How many hen harriers breeding in England this year?

hh LAURIE CAMPBELLMartin Harper, the RSPB’s Conservation Director, has this morning published his promised mid-season update on the status of breeding hen harriers in England this year.

To be frank, and sorry about this Martin, but it’s the biggest pile of tosh we’ve read in a while.

Back in March, when we asked whether the RSPB was planning a ‘black-out’ on hen harrier news this year, Martin responded by saying there wouldn’t be a news black out and that “transparency is absolutely key“.

Have a read of Martin’s mid-season update (here) and think about that word ‘transparency’.

Martin tells us that this year, there is “only a tiny handful of nesting attempts to date”. Not just a handful, but “a tiny handful”. What does that actually mean? Why didn’t he provide the precise number of breeding attempts (at least of which the RSPB is aware), and also provide detail of whether those attempts had resulted in eggs/chicks?

It’s all quite furtive. Why is that?

We’ve heard, from several sources, that the number of breeding pairs of hen harriers in England so far this year ranges between 0 and 1.

How accurate is that? We don’t know, because the RSPB isn’t being transparent about it. And it seems we won’t know until September when Martin says he’ll next report on how the season has gone. Terrific. So, as we predicted back in March, the grouse-shooting industry gets a PR-disaster-free ride up to the opening of the grouse-shooting season on the Inglorious 12th.

Only they won’t, because we won’t let that happen. Unlike Martin, with his soothing words about a “positive partnership approach” and how “pleased” he was to see a statement from the Moorland Association condemning the use of illegal pole traps on a grouse moor, we’re not buying it.

Does he really think that the Moorland Association was sincere in its condemnation of illegal raptor persecution? Come off it, it was nothing more than a PR sound bite because if they had really meant to condemn illegal raptor persecution they’d have booted that grouse moor owner from within their ranks.

And what about that video of the armed man sitting next to a decoy hen harrier, on a grouse moor in the Peak District National Park? Martin mentions it – he describes it as “a worrying incident”. We would describe it as clear evidence of the blatant disregard the grouse-shooting industry pays to the law.

And what about the news of hen harrier ‘Highlander’, whose satellite tag ‘suddenly and unaccountably ceased transmission’ on 16 April this year? Martin describes this as a “huge cause for concern”. We don’t disagree with him on that but unlike Martin, we’re no longer prepared to give the grouse-shooting industry the benefit of doubt.

If, like us, and like Mark Avery (here), you’ve had enough of this pathetic charade that everything’s going to be ok, there will shortly be an opportunity for you to participate in a more direct action approach. WATCH THIS SPACE!

In the meantime, please join 40,000+ people who have definitely had enough and sign the e-petition to ban driven grouse shooting HERE

Media coverage

BBC news here

Statement from Northern England Raptor Forum here

40 thoughts on “How many hen harriers breeding in England this year?”

  1. The clue is in the word “Royal”. The RSPB will never take a stand that will piss their patrons off, it’s a load of flannel. Raptors are just an inconvenience to the RSPB, a conflict of interest. They’ll promte a couple of flagship species as conservation victories, such as Ospreys and Red Kites, because Joe Public feels all fluffy about them, but species which are unpopular with the aristocracy, such as Hen Harriers, Peregrines and Goshawks are just awkward…

  2. Martin, if there is such a thing as a “positive partnership approach”, please go and visit the wildlife display centre at the North York Moors National Park Centre. It is an utter disgrace that there was not one raptor photo or anything mentioned about raptors on the display information, only the charming guff about how the moors and shooting support a massive amount of wildlife. The centre is quite obviously a showpiece for the shooting lobby. They have probably removed my off limit comments by now in the visitor book, however, you never know, maybe they have read what I wrote and added a few raptors–I’m not holding my breath on that one. It’s really a case of not what one says but what one doesn’t say and the silence surrounding raptors being part of our ecosystem says it all. It’s like they are being written out of our natural history books.

    1. What a very sad final sentence, janeymacmad.

      This is an utter disgrace and those organisations who have the power to take effective action should be ashamed.

