Hen Harrier ‘reintroduction’ to southern England: Wiltshire

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 discussed the bonkers plan for Exmoor a few days ago (here). This blog is all about the proposed reintroduction of hen harriers to Wiltshire.

In May 2016, the Reintroduction project team discussed their early communications with stakeholders in potential reintroduction areas in Wiltshire. The following notes were recorded:

TD [Teresa Dent, GWCT] has had some early conversations with people likely to be helpful/key in helping communicate the proposals in southern England in particular [redacted] who is closely involved in the Marlborough Downs NIA [Nature Improvement Area] and has an application in for the Facilitation Fund to develop a farmer cluster in the Salisbury Plain area. There may already be an opportunity to raise the subject of the reintroduction via a raptor group meeting associated with the NIA in September‘.

Here’s a general map of the area:

In July 2016 the Reintroduction project team was updated with this:

AJ [Adrian Jowitt, Natural England] and Stephen Murphy [Natural England] down to talk to a group of farmers in early October but will try to make some further proactive engagement with key people before then‘.

In October 2016, the Reintroduction project team was updated with this:

A meeting proposed for the Marlborough Downs was cancelled due to fears that it would prove unproductive due to concerns raised by some of the shoots in the area.

A meeting was held with the MoD at Salisbury Plain which was positive; they are happy to continue to work with us.

AJ [Adrian Jowitt] and [redacted] meet with the “Delta Group”; a group of MoD tenants who farm around the Plain. Although poorly attended the proposals were positively received. The farmers there are already use [sic] to Montagues [sic] Harriers. There was acknowledgement that there were some shooting interests, not present, who may have concerns and it was agreed to try and have 1-2-1 meetings with those land managers. Further AJ will look to attend the Delta Group’s AGM so that farmers could discuss the proposals with him there‘.

An action point from this October meeting was: ‘CP [Christopher Price, CLA] to have some 1-2-1 conversations with CLA members involved in the proposed reintroduction areas‘.

We were fascinated to read about the lack of support from shooting interests in the Marlborough Downs area. This area is pretty close to Salisbury Plain (the apparently favoured reintroduction area) – a distance of approx 11.5km. Do you think the IUCN guidelines would be met if hen harriers were released on Salisbury Plain, in full knowledge that known hostile shoots are in such close proximity? Seems pretty doubtful to us.

25 thoughts on “Hen Harrier ‘reintroduction’ to southern England: Wiltshire”

  1. I wonder how many of the farmers are members of the Marlborough Downs Nature Improvement Area and getting taxpayers money to improve the environment for wildlife?

  2. I generally support this blog. I live on Salisbury Plain and have a little knowledge of raptors and owls in the area. I am not an expert on Hen Harrier behaviour or ranging requirements, so can’t comment about the potential for problems over at Marlborough.
    Raising doubts about whether an introduction plan based on Salisbury Plain Training Area (SPTA) is likely to be of benefit sounds demonstrably negative to me and likely to be interpreted as unsupportive by MOD. I would have thought that any initiative for reintroduction, especially when seemingly supported by an excellent estate management organisation would have been welcomed, so the tone of this blog has filled me with dismay.
    The MOD on SPTA has supported the reintroduction of the Great Bustard which has reportedly been extremely successful. We have healthy populations of Tawny and Barn Owl, Kestrel, Red Kite, Buzzard, Sparrowhawk, and I am sure Hobby and Merlin are here too, so the potential for problems elsewhere might not be sufficient to cast doubt on the potential for this proposal to work, which in my view you should be applauding.
    Finally I would ask you; if not here, then where?

    1. Hi Goldenbllx, the main point is that this blog, and most of those who have the interests of raptors at heart, do not think there should be any ‘reintroduction’ scheme at all.
      Hen Harriers are of critical conservation status in England because of illegal persecution by shooting interests. If the law was upheld and enforced, there would be no need for any reintroduction scheme, as Hen Harriers would be allowed to increase in number naturally and, given time, may naturally spread to breed on Exmoor and Wiltshire.
      The scheme itself is fundamentally flawed. They propose to take into captivity any broods of Hen Harriers that are within 10km of another HH nest (so denying the HH of their natural semi-colonial breeding habits), and release them into Exmoor or Wiltshire…in the hopes that they will stay and breed there. However, young HH have been show to wander widely for a couple of years before settling to breed, as far as all across the UK and even to the continent. They’re completely ignoring that there’s nothing to stop these young birds heading north again and getting illegally persecuted.
      There’s plenty more ridiculousness about the scheme, read through this blog for the details.
      In short, the scheme is basically pandering to the shooting industry and their loathing of HH, whilst ignoring their unlawful habits of illegal raptor persecution – which is the real problem facing the hen Harrier.

