Natural England has been planning a so-called ‘reintroduction’ of hen harriers to southern England since 2016, as part of DEFRA’s ludicrous Hen Harrier Action Plan.
We’ve blogged about this ‘reintroduction’ for three years (see links at the foot of this blog) and its recently been in the news again as a young satellite-tagged hen harrier called ‘Vulcan’ disappeared in suspicious circumstances close to the proposed reintroduction release site in Wiltshire (see here), indicating that this is not a safe location to rear and release young hen harriers.
This morning on BBC Breakfast News the RSPB again voiced its concerns about the planned reintroduction, citing the loss of hen harrier Vulcan in Wiltshire and arguing that until the issue of illegal persecution has been addressed, any young hen harriers are likely to be killed. You can watch it here (starts at 1:21:08 and ends at 1:23:29; only available until 08.30hrs Monday morning). The RSPB interviewees included Nick Bruce-White (Regional Director RSPB South West) and Tony Whitehead (RSPB Press Officer) who couldn’t have been clearer: “The only limiting factor [for hen harriers], let’s make no mistake about this, is illegal persecution“.
Meanwhile, behind the scenes, Natural England has continued to court favour with potential donor countries and we’ve been sent an unbelievable powerpoint presentation, which we believe was delivered to European harrier experts at an international conference in October 2018 by Natural England’s Hen Harrier Reintroduction Project Manager, Simon Lee. It’s basically a plea for donor birds and an apparent reassurance that donor birds will be safe in England! Honestly, this has to be seen to be believed:
Download the PDF presentation here: Simon Lee presentation HH reintro to southern England
According to Simon, there’s been “a gradual recovery [of hen harriers] across Scotland and Wales in recent decades“. Er, except for the results of the 2016 national HH survey which showed population declines in each country, and a whopping 27% decline in Scotland since 2004. Losing over a quarter of the population in just 12 years isn’t what we’d call “a gradual recovery“.
Also according to Simon, prior considerations [for the proposed reintroduction] included ‘understanding the reasons for loss’ and that those “factors are no longer present“:
So, having earlier noted in his presentation that ‘human persecution’ was a cause of the species’ historical decline, Simon is now suggesting to potential donor countries that illegal persecution is no longer an issue.
You couldn’t make this up. Although it looks like Simon did.
And if this presentation was given in Oct 2018, as we believe, Simon must also have been fully aware of the findings of Natural England’s hen harrier satellite tag analysis, which was completed last summer and is due to be published imminently under the title: ‘Patterns of satellite tagged hen harrier disappearances suggest widespread illegal killing on British grouse moors’.
And now with the suspicious disappearance of hen harrier Vulcan near to the proposed reintroduction location, will Simon / Natural England be updating the potential donor countries about the continuing threat to hen harriers in the UK and advising them that the planned reintroduction won’t be going ahead because its simply not safe to do so?
UPDATE 8pm: The RSPB has tweeted the following information about confirmed raptor persecution crimes within 25km of the proposed reintroduction site:
UPDATE 23rd September 2020: Large police operation investigating raptor persecution near proposed release site for hen harriers (here)