      Having stopped my subscription to the RSPB in the 70s, I have very often thought I ought to re-join – but I find I can’t.

      Better to support LACS and Animal Aid – they are not constrained by the connections the RSPB is.

  3. Martin Harper has sold out to the grouse shooting industry and protection of birds in general – otherwise he wouldn’t have stated pheasant shoots are good for birds. He is an apologist to those who bring harm to our wildlife and birds of prey.

    1. ‘Sold out’ …….. yep Chris ……. that’s the phrase I was looking for. A great, great disappointment Martin Harper. Conservation Director ?? You have no idea what the word means or the actions to which it pertains …. I know you’ll be reading these comments …… can I just say how deeply ashamed I am of you.

    2. Spot on – the RSPB should never ever suggested that pheasant shooting can be good for wildlife without a comprehensive assessment of the full ecological impacts of both releasing tens of millions of birds into the countryside and artificially rearing them in the first place – grain, soymeal etc. Thereby pheasant shooting may well be implicated in driving rainforest loss (soymeal), even driven grouse shooting doesn’t do this! Then a very large proportion of the birds don’t even get eaten (by people at least). This point has been raised with Martin Harper, fat lot of good that will do. I suspect the full ecological impact of pheasant and partridge shooting is enormous. One estate stated they’d put 200 tonnes of grain out for partridge over a season – what’s that going to do to intensify the agriculture that shooting is supposed to save us from?

  4. Parallel universe anyone?
    In the RSPB’ slinked blog about the ‘coincidentally missing’ Hen Harrier Highlander, James Bray RSPB’s Bowland Project Officer, writes straight out of the party political broadcast for the raving loony party
    ‘We must turn that anger into a determination to stop persecution of birds of prey. We can find hope in the knowledge that the RSPB is doing all it can to protect hen harriers and that a rapidly growing coalition of groups and individuals are fighting to change the way that the uplands are being managed and to stop the persecution of birds of prey.’
    I honestly think he means the Hen Harrier Action Plan. Please tell me he means Mark Avery and RPUK.

    1. Well, we can’t speak for James and what he really meant, but would urge you not to go after him or any of his colleagues working hard on the ground.

      Our frustration is aimed at the decision-making process being displayed by senior management.

      1. As was always the case but never seems to go any further, ever wondered why? It couldn’t be that they have other agendas opposite to ours, maybe that’s too strong, let’s be more diplomatic and say they may have other self interests that conflict with their roles in the RSPB hierarchy !!!

        1. According to Blánaid Denman who quoted James Bray, he meant Hen Harrier day so i have to take her word for it and i was wrong.
          It raises even more questions. Why is someone from a highly responsible position within the RSPB now citing Hen Harrier Day as leading the way in raptor protection? Why isn’t the RSPB leading the way? Why isn’t he able to point to the Hen Harrier Action Plan? It seems that even those within the RSPB have no faith in its protection of Hen Harriers and the best he can say is that the ‘RSPB is doing all it can’.
          ‘All it can’ isn’t enough by a long shot.

  5. It is perhaps telling that so far the only positive comment on Martin’s blog (“Interesting and balanced account”) has a link to a paper by the GWCT and a comes from Keith Cowieson (presumably the man of the same name who is the Director of “Songbird Survival”).

  6. If as Richard Wood has stated, the RSPB is being lackadaisical with regard to the conservation of raptors, just to keep a wee light burning for their protection, and that they are really only concerned with wee chookie burdies that gladen the ear and eye, then the time has come for a new bird conservation organisation to form. It would cater for those who demand a firmer enforcement of the existing laws on Bird of Prey protection, and, if necessary, new legislation to make punishment really felt, with prison obligatory.