      1. One correction to make JO’N – the reintroduced birds will not be sourced from the brood meddling scheme taking place on grouse moors; they will be sourced from donor populations in other countries (blog on this issue coming up but for background see: https://raptorpersecutionscotland.wordpress.com/2016/11/14/hen-harrier-brood-management-working-group-what-theyve-got-planned/ )

        They can’t use the brood meddled birds as their donor source because IUCN rules state that donor birds must be sourced from populations that wouldn’t be detrimentally affected by the removal of the donor birds. This is clearly untenable for the almost extinct breeding population of hen harriers in northern England.

        Those brood meddled birds will be removed from grouse moors, raised in captivity, then released back to northern England just in time for the start of the grouse shooting season when undoubtedly they will be killed. Utter madness.

        1. Thankyou for the clarification, RPUK. If the two schemes are not linked in this way, beats me as to why any ‘reintroduction’ program is going ahead at all!!

    2. goldenbllx – you’re missing the wider picture here. Superficially, a ‘reintroduction’ does sound like a great conservation initiative, only because we’re all used to hearing about positive reintroductions in the name of conservation (e.g. red kite, white-tailed eagle, great bustard etc etc).

      However, this proposed ‘reintroduction’ is not being done in the name of conservation – it is an attention-diverting scheme to draw away everyone’s attention from the illegal persecution taking place on most grouse moors.

      We fundamentally don’t support a ‘reintroduction’, no matter where that ‘reintroduction’ is planned, because it’s unethical to reintroduce a species when the cause of that species’ decline (in this case, illegal persecution) has not been addressed.

      1. Thanks for the fuller explanation and reasoning behind your opposition to the reintroduction schemes. However, from another viewpoint – and probably no less valid…..You need public support for your campaigns and no matter how abhorrent the current practices of the shooting and field ‘sports’ lobbies are there are many voices out there that have absolutely no knowledge or experience of these birds (raptors).
        If a wider public were to be exposed to the target of the persecution then you would have a more informed and better educated and aware public to support you.
        The success of the osprey and white-tailed eagle introduction programmes in the 50s and 70s (happy to be corrected on dates) clearly demonstrate that with more widespread knowledge, awareness and publicity success can be achieved. Your stance on this appears (to me) to be very one-tracked and therefore less likely to succeed.
        My opinion of course, but the opinion of one who lives in the south of UK (not osprey country!) and has been inspired to help support and get involved in osprey reintroduction from a standing-start of having no previous interest in raptors, to create interest among the young and ill-informed public at large.
        At the moment the only message I am getting is ‘stop driven-grouse shooting’, and negativity towards introduction schemes is, long-term, unlikely to help Hen Harriers at all.

        1. Roger Antolik, all I can say is that one person’s “negativity” in opposition to grouse shooting is another person’s positive solution to the problem of persistent criminality. And I suggest you read the second paragraph of RPUK’s response again, which very clearly describes the reason behind this ridiculous plan.

        2. Say you are right.
          What is the Hen Harrier plan going to do for other species which are heavily persecuted on driven grouse moors, Golden Eagles, Peregrines and White-tailed Eagle?
          We are trying to get to the root of the problem not tinker with it to placate the criminals.
          A good idea wouldn’t you say? A fair one.
          That is without going into the other numerous environmental damaging effects of intensive grouse moors.
          What is this re-introduction going to do about carbon release, erosion, flooding, animal cruelty associated with DGMs? Nothing, in fact it just condones all these damaging practices. It is one enormous, ‘oh look there’s a squirrel’ or in this case ‘oh, look there’s an introduced HH.
          I highly recommend reading Inglorious by Mark Avery.

  3. DEFRA / Nat Eng / SNH & all the rest …..yawn …… yawn….. please just do your job or leave the field …..
    Reminds me of the time when I asked the game shoot farmer next door to the only Goshawk nest in my study area that had a new [ often juv ] pair every year….” why is this nest so prone to change of occupants ? ”
    ” Must be the buzzards ” he said as he slammed the door in my face !
    I would add that he was the only land owner that I doorstepped in that way, since this was the only site that was not stable in an otherwise stable population & I was keen to let him know that the site was monitored.
    Subsequent breeding success was assured but no doubt many of the young Gos that fledged died at his release pens.
    It did make me chuckle though to find pheasant poults killed by Gos in his woods [ which were grant – aided by the public purse & also monitored by myself.]

