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.