    Richard has hinted that the “royal” part of the RSPB infers condescension to the monarchy’s condition bias, through inculcation of its children, to be participative of blood sports. That “condition” has been inherent in our monarchy for many centuries, plus the rest of the aristocracy and landowners. Indeed, it is pandemic among royals. A glaring example of this blood sport lust for killing animals, was when the old King of Spain, was exposed having shot an Elephant and other trophy animals, and he being the WWF figurehead in that country. WWF HAS STILL TO DENOUNCE AND APOLOGISE FOR ITS SUPPORT OF TROPHY SHOOTING AS A MEANS OF GAINING RESOURCES FOR CONSERVATION. That policy has merely boosted the perversion for killing a larger number of big game, and the money gone into the pockets of corrupt governments. The same mob who take part in industrial killing of grouse etc., are part of a large world order of killers of wildlife, with the USA providing rich and influential hunters, such as Donald Trump and his sons. What has slipped from Press and public gaze, has been the fact that Trum owned a shooting estate in the Cairngorms, and it was Chris Brasher, former Olympic athlete, who pioneered Trump being persuaded to sell up and get out, which he did, and took two immature teenage Scottish gamekeepers with him back to the States, whereupon, the local populace formed a small army of protesters against the carnage of Birds of Prey and pets xxxxx xxxxx xxxxx xxxxx xxxxx xxxxx xxxxx.

    However, are we being fair to those officers of the RSPB who spend a considerable amount of time and money, investigating wildlife crime, with regard to bringing cases against gamekeepers and landowners, who use traps and poisons? There is also the commendable work the RSPB does abroad saving the Albatross species from fishermen’s hooks, and from plastic waste. There is also their very effective clearing of rats from remote islands with endemic and other rare birds. Perhaps, a division is required, and thereby the wheat and chaff can be separated. A new organisation could arise with more militant members, who would not defer to anyone when it came to conserving our Eagles, Peregrines, Hen Harrier etc. This situation we have at present, may be opportune, and could lead to a less deferential and more in your face Society. Another way to look at it, would be to recognise those birds that are not raptors as the equivalent of horticultural plants that are okay for the garden and bringing joy and colour to many, such as her Majesty. The other part would be for the Birds of Prey and the Corvids, who most definitely need a protection force on steroids, to deal with the paranoid loons who want to wipe them out. We already have the set-up for purpose faux “Song Bird Society”, and its Larsen Traps to enable the public to cull for itself, those birds deemed as being vermin. A new order is rising world wide, and it is made up of people from all walks of life, who believe in the marriage of wildlife/plantlife conservation AND animal welfare/anti-cruelty to animals. We even have an Animal Welfare Party which has political representation in some European countries, and is trying for a foot in the door here.

    Ir is time we wakened up to the deceit and backsliding or our politicians, police, justice system characters who have really achieved little for this area of public concern. Most of them get away with claiming that the welfare of wildlife is not as important as the NHS, refugees, and other escape routes, for their attention, poor dears, when we really know it is getting up to no good and having a fling, or supporting other causes, just to make themselves appear good to the public. From the most deprived area to toff land, people are found in large numbers who love animals, as pets and wildlife, and are offended to read or view on TV, stores of cruelty and persecution.

    1. It’s taken me a little while, but I have totally come round to Mr Greer Hart’s way of seeing things (and Marian’s and others who contribute here). Mark Avery has done a terrific job of mobilising 40,000 people on the rather narrow and technical issue of driven grouse shooting. The snag is that most people have never seen or heard of Hen Harriers and are not interested in fine distinctions between walked-up and driven forms of shooting, lead versus steel shot and so on. However, I think there may be literally millions who, if they only knew what really goes on in our countryside, would be appalled and sickened by the actions of the hunters and shooters. There is a huge pool of untapped support for ending persecution and cruelty to wildlife that could change the whole landscape of the debate. The task is to get the message (and especially some of the dreadful images) out to a wider audience, including the young and the city dwellers. Sadly, it seems we can’t rely on the RSPB to do this.

      1. Excellent post – I agree entirely with this. Mainstream society has no clue what the hen harriers are facing – they need better PR than the RSPB has achieved who are preaching to the converted. No one in the RAF interested in helping – their jets were named after them? Professional dance companies – the Royal Ballet – sky DANCER??? Then again the estates are prob owned by those that fund the Royal ballet..

