New hen harrier ‘initiative’ is outrageous

HH by Gordon LangsburyA new ‘initiative’ has been launched today aimed at ‘conserving’ the hen harrier in Scotland. Having read the press release, we’re almost at a loss for words.

This ‘initiative’ (pathetic window dressing designed to disguise the real issue) calls on members of the public to report sightings of hen harriers to ‘help PAW Scotland to build valuable information on these birds’.

According to Ron Macdonald, Head of Policy and Advice at SNH:

The public can be of great help by reporting sightings and helping us build a picture of the reasons why these birds aren’t doing as well as we would expect. Using sightings from the public, we can assess whether to use some of the new technology at our disposal such as satellite-tagging or camera monitoring, or even where neccessary share information with the National Wildlife Crime Unit“.

This ‘initiative’ then, suggests that all will be well for hen harriers if only we knew where they were so we could put satellite tags on them and work out what’s going wrong for them. It’s an astonishing inference! The location of hen harrier breeding sites have been known and watched for decades by raptor fieldworkers – there’s no mystery about where they’re trying to breed or why they’re failing. “Helping us build a picture of the reasons why these birds aren’t doing as well as we would expect“?! For god’s sake man, try reading the Hen Harrier Conservation Framework published in 2011 (see below for link) – you know, that report that, er, SNH commissioned. That report sets out very clearly what the main issue is: Illegal persecution is the biggest single factor affecting hen harriers and it is having a dramatic impact on the population in northern England and in Scotland:

  • The potential national hen harrier population in Scotland is estimated (conservatively) to be within the range 1467-1790 pairs.
  • The current national hen harrier population in Scotland as recorded during the most recent (2010) national survey is 505 pairs, more than a 20% decline from the numbers recorded during the 2004 national survey.
  • In Scotland, the hen harrier has a favourable conservation status in only five of 20 regions.
  • Two main constraints were identified: illegal persecution, and in one region, prey shortages.
  • The species is particularly unsuccessful in the Central Highlands, Cairngorm Massif, Northeast Glens, Western Southern Uplands and the Border Hills. There is strong evidence in these grouse moor regions that illegal persecution is causing the failure of a majority of breeding attempts.
  • A study published by Redpath et al (2010) found only five successful hen harrier nests on the estimated 3,696km2 of driven grouse moors in the UK in 2008; an area of habitat estimated to have the potential to support approx 500 pairs.
  • In 2012, only one breeding pair was recorded in England (estimated potential for over 300 pairs).

For SNH to pretend they don’t know why hen harriers are in trouble is simply outrageous. They know exactly why – the studies have been done, the birds have already been sat-tagged, we all know what happens to them.

And why on earth is this ‘initiative’ being launched by PAW Scotland? PAW is the Partnership for Action against Wildlife crime. Where’s the action on wildlife crime in this initiative? It has all the hallmarks of being the handiwork of the game-shooting ‘partners’ in PAW Scotland.

In our opinion this is a cynical attempt to persuade the general public that measures are being taken to address the hen harrier issue while deliberately ignoring the widely-known central problem: illegal persecution on driven grouse moors.

PAW Scotland press release here

Hen Harrier Conservation Framework 2011

UPDATE 2pm: Environment Minister Paul Wheelhouse gets a grilling on BBC Radio Scotland’s Good Morning Scotland programme (listen here, starts at 1.43.45). Well done journalist David Miller for asking exactly the right questions. The Minister does not cover himself in glory and seems to think this latest initiative is a novel approach to working out why hen harriers are in decline. He’s clearly unaware that there have been several national surveys (dating back to 1988!!) that have previously documented exactly the areas where hen harriers are missing and exactly why they’re missing. The Minister may not know it but his government advisors (SNH) certainly understand that this latest ‘inititative’ is nothing more than a scandalous time-wasting ploy to delay tackling the hen harrier killers.

Hen harrier caught in an illegal trap on a grouse moor

21 thoughts on “New hen harrier ‘initiative’ is outrageous”

  1. What a load of “BALLS”, these people are totally incompetent, in fact they’re worse than incompetent, they’re downright dangerous to the welfare of so-called protected Hen Harriers. Something needs to be done to make these people realise what a mess they are making of the welfare of protected wildlife, it’s almost like they’re saying to the shooting fraternity, just carry on persecuting the raptors and we’ll keep on covering it up !!!

      1. Not without the willingness and serious help from people or organisations with sufficient power to put enough pressure on SNH / NE to make them come to their senses and do what they are legally obligated to do, that is to ensure real-time protection of our so-called protected species from the relentless open persecution by the shooting estate owners and their minions. The problem is, many of the people with sufficient power to make a difference are hand in glove with the shooting estates themselves, and the RSPB, the only organisation that could make a difference hasn’t got the balls!

