Remember back in November 2016 when a series of FoI requests revealed that Natural England was prepared to waste £50K of tax payers money on a social science ‘study’ to assess attitudes towards the Hen Harrier Action Plan? See here for info.
The proposed ‘study’ was put forward by Prof Steve Redpath (Aberdeen Uni / Hawk & Owl Trust trustee / a so-called ‘independent academic’ (ha!) on the hen harrier brood meddling working group) and Dr Freya St John, an academic who at the time worked at Kent University but has since moved to Bangor University. Here is a copy of the proposal, which was also released as part of the FoI requests and here is the proposed budget:
One year later, in December 2017, we blogged about the research questionnaire that had been sent out to various organisations in the grouse shooting industry and conservation community (see here) as part of this £50k ‘study’.
Well the research results have just been published and guess what? Trust in Natural England is “limited” and individuals from the grouse shooting community disagree with individuals from the conservation community about hen harrier brood meddling. Gosh, who knew, eh?
The paper has just been published in a new journal called People and Nature, one of several journals of the British Ecological Society:
St John, F., Steadman, J., Austen, G. and Redpath, S.M. (2018). Value diversity and conservation conflict: Lessons from the management of red grouse and hen harriers in England. People and Nature (published online, 17 December 2018).
Here’s the abstract:
This is an open access paper (which means anyone can read it in full without having to subscribe to the journal) but unfortunately the link to the online paper isn’t working so we haven’t been able to read it, only the abstract. We’ve emailed the lead author to ask for a copy but received an out of office response – away until 21 January 2019.
[UPDATE 4pm: Thanks to one of our blog readers who has found a copy of the full paper online – here]
However, there was a press release about this new ‘study’, presumably to highlight the main findings in less formal language than the abstract, which reads as follows:
Hen harriers and red grouse: finding common ground in a persistent conflict
A conflict between those working to conserve numbers of hen harriers and those maintaining commercial shooting of red grouse in the English uplands has existed for decades with little sign of progress.
Drawing on work conducted in psychology, a new study published today in the journal People and Nature investigated the underlying values that hunters and conservationists hold that make it so hard to find shared solutions.
Ecological studies over the last 30 years have shown that hen harriers and other birds of prey are capable of reducing the number of grouse to such an extent that driven grouse shooting can become economically unviable. Consequently, hen harriers, although protected under UK legislation since 1952, are killed illegally on grouse moors.
Researchers from Bangor University and the University of Aberdeen surveyed a range of organisations that represent the interests of field sports (i.e. hunting, shooting, fishing) or nature conservation in England to assess their values and attitudes towards hen harriers, grouse shooting and potential management interventions.
Dr. Freya St John from Bangor University said: “We found that people who are involved in field sports and those engaged in bird conservation hold more or less opposing views about human relationships with nature, challenging our ability to find shared solutions.
“Although there is general agreement about the evidence of the ecological relationships between hen harriers and grouse, there is much less agreement about the best approach to manage them.”
They found that those from shooting organisations, in contrast to people associated with conservation groups, held a view of human mastery of nature and prioritised human wellbeing over the rights of wildlife. This group expressed support for various management approaches, including brood management where eggs or young birds are removed from nests, reared in captivity and released back into the wild at fledging.
In contrast, individuals associated with conservation groups did not support brood management. However, like those associated with field sports, they did express support for continued monitoring of the hen harrier population, protection of their winter roosts, enhanced intelligence and enforcement, and diversionary feeding of harriers to reduce predation on grouse.
The results indicated that diversionary feeding was most favoured and received greatest consensus amongst the groups surveyed. To date, this is the only management technique that has been trialled and found to be effective at reducing the number of red grouse chicks eaten by hen harriers. Despite this, feeding has not been widely taken up on grouse moors.
Professor Steve Redpath of the University of Aberdeen, who will be presenting the study’s findings at the British Ecological Society’s annual conference, commented: “Our work highlights that this is a conflict between people with very different views about the management of the countryside and its wildlife.”
There is currently no formal dialogue process in place to support the management of this stakeholder conflict. Conservation organisations withdrew from previous discussions, partly because hen harriers continue to be killed illegally and have almost disappeared as a breeding species in England.
“It seems unlikely that conservation organisations would be willing to return to the negotiating table unless the illegal killing of hen harriers stops“, Redpath added. “To minimise the impact of harriers on grouse, brood management was put forward, but as we see in this study, it is very controversial. Particularly whilst illegal killing of harriers persists, such a hands-on intervention is unpalatable to some.”
Steve Redpath will present the study’s findings on Wednesday 19 December 2018 at the British Ecological Society annual meeting, which will bring together 1,200 ecologists from more than 40 countries to discuss the latest research.
What a monumental waste of our money. Natural England could have saved £50k by simply looking at the speed with which Mark Avery crowdfunded £25k to support his legal challenge against Natural England’s absurd brood meddling trial – over 900 people donated this amount within just 4.5 days! Or by looking at the ruthless efficiency with which grouse moor managers are killing young satellite-tagged hen harriers every single bloody year. The attitudes are clear enough. Instead of chucking £50k of our money at this nonsense ‘study’, Natural England could have /should have used these public funds more wisely and put them towards an effective enforcement policy to bring to justice those criminals who continue to illegally kill hen harriers.
Knowing that there’s a difference of opinion on hen harriers between the grouse shooting and conservationists is totally irrelevant to the conservation of the hen harrier; it’s illegal persecution on driven grouse moors that threatens this species’ conservation status, nothing else. We don’t need dialogue, conflict management, relationship building, shared solutions, brood meddling or anything else, just effective enforcement of the law. It’s pretty simple, or it would be if we had a government without vested interests that was prepared to do what the vast majority of its electorate expect it to do and operate a zero tolerance policy on organised crime.
[Cartoon by Gerard Hobley]