  7. I do not condemn the RSPB out of hand and will continue to support them, but those of us who are members must increase the pressure on them to change their stance. Eventually, I think they will be forced to make a choice about who they support and that will be the time for us to decide re our future support of them. Having met with Rory Stuart recently and been told that the reason that there were no specific targets for the number of Hen Harrriers this year was because if there were lots we would all think “great we have cracked it” and if there were only a few we would all say it is not working. That, with the RSPB update, does look somewhat like playing for time!

    1. not easy when they haven’t even bothered to answer a personal email on this subject sent 2 months ago (yes, I am a member, but I suspect not for much longer)

  8. A fantastic article RPS, and still no commitment by the rspb to urge their members to support mark averys petition to ban driven grouse shooting shows which side they are really on .

    1. Absolutely true Kevin, it is beyond believe that they don’t support it. I was RSPB’s biggest defender until fairly recently too.

  9. As Mark Avery himself has said, it isn’t RSPB that is the problem – they aren’t killing the raptors and it is thanks in part to the hard work and commitment of their staff on the ground that some of the information about what looks like a really dire season is coming to light.

    I also don’t believe it’s anything to do with the Royals or any other overt pressure for that matter.

    It is more about taking what some people are saying at face value – that they want to talk about solving the problem. That I think is where RSPB are in difficulty, combined with a generally over cautious approach to a range of issues, most notably the complex issue of relations with Government. It is a matter of judgement, one which I have thought all along they have got wrong because far from seeing it as a chance to patch up the rapidly declining reputation of their ‘sport’, the Grouse shooting lobby has simply seen as a sign of weakness.

    As a result, the shooters are setting out to help everyone out by crystalising the issue into one where noone has any option but to take sides. As Mark says, we’ll know well before August 12th and hopely Steve Ormerod will already be thinking about scheduling an emergency RSPB Council meeting because if no HH suceed in england this summer RSPB will have no option but to withdraw from the hen harrier plan with maximum prejudice.

    1. For me, this was the crucial part of MH’s statement:-

      “We also remain committed to Defra’s hen harrier action plan. It would be premature to change tack based on early returns from a late season and it is in everyone’s interest for this plan to succeed. It might yet be that late nests save the day and we’re able to point to positive progress come the end of the season. The suspicious incident with the decoy and the pole trapping case were both disappointing and unhelpful in the extreme. However, the the action plan must deliver results (link) and that means more hen harriers. ”

      Maybe just an over optimistic decoding of the statement, is he actually saying that unless there are a raft of late nesting birds, the deal/plan is jeopardy? “late nests save the day”

  10. I’m sure the appropriate Raptor Study Groups working in well known Hen Harrier breeding areas could tell us exactly what the situation is at the moment far better than the RSPB could, and without going into unnecessary details of locations. Any groups out there willing to tell us the state of affairs in their area at present.

    The penalty of waiting for the RSPB to come clean in August is playing straight into the hands of the notorious shooting estate owners and their gamekeepers by letting them off the hook.

  11. Why haven’t the RSPB given a frank update on the harrier breeding season? What are they afraid of?

  12. The RSPB with over a million members showing serious concern for the population of Hen Harrier,Montagu’s Harrier,Peregrine and Goshawk should be more specific with their announcement of nest numbers ie tiny handful,not what I want to read!The RSPB logo give nature a home! The Hen Harrier are no longer welcome in their home’s anymore.Yet everyone in power or authority,society and association that are involved the projects and DEFRA Action plan that can make the projects and action plan work,as failed.It’s failed and plain to see that some powers at be ie those involved are not abiding by the proposed and agreed guidelines set out in the project and proposed plan of action.I read of continued disturbance and persecution.Yet,there isn’t anyone brought to justice.The Laws in place surrounding these species should be increased and strongly enforced!
    If the gamekeepers association were interested,they to would be investigating the disturbance and disappearance of Hen Harrier and Peregrine.
    It is time England had:

    Vicarious Liability Law

    License driven grouse shooting

    Monitor gamekeepers and their estates

    Monitor Red Grouse and population numbers

    Only shoot on grouse moor estates knowing there are good numbers of Red Grouse.

