Is this why Natural England doesn’t want to talk about ‘missing’ hen harriers?

Following a Freedom of Information request to Natural England, we now know that three satellite-tagged hen harriers vanished off the face of the earth in September 2020 – one next to a grouse moor in North Yorkshire (here), one on a grouse moor in the Yorkshire Dales National Park (here) and one at an undisclosed location in Northumberland which may or may not have been a grouse moor (here).

These disappearances follow the inevitable and now very familiar pattern of so many before them, which has led scientists to conclude that ‘hen harriers in Britain suffer elevated levels of mortality on grouse moors, which is most likely the result of illegal killing’ (see here).

What seems to have infuriated the public the most about this awful news is Natural England’s silence on the three disappearances. Although yesterday evening NE did manage to put out this vague and utterly unconvincing tweet, presumably in an attempt to save face:

Natural England has known about these three disappearances for four months and has said absolutely nothing about them. Why is that?

Would it have anything to do with the recent financial ‘agreement’ it signed with representatives of the grouse shooting industry? You know, the one where BASC bunged £10K to Natural England to support two NE fieldworkers to undertake hen harrier monitoring at winter roost sites?

The Memorandum of Agreement between the two parties is an extraordinary document. Drafted by lawyers, it’s turgid and seems to focus excessively on the use of BASC’s logo, but it’s also entertaining in parts.

It includes a clause that both parties agree not to slag off one another in public (!) and then a line about not saying anything ‘that is contrary to the principles of the Programme’:

I haven’t been able to find any definition of what the ‘Principles of the Programme’ are, but perhaps publicising the fact that three tagged hen harriers have vanished in suspicious circumstances, at least two of them on or next to grouse moors, would be considered ‘contrary to the principles of the Programme’?

For anyone interested, here’s the Memorandum of Agreement between BASC and Natural England, released under an FoI request:

Perhaps we should donate £10K to Natural England on the understanding that it WILL publicise, in a timely manner, embarrassing details like the loss of yet another hen harrier on yet another grouse moor? Oh but hang on, wouldn’t that be considered a bribe?

To be fair, Natural England’s reluctance to reveal these continued losses is probably absolutely nothing to do with any financial agreement it’s entered in to with representatives from the grouse shooting industry. Let’s face it, NE has been slow to publicise these incidents for years, it’s nothing new.

28 thoughts on “Is this why Natural England doesn’t want to talk about ‘missing’ hen harriers?”

  1. This lends itself to gamekeepers being able to say ” Not Me Guv ” with good defence that cheapo NE tags were bound to fail , so their much prized Hen Harriers must be alive and well somewhere 😞

    On Wed, 13 Jan 2021 11:49 Raptor Persecution UK, wrote:

    > RaptorPersecutionUK posted: ” Following a Freedom of Information request > to Natural England, we now know that three satellite-tagged hen harriers > vanished off the face of the earth in September 2020 – one next to a grouse > moor in North Yorkshire (here), one on a grouse moor in the Yo” >

  2. 10k is truly a pee in the ocean but surely the fact that NE is supposed to be publicly funded makes one wonder exactly where the 10k wound up it has always been apparent to me that NE were working hand in glove with the wrong people and this will continue no matter what with this current government

  3. Is the sat tag data uncovering hitherto unknown roost sites and if so who is this data being shared with and who decides who gets to see the data?

    1. It really would be good if tagging information was in the public domain so that we could all see what was happening here. But it isn’t…’s kept hidden. Even months after the event. Why?

  4. The way to understand the functioning of Natural England and Scottish Wildlife (or whatever is the current ID) is to see these bodies as a cushion between the public – who care for our fauna, habitats & flora – and the field sports industry.
    And then you discover that the field sports are the habitat of aristocracy and those of the rich who want to rub shoulders with them.
    Their own estimate is that the latter group is around twenty thousand strong (throw in ten thousand multi-millionaires) and you see they are putting their interests forward against those of 66 million people.
    Does this feel like democracy?

  5. Unnatural England have a third rate track record, consider the badger cull which has been a fiasco from start to finish. They (natural England) are in the pay of the big agricultural lobby, who use them as puppets.

  6. I’m sure there are plenty of people that would volunteer and monitor Hen Harriers for free but they probably would not fit the criteria that NE wanted ie would not stay quiet about persecution.

