RSPB statement on hen harrier reintroduction to southern England

Last week we wrote a series of blogs updating what we know about the proposed controversial ‘reintroduction’ of hen harriers to southern England.

In one of those blogs (here) we included an email from Jeff Knott (RSPB) to Simon Lees (Hen Harrier Southern Reintroduction Project Manager, Natural England) that included the following muddled sentence:

While we [RSPB] have said we don’t actively support the reintroduction project, nor are we opposed to it and of course we would want to see it be a success“.

We, and many others, didn’t have a clue what that meant. The RSPB has now published a clarification statement, posted on an RSPB community blog by Tony Whitehead, RSPB Public Affairs Manager, SW England region:

A consortium led by Natural England is currently looking at the feasibility of re-introducing hen harrier to southern England. The species is red listed, and has declined markedly over the past few decades with it’s continuing rarity due to ongoing illegal persecution on and around intensively managed grouse moors in northern England.

The current NE feasibility project aims to assess the opportunity of re-establishing a viable population away from the moors, and thus improve the bird’s prospects. Areas being looked at include Dartmoor, Exmoor and Wessex.

The RSPB has serious reservations about this approach to hen harrier conservation in England, and therefore is NOT supporting the project.

Firstly, the RSPB only advocates reintroduction in situations where natural re-colonisation is not possible through other measures. At present, we believe that this could be achieved if persecution in the uplands was stopped.

Secondly, the RSPB is concerned that if hen harriers were to be re-introduced to southern England, birds that disperse from their natal areas would be threatened by ongoing illegal persecution in the uplands. Therefore, again, persecution would need to stop entirely before any re-introduction would be viable.

However, the re-introduction project is still at the feasibility stage, and we have yet to see detailed proposals. Although we have serious doubts, to be fair, if the project can address these concerns, which we believe it would need to do in order to comply with IUCN re-introduction guidelines, then the RSPB would wish it every success.

Currently we don’t see how it can do this.


This statement provides us with a much better understanding of the RSPB’s position (it DOESN’T support the project) but it’s not as unequivocal as it could/should be. The RSPB is suggesting that it is only ‘fair’ to wait and see a detailed proposal. Why? What possible detail could alleviate the legitimate concerns about ongoing illegal persecution? Why pretend that the grouse-shooting industry and Natural England might pull something out of the bag to change all our minds?

There’s a time for diplomacy, sure, but on the subject of the illegal killing of hen harriers, that time has long since passed. Drop the final paragraph, stop pandering to the criminals and stand up with the rest of us.

35 thoughts on “RSPB statement on hen harrier reintroduction to southern England”

  1. I reckon that they’ve made their position abundantly clear. They’ve said that they don’t support it and do not see how it can meet the IUCN criteria. Nuff said.

    1. Not quite ‘Nuff said’. I think it is high time that the RSPB (and others PDNPA & NE to name but two) stood up to be counted. It is obvious and well documented why species such as hen harriers have not recolonised certain areas.

      1. The RSPB has not been in any way equivocal about what the causes of the Hen Harrier decline and failure to recolonise areas from which they have previously disappeared are. They have made it perfectly clear that the persecution of HH by shooting interests is the root cause of the problem. The question is what does it do about it? The licencing solution is at least a defensible stance to take if they feel that a ban is not achievable but where they have failed to live up to their purpose is in advancing their preferred solution with anything like enough energy. Whether it is a ban or licencing they are looking for the RSPB should really be shouting from the roof tops and rousing its massive membership base into indignation and rage at what is going on. A million or so voices expressing their outrage to the government would have some impact but a skim through the latest Nature’s Home magazine gives little clue that there is anything amiss.

    2. One of my concerns is that Jeff appears to say one thing in a private email, but their Public Affairs ‘spin doctors’ says something else when the private correspondence is revealed. What is the RSPB now saying in private I wonder?

