Natural England has today published a press release announcing a pathetic total of nine successful hen harrier nests in England this year, an increase from three nests last year and heralded by NE Chairman Andrew Sells as “truly remarkable” (see here).
No, what’s truly remarkable Andrew is that there are still a conservatively estimated 290 breeding pairs of hen harriers still missing from England, and many more still missing in Scotland!
[Photo from a nest camera, part of the Heads Up for Harriers Project in Scotland]
According to the convoluted NE press statement, which appears to have been written by someone determined to protect the reputation of the hen harrier-killing criminals, four of the successful nests were on National Nature Reserves (i.e. not grouse moors), and five were on grouse moors, although it then says that one of these five wasn’t actually on a grouse moor at all, but was on farmland next door, so that makes four successful nests on grouse moors.
The farmland nest is quite interesting – this is the one that the gamekeeper’s group Yorkshire Dales Moorland Group recently declared as being on a grouse moor, as did the National Gamekeepers Organisation. Not quite accurate, eh chaps? And isn’t the next-door grouse moor at the centre of a prosecution case just now, with a gamekeeper charged with the alleged shooting of raptors on that grouse moor? Ah yes, so it is.
When you look more closely at those four successful nests that were actually located on grouse moors, three of them were on United Utilities-owned land in Bowland, and the other one was on National Trust-owned land in the Peak District (the estate where the previous tenant was recently booted off after a gamekeeper was filmed there poised with his gun next to a hen harrier decoy). New tenants moved in earlier this year and hey presto! A pair of hen harriers is allowed to settle.
So, not a single successful hen harrier nest on a single privately owned grouse moor anywhere in northern England, again.
And yet, incredibly, in a joint press statement today The Moorland Association and the GWCT (the ‘scientists’ behind the ‘completely inadequate’ and ‘seriously flawed’ raven cull ‘study’) are ‘celebrating’ these results and claiming that this ‘success’ is largely down to DEFRA’s ‘revolutionary’ brood meddling licence ‘beginning to work’ (see here).
Eh? Beginning to work? It hasn’t even started as, for yet another year, there haven’t been enough (any!) successfully breeding hen harriers on privately owned grouse moors so no chicks have been available to be brood meddled.
With any luck, there won’t be any brood meddling next year either, as Mark Avery and the RSPB have both been given permission to proceed with their legal challenges in the High Court against brood meddling via a judicial review. Interestingly, Moorland Association Chair Amanda Anderson refers to these legal challenges in the joint press statement as “wasting court time and tax payers money“.
We wonder if she felt the same way about the judicial review brought by the game shooting industry a couple of years ago, challenging Natural England’s decision not to issue buzzard-killing licences to gamekeepers to protect pheasant stocks?
Anyway, we’ll remind her of this quote the next time a prosecution is brought to a thundering halt after a handsomely paid QC has wasted court time arguing about minor legal technicalities to ensure the case collapses against the latest gamekeeper accused of illegal raptor persecution on a grouse moor. We predict we won’t have long to wait….
Meanwhile, many of this year’s hen harrier chicks have been satellite-tagged. A handful by Natural England (so we’ll only have another 15 years to wait for find out their fates) but most of the tagging has been completed by the RSPB’s Hen Harrier LIFE project, so as we approach the start of the grouse-shooting season and head in to September, we can expect a steady stream of reports of the suspicious disappearance of many of this year’s cohort, predominantly on privately owned driven grouse moors.