Hen harrier reintroduction to southern England: donor countries

We’ve blogged quite a bit about the ridiculous proposed ‘reintroduction’ of hen harriers to southern England, one of the six action points in DEFRA’s Hen Harrier Action Plan. Here’s a quick recap:

28 Nov 2016 – Hen Harrier reintroduction to southern England: an update (here)

3 Jan 2017 – Hen harrier reintroduction to southern England: the feasibility/scoping report (here)

8 Jan 2017 – Hen harrier reintroduction to southern England: the project group and their timeline (here)

9 Jan 2017 – Hen harrier reintroduction to southern England: who’s funding it? (here)

9 Jan 2017 – Hen harrier reintroduction to southern England: a bonkers proposal for Exmoor National Park (here)

12 Jan 2017 – Hen harrier reintroduction to southern England: Wiltshire (here)

14 Feb 2017: Leaked email reveals Natural England’s views on Hen Harrier Action Plan (here)

This blog is about which countries might donate hen harrier chicks / eggs for this doomed reintroduction, assuming it goes ahead in 2020 as planned.

hhchicks-andrew-sandemanWe know, through a series of FoIs, that the reintroduction project team has been discussing potential donor countries for quite some time. Notes from their second meeting in May 2016 say:

Initial conversations have indicated that Spain may not be as likely source as had initially been thought. SR [Steve Redpath] is still waiting for replies from enquiries sent to both Spanish and French colleagues. JK [Jeff Knott] will follow up with BirdLife International partners and RC [Rob Cooke] will make initial enquiries with SNH“.

Notes from their third meeting in July 2016 say:

We acknowledged that we need to move this subject forward. We need to discuss with SR [Steve Redpath] when he’s back from Iceland but also AJ [Adrian Jowitt] to pick up with [redacted]. We also agreed to make some preliminary investigations about who or how one might approach sourcing birds from Russia“.

Notes from their fourth meeting in October 2016 say:

Contact has been made with Harrier workers in France and Spain but as yet detailed conversations have not happened – this is ongoing. We acknowledged the need to discuss whether we are looking to source chicks or eggs, although accepted that to a degree the source of the birds may influence this choice. PM [Philip Merricks] fed back that Russian counterparts had suggested that sourcing birds there was relatively straight forward provided that proper channels were followed. We agreed to pursue sources closer to home for now“.

We were particularly interested in the idea of sourcing birds from Scotland, a population in long-term decline, so we asked SNH whether there had been any correspondence on this, as suggested from the May 2016 meeting notes. SNH replied on 6 Feb 2017 with this:

We can advise there has been no approach from Natural England or others involved with this project, but that if SNH received such a request we would assess it by our own normal licensing processes and the Scottish Translocation Code, as it would relate to a reintroduction project seeking Scottish involvement / donor stock“.

SNH did, however, provide a copy of some 2011 meeting notes from the Environment Council’s six year-long failed Hen Harrier Dialogue, where there had been a discussion about sourcing hen harriers from Scotland. It makes for an interesting read: environment-council-hh-dialogue_reintroduction_june2011

So, sourcing donor birds from Scotland doesn’t appear to be on the cards. We also know that the reintroduction project team has approached the Netherlands (answer: no), Spain (answer: no) and Poland (no). Here are copies of the correspondence:




We know that sourcing birds from Russia may be a possibility (see project team meeting notes from Oct 2016) but the most likely source, as of November 2016, appears to be France. Here is an email from Adrian Jowitt (Natural England) to the reintroduction project team, dated 3 November 2016: fw_-france-as-possible-donor-population-_redacted

We don’t have any further information on this at the moment. We submitted a further FoI in January 2017 asking Natural England for copies of correspondence relating to this project since our last request in November 2016. They replied on 19 January with this:

There has been no correspondence between 29 November 2016 and 19 January 2017“.

This apparent radio silence seems quite remarkable, given the project team is planning to submit a funding bid to the Heritage Lottery Fund in March 2017. Hmm.

More FoIs have been submitted and we’ll report in due course.

Photo of hen harrier nestlings by Andrew Sandeman

12 thoughts on “Hen harrier reintroduction to southern England: donor countries”

  1. Why the hell cant they allow them to recolonise their areas they have traditionally nested on? Just further evidence that DEFRA dances to nasty brigade’s tune…

  2. Looks like EU raptor workers know a whole lot more about UK hen harriers than Natural England does about harriers anywhere in Europe…

  3. Should there be an application to the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) then can we highlight to HLF the folly of supporting this application?

  4. So Natural England would see no issue in sourcing HHs from a declining French population? What does that say about ethics and professionalism?

    Dodgy deals with Russian’s now is that a private arrangement or one sponsored by H&OT?

  5. It appalls me that any self-respecting “harrier worker” would cooperate with this project. Is anyone from RPUK, the UK Raptor Study Groups, or any other interested body, in contact with the French harrier workers to ensure that they are aware of the underhand tactics and true aspirations of the Defra plan?

    Perhaps if they’re seeking to obtain Russian birds the support of President Trump might be fruitful. He could negotiate a good deal with his chum Mr Putin.

    It strikes me that if RPUK wasn’t so dogged in its pursuit of the truth, we wouldn’t be aware of what’s going on. However it is extremely frustrating that we aren’t doing more to resist this assault on our Hen Harriers. On a personal basis I do my best to raise awareness, but the lack of information reaching most ornithologists, naturalists and conservationists is very worrying. Most people seem to shy away from controversy.

    What can we do?

  6. Fantastic work for bringing these details to the public, RPUK.
    It’s just getting more ridiculous. NE is finding that HH have threatened populations over all of Europe, and are still pushing to try to import birds from overseas, to end up with a questionable fate in the UK.
    The UK’s HH population has a completely unique threat; while other populations are at risk from changes in agricultural practices, the UK birds don’t face such pressures (having plenty of available moorland habitat), but instead are heavily persecuted by the grouse shooting interests. By stopping persecution by whatever means possible, the UK could have the shining opportunity to instead become a country with an extremely strong HH population – rather than engaging in worthless schemes which involve taking others’ birds while our own continue to be blasted.
    It just seems like common sense!

    1. “By stopping persecution by whatever means possible”.

      The only language these people seem to understand is one of profit. Perhaps if enough shoots were stopped through non-violent direct action with the associated income lost and then made clear it was in response to the persecution of raptors then they “may” get the idea. Those considered most responsible could be targeted while those with a good record left alone.

      I can dream . . .

  7. I wonder if the Russian source is the same as that used to supply the Salisbury Plain bustard re-introduction? I gather that at one point farmers in Russia were to be paid (and may actually have been paid) to supply ‘doomed’ bustard eggs from arable areas, basically running the risk of incentivising them to invent risk to bustard nests in order to claim money for ‘rescuing’ them from ploughing operations. I do hope Jemima Parry-Jones, Philip Merricks and Steve Redpath aren’t actually contemplating paying farmers to identify harrier eggs to be gathered from Russian arable fields.

    1. Of the three musketeers named above, it seems they put profit (or ‘glory’ and associated prestige) above principles these days?

      Quite simply money is what it’s all about, be it public funds to private landowners or delivering doomed schemes promoted as conservation?

      Will any of those involved in this Defra sponsored PR stunt be doing it for altruistic reasons? I’d be happy to be proved wrong and provided with robust science / evidence to the contrary. Ever an agnostic ….

      Forgive the naive question, but surely some kind of genuine (NE not eligible by virtue of being scheme sponsors) impact assessment on declining populations donation needs to be undertaken?

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