Stop illegal persecution then no need for reintroduction of hen harrier to southern England, says DEFRA Minister

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for this scheme could be decimated by police officers having to respond to a barage of complaints, which could then be withdrawn at the last minute):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).

13 thoughts on “Stop illegal persecution then no need for reintroduction of hen harrier to southern England, says DEFRA Minister”

  1. A strange co-incidence. John Dodds who bought the Glen Ogil Estate in the Angus Glens around 2003 ( later sold in 2013 )had his farming subsidy cut by £107,000 by the Scottish executive because of suspicions that the discovered pesticides were used against birds of prey on his land. There had been a series of suspected cases of illegal persecution of rare birds of prey on the Glenogil estate but none led to a successful prosecution. An investigation found that lethal pesticides were discovered on poisoned baits, game bags and soil and plant samples in 2006.
    As Fate would have it Dodd’s was the co-founder of the Edinburgh-based ARTEMIS investment bank and hedge fund, which this summer sponsored the Scottish Game Fair, the Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust’s prestigious annual country sports show at the time.
    A co-incidence or simply a macabre sense of humour by those who knew that Project Artemis was doomed to failure?

  2. An updated variation of this with the conservation minded MA, CA et. al. might be a far better use of public funds than the kidnapping of French birds/eggs to bring to England and risk being shot? If they’re genuinely worried about the future of shooting why wouldn’t they co-operate?

  3. All very depressing, the NGO piece – “how to make complaints against the police”, is enlightening they are always on the aggressive front foot . I came across a pro shooting “fieldsports channel” where they are discussing the ending of tax relief for sporting estates (Scotland). In the article there is piece entitled ” How to get out of it” .Rather than acceptance of the law they are already suggesting ways to circumvent it . These people will never change, their arrogance is mind numbing, they will never accept that the law of the land effects them.They will get their top lawyers on to this and wriggle out of it. Do I trust the SNP to ensure this is implemented in full – well no .
    They were laughing at us in 2004 and they still are today.

  4. I once thought that if estates didn’t co-operate with Operation Artemis that they would have their right to shoot game rescinded. Unfortunately I woke up and realised it was a dream, a variation of which I still believe should come about. Each and every time they kill something protected, commit some dastardly stupid PR stunt or fail to follow best practice that day will get nearer as long as WE keep up the pressure. They are either too stupid or arrogant to change, probably both!

  5. Its the same response to every “lets do something about ” project that there ever has been. Somebody should do a study into the failed initiatives… A PhD in “Stalling, distraction and the game shooting industry, 1958-2018”.

  6. I hate to disagree with a former minister (albeit 14 years ago) as well as this blog but I think you are both wrong about the IUCN guidelines. To meet the guidelines you need to show that the threats that resulted in the loss of the species no longer act at a level that would prevent the species becoming re-established. They do not require the threat to have been eliminated – otherwise any proposed raptor reintroduction anywhere would fail the test. We know that persecution still happens in the lowlands from work on kites and from numerous recorded incidents with other species. But even for the red kite (arguably the raptor most vulnerable to illegal killing in Britain because of its ecology) this has not stopped the population from doing well. In contrast to parts of the uplands other raptors also survive and do well in the lowlands. Even the Goshawk, which many lowland keepers seem to reserve a special hatred for, is able to survive in pockets – though it should be far more common and widespread. Released harriers would suffer some losses but it is unlikely that these would be at a level sufficient to prevent a population from increasing. The authors of a report that looked specifically at this issue reached the same conclusion. The same report also looked at habitat and food availability and concluded that it would support Hen Harriers – as it currently does in winter. I could be wrong but I don’t think many raptor specialists would disagree with this conclusion and maintain a view that illegal persecution in southern England would threaten the success of a hen harrier reintroduction scheme. I’d be interested to hear from any that do in order to try and understand their reasoning.