    Conservation agencies…. your days are numbered in an age of education & information.
    If you do not do your job, political change will happen.

    Interesting to look at what is happening in parts of Spain to combat poisoning ….. fines……prison sentences……withrawal of grazing & hunting licences……

    Ultimately, raptors, like wolves, are one of the best signposts regarding environmental compliance .
    If they are disappearing mysteriously & not so mysteriously the answers are obvious.

    Keep up the pressure !

  4. When Hobby numbers were low, they had a good breeding population on the plain, along with other raptors, seems a viable area.

    1. Fay, my apologies if I’ve misinterpreted your comment, but just because a habitat is good for one species of raptor doesn’t make it suitable for another. The ecological and prey requirements of Hobby are quite different to those of Hen Harrier. Ask yourself, if the plain is suitable for Hen Harriers, then why don’t they occur there naturally (as a breeding species)?

      1. Thank-you Iain, however I do believe the HH did indeed once breed successfully on the plain. Desmond Nethersole-Thompson (1933) wrote of the bird breeding in Southern Englands, wilder and more remote heaths and moors, he even mentioned it once breeding within the limits of what is now Bournemouth further he acknowledged that the Moor-hawk as he called it was slowly being exiled to the hills by the trap and gun.
        I also understand somewhat that the dietary requirements of the Hobby and HH are extremely different. The plain does however support varying numbers of rabbits, Adders, Meadow Pipit, Skylark and waders whose eggs also form part of the birds diet. Not too far away, are reedy estuaries, that could house wintertime roosts.
        I do disagree with some comments on this site. As an example, I cannot believe that a quorum of supposedly responsible people would sit around a table and discuss a re-introduction scheme just to distract from the raptor persecution up north. Maybe just maybe there are some people interested in seeing HH gliding over the plain.

        1. If this scheme was a stand alone experiment you might have a point. it isn’t, it is part of a package which includes moving Hen Harrier clutches off grouse moors. As someone pointed out this is interfering with the ecology of the species, for example forcing it way from any polygamous breeding. This is all for one reason to pacify the driven grouse lobby and the criminal element on which it depends. There is nothing controversial about these statements nothing that Redman, Merricks and the grouse lobby haven’t also said.
          If the persecution of Hen Harriers stopped on grouse moors i would in theory support this introduction. it would be great to speed up the inevitable lowland recovery (ignoring possible global warming effects). The only question for me is if the money would be better spent elsewhere.
          Can you not see that if criminals and their bosses obeyed the law there would be no need for this re-introduction so they are not separate issues. I also don’t understand why you are so willing to ignore IUCN guidelines which state that the cause of the extermination must be removed. It is just spin doctoring to claim that this is a county by county requirement for such a highly mobile species.
          It is great to see Red Kites in England but the reason we aren’t seeing an increase in the Black Isle is because of this local way of applying the guideline. I know this is controversial but with hindsight to me it obvious that driven grouse shooting should have been banned before any re-introduction schemes took place but this is all with hindsight. Re-introductions appear now to be an immoral way to expose the criminality of the estates. It is the raptors which are proving to be the bait to expose the criminals. When every raptor is satellite tagged, then and probably only then will persecution stop but only by making driven grouse shooting and other sports which depend on crime, illegal.
          To me technology will be the solution.

        2. Fay, thank you for your courteous reply. I don’t mean to be unkind or seem arrogant, but although I understand your desire to see harriers flying free throughout the land, you are somewhat missing the point regarding habitat and other ecological requirements. Again I hope I’m not misunderstanding your meaning, but there is no way that rabbits (apart from an occasional young one), adders or wader eggs form a normal part of the Hen Harrier’s diet. Neither do they specifically require ‘reedy estuaries’ as wintertime roosts. To breed successfully they rely on high vole populations, either Field Vole throughout most of the UK, or a form of the Common Vole on Orkney. That’s why there is an overlap in habitat association between Hen Harrier and Short-eared Owl. High populations of the small mammals are required to bring on breeding condition, supplemented by small birds, overwhelmingly Meadow Pipits, for rearing a brood of young. Such high densities of Field Voles and small ground birds just don’t occur over large enough areas to support breeding Hen Harriers. The main exception nowadays is on grouse moors, the heather itself providing nesting habitat, with some suitable hill country and coastal grassy heathland and bogs on the west coast and islands of Scotland.

