The five brood meddled hen harriers from 2019 are all ‘missing’

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]


27 thoughts on “The five brood meddled hen harriers from 2019 are all ‘missing’”

  1. Given that this ludicrous scheme is supposed to mean that grouse moor keepers will have no further need to allegedly target Hen Harriers, yet the results to date suggest no such thing it’s an absolute ( excuse the language) fucking scandal that its been licenced this year. What are NE thinking of, or more likely they are not thinking at all.
    This reflects incredibly badly on those in NE who make the decisions, perhaps the new board should be asking some very searching questions about this whole scheme.

  2. Thank you for finding this out from NE. Unfortunately
    because success is measured by NE as follows: “Successful brood management intervention took place in 2019. All five chicks from the intervention nest were successfully raised to become healthy fledglings and released.”
    The release of the fate of the birds after the issue of a further 2 year trial is as disgraceful as might have been expected.
    It is scandalous that the appeal failed, but because NE, firmly in the grip of the organised criminals in the grouse shooting industry, are supposedly responsible people. We are only too aware that they are not truly behaving responsibly or in accordance with their duty.

  3. The motive of NE in participating in this scheme appears to be that it gives them the ability to publish artificially positive but misleading headlines early in the process. Unreliable tags were no doubt figured into the scheme to account for their expectations that at least some of them would mysteriously disappear and this could and would be put down as tag failure

  4. Any statements from the Nasty Brigade?
    Unbelievable that another brood meddling licence has been issued.

    Just saw a post about merlin on the MA FB page – the BTO working alongside head gamekeepers to ring merlin chicks. Why does that concern me?

    1. Not quite true, if a ringer is involved its always the BTO according to the dark side. Its a bad scheme organised by an NE employee to spite genuine raptor workers for not getting into bed with the dark side. Last I heard the ringer involved was somebody with a dubious reputation amongst many of his peers including me.

  5. It’s pretty clear that all current methods to reduce/ prevent raptor persecution are highly ineffective and that radical change is required.

    To that end I propose that Hen Harriers are re-classified as gamebirds. Whilst this would allow them to be legally shot during the open season by people who like to pay to shoot birds legally (and I accept this still presents a moral issue), and as such, it would in an instant turn the Hen Harrier from a pest that must be got rid of in the eyes of gamekeepers and estate managers, to something that has a commercial value of the type that they personally understand.

    By turning Hen Harriers from a perceived pest into something that has a commercial value for gamekeepers and estate managers, those aforementioned gamekeepers and estate managers should then start doing all they can not only to protect them from harm, but in order to maximise their numbers too.

    We know from the shooting of other gamebirds that the most profitable form of gamebird shooting is the type where people pay to stand in a muddy and often waterlogged hole in the ground in the aim of shooting as many birds as possible as they fly overhead, as this form of shooting requires very large numbers of birds we can be assured that in order to maximise the number of birds the paying guests can shoot, the estates will do all they can to maximise numbers.

    Obviously, I don’t actually think we should re-classify Hen harriers as gamebirds, that would be almost as daft an idea as brood meddling. Far better to tighten the law to ensure there are fewer loopholes for raptor executioners to slip through.

  6. As has been pointed out by others before, Hen Harriers are targeted not primarily because they predate Grouse chicks whilst rearing their own young, but because their mere appearance during any ‘drive’ severely disrupts the ‘drive’ and reduces the bag to nothing.

    Therefore, Hen Harriers are shot, poisoned and trapped routinely by game keepers in order to eradicate them.

    Brood meddling cannot change that, and Natural England and Defra know it. They think we are idiots.

  7. Juniper was widely thought as the man to reform NE. Hugely, I mean hugely, disappointing. There is no hope for this hopelessly flawed and ludicrously named organisation.

    1. Not by me, he wasn’t. Channel 4 News put him up against me (a fellow Friend of the Earth) in a live debate: I thought he was intellectually dishonest then, and still do.

  8. Atrocious, all this proves is that Hen Harriers can be reared on and released successfully. Thereafter it becomes an entirely predictable sham. NE credibility has sunk to an all time low from which it must be impossible to rise. The conclusion therefore is that we need to take other measures in order to do the job which NE should be doing!

    1. I agree. The problem is that Government Ministers and Departmental Civil Servants are bullshitted by the likes of Tony Juniper.

  9. The whole farcical brood meddling saga is an absolute disgrace. Why must man interfere with the natural order. Hen Harriers and all other wild species for that matter deserve to have a natural life not terrorized, routinely shot, poisoned, trapped and generally suffer at the hand of man.

  10. It’s nothing more than legalised persecution. Let’s start letting bank robbers rob the odd bank as long as they promise to leave the others alone. Crime is crime so take it out on the criminals not the victims, since when have we rewarded crime, it sends out all the wrong messages

  11. Here is an idea that I bet some great brain behind this scheme has already genuinely considered…Let’s gather up all the harrier chicks and rear them all in captivity, then lets hand them out to the Estates so they can each keep a token pair in big aviaries on their moor, and celebrate it as a captive breeding initiative / propaganda coup. It sounds far fetched but you never know!

  12. Oh, sadly how predictable ….

    OK, the PR stunt was a success and they can all crow about it, milk the spin etc. Deafening silence as ever when the birds are then ‘lost’.

    But these are ‘their’ birds and you’d have thought they’d have issued some kind of edict that they must be given a ‘pass’ for at least one season? Such a gesture would have provided the ‘grousers’ and NE with a bit of improved standing?

    So, given failure to recruit to a declining breeding population surely when it comes to a review then any future such schemes have to be rejected because of this and therefore surely it cannot justify continued public funding?

    Hopefully this ‘outcome’ will feed into the eventual appeal hearings?

  13. I’m surprised there are even any suitable nesting areas left for hen harriers to nest, the heather is all burnt off so regularly on the moors that it doesn’t get chance to grow deep enough for nesting merlins, short eared owls or hen harriers.
    It’s like one great big grouse farm. The areas where I used to watch harriers have no birds left there are new tracks constructed right through the middle of them for gamekeepers to access on quads and four wheel drives.
    Those wild areas are not so wild any more.

  14. How much of the sat tag location data is in the public domain, and does it show that the birds tend return to their natal area, or to the area they were raised, or to the area they were released, or what?

    Do NE, who presumably control the data, have any intention of releasing any further data, or making it available to bona fide researchers, if it is of a sensitive nature?

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s