Hen harriers: “Continuing illegal persecution is preventing the recovery we need to see”, says Natural England chief

There was a brief, useful but ultimately frustrating exchange of views on Twitter at the weekend between Tony Juniper (Chair of Natural England) and a number of conservationists.

The subject was the ongoing illegal killing of hen harriers on grouse moors. Like this one (pictured), who died in 2019 after his leg was almost severed in an illegally set trap that had been placed next to his nest on a Scottish grouse moor (see here). [Photo by Ruth Tingay]

The exchange started with an RPUK tweet about the ever-increasing list of illegally killed/’missing’ hen harriers, now numbering 51 since 2018. Tony Juniper had been tagged in the tweet, along with others, with a sarcastic question about how the ludicrous Hen Harrier Action Plan was working out.

Tony responded and the discussion went like this:

There were contributions from others in and around this core thread but I’m not including them here because although they made excellent points, they’re not fundamental to the discussion.

It was good to see Tony Juniper state, in very clear and unambiguous terms, that continuing illegal persecution is still preventing the recovery of the hen harrier. We all knew that, of course, but it’s important that the Chair of Natural England says it, and says it publicly.

I would also argue (and indeed did, in the above twitter exchange), that Tony Juniper and Natural England should be making these statements much more prominently to reach a far wider audience. In fact, with equal prominence to that which DEFRA and Natural England gave to the press-released announcement of the 2020 breeding season being ‘a wonderful result’, a rather deluded statement published jointly with their ‘partners’ the GWCT and the Moorland Association (see here). Deluded because since when has 5% been judged to be a success(?!) and also pointless if you’re not going to go on to discuss the extremely poor survival rates of those chicks once they’ve fledged the nest, as discussed in the Murgatroyd et al paper in 2019 (here).

To be fair, Juniper did say in that press release that “Too many birds still go missing in unexplained circumstances and I urge anyone who is still engaged in the persecution of these magnificent creatures to cease at once” but it wasn’t the headline news. Fair enough if there was to be another prominent press release with the headline focusing on the continued losses, but that press release has never appeared.

Instead, what we’re getting is blatant propaganda from the Moorland Association, who put this press release out on Monday, via PR agency Media House and it was picked up and published in a number of papers in Yorkshire:

I don’t intend to pick this apart line by line because I think I’d lose the will to live but suffice to say this ‘survey’ is contrived and unscientific and thus meaningless but of course newspaper editors either don’t know that or don’t care, and the Moorland Association is banking on newspaper readers not knowing or caring either. All the Moorland Association wants to do is to try and negate the publicity that the ‘51 dead/missing hen harriers‘ story has been getting.

Unfortunately for the Moorland Association, the criminals within the grouse shooting industry just can’t stop killing hen harriers, or other raptors, not even for a few years while the insane brood meddling trial runs its course, and no matter how desperate the PR they churn out, ultimately the continued killing will be the industry’s downfall, just as we’re beginning to see in Scotland.

14 thoughts on “Hen harriers: “Continuing illegal persecution is preventing the recovery we need to see”, says Natural England chief”

  1. I have corrected this publicised boast, on Facebook numerous times, reminding over 50 HH missing over Grouse Moors in 2 years.(your figures and thanks for that)
    Keep the information coming, absolutely invaluable in conversations with bullshitters!

    1. Yes – very frustrating. Lot’s of people unquestioningly accepted these social media posts at face value and cheered the ‘success’ that the MA are pretending to have seen. As ever, the lies were half way round the world while the truth was still getting its boots on.

  2. “Unfortunately for the Moorland Association, the criminals within the grouse shooting industry just can’t stop killing hen harriers, or other raptors,…”

    And it is even more unfortunate for the hen harriers themselves, sadly. Of course, the MA don’t really care about the hen harriers though, just about maintaining the appearance of championing the recovery of the species.

  3. What is particularly galling is that N.E. / Tony Juniper are in bed with the MA/BASC and exercise no constraint upon them to stop the spin, the deceit, the PR and ensure a level playing field for Nature. Hence they are not honest brokers, nor are they doing as they should and hence they are complicit in the big lie and misappropriation of public funds.

  4. There seems to be yet another push on by the DGM Lobby to sanitise the industry as they have redoubled their efforts in the area of public interface. The hegemonic power of this lobby is frightening when one views the vast landscape of organisations and individuals at it’s service, not to mention a seemingly infinite amount oif money to recruit mercenaries to their cause.
    What annoys and disheartens me the most however, is the infiltration and connivance with other Conservation bodies, official and unofficial, in their support of entering negotiations with theor proxies in the full knowledge that these people break every deal they broker, issue false and misleading press statements ignore laws that do not bend to their needs and purposely corrupt and misinterpret science. Yes these people stil lwant to talk to them.
    Why so called fellow-travellers want to get into bed witgh them God only knows.

