RSPB news black out on hen harrier persecution? This can’t be right

hh LAURIE CAMPBELLIf we’ve interpreted this correctly, there’s something very odd going on with the RSPB this year.

Two days ago, RSPB Conservation Director Martin Harper wrote a blog entitled ‘Thoughts on this year’s hen harrier breeding season‘ (see here).

Much of the content isn’t new – it’s just reiterating the RSPB’s supportive position of DEFRA’s Hen Harrier Inaction Plan and Martin’s desire to see an improvement in hen harrier breeding success this year. However, there are a few additional sentences in this article, relating to the RSPB’s planned media strategy, that really require close attention and, hopefully, some clarification:

To ensure focus remains on the conservation outcome we want, we won’t be providing day by day updates on the breeding season. Instead, we’ll provide a mid-season update on 6 June and then let everyone know how the season has gone in late August with a detailed update“.


Does this mean that if hen harriers are persecuted during this year’s breeding season, we might hear about it on 6th June (although the news could easily be suppressed by the police if the persecution incidents happen just before 6th June – live investigation and all that) but if it happens after 6th June we won’t find out about it until ‘late August’?

If that’s the case, it’s an extraordinary move by the RSPB. It’s like telling the criminals, ‘Wait until after 6th June to bump off the harriers because there won’t be any publicity about it until late August’.

Nobody expects a ‘day by date update’ from the RSPB – we’ve never had that before and we wouldn’t expect it this year, but what we would expect is to be told, in a timely manner, if hen harriers have ‘disappeared’ in suspicious circumstances from active breeding sites, or if they’ve been found killed. That’s what the RSPB did last year, so why is this year so different?

Imagine this scenario. There are 20 breeding pairs of hen harriers across northern England this year (yes, hard to believe). What if one harrier got shot each week during the season. We might hear about the first three or four deaths on 6th June, but then nothing of the other 16 until late August?

How does a news black out “ensure focus remains on the conservation outcome we want“? It makes no sense at all, other than to give the grouse-shooting industry a PR-disaster-free ride in the run up to the Inglorious 12th. How is that in the interests of conservation?

And assuming the RSPB will again be involved in this year’s Hen Harrier Day (7th August 2016), are they really going to turn up with nothing to tell us?

Do they really want us to instead rely on the media propaganda that will inevitably be churned out by You Forgot the Birds throughout the season?

If our interpretation of Martin’s statement is correct, then it sounds very much to us like the RSPB has been knobbled.

What we should expect is a clarifying statement from Martin, something along the lines of ‘If you don’t hear from us during the breeding season, take that as no news is good news’.

It would be an absolute disgrace if hen harriers are persecuted this year and the RSPB stays quiet.

Please, Martin, tell us we’ve misunderstood.

Please sign this e-petition calling for a ban on driven grouse shooting HERE

UPDATE 15.05hrs: Martin Harper replies & says no media black out – see here.

18 thoughts on “RSPB news black out on hen harrier persecution? This can’t be right”

  1. Well we know the Tories have been putting the screws to the RSPB for years for being inconvenient, along with every other campaigning charity that gets in their way on any subject, this is no surprise. Especially since the early indications is there has been a massive step up on activity on grouse moors in terms of culling, moor burning, and other such country pursuits. It certainly looks like the fix is in.

  2. Oh, meant to add in my original comment. Maybe we ought to be demanding a day-by-day update from the RSPB? I know we’ve not had it before, but maybe we should. If the moor owners groups demand the goal posts be shifted, we should match them to prevent “compromise” always dragging aims in their direction. That has always been the trouble with many reasonable groups like conservation charities. We compromise too often without making our own requests for advantageous changes, so the compromise naturally always shifts to the establishment. RSPB, don’t just reinstate last year’s measures, give us day-by-day updates even if all the update is “bird present, no change” or “bird absent since [date], no return” all the way to the 13th of August. Lets see the last live daily update be after the shooters blast away. Driven grouse hunting, might as well play Nintendo Duck Hunt in the warm, the latter gives the same level of challenge (assuming you keep it on easy mode, if you turn it onto hard mode then you are displaying more skill than driven grouse shooting).

  3. If this is to be the way that the RSPB intends to act perhaps it’s time for all of us to reconsider our membership?

  4. I reconsidered my membership, and resigned, when the same Mr Harper came out in support of pheasant shoots, from what I gather because the countryside alliance ribbed him for daring to talk to the I.A.C.S. chairman.

    My main support for the RSPB is that they purchase land to give ‘nature a home’ on RSPB reserves.

  5. Hi,

    There is no ‘media black out’. Transparency is absolutely key. Our approach this season is aimed at avoiding the rather pointless and near unending slanging match which has unfortunately characterised recent breeding seasons and instead giving those on the ground the best possible opportunity to allow our hen harriers to succeed. As I said in my blog, we will, of course, still report something as serious as a persecution incident in the usual way.

