Natural England Board making up justification for Hen Harrier southern reintroduction?

Last month we blogged about the minutes of a Natural England Board meeting (held 22 March 2017) in relation to the proposed reintroduction of hen harriers to southern England. The published minutes stated:

The NE Board has considered the overall objective of the southern reintroduction [of hen harriers] and agreed this was to help relic upland populations in respect of the genetic diversity and the overall favourable conservation status of the species”. 

We were curious about the scientific evidence used by Natural England’s Board to assess the genetic diversity of the UK hen harrier population and determine that its genetic diversity is in need of “help”. We were also curious about whether potential donor hen harrier populations had been screened to assess their genetic suitability.

The reason we were so curious is because we were unaware of any genetic assessment ever having been undertaken for the UK hen harrier population, but, considering the scientific credentials of many NE Board members, we assumed they would have insisted on seeing such evidence before making such a claim. So we submitted an FoI to Natural England to ask for these details.

Natural England has responded as follows:

So basically, Natural England is unable to point to any scientific evidence to indicate that the genetic diversity of the UK hen harrier population is in need of ‘help’, and yet the NE Board has claimed that ‘helping’ the species’ genetic diversity is suitable justification for the southern reintroduction project to go ahead.

As Mark Avery said on his blog this morning, ‘Is NE fit for purpose? Quite honestly I don’t think it is. I no longer trust NE to do the right things for nature, and I no longer trust NE to tell the truth about what it is doing‘. We’re in full agreement with that, and based on this latest FoI response, we’d extend that to the NE Board.

14 thoughts on “Natural England Board making up justification for Hen Harrier southern reintroduction?”

  1. You eould think that the NE board woild be careful in what it is doing, because of the spotlight which will be placed upon the ridiculous proposal.
    Seems not.
    That is what taking your cue from the grouse shooting industry.

  2. Like the grouse shooters they’ve obviously just decided to make things up on the spot if it sounds good – i.e covers up the truth. Why on effen earth would a species of highly mobile bird ever need help to avoid inbreeding? Idiocy, incompetence, sycophancy or all three?

  3. The genetic diversity of any significantly limited species can most certainly affect future viability. It is condensed in the rather handily in the extinction vortex model. Whether out-breeding depression will have a greater bearing than in-breeding is difficult to say. Given the perilous state of the HH population, would would suggest ‘not’.

    1. I’d be astonished if in-breeding or out-breeding depression in any way affects the UK hen harrier population – this is a wide-ranging species; all the evidence I’ve seen suggests that, free from harassment, hen harriers are quite capable of nesting at high density and fledging lots of chicks. A species being adversely affected at the level of its genes wouldn’t show such characteristics.

  4. So yet again we have a public body refusing a legitimate request for infirmation from the public. More evidence of the democratic deficit.

  5. I’m prepared to be corrected but I don’t recall ever seeing any reference to a genetic study of British HHs and certainly no suggestion that genetic weaknesses were a significant threat. Indeed, I agree with Les Wallace that you might suspect that such a highly mobile species is not at a huge risk from these sort of problems. Just took a wee peek at the Migration Atlas (Wernham et al., 2002) where the ringing recovery maps for HH suggest a healthy exchange between the GB/Irish and continental European birds.

  6. The FOI response refers to the Board having had a verbal discussion about the Hen Harrier Southern Reintroduction Plan. It conveniently omits to mention the date of the discussion. The link below relates to the Natural England Board and refers to dates of formal meetings, agenda items and minutes, albeit that the most recent minutes are not yet available:
    I would suggest that a further FOI request should be made asking for details of the date of the meeting on which this matter was discussed, together with copies of the agenda and ensuing minutes.

  7. The news is not all that bad. The Sperm Count of Western males is falling for various reasons associated with lifestyle and toxins in the food chain. If this trend could infect the rest of humanity, then perhaps, human numbers would fall, and wildlife could get a respite. No matter which political party is in power in the UK, the real commanders of what is allowed regarding wildlife conservation, and animal welfare in general, make sure any protection is niggardly and legislation fraught with flaws for Prince Phillip to drive his hobby horses through now he is in retirement. I see Trump inspired efforts are being made to try and weaken or remove legislation that protects wildlife from all over the planet, by allowing products coming from them to be taken off banned import lists, according to the USA Wildlife Conservation Society. No matter where one looks on this dismally managed Earth, an internecine struggle is going on to prevent this present day Great Extinction from becoming too total. All the other extinctions did leave something for Evolution to work on, to make for a new Creation; this time round, I hope the meek species do inherit the Earth. The Trophy Shooting and Blood Sports version of Man, has been a terrible experience for all living creatures, and even for its own kind, with slavery and gross abuse of the vulnerable flourishing in all societies. Those among mankind who are compassionate, and not to holy minded, do deserve a Rapture Moment and be transported to somewhere, where there is no compunction to hunt for sport or use animals for food or entertainment. Room just cannot be found for creatures like Hen Harriers in our present day world, so avid is the lust for industrialised shooting of game birds. Is that not enough evidence for our species losing its job as Steward of all that lives?

  8. There appears to be little else to be said beyond the conclusion that NE and now it’s Board are quite simply not fit for purpose. The issue therefore is what do the credible scientific community and the public do about this state of affairs (I could also contribute a whole tranche of other ‘failure’ examples) There is a call for evidence that readers might like to consider contributing to, see

    Well done RPUK for sterling work, as ever in making available the information and continuing to shine a bright light in the mirky corners of Government and its agencies.

  9. Could you ask for the full verbal contributions to the Board Meeting from the minutes? I would be very interested in Dr Andy Clements input, as he is also the CEO of the BTO, an entirely science-driven organisation.
    ( I will sign as Mairi L in future, to avoid any confusion following your later blog!)

    1. I am very sorry to say the BTO is impartial in all matters; particularly where it gets its money from which explains how such a small membership can support so many staff. I was born near Biafra Ngeria and our familly lost friends in the war re Shell, after this there has been the trashing of the Delta, and never mind Saro Wiwa et al, I challenged Andy Clement here re “corporate sustainability” and BTO’s then involvement with Shell but he is in impartial and I sadly resigned.

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