6, a breach of licence!

        • 25 Lizzybusy
          April 23, 2021 at 8:57 am

          You are right, of course, Paul but the conditions under which other individuals are permitted to be present are clear – only Registered people and their Accredited Agents and Assistants are covered by the CL25 – and only then if they comply with the terms of the Licence.

          There appears to be an arguable case that (even if the individuals were Registered, Accredited Agents or Assistants) they may have breached the conditions of the Licence since the Licence conditions state quite clearly that “You must not visit the nest to see if the eggs have hatched. Instead, observe birds from a distance.”

          If that is the case then the individuals may have breached the terms of the Licence and thus be in potential breach of S5(a) or (b) Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 (WCA) which prohibits the reckless disturbance of nesting birds listed in Schedule 1 WCA.

          It should be possible to find out if the individuals were covered by the licence. The Licence states that “g. Anyone seeking to confirm whether a person is registered to use this licence should contact Natural England Wildlife Licensing.”

          This is the relevant info in the Licence:

          “What this licence permits
          Subject to all the terms and conditions of this licence and solely for the purpose stated above, this licence permits Registered Persons their Accredited Agents and Assistants to disturb hen harrier (circus cyaneus) by establishing and maintaining substitute feeding stations in the vicinity of nests.

          Who can use this licence
          This licence can only be used by Registered Persons* and their Accredited Agents* and Assistants* except those convicted on or after 1 January 2010 of a wildlife crime* unless, in respect of that offence, either:
          * they are a rehabilitated person for the purposes of the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974 and their conviction is treated as spent, or

          * a court has made an order discharging them absolutely

          Any application by a person to whom this exclusion applies for an individual licence will be considered on its merits.

          Registering to use this licence
          b. Only Registered Persons, or persons authorised or supervised by a Registered Person (see Condition 4), may act under this licence. …

          g. Anyone seeking to confirm whether a person is registered to use this licence should contact Natural England Wildlife Licensing (contact details below).

          Licence conditions
          1. Anyone acting under the authority of this licence must follow the advice contained in ‘A practical guide to diversionary feeding of hen harriers on grouse moors in England’ which is included at Annex B. If you do not follow this advice you may be in breach of this licence and are at risk of enforcement action.”

          That advice includes this important information (included in the above post by Ruth)

          “Feeding carried out under this licence must only take place once it has been established that there are young in the nest. You must not visit the nest to see if the eggs have hatched. Instead, observe birds from a distance. When the female starts to bring food back to the nest, this means that young are present in the nest.”

          • 26 Paul V Irving
            April 23, 2021 at 10:20 am

            You can take anybody you need to they do not have to be agents or accredited assistants, according to licence conditions although obviously assistants are preferred. Agents generally act independently but YOU are responsible for their actions.

            • 27 Lizzybusy
              April 24, 2021 at 5:40 am

              I don’t think that’s correct. This is what CL25 states:

              Who can use this licence

              This licence can only be used by Registered Persons* and their Accredited Agents* and Assistants* except those convicted on or after 1 January 2010 of a wildlife crime* unless, in respect of that offence, either:

              * they are a rehabilitated person for the purposes of the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974 and their conviction is treated as spent, or

              * a court has made an order discharging them absolutely

              Any application by a person to whom this exclusion applies for an individual licence will be considered on its merits.
              *: see Definitions

              Definitions used in this licence

              “Registered Person” is a person who has successfully registered to use this licence in accordance with Condition 4. A registered person must either be the landowner or have the written permission of the landowner.

              “Accredited Agent” is a suitably competent person who is able to carry out work under a licence without the personal supervision of the Registered Person in accordance with Condition 4.

              “Assistant” is a person assisting a Registered Person or Accredited Agent in accordance with Condition 4.

              “Wildlife crime” means any offence under the Conservation of Habitats and Species Regulations 2017, the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981, the Protection of Badgers Act 1992, the Deer Act 1991, the Hunting Act 2004, the Wild Mammals (Protection) Act 1996, the Animal Welfare Act 2006 o, the Protection of Animals Act 1911 (all as amended) or the Invasive Alien Species (Enforcement and Permitting) Order 2019.