    Low Grouse numbers,no shoot to take place on that estate

  13. I will be reading in the future that due to global warming and climate change in England,Wales and Ireland the Hen Harrier have now become extinct!

  14. Beautifully written – why am I paying a monthly fee to the RSPB? Could the money go somewhere better to actually help our harriers?

  15. I think the best way forward is to concentrate efforts on removing the current RSPB board with a vote of no confidence. very disappointed once again by Martin Harpers failure to deal with the situation. If I was to ask any of you are there any birds nesting in your garden the answer would be a simple yes or no, you would not say there might be a tiny handful or there’s between 0 and 1 nests, has the Hen Harrier become extinct as a breeding bird in England once again? Do you honestly think it is correct for the RSPB to praise the moorland Asses for condemning a barbaric illegal act attributed to one of its member estates, yet the moorland Asses have failed to ban or penalise this estate and the estate involved has failed to sack the employee for gross misconduct, The RSPB claim to want a licensing scheme for all estates, rather than going for an all out ban, how far are they along the road to achieving this, from what I can see they haven’t even started out on this journey and this is just a small talk. Finally the RSPB only want to publish the results of this breeding season in September, why not publish just before the inglorious twelfth like last year when you upset the shooting lobby by publishing Raptor crime statistics just before the 12th, Too much pandering to the upland criminals, its about time you started trying to give nature a safe home, once again let down and a very sad day for all our Raptors

    1. Well said Merlin! I also can see no reason for waiting until September to publish the breeding results – if there are any to publish. I hope I am wrong but I get the gut feeling that this decision was taken with the mutual ‘thumbs up’ from the other organisations involved with the HH (IN)Action Plan!

  16. There are many solid comments coming forward on this post, many of which contain suggestions the RSPB needs to take heed of. I remind myself often that , as such, the RSPB is the only organization we have that is in the business of bird protection and even at its lowest point of delivery we need to maintain our support and attempt to alter things from the inside. Except it appears the RSPB has no ” inside ” you can access. It appears inured to criticism and appears content to continue in a self determined fashion irrespective of what its membership and sincere critics would best prefer it to do. I think the “we know best” position is fast coming under siege and mainly because of issues surrounding Hen Harriers. I’ve just put out a piece on my own Blog ( ” RSPB……a Legion of Nero’s” which examines all these issues. When negative murmurs out on the street outweigh the positives it’s time to sit up and take notice in my book. Too many people talking of cancelling membership, of the Society being scared of confrontation, of unwittingly being in the thrall of the shooting fraternity and so on. I believe the RSPB needs to become street wise, to be prepared to confront matters far more robustly, to set aside never ending analysis and academic debate on matters in favour of action and to pick up the baton with “PROTECTION” writ large on its side and run with it !!!

      1. Whilst many of their volunteers/staff seem unaware of the petition though some aren’t.

  17. So, from 6 successful nests in England last year, to a possible extinction event this year. Considering that it has all been done in the first few months of the Defra Hen Harrier Action Plan, that is a tremendous achievement, so congratulations to the RSPB decision makers for being complicit in bringing about the end of the Hen Harrier as a breeding species in England.

    As for the Hawk and Owl Trust, how will you manage to “brood manage” when there are no breeding birds rearing young in the first place?

    Of course, this topic, and all of the other recent killings and criminal activity associated with shooting estates, should be getting a mention on televised wildlife programmes (Springwatch for example), but I have yet to hear anything on these issues during Springwatch’s run so far. Surely a programme dedicated to wildlife should be mentioning such things – they don’t have to go into any great detail, but as a running commentary on other things it could be mentioned now and then. But no, it would appear that the establishment BBC has once again blocked any mention of illegal activity associated with shooting estates.

    Nevermind, stoats eat rabbits, puffins nest in disused rabbit burrows, and moths are attracted to light. Who knew?

  18. I have never seen a Hen Harrier and from reading all the comments on this blog it seems I never will. What a tragic saga. “Evil triumphs when good men stand aside and do nothing”. Edmond Burke made that comment many years ago. What a wise man he was.

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