At the end of May we blogged about how Natural England had just issued another licence to permit hen harrier brood meddling on grouse moors again this year (see here).
For new blog readers, hen harrier brood meddling is a conservation sham sanctioned by DEFRA and carried out by Natural England, in cahoots with the very industry responsible for the species’ catastrophic decline in England. For more background see here.
[Photo of an UNMEDDLED hen harrier, by Laurie Campbell]
We had a number of concerns about this second licence being issued on 20 May 2020, not least the complete lack of transparency about the fate of the five hen harrier chicks that had been brood meddled in 2019. The last we’d heard three of the five had ‘disappeared’ on grouse moors in northern England in autumn 2019 (here) although then one came back online (here) and it then became apparent that some of the satellite tags used last year were different to the tags used previously and were not as reliable (see here).
On 28 May we asked Natural England for information about the status of these five birds (amongst other things). Natural England Director Rob Cooke has provided the following information to us this afternoon:
So there we have it. All five birds considered to be ‘missing’. One of the disappearances could be attributed to natural causes (#55147, assumed dead during a sea crossing from France to the UK) but the other four all look highly suspicious.
We do know that the GPS Lotek tags have proven to be unreliable on this species (see here) but the longer the tag silence continues, the worse it looks. (We’ve got more info on these tags and will blog separately about the decision to use this particular tag type for this ‘trial’).
[The five brood meddled hen harrier chicks in 2019, now all ‘missing’]
And questions on tag unreliability aside, the ‘missing’ status of these five is hardly a surprise – it’s a pattern that we’ve seen for years, that’s been confirmed by rigorous scientific analysis (of Natural England’s own bloody data, see here) and a pattern that continues even after the grouse shooting industry has the brass neck to pretend that it’s cleaned up its act – 33 ‘missing’ or confirmed killed HH in last two years alone, and that total does not include the brood meddled hen harriers – see here.
What’s more astonishing than anything is the fact that Natural England has issued another brood meddling licence this year, knowing full well the status of last year’s brood meddled birds, and wrote a blog celebrating the so-called ‘success’ of last year’s trial (see here)!
It simply beggars belief.
Last autumn when two of the brood meddled hen harriers were reported as ‘missing’ in suspicious circumstances, we asked Natural England what was its exit strategy and when would it pull the plug on this ludicrous five-year ‘trial’ (see here)?
Natural England said it would ‘take in to account the results to date’ when considering whether to issue another licence for this year (see here).
It looks like the results have been taken in to account and summarily dismissed.
Today Mark Avery wrote that he is still waiting to hear about another court date to have his appeal against brood meddling heard (along with the RSPB’s legal challenge). He provides a useful time line of what’s happened to date (see here).
Meanwhile, somewhere on a grouse moor in northern England, a brood of hen harriers will be being targeted (if they haven’t already been taken)……
[Illustration by Gerard Hobley]