              Condition 4
              To use this licence you must either:

a. Register with Natural England to use the licence (see Information and Advice notes b – h)

b. Be authorised as an Accredited Agent (see Definitions) by a Registered Person, in which case you are only permitted to act under the authority of this licence if you are in possession of a letter signed by the Registered Person appointing you by name as a duly Accredited Agent for the purpose of this licence. Accredited Agents shall carry a copy of the said letter when acting under the licence and shall produce it to any police or Natural England officer on request, or

c. Be authorised by a Registered Person or their Accredited Agent to act as an Assistant (see Definitions), in which case you may act under the authority of this licence so long as you are doing so under the direct supervision of a Registered Person or their Accredited Agent. Assistants cannot work alone or unsupervised.


  10. 28 Bob Crook
    April 23, 2021 at 7:07 am

    I fully agree with Lizzybusy, and her interpretation of the relevant conservation protective legislation is correct. I think that Natural England are flouting the relevant legislation and its intended purpose, for means other than that of specific species protection.

    Why would an NE Fieldworker, and Gamekeeper both need to visit a Schedule 1 species nest prior to any eggs hatching and to purportedly leave supplementary feed for the adult birds, knowing full well the resulting disturbance outcome from such a visit at a particularly critical time during the incubation process. What could possibly be the intended purpose of such a visit ?

    It does seem to me to be a reckless act, for whatever reason !

    • 29 Paul V Irving
      April 23, 2021 at 10:26 am

      Their employee will have a conservation and science licence, will not be dependent on the estate’s feeding licence. I still think the whole was bad practice and that certainly the feeding licence conditions were breached however. Nests rarely but sometimes do desert because of this sort of behaviour, it would be simple to know if the watchers a mile away saw the bird return to incubate after this apparently unnecessary visit.

  11. 30 John L
    April 23, 2021 at 8:06 am

    Aside from the issues regarding disturbing the nest. This incident creates a difficult situation for NE and the authorities.
    If as reported there has been a breach of the terms a licence by one individual, and an offence committed under the Wildlife and Countryside Act by the other, then by not properly sanctioning those individuals have NE created a precedent on how any future similar activities around nest sites can be dealt with?
    The legislation seems perfectly clear.
    One would expect with a bird as critically endangered as the Hen Harrier, and a bird that attracts so much attention in conservation circles, NE would have properly briefed all of its staff as to exactly what they could and couldn’t do around nesting sites.
    Any potential culprit, who in the future approaches a nest, and in their defence states there was ” no malicious intent in any activity”, could claim they are being unfairly untreated if NE or the police try and prosecute them.
    It could be seen as unjust if a public authority fails to sanction its own employees who break the rules, but prosecutes others in similar circumstances.
    Whilst mistakes can be made, has NE made a public statement on this incident?
    The apparent silence, and lack of transparency as to exactly what has taken place doesn’t inspire confidence in the NE’s attempts to safe guard Hen Harriers and ensure their conservation success.

  12. 31 Ian Ford
    April 24, 2021 at 10:18 am

    I agree with all the comments but worth adding that we have no confirmation that the eggs have not hatched do we? Only a presumption?

    • April 24, 2021 at 10:34 am

      Hatching by 17th April?? Unlikely!

    • 33 Lizzybusy
      April 24, 2021 at 3:31 pm

      There is no requirement for the nest to fail for the potential offence under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 (WCA) to be achieved. S5 merely requires the disturbance (due to reckless behaviour) of a Schedule 1 bird (Hen Harrier) whilst it is nesting.

      “if any person intentionally or recklessly – (a) disturbs any wild bird included in Schedule 1 while it is building a nest or is in, on or near a nest containing eggs or young or (b) disturbs dependent young of such a bird he shall be guilty of an offence.”


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