I’d wager that the subject of the illegal killing of hen harriers on driven grouse moors has been discussed many times in the House of Lords, probably on the terrace bar and probably accompanied by some hearty back-slapping, sniggering and cheering.
[Photo by Ruth Tingay]
Fortunately, the hen harrier does have some friends in high places, not least long-time supporter and Life Peer Natalie Bennett (Green party), who tabled the following written question on 21st January 2021 after learning that yet another satellite-tagged hen harrier had ‘vanished’ in suspicious circumstances (see here).
From Hansard: UIN HL12411, Baroness Bennett of Manor Castle –
To ask Her Majesty’s Government what plans they have to prevent the killing of satellite-tagged hen harriers.
Answered 4th February 2021 by Lord Goldsmith of Richmond Park, The Minister of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs –
All wild birds are protected under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981, which provides a powerful framework for the conservation of wild birds, their eggs, nests and habitats. The Government is committed to ensuring the protection afforded to wild birds of prey is effectively enforced. There are strong penalties for offenders, including imprisonment.
We are also committed to securing the long-term future of the hen harrier as a breeding bird in England. The Hen Harrier Action Plan sets out what will be done to increase hen harrier populations in England and includes measures to stop illegal persecution. The long-term plan was published in January 2016 and we believe that it remains the best way to safeguard the hen harrier in England. A copy of the plan is attached.
Raptor persecution is one of six national wildlife crime priorities. Each wildlife crime priority has a delivery group to consider what action should be taken and develop a plan to prevent crime, gather intelligence on offences and enforce against it. The Raptor Persecution Priority Delivery Group focuses on the golden eagle, goshawk, hen harrier, peregrine and white-tailed eagle. The National Wildlife Crime Unit, which is part funded by Defra, monitors and gathers intelligence on illegal activities affecting birds of prey and provides assistance to police forces when required.
So, five years on from the launch of DEFRA’s heavily criticised Hen Harrier Action Plan, which would be better re-named the Hen Harrier Persecution Plan, and with an embarrassing amount of evidence to demonstrate that the illegal killing of hen harriers is still rampant, this response from Zac Goldsmith is pathetically lame.
The evidence that hen harrier persecution continues relentlessly includes the devastating results of a peer-reviewed scientific study, based on Natural England’s own data and published in a high-ranking journal, demonstrating that at least 72% of satellite-tagged hen harriers are presumed illegally killed on grouse moors (see here).
There’s also the rather inconvenient tally of 51 hen harriers confirmed illegally killed or reported ‘missing’ in suspicious circumstances since 2018, when grouse moor owners pretended they’d be more tolerant of the species (here) and then the admission just a few days ago from Natural England’s Chair that “continuing illegal persecution [of hen harriers] is preventing the recovery we need to see” (here).
This issue is one of the most pressing wildlife conservation issues in the UK, and yet DEFRA has nothing more to offer than, ‘We believe the Hen Harrier Action Plan remains the best way to safeguard the hen harrier in England‘.
For how many more years is DEFRA going to hide behind it’s obviously-failing action plan? It’s been five years, and counting.
Here’s a more realistic view of the Hen Harrier Action Plan, from blog reader Dr Gerard Hobley.