    Best wishes,

    Martin Harper
    Conservation Director

  6. I doubt I’m alone when I say I’ve given up any hope for Martin Harper. No odds. The Raptor Liberation Front has just been set up and the Facebook page will go public very soon. We will set a price for every dead raptor and then exact that price by direct action on shoot days, something on the lines of one dead harrier = three years of protests on site on shoot days (and clearly some estate’s bills will already takes decades to pay off). Seeing as we have a very large backlog to go through, and we all know that most estates are serial offenders, whether the RSPB releases the latest news or not, we will still have plenty to be going on with. Suggestions for initial actions will be most welcome.

  7. I’m still puzzling over why two weeks ago the RSPB waited until the day AFTER RPS exposed a possible cover-up of the mass poisoning in Powys (Oct 2012 to Oct 2013).
    I don’t like to criticise the RSPB who are doing such incredible job regarding raptor crimes but it seems very strange and no matter what Martin harper writes it really does look like a cover up.
    if this is normal procedure to be forced two and half years after such a mass poisoning incident to make a statement, then i apologise, i am wrong.

      1. Hi Prasad,

        Have another read of Guy Shorrock’s blog about the Welsh poisoning – it probably pays to read between the lines:

        “It may have been helpful for the police to have put out a short media release on the day of the raid just to provide a brief outline of what had been found and that enquiries were continuing, but ultimately that is an operational decision for the police”.

        That sounds like the RSPB’s hands were tied on this one.

        If RSPB hadn’t reported the poisoning incidents in their annual Birdcrime reports we would still be none the wiser.

    1. I completely agree Anand; RSPB Investigations Team are total heros. RSPB Conservation Director?Nature’s Whisper.

      1. Jim i’ve always been very impressed with Martin Harper’s press statements. I have found them much more hard hitting than the more guarded statements made by the executive.

        1. We will have to agree to differ on that one Anand. If, as I fear, there will be little change in the levels of raptor persecution this breeding season I will expect, or at least hope, for a much firmer response from Martin on the lines of ‘we tried our best to work with them but we now realise they were just laughing at us all along’. For me the time for debating is over, it has dragged on far too long and has achieved nothing. The grouse shooting industry is not, and never will be, a stakeholder worth wasting time trying to work with. To my mind it’s now time for the confrontation to begin.

  8. The RSPB need to account for their silence and explain this decision openly to the membership, Part of the RSPB’s mandate in the Protection of Birds is to make all the public aware of persecution that takes place regarding the UK’s wildlife. I cannot understand or agree with this silence from Natures_Voice .

    The silence and lack of publicity regarding the issue of Hen Harrier persecution is deeply concerning. Why? because the evidence of persecution, continues to be present, so your evidence based process of action, should kick in and allow an open debate and your support to stop this persecution and abuse of our wildlife.

    Silence maybe your option now, and no doubt you are comfortable with that , but it gives me as a lifelong supporter of the RSPB a deep feeling of unease and disappointment at your lack of support and open engagement in this important issue.

    You should support Mark Avery and his petition for a Ban on Driven Grouse Shoots and be open with what is happening with the subject to allow a possibility that Hen Harrier persecution will be stopped in the UK.

    Why as the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds would you not want publicity to make that happen, Nature does not just belong to you it belongs to all who live on these Islands.

  9. I am looking for pro-active tweets and publicity to Natures Voice membership – lets get membership involved.

  10. I have no doubt politicians would try and apply pressure to NGO’s, to get them to “toe the line”
    However, having worked with Guy Shorrock and his colleagues from RSPB, I know the effort they put in to gather evidence against those who persecute our Raptors.
    Unfortunately, not all Police Forces take well to being given advice from an NGO, no doubt leaving Guy really frustrated.

    1. Mark, my impression is that very few people that have concerns about raptor persecution have any serious complaints about Guy or any of the RSPB Investigations Team (past and present). The issue for me (and it appears for many others) is that Martin Harper and the RSPB topbrass are, for not entirely clear reasons, wedded to a strategy of conciliation that has thus far utterly failed to achieve anything, and that seems doomed to continued failure in the future. If the recent Hen Harrier Joint Action Plan had included acceptance of professional licensing or vicarious liability (for England) by the grouse shooting industry, Martin (whether everyone agrees that that would be enough or not) could honestly claim that some progress had been made. But all we got is the nonsense of proposed translocation to lowland sites. I find it hard to see this as anything other than complete acquiescence to the grouse industry’s wishes with absolutely nothing offered in return. I find this simply not good enough and makes the RSPB’s claim to have a ‘million voices’ a sour joke. On current form they have a million people funding them (to the good in terms of land acquisition, management, and research; again little cause for complaint there) but these voices are barely audible on such a critical issue.

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