Hen harriers, again

Last week we mentioned that Mark Avery had come out fighting on behalf of hen harriers (see here). Today he’s back on the same subject, knocking at Natural England’s door to try and find out what has happened to 119 hen harriers that have been radio and satellite-tagged since 2002 (see here).

He’s not the only one who’s been asking questions of Natural England about missing hen harriers. Last November we blogged about a satellite-tagged hen harrier from the Langholm Project that had mysteriously ‘disappeared’ (see here). Natural England are in charge of the hen harrier satellite tag data from Langholm. In December, MSP Elaine Murray asked Scottish Environment Minister Stewart Stevenson how much he knew about all of the missing hen harriers that had been satellite tagged at Langholm. His response was vague (here) and didn’t shine any light on what might have happened (notably he failed to mention that the last known signals of many of these young birds just happened to come from grouse moors).

‘Ah’, cried the grouse shooting lobby, ‘but no dead birds were discovered so you can’t assume that they died on a grouse moor’. Of course no dead bodies were discovered. The Langholm Project protocol for investigating the disapearance of their young tagged harriers was to first call up the landowner where the last signal had come from and ask permission to visit the estate to search for the bird! That’s as stupid as a police commander phoning up a suspected drug dealer and telling him the police are coming to search his house later that day so he’d better be ready!

It’s interesting that Natural England were put in charge of all the hen harrier satellite tag data from the Langholm Project (a project that is based in Scotland). Why was that? Was it perhaps because they’d done so well in protecting (keeping secret) all the hen harrier satellite tag data in England since 2002? Both projects have received a considerable amount of public funding – why are we not entitled to read the results?

It’s worth re-visiting something we blogged about at the end of March (here) concerning the UK parliamentary audit on wildlife crime. It included a statement from the Moorland Association (pro-grouse shooting crowd) about hen harriers:

The scale of crime against the hen harrier and its impact on the hen harrier population has been overstated and is misleading. A lack of breeding success on grouse moors does not automatically mean that laws have been broken. There are many, many more birds in England than four successfully nesting pairs, which can be seen over grouse moor during migration and at winter roost sites.

Until a full set of special rules allowing the positive management of hen harriers breeding on grouse moors is forthcoming from the Environment Council’s Hen Harrier Dialogue, moorland owners are within their rights and the law to deter the birds from settling on their moors to breed.”

That kind of says it all, doesn’t it?

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