Insane hen harrier brood meddling trial continues in 2020

Natural England has today published a short, poorly-detailed update on this year’s hen harrier brood meddling trial.

For new blog readers, hen harrier brood meddling is a conservation sham sanctioned by DEFRA and carried out by Natural England (NE), in cahoots with the very industry responsible for the species’ catastrophic decline in England. For more background see here.

[Cartoon by Dr Gerard Hobley]

In today’s update, here’s what NE has to say:

So it looks like at least two hen harrier nests have been meddled with in this year’s trial – but of course NE hasn’t provided any further detail of the number nor locations of those nests, nor of the release site(s). We wouldn’t expect them to say exactly where these locations are – that would be counterproductive for a species that is so heavily persecuted, but a county-level disclosure would have been useful.

The death of one of the brood meddled hen harrier chicks prior to release is concerning and it’ll be interesting to hear more about the cause of death.

Although getting info out of Natural England is a painful exercise. Here’s an example of some recent correspondence on the fates of last year’s five brood meddled hen harrier chicks:

Of course we now know that all five of last year’s brood meddled hen harriers are ‘missing’ presumed dead, four of them in suspicious circumstances (see here). They form part of the list of 42 hen harriers that we know are either missing in suspicious circumstances or have been found illegally killed, since 2018, the majority on or near driven grouse moors (see here).

How many of this year’s brood meddled chicks do you think will survive to Christmas?

What’s that famous quote?

The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results‘.

35 thoughts on “Insane hen harrier brood meddling trial continues in 2020”

  1. Ruth, In my opinion either there is an ulterior motive or incompetence of a level requiring resignation. Loved your emails :-)

  2. As you say continuing sham conservation by the shameless NE continuing to do what awful grouse shooting industry wants. It will be interesting to know where these chicks were removed from, at least one of the nests was apparently in the same area as last years removed chicks perhaps they both were, hopefully we will soon know. It is particularly interesting given the RSPB evidence that two nests were interfered with in the same area last year. Even with the continued increase in successful nests this scheme stinks of appeasement and tokenism because it cannot possibly be the long term answer if we are to have a proper, in favourable condition harrier population in England.

      1. wonder how much of OUR taxes have been wasted on this? What other subject gets hundreds of thousands of pounds of taxpayers money to assist organised crime? NE surely know this isnt conservation its simply moving the date of death to a different calendar month

  3. ‘its objectives, which are I would imagine the same as yours.’
    The objective of HH Action Plan is to appease the grouse lobby, so it certainly isn’t the same as mine.

    1. Nor mine, I can remember discussing with a colleague not that many years ago how many pairs we thought ought to be in Yorkshire alone ( with most of course in that persecution hell hole that is North Yorkshire) our conservative estimate based on the low Bowland density of the time was about 110-120 pairs, given that BM will probably not be able to cope with even 5 pairs what relevance has BM to the future ? We are only asking for the proper Hen Harrier population as calculated by Dick Potts of GWCT ( when it wasnt quite as full of shits as it is now)

  4. That is outrageous, it would be a comedy if it wasn’t so serious.
    What is the point of moving the fledglings, and hand rearing them, then releasing them? They are only going to find their way back to where they belong. But in the meantime they miss out on learning skills, and family life. Do they even develop physically to the right degree and learn to fly properly in a cage? Maybe Natural England are trying to help the grouse moor owners by rearing generations of incapable hen harriers that are not able to look after themselves in the wild.

  5. Criminals are killing Hen Harriers
    NE: Lets spend millions of pounds moving them to stop them being killed
    Public: Why not just stop the reason they are being killed
    NE: Too complicated

    Criminals are killing Hen Harriers
    RSPB: lets licence them
    Public: Why not just stop the reason they are being killed
    RSPB: We don’t want to upset anyone

    1. Bravo anandprasad! Just think of all the brood-meddling that could be incorporated into a costly, complex and unenforced DGS licensing system! Bloody marvellous, NOT. Good to see Ruth getting right under the taxpayer-funded-DGS-lackey’s skin though.

  6. As i understand it the reason the RSPB withdrew was a lot more complicated than that.
    Wasn’t it because none of the original condition son population density and numbers were removed?
    He sounds like Andrew Gilruth. Has the world gone mad?

  7. I used to work for a large Local Authority. If I had answered a member of the public or another professional in that manner, I would have been hauled into my boss’s office for a reprimand – and quite rightly too. He is a paid representative of a government body and should uphold the rules of good manners and decency whatever his personal views. Stinks of arrogance to me and poor judgement..

    1. It’s an embarrassing response from a Director, especially when the question was posed politely and legitimately.

      It’s even more embarrassing when NE claims in its ‘customer promise’ that it will provide ‘helpful, courteous and properly trained staff’ as part of its ‘continuously improving’ customer service.

