Natural England’s progress report on the Hen Harrier Action Plan (summer 2017)

In September this year, Natural England told blog reader Mike Whitehouse that “work on the six actions set out in the [2016] Joint Hen Harrier Action Plan is progressing as expected. Ultimately we believe these actions will result in an increase in the numbers of hen harriers breeding in England“.

Earlier this month, in its response to Gavin Gamble’s e-petition calling for a ban on driven grouse shooting, DEFRA said this:

The [Hen Harrier] Action Plan was developed with senior representatives from organisations including Natural England, the Moorland Association, the National Gamekeepers’ Organisation, the Game & Wildlife Conservation Trust, National Parks England and formerly the RSPB. These organisations, led by Natural England, will monitor activities and report annually on progress to the Defra Uplands Stakeholder Forum and the UK Tasking and Co-ordinating group for Wildlife Crime’.

Naturally, we were curious about this ‘as expected progress’, nearly two years after the Hen Harrier Action Plan was launched, especially given the high number of dead or ‘missing’ satellite tagged hen harriers that have been reported since the Action Plan was launched.

[Photo of Hen Harrier Carroll, found dead in Northumberland in January 2017. A post mortem revealed she had died with a parasitic infection, but it also revealed two shotgun pellets lodged under healed wounds, one in the leg and one in the throat. Photo by Northumberland Police]

We were keen to see the annual report to which DEFRA referred in its response to Gavin Gamble – the one that had been submitted to the DEFRA Uplands Stakeholder Forum.

We’ve managed to get hold of a copy.

Here’s the report’s introductory blurb, highlighting the fact that no hen harriers bred on any English grouse moors in 2016, nor in 2017. Not a great start to a report about ‘progress’.

Now let’s examine the ‘progress’ that has been made on each of the six action points:


So, a number of hen harriers were satellite-tagged in 2016 and 2017. That is good, but this tagging effort started long before the launch of the Hen Harrier Action Plan and would have happened even if the Action Plan hadn’t been launched, so this can hardly be claimed as Action Plan ‘progress’. And most of these tagged birds (except two) have since been found shot dead or have ‘disappeared’ in suspicious circumstances.

Progress rating: 2/10 (and that’s being generous).


Progress rating: 0/10


The RPPDG might well have been ‘focusing its efforts on the production of poison maps‘, but as we pointed out the other day, this so-called ‘delivery group’ hasn’t managed to deliver a single thing since the publication of its 2007-2011 poisoning map.

And what’s this about ‘hen harriers do not feed on carrion so the poisons map is not directly applicable to this species‘? Er, aren’t there records of hen harriers being killed by ingesting illegal poison? Yes, there most certainly are – see here. And what’s diversionary feeding if it isn’t the provision of dead food (i.e. carrion)? Of course hen harriers feed on carrion! And here’s a photograph of one doing exactly that, caught on a camera trap by SRSG member Stuart Williams in Orkney in 2015:

Progress rating: 0/10


Again, roost and nest watches started long before the launch of the Hen Harrier Action Plan and would have happened even if the Action Plan hadn’t been launched, so this can hardly be claimed as Action Plan ‘progress’. However, the development of a roost monitoring scheme with the Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority seems to be a new thing, which is good, although this progress report doesn’t actually tell us whether it’s up and running yet.

Progress rating: 1/10


We’re not going to comment too much about this Action Point because we’ve got a more detailed blog planned for the very near future, based on some more information that has been dragged out of Natural England via FoI requests.

Nevertheless, ‘progress’ on this highly controversial Action Point has certainly been made (here’s what we know so far), even though we totally oppose this action.

Progress rating: 7/10


Again, we’re not going to comment too much on this Action Point because we’ve got a more detailed blog planned for the New Year, when Natural England will have finalised the brood meddling licence and thus will have to release it to the public for scrutiny. At the moment we know very little because NE has refused to tell us anything for a whole year.

Nevertheless, progress on this highly controversial Action Point has certainly been made, even though we totally oppose this action.

