No successful breeding hen harriers on privately owned grouse moors in England, again

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.

18 thoughts on “No successful breeding hen harriers on privately owned grouse moors in England, again”

  1. According to the Times today (pg 4) a record number of harrier chicks have fledged this year despite warnings that grouse shooting was pushing them to extinction. At least 34 chicks fledged from nine nests in England, more than three times as many as last year.

  2. It would be interesting to have United Utilities comments – if only to understand whether their policy or their insistence of adherence to their policy has changed in the last year or so.

    1. Whilst I wouldn’t dream of speaking on behalf of United Utilities I do know that their policies towards Hen Harriers have not changed in the last 12 months. They are along with Forestry Commission an example to all landowners.

      1. Paul – I can’t be totally sure but I think I can recall reading about nest disturbance on United Utilities land, not by the owner themselves but by the occupying shoot or agent. I’m fairly sure there are records of HHs disappearance on 2 or 3 occasions in the last three years or so on land owned by UU. I’m questioning if there’s any awareness, out there, of UU perhaps being more strict with their tenants’ adherence to their lease agreement.

        1. There are records of 4 males disappearing when hunting on neighbouring estates when harriers last bred in Bowland that is true other than that there is no recent records as far as I am aware. You certainly shouldn’t believe all you read on another website. UU land in bowland has had RSPB staff on it since 1980 or 81 monitoring raptors on the company’s behalf that is not to say everything is perfect but it is far far better than most. Some might prefer if there were no shooting tenants but it is as it is. This year 3 nests 13 young and no failures that has to be celebrated. We must in particular acknowledge the efforts of RSPB and UU staff and volunteers, notably James, Mick, Bill and Bill in this after 3 years of disappointing absence.
          We perhaps should also note that the only two nests on private grouse moor in England failed.

  3. Personally I’m really happy to hear about the number of HH chicks fledged this year – RP is right to point out the absence of successful nests on private grouse moors. Campaigners need to use this contrasting picture to increase the pressure for a much more aggressive approach by authorities to illegal persecution.

  4. Orkney has no grouse moors and no gamekeepers. Orkney has a healthy population of Hen Harriers. We don’t need a PhD to work that one out.

  5. 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).


    I can only take that to mean that if, and only if, the shooting industry know they can legally remove hen harriers legally before they threaten the viability of driven grouse moors then they will be allowed to breed.

    Which is as clear an admission of guilt as they are ever likely to make.

  6. Are the comments about DEFRA’s ‘revolutionary’ brood meddling licence ‘beginning to work’ a smokescreen for a change in tactic by the tweedy criminals perhaps? That is, claim all the glory from the “successes” of the breeding season but then peg them later in the year at roost?
    (Having said that I guess they’ve been using that approach up to now so hardly new but maybe the shift is in trying to mitigate for the poor PR they’ve had over the last couple of years by allowing some to breed in the full knowledge they’ll get them later.)

  7. The sacrificial tagged birds will soon begin their doomed journeys to the Grouse moors.
    However, their inevitable demise there will hasten the changes that are needed to end the criminal activities of the Grouse farming industry.
    The short term view is fairly bleak but the longer term view is rosier now that these deaths don’t go unrecorded.
    Cheaper tags are needed to ramp up the pressure through evidence.

    Keep up the pressure !

  8. I note somewhat disappointingly that the YDNP birds were tagged by NE rather than RSPB. Given that the analysis of the tracking data will be presented at Vancouver soon of all the missing/ suppressed data collected by NE and paid for by the tax payer I suspect that any data from these birds will probably never see the light of day. If you look at the harrier situation in this century the best breeding results bar this year were all during “Operation Artemis” a police operation that was very unpopular with moor owners. This suggests that Harriers will only do well if we all keep extreme pressure on the grouse bothering criminal fraternity.
    Even in their terms BM makes persecution unnecessary so we should be pushing that idea and so should the likes of MA and GWCT after all it is up to them to enforce a part of the plan they wanted, any slacking and killing on their part should of course kill the Harrier plan or at least the BM part of it stone dead if DEFRA and the Govt have any balls.

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