  2. To be fair, I read that as a direct challenge by the RSPB to the “consortium led by Natural England ” to try to do something about the illegal persecution. They say quite clearly that they do not support the project. But would if the persecution stopped.

    Give ’em a break.

    1. No break. RSPB and their ilk should be at the forefront of lobbying to eradicate illegal raptor killing instead of leaving it to others to sort whilst they whistle on the sidelines. Stop ducking the issues PDNPA & NE that means you too.

    2. Agreed. RSPB must be balanced and reasonable at all times whilst strongly condemning persecution; I believe this statement meets that requirement.

    3. Sorry michael gill but I fail to see the logic in your argument. If hen harrier persecution was simply stopped, what would be the point of continuing with a southern reintroduction programme? The birds know better than we do what represents suitable breeding habitat. I thought you were using ironic humour until I read your final remark “Give ’em a break.” It’s the harriers that need a break, not the RSPB.

    4. If the persecution stopped there would be no need for a reintroduction project as the birds would be able to recolonise by themselves.

  3. I think for once the RSPB statement on this issue from Tony Whitehead is pretty clear and to be welcomed.

    To paraphrase the RSPB – there is plenty of heather moorland in the North of England which is a natural habitat for Hen Harriers. Why not re- introduce them here if there are spare ones knocking about? Hen Harriers used to do pretty well up here in Yorkshire before people, licenced by the police to hold guns, started breaking the law.

  4. But the RSPB, and others, have been giving the shooters a chance for decades and it has never worked! They may well not want to appear to be obstructive, but the time has come for them to be much more forceful given the continuing persecution of the Hen Harriers.It already appears that they have lost the support of many birders and this continual sitting on the fence is likely to drive more away. Given that scenario, and if more pro-shooting people are signing up to the RSPB to make their case, the RSPB is in danger of losing the support of the people who want them to take a tougher stance.Considering the influence and power of the opposition, the RSPB really ought to be representing our case much more forcefully. I am a member of and a volunteer with the RSPB, but that does not mean we should not be able to criticise them if we think they have got it wrong.

    1. A cautious welcome to the RSPB’s position. The key question is now back in Natural England’s court…. In what circumstances do they see their proposal actually meeting the IUCN guidelines?

    2. Talk of the RSPB having given shooters a chance [to reform] for decades suggests that the organisation is empowered to take statutory action against offenders, but has failed in its duty. The reality is that it is a registered charity with no statutory powers. What it does have, and I can vouch for this having worked with several of them, is a hard core of extremely dedicated individuals who are doing their utmost to bring offences against wildlife to the attention of the appropriate authorities. Criticism of the organisation, such as appears here in this blog, should be directed at those bodies which have a statutory duty to uphold the law – rather than messing about wasting public money on half-baked schemes which are never going to come to fruition.

  5. These are ‘weasel words’ again! I think this latest statement is as clear as mud and only demonstrates the RSPB’s muddled thinking on the whole issue.

  6. The RSPB states that:

    ”The current NE feasibility project aims to assess the opportunity of re-establishing a viable population away from the moors, and thus improve the bird’s prospects.”

    Do we – does the RSPB – really still believe that the ‘aim’ here is to ‘improve the bird’s prospects’? I can see that the proponents will spin it as such, in order to get funding a buy a degree of public support. But, really, the ‘aim’ here is to create a good news story thus diverting attention away from the real crisis in the uplands.

    This is a classic tactic for burying bad news, and I’m surprised that the RSPB spin doctors can’t see this for what it is.

    Or maybe they can, but the RSPB just doesn’t want to kick up a fuss because it has easier challenges on its hands.

  7. The RSPB stands for the protection of birds and that is what we are asking them to do.We can all applaud those doing their bit but as an organisation we are entitled to expect more from them-in my opinion. My own view is that they are too scared to upset people who need to be upset! It does not stop me supporting them (yet!) but I do not think we will win this battle until we fight harder. No-one is suggesting that it is their statutory duty to take action against offenders, but it is its moral duty to protect our birds. And it has repeatedly tried to work with these people-without success.

