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.