In response to a Parliamentary question about the reintroduction of hen harriers to lowland England, a DEFRA Minister responded as follows:
Sounds good, doesn’t it? Unfortunately, this response didn’t come from Dr Therese Coffey MP or Michael Gove MP. It came from Ben Bradshaw MP back in 2004, who at the time was the Under Secretary of State at DEFRA, under the leadership of Margaret Beckett.
The question came as part of a series of Parliamentary questions posed by James Gray MP (Conservative, North Wiltshire) in response to the launch of Operation Artemis, a police-led initiative aimed at tackling the illegal persecution of the hen harrier. Mr Gray wasn’t a fan (no surprise when you look at his background) as you can see from this Early Day Motion from Labour MP Tony Banks:
We haven’t been able to find the exact quote from Mr Gray on Hansard, but it’s clear he wasn’t in support of Operation Artemis, and judging by this (scroll down to the bottom), a number of his fellow Conservative MPs agreed.
Operation Artemis was launched in the spring of 2004 and part of the initiative was for police officers to visit every single estate where there was the potential for hen harriers to breed. The idea was that police officers would provide landowners and gamekeepers with a code of best practice to help any hen harrier breeding attempt, and invite those land owners and gamekeepers to sign up to support the initiative.
Here is Paul Henery (Police WCO for Northumberland) and Chief Constable Richard Brunstrom at the launch (photo by Guy Shorrock)
There was apparently strong support in Wales, but in England, landowners and gamekeepers reacted with fury. Here is a cutting from the RSPB’s Legal Eagle newsletter in July 2004:
And here is the astonishing response from the National Gamekeepers’ Organisation (take note of the suggestion that the limited police budget for this scheme could be decimated by police officers having to respond to a barage of complaints, which could then be withdrawn at the last minute):
Fourteen years on, the hen harrier’s breeding population in England remains critical, the illegal persecution of this species continues unabated, it is virtually impossible to secure a conviction even when high definition video evidence of the crime is available, the Conservative Government has approved the removal of hen harriers from grouse moors to allow a few hundred rich folk (including a number of Conservative MPS) to shoot 0.75 million red grouse in the face for a bit of fun, and thinks that importing hen harriers from France in to southern England under the guise of being a conservation initiative is a great idea, even though illegal persecution continues (which means the scheme does not meet the required IUCN guidelines for reintroductions).