Hen Harrier ‘reintroduction’ to southern England: a bonkers proposal for Exmoor National Park

As part of DEFRA’s Hen Harrier Inaction Plan, we know that a ‘reintroduction’ of hen harriers is planned for southern England.

We know that a (flawed) feasibility study funded by Natural England had identified two main areas of interest: Wiltshire and Exmoor (see here). We’ll discuss Wiltshire in a separate blog. This blog is all about the proposed reintroduction of Hen Harriers to Exmoor National Park.


We’ve gleaned the following information from a series of FoIs:

At a Hen Harrier reintroduction project team meeting in July 2016, Adrian Jowitt (from Natural England) reported to the group that he had started conversations with Exmoor National Park Authority (ENPA), the Greater Exmoor Shoot Association (GESA), the National Farmers Union (NFU) and the National Trust (NT). Adrian told the project team that he had a further meeting planned in September but that so far ‘generally feedback has been positive although some concerns about what was in a project of this kind for the land managers, and worries over potential to have to change land management practices in the future should the birds become established. National Trust very positive at both a national and local level. It was agreed that we should invite NT to join this group‘.

The following month (10 August 2016) a ‘Hen Harrier’ meeting was held between Natural England, GESA, Exmoor National Park Authority and an unnamed consultant. What happened at this meeting is simply unbelievable.

Here are the notes from that meeting: brief-note-of-hen-harrier-meeting-aug-10_redacted

The meeting participants felt that ‘it would not be easy to reintroduce hen harriers‘ (although the rationale behind this view wasn’t given) ‘but not impossible‘.

According to the notes from this meeting, ‘the group’s main concern was around sufficient food supplies. Harriers had attempted to nest in recent years but not settled. Lack of food may have been an issue. GESA was keen to trial the reintroduction of red grouse to help secure a reliable food supply. This could have the added benefit of encouraging heathland management‘.

What a brilliant idea. Introduce some red grouse (on the pretence that reintroduced hen harriers will starve without them) and thus pave the way for the development of driven grouse shooting in Exmoor National Park. Yep, that’ll work a treat because everyone knows how well hen harriers do on driven grouse moors. It’s not like there’s ever been a conflict of interest between grouse moor managers and hen harriers. It’s not like grouse moor managers have ever killed so many hen harriers that the HH breeding population is on the point of extinction in England.


Later on in this meeting, it was decided that rather than just focus solely on hen harriers, the project should be seen as ‘bringing moorland birds back to Exmoor – e.g. red (and potentially) black grouse, merlin, ring ouzel etc as well as hen harrier‘.

It was agreed that this idea would be discussed further at GESA’s annual meeting at the end of August. And it was. Here is the agenda for that GESA meeting: greater-exmoor-game-shoots-draft-agenda-aug-31_redacted

We don’t know exactly what was said at that GESA annual meeting at the end of August but we know a little bit. Adrian Jowitt reported back to the HH reintroduction project team in October 2016 and this is what was recorded in the meeting notes:

AJ and [redacted] attended a meeting with Exmoor National Park and GESA. A number of views were expressed, some very positive but one, from the shooting perspective, clearly against the idea of reintroduction. The fears raised were that a reintroduction would lead to increased scrutiny of their legal activities and if the project was unsuccessful the shoots would be blamed. They did not see Harriers as being a direct issue for the shoots‘.

Increased scrutiny of legal activities, eh? What a shocker. Although not a shocker when you start to look at some of the names involved with shoots on Exmoor….some of those names are quite familiar to us and have strong connections to certain grouse moors in northern England and Scotland. It’s no surprise that those individuals would not want increased scrutiny on Exmoor if their activities in the northern uplands are a measure of their attitude to the law.

So what next for the bonkers proposal for Exmoor National Park? Well, it looks like they’re still going for it. Here is some email correspondence from Sept 2016 between Adrian Jowitt and Sarah Bryan of Exmoor National Park Authority (she was Head of Conservation & Access at ENPA at the time these emails were written, but she’s recently been promoted to Chief Exec of ENPA): email-correspondence-sarah-bryan_adrian-jowitt-re-moorland-bird-project-exmoor

An FoI has been submitted to ENPA to find out more details about the planned ‘moorland bird project’.

13 thoughts on “Hen Harrier ‘reintroduction’ to southern England: a bonkers proposal for Exmoor National Park”

  1. The shooting fraternity are sounding like criminals, hiding their crimes. What do the folk in these meetings have in their skulls? It certainly isn’t brains.

    “Feed them Cake” springs to mind, when grouse are to be offered as food for HH????

    They need somebody in these meeting to pick out the dodgy wording from the xxxxxxxxx and the weak arguments from those that should be helping. The NE, NT and other organisations seem to roll over belly up to be tickled for their gratification.


