Hen harrier reintroduction to southern England: Natural England delays release of information

One of the six action points in DEFRA’s Hen Harrier Inaction Plan is to ‘reintroduce’ hen harriers to southern England:

As regular blog readers will know, finding out information about this ‘let’s divert attention from illegal persecution on driven grouse moors’ scheme has been as difficult as finding breeding hen harriers on driven grouse moors. Natural England has been reluctant to share its plans with the general public and all the information we’ve gleaned so far has come from 11 months of submitting FoI requests.

Here’s what we know to date:

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)

23 Feb 2017: Hen harrier reintroduction to southern England: donor countries (here)

19 July 2017: Hen harrier reintroduction to southern England: new project manager appointed (here)

20 July 2017: Hen harrier reintroduction to southern England: Dartmoor as potential new release site (here)

20 July 2017: Hen harrier reintroduction to southern England: revised costs (here)

21 July 2017: Hen harrier reintroduction to southern England: project team visits France (here)

15 Aug 2017: Natural England Board making up justification for hen harrier southern reintroduction (here)

You’ll notice a four month gap in the above list (March/April/May/June 2017). This was because Natural England suddenly refused to release any further information, claiming it would “prejudice” the licensing process for the proposed brood meddling scheme. We challenged this, as the southern reintroduction project has nothing to do with the brood meddling scheme further north and so project details should be available for public scrutiny. Natural England had to agree and did release more information in July.

Photo of a hen harrier by Robin Newlin

In early October 2017, we submitted yet another FoI to ask for another update on the southern reintroduction project. Natural England has just replied, but instead of just sending through the relevant documents, we got this:

We regret that we must extend the time limit for responding by a further 20 working days to 27 November 2017, because of the complexity/voluminous nature of the request“.

Blimey! The southern reintroduction team must have been very very very busy between July and Oct if Natural England views this request as ‘complex and voluminous’! If we were cynics, we might not believe Natural England and we might think that Natural England is just being deliberately obstructive because it doesn’t like the criticism it’s receiving from us, and from others, on its mishandling of all-things-hen-harrier.

Guess we’ll find out at the end of November whether our cynicism is justified or not, when the ‘complex and voluminous’ paperwork is released.

14 thoughts on “Hen harrier reintroduction to southern England: Natural England delays release of information”

  1. There is one useful fact there, that someone somewhere considers it worth spending half a million pounds on an ambitious scheme which optimistically might some day produce a handful of extra Hen Harriers – but then the flip side, by extension the perceived economic value of the huge number of birds being removed illegally from the places they should be inhabiting is into the many multi-millions of pounds. So why on earth can’t Natural England take one simple step towards saving all that money the tax payers is now being asked to stump up, by withdrawing their support from those engaged in illegal persecution – not protecting them by shielding them by hiding publicly funded data about specific persecution incidents, by generally demonstrating openness and transparency, and doing something to change the current impression that their main concern is all about protecting landowners rather than our native wildlife?

    1. If one is going to criticise Natural England then one needs to understand the political nature of the relationship between N.E. and the government. All top jobs in N.E. are appointed by Defra. Today, Natural England has no independent voice and cannot express an opinion without first seeking approval from the Department of Environment, Farming and Rural Affairs. The Council and Board of EN is almost entirely made up of yes-men. There is no open and free discussion. The current situation is precisely why Aldous Huxley warned the post war government of Ramsey Macdonald to keep the new agency free from MAFF. So, if one has a criticism of NE, one’s criticism should be directed at this Tory government.

  2. Well done RPUK – watching these swines like a hawk! Do NE ecologists / field workers have no moral compass – how can they be participating in this sham?

    1. I’m guessing that someone in RPUK knows the individual NE Officers who are responsible for overseeing this project? With the knowledge that I possess about Senior Offficers in SNH who deal with harrier issues, the dubious moral compass of the NE Officers doesn’t surprise me at all. Without naming individuals, one of the main ornithological advisers in SNH seems to me to be considerably naive to be holding such a position in the organisation. Whether this is due to a real degree of ignorance regarding avian ecology, or simply a case of a weak officer being compromised in some way, is difficult to determine. One obvious failure is a willingness to pay at least equal if not more attention to the shooting industry’s apologists (including potential wildlife criminals) as to that of highly experienced ornithologists and field workers, especially amateurs, such as members of the Scottish Raptor Study Groups. It’s hard not to be suspicious that there is an element of elitism involved in this relationship, or perhaps a simple case of being in awe of powerful individuals on the shooting side. Or maybe just fear of losing their job or promotional prospects if they don’t toe the party line?

      1. Good points, Iain, as always. I think I must be naive as I’d have thought that anyone that can advise on ornithology at NE would be motivated by a passion for birds and consequently their protection.
        It’s as sickening watching their contortions as RPUK turn up the heat on them as it is watching their ineptitude in the uplands.

      2. My impression is that quangos, in general, take their lead from Government. Their overriding concern is not to do anything that will embarrass their (our) political masters. I think that is more of an influence than any innate bias they may have or any lobbying they are subjected to.

  3. I know of someone who was high up in NE & who I have suspicions about re Fly-Fishing holidays in Scotland but I have no proof just strong suspicions. Probably RPUK will have to delete this comment.

  4. History Lesson – NE, SNH and CCW are all the result of the destruction of the Nature Conservancy Council [NCC] by a Tory government which included strong links to the shooting landowning lobby. They were broken up and largely neutralised [“see what happens if you dont toe the line?”] because they did their job in a scientifically neutral manner, as the legislation required….

    In addition to that pressure the NCC also had to contend with spin and xenophobia from a government supported media aimed at small farmers and crofters who were told that SSSI designation meant “a new highland clearances” and other such tripe. Designations they were required to make by law and which had strict scientific criteria.

    The former group used the whipped up anger of the latter to largely justify their actions.

    The individual agencies ruling councils were then stuffed with landowning..and in some cases, actually conservation adverse, members…supposedly to represent a wider section of the rural population.

    Can you see the similarities to Trump’s US yet??

    As a conservationist I have to remain optimistic [it goes with the territory] but I see no bright future under the present conditions by which these bodies have to operate – no matter how dedicated “other ranks” might be…and conservation is still way way down any political parties list of concerns, so even a change of government may be ineffective.

    Somehow, the countryside mafia needs to be neutralised with regard to wildlife matters…its still a mediaeval mess out there.

    1. Thanks for that Dave ,gives me a greater understanding of how we got into this sorry mess and why we are in the present predicament ,explained by someone who actually knows what went on.

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