    2. And I suspect that he will be being paid a 6-figure sum from our taxes to appease (protect) the grouse shooting industry and patronise a genuine Bird of Prey conservationist.

  8. I don’t think I have ever met Rob Cooke, he probably does loose sleep over trying to defend his sham project. Such is the lot of a public servant.
    However, unless you have a longstanding friendship with the bloke, the tone of his email falls well bellow the standards we normally expect from a senior public servant. Unless he is an old friend, I would be raising the issue with somebody senior.

    1. I’ve met him once, by chance, when we attended the same event. He told me how irritating it was to receive my FoI/EIR requests. I told him that if NE were more transparent about projects that were clearly of public interest then I wouldn’t need to submit so many requests. He suggested I contact him directly in future. I did, but I won’t be doing it again.

      I’ve gone back to submitting FoI/EIRs.

      1. It must be hard to get all the flak from us but surely an intelligent person looks at the information and tries to work with the facts not the personalities.
        Obviously he isn’t doing that. That is one thing.
        But the result is that he is becoming so defensive he is losing the ability to look at this subject objectively which is hindering any possibility of looking at and adjusting to new information as it arrives.
        It is really bad management. I hope Ruth is looking at taking this further.

  9. The more it continues, the more it appears to be a quasi-legal way for numerous persons/organisations to ensure the removal of the hen Harrier from its rightful habitat without any repercussions.

  10. I used to be a civil servant working for what was then a research agency of DEFRA, I dealt quite often with farmers as we did nearly all our work on farmland, their farmland. Had I been as rude to a farmer as Rob Cook was to Ruth I would certainly have been hauled over the coals and of course we might have had trouble getting farmers to let us on their land for research which might in the end have led to mutual benefit but often not. If you are reading this Rob Cook ( I’ll be even more impolite than you although that is difficult) you are a fucking disgrace. Plus if you really think that brood meddling is the answer to Hen Harrier conservation on grouse moors you are also bloody delusional, how many pairs can be brood meddled 4, 5, 8 ? Certainly not enough for your ludicrous scheme to be remotely viable in the long term. Appeasing criminals never works.

  11. Ruth

    I wish you didn’t have to put up with this sort of nonsense. It must be exhausting, depressing and infuriating.

    Mr Cooke’s letter really is an absolute disgrace and I hope he gets sanctioned for it. Good on you for sharing it.

    The only consolation I can offer is that those who resort to such tactics do so because their arguments are so weak and they are targeted at those they perceive to be the biggest threat to the status quo they support. So – keep up the pressure. Keep up the superb work. It’s having an impact. We think you’re great!

  12. Well he also made the mistake of telling you how to irritate him , please let us help by adding to his foi request woes .

  13. Rob Cooke – you are a disgrace to the British, nature-loving public, of which their money is being shamefully wasted on a project that absolutely stinks of lets-pander-to-the-upper-class-of-this-country-because-that’s-how-it’s-always-been.
    Get real man, times have changed, and we none-grouse shooters want to see a real world scenario on our upland landscapes – not butts and guns and traps and snares – and certainly NOT brood-meddled rare birds that should be left to get on with their lives in a natural way.
    Do you sleep restfully?

  14. The approach of the bosses and also apparently the field workers of NE is a complete puzzle for me. I thoroughly understand the traditional battle lines of Grouse industry vs birders/conservationists/common sense decent people, that is the easy bit. I often (probably naively) think NH has been trying to find “a third way” but I would only understand their methodology if it was the case that Hen Harriers were abundant to excess…but just the opposite is true, they will without doubt be extinct in England in just a few years. The idea they need to be relocated it is an absolute self-evident load of rubbish and national disgrace in sky high neon flashing lights.

    I would love to know what is the personal motivation of the people behind it? They are very intelligent people, they are not shooting people. I do not believe they feel personally threatened by shadowy figures nor do I believe they are taking cash bungs, and they could easily find good employment elsewhere. If the answer is “pressure from above”, surely you would move on or resign rather than making a fool of yourself?

    I just don’t get it.

  15. A brilliant reply to Mr Cooke’s email, he walked right into that one, but then people involved in compromised activities often do. Keep up the good work.

  16. Well done Ruth, the tone is illustrative of the impact you’re having on them. To adopt this tone and commit it to ‘publication’ is questionable and shows they see themselves as untouchable?

    Seriously Rob Cooke’s reply wow …. they really do need a independent review and reform, but for some reason they seem immune to accountability – is it that the politicians need something between them and the public and conservation community, or they are in hoc to the large estate land owners?

  17. I am the only one who noticed [Ed: rest of comment deleted – excellent that you noticed but don’t spoil my fun!!]

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