  2. “…and worries over potential to have to change land management practices in the future should the birds become established.”….Not that it will ever happen…but….how awful that they might have to change what they are doing because of some pesky rare birds. ..and there you have it, in a nutshell, why our Uplands are such wildlife poor devastated deserts.

  3. We know that settling rates of nesting harriers is NOT governed by Red Grouse presence but the spring density of both voles and Meadow Pipits so one can have little confidence in these people. The scheme is a complete red herring. What we need is proper assessment of harriers in their core UK upland habitat. The only reason they are not thriving there is persecution on grouse moors. Solved by ending driven grouse shooting but then none of Government, NE or DEFRA has either the will or the balls to grasp that particular nettle currently so the pressure for change MUST continue .

  4. I second your WTAF comment. If we thought the whole brood meddling concept couldn’t get more ridiculous we were wrong.
    What a complete waste of money and time, stop illegally killing hen harriers – and there would be no need to reintroduce them – though the problem runs deeper than the obvious solution. The crux of this whole debacle is that it is very often the very top decision-makers, such as politicians, the gentry, judges, govt and non government directors, police chiefs, etc who have most to lose if grouse shooting were to end (and the hen harrier is the Achilles heel in their industry). No-one is brave enough to take a stand and so the impasse continues, sadly.

    1. Andrea – you beat me to it – my thoughts exactly. if there were no persecution – as long as there are still some breeding pairs left – their numbers should recover.

  5. To those facilitating and championing this silly scam – the Exmoor National Park Authority, Hawk & Owl Trust, International Centre for Birds of Prey, Jemima Parry-Jones, Natural England….. – wake up and smell the coffee. This ain’t going to work! The first ‘vanished’ satellite tagged harrier, or the first instance of a member of the public witnessing a hen harrier getting shot at, and it’ll be all over the papers! And it’ll happen – there’ll be people in Devon that’ll use them for target practice, just out of spite, and it’s a lot harder to hide the deed in the popular Devon countryside than remote northern England uplands. Exmoor and Dartmoor or comparatively crawling with observers! You’ll get criticised ceaselessly in the lead up too this and you’ll get demolished as failure unfolds.

  6. And aren’t there rules around redacting – it would be good to have un-redacted material or a reasoned justification. Not sure the Information Commissioner would approve.

  7. Apologies if this is a foolish question but, if the terrain is suitable, why are there no grouse already on Exmoor?

  8. game keepers, just morons with a gun and not enough brain cells to think of anything better to do than go out and shoot a few members of our wildlife for the fun- I see it, I hear it and with the NA licences to kill buzzards too- no birds of prey are safe. Who’s going to prove these acts of complete stupidity and destructiveness are being done , or who exactly shot what..?

  9. Maervellous………….best read of the week. I laughed and laughed, I just wonder if you realise how much I enjoy your work. Great stuff. Exmoor is of course truly ghastly with the unspeakable in full cry of the inedible etc etc. You deserve an honour and I raise my hat to you and salute !

  10. I have done quite a lot of informal survey on Exmoor for Merlin (which are now extinct from around 10 pairs) and Ring Ousel and most of the wader assemblage have also gone; my own view is a mix of reasons, probably climate change as Blackbird move up the hill and Hobby seem to be where some Merlin were but also my guess is a decline in invertebrate base line due to agricultural improvement and acidification via nitrate deposition; the latter is an educated guess ? There are no Grouse on Exmoor. I do feel that keepering would assist the wader assemblage, I have seen a mixed flock of 1000 plus corvids in mid late June beetling hillsides in mid late June on the edge of Dunkery B. and any wader or grouse chicks would be hammered at this point but whether keepering would have any effect on this event of non and post breeders is a mute point. Red Kite and Goshawk never seem to settle here ( I wonder why) it was always assumed that the former would first colonise the South West from their Welsh strongholds which are just across the estuary which was why the SW was never included as a launch point for RK introductions from the continent; it is highly plausible that the intensity of the shooting and hunting interest on Exmoor, the first port of call from Wales, thwarted RK natural expansion into Devon and Cornwall.

  11. Red Grouse died out on Exmoor around 20 years ago, but were only just clinging on for several years before that, which suggests that there was something not quite right with the apparently suitable habitat available, or not enough of it to sustain a viable population naturally. That situation is not likely to have improved in the meantime; if anything there seems to be less heather moorland in their old haunts in the Dunkery area than there was then. The Exmoor Forest area to the west is largely grass moorland and unsuitable. So intensive management would be necessary to achieve a reintroduction of Red Grouse to Exmoor. Evidence from elsewhere suggests that would not help any Hen Harrier reintroduction (or even the few which currently winter on the moor each year). There is also a very high density of Pheasant shoots in and around the national park.

    I would love to see Hen Harriers skydancing over Exmoor, but this plan seems doomed to failure for any number of reasons, not just the risk of malevolent human interference.

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