  2. As the organization charged with the duty of monitoring our natural heritage in Scotland, and promoting policies to ensure sites and species remain in a healthy status, this initiative is not just outrageous ,but proves in full measure that SNH is unfit for purpose. The Hen Harrier Framework set out clearly to anyone examining the issues seriously what the factors were affecting the species, even where some of the “problem” areas were located. With survey information, ringing data etc being readily available, what can this attempt to involve the public add to the situation. No, it’s simply to demonstrate that SNH is doing something , along with PAW, towards a situation where they know already what the problem is and its derivation, but aren’t prepared to take a stance, condemn those responsible and take concerted action against them. And its also the creation of a period within which further persecution will occur. A vacuum within which endless placatory remarks will be made referring to SNH and others doing their best to address a problem, but doing nothing in reality and, at the end of the day , at the completion of its ” initiative” , be armed with nothing new that can help. Mr Macdonald and his team at SNH ought to be castigated thoroughly for wasting public funds and failing to address properly a major issue in need of urgent action. Prevarication, incompetence and evidence that SNH again is falling short of its responsibilities. Such is the naked naivete present within this initiative that it’s easy to conclude those responsible are ill equipped and insufficiently qualified to consider this sort of problem anyway. And to think I got up this morning feeling motivated and optimistic on a variety of fronts…….. I do wonder if these people go home at night believing they’ve done a worthwhile job!!

    As a parallel issue aimed at introducing something positive , may I urge anyone who has not yet signed the E-petition proposing the regulation of upland grouse moors and gamekeepers, can you please do so now? If the above is the best a Government’s agency overseeing conservation can do , then we’re sunk. Admittedly the petition is designed to bring change to England and Wales at present, but things have to begin somewhere.

    Sorry for the rant, RPS!!

  3. Maybe they should be asking walkers to look for the signs of persecution…maybe they could direct keen eyed walkers to take their exercise on specific hills……those where harriers are particularly scarce……because of persecution.

    SNH are no longer independent of government, they do what politicians tell them to do, not what harriers need.

  4. If it were me I think I might be tempted to advise the opposite to “PAW” . If anyone finds a breeding pair of Hen Harriers for God’s sake don’t tell anyone !

  5. Here we go again. It would be utterly hilarious if it weren’t so damn depressing. Is SNH in the process of being corrupted by the rich elite? Silly question? Until the natural world stops being commodified and we take a less anthropocentric and more ecocentric view of ourselves and our place in the living environment, I see no end to the intractable Hen Harrier problem.

  6. See the update at the bottom of this morning’s blog to listen to Environment Minister Paul Wheelhouse getting a grilling in a six-minute interview on BBC Radio Scotland this morning.

  7. Thank you RPS for giving us the opportunity to listen to the time-worn rhetoric we have heard so often before. Parliamentary meaningless waffle at its worst. Platitudes, platitudes and yet more platitudes, with a sprinkling of meaningless promises, e.g. “I will take action”, and “Iam resolute to track down the perpetrators of such acts”. Promises which are never kept of course. i.e. “Rest assured we will prosecute anyone we can prove is acting illegally” he says.. Oh no you don’t Mr Wheelhouse. You are hoisted by your own petard when you admit when asked “How many successful Hen Harrier persecutions have you managed over the past five years, that to date you have not successfully prosecuted anybody! Nuff said. And by the way John A. SNH isn’t just unfit for the job when it comes to bird of prey persecution. Thier record on fishfarms is also abysmal – but that’s another story.,

    1. Paul Wheelhouse has yet to reply or acknowledge my enquiry of 6 April (prompted by the link on this website) re the appalling state of affairs in respect of the absence of meaningfull action on raptor persecution. Not someone who inspires me.

  8. Are any of the other political parties any more trustworthy than the SNP? Political pressure would appear to be one way of addressing the issue? Presumably, Labour and the Lib Dems are the only viable alternatives.

    1. The nationalists just manipulate behind the scenes….avoiding issues being discussed in the public domain. They would not want it known how bad they have been for wildlife. (The NGO’S have to toe the line because they are bound by their grants).

  9. Makes we wonder and concerned on how many false reports of sightings of mature male Hen Harriers we are potentially going to see? e.g. inexperienced people who clap eyes at distance on the likes of a Common Gull hawking over the heather looking for insects, etc.

    Easily done – I can remember in my early days of harrier fieldwork almost falling for the CG!!!!!!

    1. Yes, resulting in grossly exaggerated figures lading to the SGA and SLE claiming that Hen Harriers are actually doing very well. A total nonsense.

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