  5. The sooner the grouse shooting obscenity is closed down the better. What a tremendous boost it would provide for the national psychy for these areas to become nature reserves enjoyed by the whole country. It could be amazing

    1. Juniper might just as well have said: “continuing brood meddling is preventing the recovery we need to see.” You get into bed with the fun killers with some ‘conservation’ sham (brood meddling) and they carry on as usual with the ever growing list of dead HHs. Funny that. What fucking planet is Juniper/NE on? Well done Ruth for getting stuck in.

  6. From everything I have read, I understand the major problem facing Hen Harriers is illegal persecution.
    This relentless illegal persecution appears to happen predominantly on or near grouse moors.
    I suspect it happens because if Hen Harriers were allowed to reach a population which the habitat could sustain, it would reduce grouse numbers from the artificially high numbers produced by intensive gamebird management to one that could threaten the economic viability of grouse shooting as a business.
    This seems to make it very clear to me that any land owner who has a business interest in managing the moorland they own for grouse shooting will not want the presence of Hen Harriers on their moors.

    This view appears to be supported by the actual language used in the statements proffered by game bird organisations such as The Moorland Association- “there can be conflict between birds of prey and game birds…..we are demonstrating that we can attain a sustainable balance for our remote uplands”
    What do they mean by this?
    One or two birds will be tolerated and the rest removed by various forms of human intervention?
    Is that intervention being achieved through a mixture of brood management and illegal persecution?

    Is Natural England (NE) by engaging in this brood management scheme actually just being complicit in the persecution Hen Harrier’s suffer?

    Surely a governmental organisation such as NE, which is tasked with conserving our wildlife and natural environment should be tackling the root cause of the declining Hen Harrier population?- and that is illegal persecution.

    We wouldn’t expect the police or courts when tackling serious crimes like murder, burglary or rape to enter into some form of joint enterprise with those responsible for the crimes, so that the crimes themselves are ignored. Surely, we would expect them to effectively tackle the root cause and prevent those who commit the crimes from committing them again?

    One then has to ask why this approach is not being adopted when it comes to wildlife crimes?

    It is within the power of any government to legislate.
    So what is stopping the government from introducing effective legislation which would end the illegal persecution of raptors associated with grouse moor management?

    Instead what appears to be happening, is the use of what can best be described as propaganda, to mask the real truth about what is really happening on remote upland moors.
    So instead of statements like ” 51 critically endangered Hen Harriers killed or missing” we see comments such as “Hen Harrier recovery – 19 successful nests from brood management scheme”.

    I would suggest this is a deliberate attempt to mislead the public. It is an attempt to try and trick the public that the Hen Harrier is well on the road to recovery, and illegal persecution is a thing of the past.
    It appears nothing short of an attempt to manipulate public opinion away from demanding real action be taken against those whose actions are responsible for the crimes committed against British wildlife, particularly raptors.

    This then begs the question – Why?
    Is it because Britain has always been a “laissez- faire” society?
    So that government departments like NE suffer from intrinsic bias, and function in such a way as to ensure they don’t challenge the vested interests associated with ownership and management of our countryside?

    If we want proof of this intrinsic bias – one only has to consider the recent government decision to allow the use of banned neonicotinoids for sugar beet production in 2021. Chemicals deemed so dangerous that in 2018 their use was restricted by the UK expert committee on pesticides because of unacceptable risks.

    My suspicion is that raptors also suffer from this intrinsic bias, and where their existence conflicts with the vested interests of those who own and manage the countryside, then little real government help will be forthcoming to tackle the illegal persecution they suffer.

    Fortunately most of those involved in conservation can see beyond the “smoke and mirrors”. The challenge is to help the public see the truth as well, who will hopefully will demand real effective action is taken.

    Thank you to all those who help the rest of us see through the “establishments” magic tricks!!!!

  7. At the start of this farcical scheme, they couldn’t even find estates who would take the removed HHs! This was confirmed by the correspondence from the Hawk and Owl trust, so not only is it completely false to say that these raptors are ‘welcomed’ on grouse moors (persecution figures tell the opposite story), but it also highlighted the completely disorganised and desperate nature of this whole affair. Tony Juniper has been nothing short of a disgrace and has allowed his position to be completely compromised by both DEFRA, who are the political arm of the government, and driven grouse shooting organisations/lobbying. Keep in mind, he is paid vast sums of money to be at the head of NE and it should go without saying that his main focus should be protecting our decimated biodiversity, not capitulating to the very people who are responsible for creating this mess we find ourselves in.

    By not speaking out, Tony Juniper is giving the likes of BASC and the Moorland association free reign to pump spurious propaganda out. They are using NE as a cover and he’s letting them get away with it; for that reason alone, even forgetting other areas where he’s been an abject failure, I wish him to be replaced as soon as possible by someone who actually has the backbone and integrity to push back against corporate interests. It’s nowhere near good enough.

  8. We need more support from Tony Juniper at Natural England. I have noticed that NE often sit on the fence, but need to be more actively involved! Cllr Diana Tennyson, Easthants.

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