Hen harrier brood meddling: Natural England delays release of information

Two days ago we blogged about how Natural England has delayed the release of information about the proposed reintroduction of hen harriers to southern England (see here).

Today, we’re blogging about how Natural England has delayed the release of information about the proposed hen harrier brood meddling scheme.

Anyone seeing a pattern emerging here?

So, hen harrier brood meddling. As with the proposed southern reintroduction, brood meddling is one of six ‘action’ points of DEFRA’s Hen Harrier Inaction Plan, launched in January 2016.

As with everything-hen-harrier, Natural England has been reluctant to provide any information about the brood meddling scheme unless it’s been forced to do so under a series of FoI requests. Here’s what we’ve managed to drag out of them so far:

14 November 2016: Hen harrier brood management working group: what they’ve got planned (here)

15 November 2016: More brood meddling revelations (here)

16 November 2016: Brood meddling: the role of the International Centre for Birds of Prey (here)

22 November 2016: Brood meddling: the proposed social science study (here)

That information was released almost a year ago. Since then, despite repeated requests for information, Natural England has gone all secret squirrel and refused to tell us anything more about this highly controversial project.

In February 2017 we submitted another FoI asking for an update on brood meddling. NE responded in March 2017 telling us that the  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, from reading the minutes of an NE Board Meeting, that the brood meddling licence application (from Natural England to, er, Natural England!) had been submitted by March 2017. We didn’t understand how releasing more updates about the brood meddling scheme would “prejudice” the internal licensing process but nevertheless we gave NE the benefit of the doubt and didn’t submit another FoI for a few months.

At the end of May 2017 we submitted another FoI asking for an update on the brood meddling scheme. NE refused to provide any information because the brood meddling licence application was still being considered. NE said:

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

In early July 2017 we submitted another FoI asking for an update on the brood meddling scheme. NE refused to provide any information because the brood meddling licence application was still being considered. NE said:

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

In early October 2017 we submitted another FoI asking for an update on the brood meddling scheme. NE has just responded with this:

Ah, right. Natural England is now saying it needs extra time to prepare its response “because of the complexity/voluminous nature of the request“. Are they taking the piss?! It’s only “voluminous” because NE has refused to release any information for almost a year!!

Mind you, NE’s interpretation of “voluminous” is probably very different to ours. Remember, this is the organisation that told us it couldn’t release information about the number of successful hen harrier breeding attempts in England in 2017 (n = 3) because apparently it needed a super computer to “quality assure and analyse” the data!

It’s fine. We’ve waited all year so what’s another month between friends? We can wait until the end of November and who knows, by then NE might have also responded to our requested Internal Review of its refusal to release hen harrier satellite tag data, and it might also have managed to tell us something (anything) about the latest ‘missing’ sat-tagged hen harrier that recently vanished on a grouse moor in the Yorkshire Dales National Park.

8 thoughts on “Hen harrier brood meddling: Natural England delays release of information”

  1. Now it’s time to complain to the ICO to compel NE to release the information. It has been Defra (and therefore NE) policy for many years to refuse FOI and EIR requests until the ICO ruling. So we could to and fro for a year or two or we can complain to ICO and short circuit the usual routine.

    1. We’re playing this by the book. On NE’s refusal to release the sat tag info, we’re in the middle of the process – FoI submitted – NE’s refusal to release data – Internal Review requested. Depending on the outcome of that Internal Review, the next step will be to complain to the Information Commissioner. The IC will not get involved until we’ve exhausted the formal process.

      On NE’s delayed release of info on brood meddling and the southern reintro, NE is legitimately entitled to ask for an extension of 20 working days, even though we are suspicious of its motives. If the info isn’t provided after that time, then we submit a request for an Internal Review, and then on to the IC if the Internal Review is unsatisfactory.

  2. Sometimes you have to sit back and ponder what is going on, as the complexities of the bureaucracy tend to distract from the main issues. One point which springs to mind on frequent occasions is why does there appear to be no meaningful consultation with the experts, including people whose life blood is the Hen Harrier, like many members of the Raptor Study Groups? Admin and many contributors to the RPUK blog are among the most knowledgeable people in the UK on the subject, yet they are treated with a degree of disrespect that is contemptible at times. NE tells us that they have on board some of the top Hen Harrier experts in the land, but if that is the case why do they not explain why the proposed brood meddling scheme is a non-starter? No need to answer that one. The politics and not very well-hidden agenda of the proposal are blatant, but NE appears not to have even considered this fact, and I’d suggest it has reached the stage of them being complicit with the grouse shooting mob. Dave Dick’s very enlightened comment to a recent RPUK blog was extremely helpful, in opening our minds to the insidious changes applied to the national conservation agencies by successive Conservative Governments. They (NE) are clearly no longer fit for their original intended purpose. It has also occurred to me that if anyone asked me the RSPB’s position regarding the proposed brood meddling, I couldn’t answer. Is this because I’ve missed something? I certainly don’t hear them shouting from the rooftops.

    1. Iain,

      I’m thinking along the same lines – without even attempting to be cynical – the public bodies have a business template, it would appear, to remain stoically on the fence, where support, moral or financial, becomes an issue and the views of contributors and members have to be recognised. Individuals within these public bodies and organisations may hold a wide ranges of views and values. The RSPB, for example, may have to depend on land-owners throughout the country for access, recording, and research situations. The organisation, for example, would ideally avoid a situation that would intimidate all land-owners into being obstructive. Total public transparency at all levels becomes an absolute necessity, for that reason, in these organisations.

      The vested interests are very positively on the defensive side of the fence, for, in their view, “worthy” reasons; lifestyle, tradition and ruthless commercial profit. They have to somehow diminish or at least play down these interests, recognising that they are, at the very least, very much in the minority, constantly having to work at including all sections of the shooting fraternity in their cause – suggesting that attacks on “driven grouse shooting” are attacks on shooting in general. They will also do their utmost, by whatever means, to influence and / or discredit the public bodies and conservation groups.

      The organisations and individuals critical of “driven grouse” are multi-faceted: environmental, bird conservation and anti-cruelty. I suppose what I’m saying is that this is the side of the argument who have individuals free “to say it as it is” and have experts who, apart from their years of invested time and effort, have no vested self interest. They are the side arguing for the Hen Harrier and other raptors, and wildlife in general, in pursuing campaigns against the wanton cruelty meted out by the setting of traps and snares.

      The one thing we can be sure of here is that “driven grouse” surely have to fear publicity. Any time they have recently tried to make their case in public, it has sorely backfired. That publicity, if built on, will eventually bring about changes within the NE.

  3. This all beggars belief, these arse holes are breaking the law and the powers that be are trying to move the birds, it’s about time grouse shooting was stopped and harriers left to breed where they want to. We don’t move speed cameras because people want to speed.

  4. Hmm, usual NE response for licences are around a month and this is now 7 months. As this is NE applying ( and surely they know the game), you have to wonder a) how inept the applicant is, or b) how diligent the licensor is! Perhaps there are still quiet heroes at NE quietly fighting this from the inside and who just keep saying No.

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