    [Ed: Hi Kevin – you’re right, there are. They’re called members of the Northern England Raptor Forum]

  7. Dear Oh Dear………Tony Juniper seems to be quite frankly “Swamped”..if I can quote the near late, unlamented “President” of the United States having known him from Newbury By Pass days it just shows how damn difficult it is to operate within an utterly corrupted culture of Government. My own view is that little only faintly occurs when the Conservative Party is not in power. I know many people did not like “JC” , I had my reservations, but to all those that voted Liberal and Green in England, where has it got you nothing but a Government that proclaimed its friendship to the fascist in Washington, mediocrity of the utterly incompetent with its hands in the till?

  8. That is an absolute disgrace: bought and paid for. What next: donations from trap manufacturers? Will little Timmy Bonner’s organisation be funding another couple of posts?

    Nauseating collusion.

  9. Henry Root would have had a laugh.
    ‘‘I read recently,’ he wrote, ‘that a “drop” of as little as £25,000 to one of our leading politicians was enough to obtain a seat in the Lords for the donor. Has inflation bumped up the price? Let me know. I’m waiting with my cheque-book ready.’ ‘

  10. This partnership might be worth a legal challenge – if only, or mainly, to highlight what they consider to be mutual interests may not be in the public interest.

  11. Surely, there must be a typo. The £10,000 must surely be £100, 000. Nobody would compromise themselves, their organisation, their colleagues and their fieldworkers for such a pathetic amount. There must be more to this. If I was a fieldworker out for ours on end in all weathers getting to know each bird, and I was denied my right to speak openly on a topic close to my heart because of this poxy agreement – I would feel absolutely devastated right now.

  12. There’s a lot here needs closer scrutiny – judging by the alleged complexity of the “Agreement” the legal fees might have been close to £10K. This looks very much like NE has been instructed from “on high” to take the money – in effect to compromise the Organisation and everything it’s meant to stand for – a 10K quid pro quo.

    [Ed: Thanks, wjspeirs. I’ve had to delete the last part of your comment as it libellous. If you’re able to rephrase it so it’s clear it’s your opinion rather than fact, it’ll be publishable. Thanks]

  13. I can’t really see how NE can make an agreement like this without breaking the fundamentals of public service, if not the law. ‘Without fear or favour’ is fundamental to the way public service in this country works and make not mistake, despite the endless debate about ‘arms length’, NE is part of central government – not least because when push comes to shove it does what Ministers tell it. It may to some seem trivial, but this is another clear example of how democracy is quietly being eroded by a Government that believes in cronyism as a core way of doing business.

  14. It would appear to me that for about the cost of days driven grouse shooting they BASC they have been able to buy a piece of paper they can waft about to try and convince the public and politicians that they are committed to the conservation of the Hen Harrier. This might be enough to fool some.
    The fact the agreement seems to suggest that neither party can comment negatively on the behaviour of the other, or the program, would suggest to me that the agreement is nothing short of a charade to hide the truth.
    Is this the sort of agreement a public body accountable to the public should be entering in to??

  15. And who’s to say that Natural England’s tweet might just relate to yet another “missing” Hen Harrier. Nothing would surprise me.

  16. The whole thing stinks to high heaven and the line minister needs to be asked some serious questions in the commons ASAP!!

  17. I have crossed swords with Tony Juniper and with Natural England, both occasions on record, and on the public stage. Nothing surprises me about this betrayal other than it just gets worse and worse…

    Drain the swamp.

    I wonder when the Greens and Friends of the Earth will break their silence?

  18. The term “principles of the Programme” has a small ‘p’ for principles which means it is not a defined term and open to interpretation. To get a greater understanding of the principles of the Programme you would need to look to the Hen Harriers Winter Roosting conservation programme. I would not anticipate that reporting the loss of a hen harrier would be against the principle of the Programme but I haven’t seen the Programme.

    I believe NE has its own internal legal team. Generally, it is accepted practice that the party benefitting from/seeking the agreement would cover the other party’s legal fees but it isn’t mentioned in the agreement itself.

  19. I’m no lawyer, but section 12 looks a bit worrying:

    12.1 ‘NE will discuss any [FOI requests] with BASC and give due consideration to its responses…’
    12.3 ‘The provisions of this clause [Clause 12] shall continue to apply after termination or expiry of the Agreement’

    Does this mean what it seems to mean? That NE has committed to discuss FOI agreements with BASC and take into consideration BASC’s views when responding to FOI requests? And that this will continue ‘forever’?

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