The publication of the hen harrier satellite tag paper on Tuesday (here) that provided compelling evidence to highlight, yet again, the link between grouse moors and the illegal killing of hen harriers, has resulted in a flurry of responses from various individuals and organisations.
We’ll be looking at these responses in turn.
This time we’re examining the response of the Parliamentary Under Secretary of State at DEFRA, Dr Therese Coffey.
[Dr Coffey on a grouse moor with some devilled harrier kidneys (just kidding), photo by Dave Mitchell]
Before anyone gets excited, no, Dr Coffey wasn’t sufficiently embarrassed nor energised by the research findings to make a proactive, stand-alone statement about such devastating results; come on, this is the resolutely wilfully blind Dr Coffey who’s best known to us for her disinterested, apathetic responses whenever the issue of illegal raptor persecution is raised.
However, the paper was mentioned in a Westminster Hall debate on wildlife crime yesterday, at which Dr Coffey attended and spoke. The debate was broad ranging and quite interesting on a number of fronts – no time to go in to those details here but you can watch proceedings on this archived video here or read the transcript here. Well worth your time to see which MPs are not only clued up, but also which ones care about various aspects of wildlife crime. Useful info to have when the current Government implodes and you’re back in the voting booth.
The bit we’re most interested in, obviously, is Dr Coffey’s response to the issue of illegal raptor persecution. Here is the relevant part of the transcript, cut from the link above:
“Raptor persecution is one of the UK’s wildlife crime priorities. All wild birds are protected under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981, and there are strong penalties for those committing offences. In the five years up to 2017—the latest year for which data is available—there were 107 prosecutions for crimes against wild birds and 75 convictions. The police are leading efforts to prevent the persecution of birds of prey. I praise the work done by North Yorkshire police, particularly on Operation Owl, and I commend police and crime commissioner Julie Milligan in particular. She has been fundamental not only in that work, but in chairing the rural group of police and crime commissioners, she has also made hare coursing a key priority for work across a number of forces.
In addition to activity to disrupt and deter criminality, officers of the North Yorkshire police have worked to raise awareness about raptor persecution among local landowners and members of the public. Only through working in partnership with those living and working in rural communities can raptor persecution be combated. Despite instances of poisoning and killing of birds of prey, populations of many species, such as the peregrine, red kite and buzzard have increased. I fully recognise, however, that some species continue to cause concern.
The Government take the decline in the hen harrier population in England particularly seriously, and we are committed to securing the future of that iconic species. That is why we took the lead on the hen harrier action plan, which sets out what will be done to increase hen harrier numbers in England, including the trialling of brood management. In the recent judicial review into the lawfulness of Natural England’s decision to grant a licence for trials of hen harrier brood management, the claimants’ claims were dismissed. The proposed brood management scheme will continue. It seeks to manage the conflict between the conservation of hen harriers and the grouse shooting industry. That decision means the important work to protect and conserve the hen harrier can continue.
The hon. Member for Workington referred to an article that was published in a journal yesterday; I take that issue very seriously and will be seeking to meet the chair of the raptor persecution group, Superintendent Lyall, to go through it in detail. Although it is not for the Government to tell the police or the Crown Prosecution Service who they should be investigating and charging, we should take a proactive approach, particularly to stamp out the persecution of birds of prey“.
It’s good to see Dr Coffey recognising and applauding the recent efforts of North Yorkshire Police and their Operation Owl initiative and it’s very good to hear that she plans to meet Supt Nick Lyall, Chair of the RPPDG.
But hang on a minute, haven’t the devastating results of a peer-reviewed scientific study just been published in a high-ranking journal, detailing one of the most pressing wildlife conservation issues in the UK – the persistent illegal killing of hen harriers on driven grouse moors in northern England? And Dr Coffey, our Wildlife Minister, has nothing specific to say about those results?
Yes, the Westminster Government absolutely should be taking a “proactive approach” to stamp out the persecution of birds of prey, but it hasn’t and it isn’t. It’s as simple as that.