  8. Iain Gibson is right. If illegal persecution is stopped there would be no need of a re-introduction scheme. HH would in due course re-colonise suitable habitats

  9. Email to RSPB 05.07.17:

    As a member, I’d like to know why you aren’t asking your one million members to demonstrate at Westminster and Hollyrood relative to the national scandal in terms of illegal persecution of our raptors?


    In answer to your question, the RSPB have no plans to encourage members to demonstrate at parliaments about the illegal persecution of raptors, but please be reassured that the RSPB is working hard to protect birds of prey and I would like to describe some of the work we are doing.

    We continue to take action, including the work of RSPB Investigations, who work with the police to bring wildlife criminals to justice. Wildlife crime has been identified as a key threat to the hen harrier and we are investing more than any other organisation to secure a future for hen harriers in the UK’s uplands. In addition to providing a home for more than 10 percent of the UK population on RSPB Reserves, our efforts have been boosted by EU match funding for the Hen Harrier Life+ Project. This involves satellite tagging, on the ground monitoring, nest protection and investigations work, working closely with a range of partners, including volunteer raptor field workers, landowners, statutory agencies, and local communities.

    The RSPB are also supporting Hen Harrier Day events around the country on 5-6 August and its message “We want our hen harriers back”, which is organised by volunteers from Birders Against Wildlife Crime. We are happy to be hosting a number of events at RSPB Reserves this summer. More details can be found at:

    Thank you again for supporting the RSPB and our work Saving Nature for species like the hen harrier and many others and please do not hesitate to get in touch if we can help in the future.

    Supporter Services (Wildlife)

    Hmm…doesn’t say WHY they have no plans to encourage members to demonstrate…

  10. Why the opposition to Hen Harrier re-introduction when it is applauded and upheld as a success when used in relation to Red Kites and Sea Eagles? Or am I missing something blatantly obvious, to which I apologise.

    1. Because it is not the main issue. Yes there could be harriers in these places in the south west. However the main issue is and always has been persecution on grouse moors and we should expect NE and the authorities, after all they are the statutory body to tackle that problem as an absolute priority. If we had a healthy population they would probably colonise on their own. This scheme diverts scarce resources from the real problem and in the big scheme of things is an irrelevance, lets really tackle persecution then this tinkering round the edges will be unnecessary.
      Many think this is symptomatic of NE and DEFRAs lack of resolve is taking on the real problem. As of course is the so called DEFRA plan which is a plan for grouse management not Hen Harriers.

  11. That paragraph which starts with “However” just kicks the legs out from underneath the rest of the statement. It might just be a case of overexplaining, or it could be a deliberate get out clause, but either way it has no business being part of a statement opposing the delivery of this initiative.

  12. That paragraph just gives succour to an industry embroiled in criminality. Those words have just prolonged the campaign to rid the uplands of raptor persecution.

  13. I still have just that little nagging doubt over the impact of the R in RSPB since that family are closely involved with the landowners & others within the criminal and unsustainable grouse shooting industry & are of course great advocates of driven game shooting & fox hunting etc.

    Keep up the pressure !

  14. The RSPB poses the feeble excuse that “the re-introduction project is still at the feasibility stage…” If they truly believe that, why did they withdraw from the partnership before any conclusions had been drawn? This ‘clarification’ of their earlier statement merely causes even more confusion. Surely if fundamental IUCN Guidelines are being proposed to be breached, that should be the end of the matter? It’s not as if we have an exceptional circumstance where all parties are in agreement in principle that ignoring the guidelines would be appropriate.

    1. Simple. They no doubt saw the project as a non-starter because of the IUCN Guidelines aspect and no longer wished to be associated with a proposal which depended upon the impossible occurring – ie the immediate cessation of persecution of HHs on grouse moors. Being realistic is what I would call it!

      1. You seem to have completely missed my point, Dylanben. Hopefully if you read it again there will be no need to provide an explanation.

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