Natural England still refusing to release details of Hen Harrier brood meddling plans

Regular blog readers will know that we’ve taken a keen interest in DEFRA’s Hen Harrier Action Plan, which was published in January 2016.

We’ve been particularly interested in two of the six action points of this plan: brood meddling and the southern reintroduction.

On brood meddling, through a series of FoIs last year, we were able to find out what was being planned (here), a bit more about what was being planned (here), who was likely to be involved in the practicalities of brood meddling (here), and a bit about an even more bonkers social science survey that was to run parallel with the bonkers brood meddling scheme (here).

However, since November 2016, it all went a bit quiet so on 23 February 2017 we submitted another FoI asking for copies of all recent correspondence on brood meddling and the southern reintroduction. Natural England responded on 21 March 2017 telling us that information was being withheld “as it would prejudice the process of determining the licence application and potentially the quality of that licence”. They also told us, “The discussions are confidential up until the point the licence application has been determined. Once this has happened then details of the licence are available to the public”. 

We knew that this licence application was being submitted (by Natural England, to Natural England!) in either February or March 2017, so we left it a while before we submitted another FoI.

Our second FoI asking for information was submitted on 29 May 2017. Natural England responded on 31 May 2017 with this:

The application you refer to is still being determined. I’m afraid that we do not have an estimate of when it will be”.

We then learned, from reading the minutes of the Natural England Board meeting held on 22 March 2017 that the brood meddling licence application had been submitted (by Natural England, to Natural England!). We also learned that the Natural England Science Advisory Committee “needed to sanction the work behind the data” but that’s about all we’ve been able to find out.

So on 2 July 2017 we put in a third FoI to Natural England, again asking for copies of all correspondence relating to the brood meddling scheme. Last Thursday (6 July 2017) Natural England responded:

I can confirm that the licence application is still being determined and we do not have an estimate of when it will be“.

We’re finding this all quite hard to believe and suspect that Natural England is just using this as an excuse not to release any more information about their plans for brood meddling because they don’t like the criticism those plans have attracted. How would releasing notes from the brood meddling team meetings ‘prejudice the process of determining the licence application and potentially the quality of that licence‘? All this secrecy, over a highly controversial project, doesn’t inspire confidence.

On the southern reintroduction action point (although it’s not really a ‘reintroduction’ because harriers are still present in southern England), last year, again through a series of FoIs, we were able to find out about the feasibility/scoping report (here), the project group and its planned work timetable (here), potential funding options (here), Exmoor National Park as a proposed release site (here), Wiltshire as a proposed release site (here), and potential donor countries from where NE will source hen harriers (here).

Since the end of 2016, Natural England has refused to release any further information on the southern reintroduction, again, using the brood meddling licensing application to hide behind. We’ve now submitted another FoI (2 July 2017) asking for this information to be released, as this information has nothing to do with the brood meddling licence application and should therefore be available for scrutiny.

We do know, from the minutes of that NE Board meeting on 22 March 2017, that the NE Board has “considered the overall objective of the southern reintroduction and agreed this was to help relic upland populations in respect of the genetic diversity and the overall favourable conservation status of the species“.

So has the NE Board seen any scientific evidence that has assessed the genetic diversity of the UK hen harrier population and determined that its genetic diversity is in need of “help”? Have the potential donor populations been screened to assess their genetic diversity? And how will releasing hen harriers, that are likely to disperse to the uplands where this species is still routinely shot on sight, help the species achieve favourable conservation status?


11 thoughts on “Natural England still refusing to release details of Hen Harrier brood meddling plans”

  1. There’s has to be a real credibility issue here – surely any potential donor country with any concern for harriers might consider that they could be, in the present circumstances, signing the death warrant for any gifted birds. Presumably these would be tagged and CCTV protected during

    You would have to wonder as well, if there might be differences of opinion within NE – a real possibility that the scientific evidence may not support the Action Plan. The dispersal evidence (pre radio or sat-tagged) looks very likely to be flawed. Illegal, and obviously unreported, killing – and that may have happened hundreds of miles from “home” is something that could clearly have happened in the past, and would have to be seriously considered – especially if birds, released in “safe areas” are routinely tracked to known “problem areas” before meeting their demise.

  2. Nothing will be achieved until they stop killing hen harriers in their natural (existing) habitat, they will do ok without meddling if they are left alone

  3. Remember that these people have to try & justify their salaries so will spend their time on such pointless schemes.
    It is of no consequence to them how long the plan is gestated before it finally fails, since they are not paid by results.
    If they were, they’d all be unemployed given the dire state of Hen harriers in The English uplands.

    Keep up the pressure !

  4. Natural England are a buch of at best ‘wasters’ of the first order, they have issued a permit to cull lesser black backed gulls, in order to protect grouse so they can be shot by wealthy bankers, oh yes UNNATURAL ENGLAND.

  5. Your patient persistence in pursuing these issues in the teeth of what is surely deliberate, official obfuscation is worthy of a public service medal. Thank you for your efforts on behalf of valued wildlife. What a crying shame I can’t say the same about senior NE personnel!

  6. It’s eminently possible that Wildlife Licensing are not accepting the application as they know it doesn’t satisfy the legal requirements, and it keeps being re-submitted. That would explain the delay, and also possibly the lack of info – it must be really embarassing if NE are refusing NE’s application.
    Despite the constant criticism of NE, some of the staff are actually passionate and committed, in spite of internal political pressure.

  7. Could it perhaps be because there aren’t any broods in England to meddle with, let alone two within whatever distance it takes to trigger the process?

  8. I’m a little confused. NE should give a reason for refusing to release the info. They are only allowed to restrict access on certain grounds. What are the grounds they have given?

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