          The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) has produced guidelines relating to the reintroduction of species into former breeding areas. An important principle is that the reasons why the species disappeared have to have been resolved or removed. In the case of Hen Harrier in lowland Britain, there are two overwhelming factors: persecution by game shooting interests, and loss of habitat due to development and agricultural improvement. The persistence of persecution of the species throughout the UK is the reason the RPUK blog exists, and the loss of suitable breeding habitat due to agricultural change is irreversible. If we were to allow harriers to breed successfully in their core habitat, there might then be a chance that more marginal areas would be colonised naturally. In the meantime, any harriers “reintroduced” to such areas are very likely to gravitate back towards core habitat, and under the so-called Action Plan, end up having their nesting attempts deliberately destroyed. This would clearly be nothing less than ecological vandalism. That is the flip side of the coin I referred to earlier.

  5. Going my a couple of the comments it looks like you might have to produce an idiots guide explaining why this supposed reintroduction plan is a bad idea.

    1. Are you saying that people coming new to this site aren’t allowed to comment? Great way to encourage fresh support!

      1. No, I’m not saying that. I’m saying that people coming new to the site might not fully understand the issues being discussed and might benefit from a short primer to get them up to speed.

        1. I have been following this blog for years, although I rarely comment. Re-introductions of Kites and Sea Eagles has been successful in the past and I understand and appreciate the inherent difficulties associated with this. I lived in Grately adjacent to the plain for a number of years and have seen some fabulous sites out there, which is why I would have hope for the introduction process. I have no axe to grind and no agenda further than the improvement of breeding for some struggling species Cyaneus being one.

          1. Would you like to set out your understanding of the arguments against this ‘reintroduction’ scheme?

            I think that would be informative for people on both sides of the debate.

  6. We intervene with nature for many positive reasons, like managing and maintaining, or even creating habitats to optimise particular species or ecosystem’s chance of success, and to reinforce vulnerable populations of threatened species. In essence, to sustain biodiversity in a landscape heavily exploited by man. However this insane project is not intervention, it’s downright interference in the ecology and health of a severely persecuted species in the UK. One aspect I find particularly worrying is the way that the concept is becoming a bit too mainstream, especially given Natural England’s close involvement and willingness to cooperate with a known criminal element to achieve some highly dubious objectives. Why do so few people, except those with some expert knowledge of Hen Harrier breeding biology, seem to realise the foolishness, not to mention the impracticality, of this ridiculous plan? Most of all, why are the scientists complicit in the plan not ashamed of their unethical behaviour? Are they just in it for the money?

    In going about my business and associating with fellow birdwatchers and ornithologists, I find that the consequences of the brood meddling plan are poorly understood in general, with some confusion regarding why a proposed “reintroduction” scheme can possibly be a bad thing. The flip side of the coin seems to be ignored, in that the maximum densities of breeding harriers which would be achieved represents a significant negative population impact. I’m sure most readers of this blog don’t require this to be interpreted, but I’m really concerned about the lack of understanding within the birding and nature conservation community at large. It’s a message we really need to hammer home.

    For various reasons the Hen Harrier has a tendency to nest semi-colonially, as already mentioned by JO’N above, and is well known by harrier workers. Where a local population is relatively healthy, up to five or six pairs can easily be accommodated within an area of 10 km squared. If the brood management plan goes ahead, that would be instantly reduced to no more than 1.2 pairs per 10km square. Simple arithmetic tells us that would lead to a shortfall in potential of 80% of the natural achievable population level in the best habitat for the species, i.e. grouse moors. We all know that the overwhelming threat to the recovery of Hen Harriers in the UK is persecution on grouse moors, so add in the sink effect and the so-called recovery plan for the species is a complete farce, even if no more harriers are shot! There is bound to be attempted collusion between lowland gamekeepers and those on grouse moors, not to persecute the species in the “reintroduction” areas, to allow the severe suppression to take place legally on northern grouse moors. Even given that possibility, I doubt there would be significant compliance by the lowland ‘keepers, who would quickly come to resent the presence of their most detested raptor. The whole plan spells further disaster for the Hen Harrier, and chaos for fundamental principles of nature conservation.

  7. This area and the proposals for Exmoor are so crass were they one of Baldrick’s cunning plans? A complete waste of money and birds I would urge donor nations to thing again. The problem for harriers is on grouse moors we should be solving that problem not tinkering around the edges. Ban driven grouse shooting.

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