    1. Ian,

      Agree with you about what the IUCN regulations say. But your whole argument seems to rest on the notion that harriers reintroduced to southern England will STAY in southern England. The report you mention did look at this issue, but, as we’ve blogged about before, the authors of that report only used natal dispersal distances to back up their argument – they did NOT include juvenile dispersal distances, which was a major flaw:

      By only using natal dispersal distances, the authors could demonstrate that the reintroduction was perhaps feasible. However, had they incorporated juvenile dispersal distances, it would have become clear that young hen harriers can (and often do) travel hundreds of miles in a short period of time before settling on a breeding territory. The distance from Salisbury Plain to the grouse moors of the Peak District is around 200 miles – well within the species’ dispersal range. If those birds do travel to the north, the cause of the species’ decline (illegal persecution) has not been addressed and thus still remains a threat to the reintroduced population.

      But even in the unlikely event that the reintroduced harriers did decide to stay local to southern England, the persecution threat is still there (perhaps not as intense as on the upland grouse moors but nevertheless still a threat), especially when Natural England has been told by landowners in two significant areas that the reintroduction project would not be welcome there.

      1. All fair points but luckily we can test the idea that long-distance dispersal in Hen Harriers could still scupper a reintroduction by reducing juvenile dispersal and recruitment. We have existing HH populations away from grouse moors, though often much closer to grouse moors than southern England. They suffer losses but, by and large, they have been able to hold their own, and in some cases they have increased. This is strong evidence that if sufficient birds are released in a new area then, despite losses, a population will be able to establish and become self-sustaining.

      2. Even breeding adult Hen Harriers will undertake winter dispersal distances as far as between Scotland and France, and a local failure of field vole populations will activate dispersal to alternative breeding areas. This adaptation to varying prey availability considerably complicates the feasibility of the Defra plan.

    2. From the guidelines at

      Conservation translocation… must be intended to yield a measurable conservation benefit at
      the levels of a population, species or ecosystem, and not only provide benefit to translocated individuals.

      Feasibility assessment should include a balance of the conservation benefits against the costs and risks of both the translocation and alternative conservation actions

      These Guidelines focus on conservation translocations, namely a translocation that yields quantifiable conservation benefit. For this purpose the beneficiaries should be the populations of the translocated species, or the ecosystems that it occupies. Situations in which there is benefit only to the translocated
      individuals do not meet this requirement.

      There should generally be strong evidence that the threat(s) that caused any previous extinction have
      been correctly identified and removed or sufficiently reduced.

      In any decision on whether to translocate or not, the absolute level of risk must be balanced against the
      scale of expected benefits.

      Annex 3.1
      Any proposed species translocation should be justified by identifying a conservation benefit and weighing any benefits against risks, while considering alternative actions that could be taken. Motivations such as experimenting solely for academic interest, releasing surplus captive stock, rehabilitation for welfare
      purposes, attracting funding or public profile, or moving organisms to facilitate economic development are
      not regarded here as conservation purposes.
      While the ultimate aim of any conservation translocation is to secure a conservation benefit, this benefit
      may need long-term or permanent management support to persist. Such obligations and their cost implications should be included in any assessment of alternative conservation solutions

      Annex 3.2
      Any proposed conservation translocation should be justified by first considering past causes of severe
      population decline or extinction. There should be confidence that these past causes would not again
      be threats to any prospective translocated populations.

      Annex 3.3
      Many conservation translocations will yield conservation benefit only at high cost and with considerable
      risks. Therefore, irrespective of any conservation priority assigned to the species, any proposed translocation should be justified through comparison with alternative solutions

      7.1 Selecting release sites and areas
      A release area should:
      • Be adequately isolated from sub- optimal or non-habitat areas which might be sink areas for the population

  7. Operation Artemis is a good example of the police and NWCU accepting there was a organised crime occurring on a national level and attempting to do something about it.

    Those engaged in illegal killing of wildlife backed by some politicians broke cover and tried to derail it.

    Paul Henery was a good wildlife officer that stuck his head above the parapit and became the target for the dark side.

    Like so many other good wildlife officers his reign was short lived.

    Things have only got worse.

    Where are the police and NWCU now

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