Progress rating: 5/10

So there we have it. Almost two years on from the launch of the Hen Harrier Action Plan, ‘progress’ has been made by the organisations already carrying out these so-called Action Points (e.g. RSPB, Natural England, Northern England Raptor Study Group, Forestry Commission), regardless of the Hen Harrier Action Plan. But there is absolutely no sign of ‘progress’ from the grouse-shooting industry on anything other than the two Action Points that are designed either to remove hen harriers from grouse moors (brood meddling) or to detract attention from the illegal killing of hen harriers on grouse moors (southern reintroduction).

Oh, and satellite-tagged hen harriers keep ‘disappearing’ or being found shot dead.

Perhaps this is what Natural England meant when they told Mike Whitehouse in September that progress is “as expected“.

Watch this space for further updates on brood meddling and the southern reintroduction, coming soon.

8 thoughts on “Natural England’s progress report on the Hen Harrier Action Plan (summer 2017)”

  1. The only real measures of progress are the cessation of illegal persecution of wildlife (not just of hen harriers), and to quote the Chairman of the Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority, “Only when we start to see a number of successful [Hen Harrier] nest sites will we be able to say that things are really improving”.
    I would suggest that the progress demonstrated against those objectives is currently 0/0.

  2. I remain unconvinced that supplementary feeding is either sensible or a desirable way of helping Hen Harriers. In 1998 I spent two days watching a nest surrounded by four fence posts (sticking out like a sore thumb!) on one of my study areas. On the posts, and scattered on the ground, was a collection of various carrion – mountain hares, rabbits and pheasant poults. In two days, not a single item was seen to be taken by the harriers, which had three chicks in the nest. On one of the days, during continuous rain, the male harrier made very few appearances, and on one occasion the female flew off hunting, only to return almost an hour later with a dead frog! The supplementary food remained untouched. In fact the only significant effect I observed was that lots of Lesser Black-backed Gulls flighting across the moor were distracted and came down to attempt to feed on the carrion. This of course led to the harriers having to constantly drive away the potential predators from the vicinity of their nest, wasting valuable energy and foraging time. I suspect the smell of rotting carcasses was also likely to attract foxes. I’m not saying that one failed attempt proves that supplementary feeding is pointless, but it is hard to ignore the widespread rumours that the Langholm study involved some falsified data. It appears to be taboo to mention this “elephant in the room.” I would fully expect it to be denied, as it could prove embarrassing all round.

    1. in some/most cases where it is done properly with small food ( day old chicks and dead domestic rats) offered on posts NOT on the ground it works. Game lobby don’t like it because of the keepers time doing this and that most nest where it is practised will fledge the whole brood. Lets face it we need lots of large broods to fledge.

  3. I think your markings are extraordinarily generous. Inevitably I had to managed projects and programmes in public service (technically the HHAP is or should be a ‘programme’ in PRINCE2-speak) and the HHAP would have red all over it at this point, triggering external review.

  4. I would think the marking generous to say the least and yes NERF too are opposed to southern reintroduction and brood meddling. There is no mention of NERF volunteers working with the RSPB Life project to monitor harrier roosts either.

  5. Where is the incentive for the driven grouse moor killers to stop slaughtering Hen Harriers when they know they can continue in the hope that the lowland re-introduction scheme works.
    In fact i would say the opposite is most likely; that the introduction scheme is going to encourage the upland killing to continue.
    So 10 or 20 years down the line we will start to get evidence that the lowland birds are getting shot in the uplands and the only birds surviving if any are those which don’t move around or those that migrate south.
    In other words back to where we are now. Great Action Plan. The theme tune should be Pink Floyd’s Sisyphus.

  6. Re AP4 – ‘working …to develop’ is classic bureaucratese for ‘all we’ve done is talk’. An appearance of activity disguising the lack of any outcome.

  7. Just for the record – Action Point 4.

    As I understand it, the Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority is very keen to tale on the responsibility for monitoring winter roots sites on its own patch. It has confirmed that it has the necessary resources available, including its own dedicated rangers, to take on this task..

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