Northern England Raptor Forum walks out of Hen Harrier Dialogue process

In the last few days, many of us have been flabbergasted (or not) at the flat denials from several game-shooting industry representatives about the issue of illegal raptor persecution. Despite years, no, decades, of overwhelming scientific evidence to the contrary, these industry leaders still refuse to accept the reality.

 In a way it’s good that they continue to display such open indifference because by doing so an increasingly-aware public are given an opportunity to see what the rest of us have been seeing for years. In the end, we firmly believe it will be the strength of public opinion that forces a change and finally puts an end to the decades of illegal killing. Nevertheless, as laughable as the industry’s excuses and explanations are, it is still frustrating to hear them because you know that as long as that’s what the leaders are thinking then the criminals within that sector won’t be inclined to stop the persecution.

nerf logo3So, take that sense of frustration you felt when you heard the latest denials, and multiply that by six years, and then add in the fact that over the same period the hen harrier breeding population has been reduced to a single pair in England, and it will come as no surprise to learn that the Northern England Raptor Forum (NERF) has resigned from the Hen Harrier Dialogue process. Indeed, you might well ask what took them so long!

For those who don’t know what the Hen Harrier Dialogue process is, you can read about it here. NERF, representing a suite of dedicated raptor study groups in northern England, has been involved in the Dialogue since day one, back in June 2006. Last summer, the RSPB were the first group to walk away from the process. Now NERF have walked, as of January 31st 2013. We understand that the Hawk and Owl Trust, the only other pro-raptor partner in the process, is still in it, for now at least.

Here are some excerpts from a NERF letter that leave no room to doubt their reasons for walking out:

Following the last meeting in June 2012, NERF members undertook a wide-ranging internal debate about continuing our involvement with the Hen Harrier Dialogue. At the conclusion of our discussions NERF members unanimously elected to resign from the Dialogue process with immediate effect. This decision has not been undertaken lightly. We believe that far from assisting the re-establishment of a viable and self-sustaining healthy English population of Hen Harriers that is free and able to share wild open spaces unmolested with red grouse the evidence reveals that the exact opposite has been achieved.

Despite many years of attempting to seek a resolution to the perceived conflict of interest between commercial driven grouse shooting and Hen Harriers, NERF can find no evidence of any progress towards that goal. Indeed the opposite is the case. In 2006 46 young fledged, four years later only 23 young fledged and in 2012 just one pair successfully reared young. Even the higher figure masks the reality that the successes are almost invariably located on the United Utilities Estate in Bowland or from nests that were guarded around the clock by volunteers. It should also be remembered that there is sufficient habitat in England to support 332 pairs. No matter how optimistic the analysis of the intervening years, this attempt at conflict resolution, from the Hen Harrier’s perspective, can only be judged to be a resounding failure.

It is the opinion of NERF members that our continued participation in the Dialogue lends an air of respectability to a process that is fundamentally flawed. The Dialogue was tasked with seeking conflict resolution to what is a shameful situation where a species is being illegally persecuted to oblivion simply because it is perceived to threaten the sporting interests of a very small minority of individuals. To achieve the required outcome NERF accepted that there needed to be compromise. However despite our best efforts we can find no evidence that some of those organisations that represent the grouse shooting industry have either a genuine intention to accept anything other than a zero upland population or the ability to guarantee that the grouse moor managers they represent will implement any strategy agreed through the Dialogue.

There is ample evidence to show this to be the case:

  • The English Hen Harrier population is so perilously low that there is no longer any conflict with commercial driven grouse shooting and yet the birds continue to be persecuted, as evidenced by the recent death of ‘Bowland Betty’ in the Yorkshire Dales.
  • The continued public denial by grouse moor managers that persecution is widespread within the industry gives NERF members no reason to believe that participation of the industry representatives is anything other than a political gesture intended to divert attention away from that very persecution being undertaken by their members.
  • The scientific modelling developed specifically to aid the search for a resolution was originally rejected by the shooting community and further modelling was undertaken at their behest. The resultant data emphatically show that two pairs of Hen Harriers can be accommodated on 5,000 acres without any commercial impact. Indeed the same data reports that the impact by three pairs is insignificant. This scientifically based model was rejected with a counter offer of one pair per 10,000 acres. This offer represents a 75% shift away from the science and it is difficult to see it as anything other than yet one more delaying tactic.
  • In an effort to reduce the potential impact of grouse chick predation diversionary feeding was trialled and shown to work. The proposed expansion to the scheme was rejected by several of the shooting organisations for no discernible reason. Once again the search for a solution was stalled.
  • The proposal to introduce a brood capture, cage and release scheme was always going to be unpalatable to raptor workers; nonetheless NERF was prepared to leave the proposal on the table for discussion once the population had returned to ‘carrying capacity’. Years after the scheme was initially proposed and with no actual progress being made the National Gamekeepers Organisation announced in 2012, the same year that only one pair nested successfully in England, that the scheme may need to be implemented as soon as two pairs, or one polygamous male and two females, attempt to breed on the same ground. Thus the brood capture, cage and release programme would be implemented when the English population reached three individuals, less than 0.5% of the ‘carrying capacity’ of 332 pairs. This is completely unacceptable not only to conservationists but to all right-minded people. Any future discussions in respect of that scheme were halted with that single statement. More years lost in a pointless discussion, but perhaps that was the intention.

NERF is no longer willing to have its reputation tarnished by involvement with a process that is, in our opinion, being deliberately frustrated by organisations that have failed to demonstrate any willingness to find a solution to what is after all an irrational and outdated belief that Hen Harrier numbers must be subjected to lethal control for the benefit of the grouse shooting industry.

7 thoughts on “Northern England Raptor Forum walks out of Hen Harrier Dialogue process”

  1. Well done, NERF. This is the sort of detail that is required reading!!! Given I don’t believe there is any intention from the shooting fraternity to agree measures on this subject coming from the conservation “side”, NERF has done the right thing. Congratulations.

  2. In my opinion it should never have got off the ground in the first place, the history of appeasement has shown it can never be the way to go in seeking a resolution when it’s so one sided. The estate owners never have had any intention of allowing the Hen Harrier or any other Raptor for that matter to live side by side with their beloved Red Grouse. It’s so obvious where their true intentions lie as xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx we should no longer believe a word that they say, (that’s supposing anybody did in the first place). Our only options now are to make sure that we keep up as much pressure as possible on them, report every incident to the police, the RSPB and maybe the RSPCA / SSPCA immediately it’s discovered, make sure the press know about every incident, send them photographs if you have them. Don’t let the evidence die away for six months or more until it’s no longer useable, make it impossible to hide it away, make it public knowledge. Maybe naming and shaming the estate owners will have more effect than trying to get them in court where their cronies can take charge.

  3. well done NERF. Great to see things put out in the open like this. Far too much time has been spent trying to work with the shootin’ sector who have absolutely no interest in compromise.

  4. I would prefer not to compromise with them, the quicker all driven grouse shooting is consigned to the history books, like fox hunting, bear baiting and cock fighting etc. so much the better. It is a sick way to make a living.

  5. Well done, NERF. A terrific statement to issue. Hopefully SNH and Natural England are paying attention to what is actually happening on driven grouse moors across the land.

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