On-going hen harrier persecution raised in House of Lords

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.

Enough said.

8 thoughts on “On-going hen harrier persecution raised in House of Lords”

  1. Sadly it’s another case of ‘Plus ça change …’ while on the estates the feudal ways and attitudes continue.
    I would love to know what the likes of Chris Packham and co. have to offer as a way forward in both short and longer term.

  2. The Hen harrier “Inaction Pan” more like! In what other area of criminal activity would the obvious solution, to target resources and action on the places where it is highly likely the criminal acts take place, not be implemented? Its almost as if there is something preventing the relevant authorities from targeting those likely to be responsible!

    But that wouldn’t happen in this country in this day and age would it?

    1. Even where that does happen and it does, it is still needle in haystack time nobody however arrogant and criminally inclined is going to do this if they have the slightest inkling they will be witnessed.
      Well done Natalie Bennett it may have little effect but it is keeping the whole thing in mind and one day the reaction will be better!

  3. In a society that is driven by performance targets, why are those in government who are responsible for the Hen Harrier action plan still in post?
    The evidence suggests it’s not protecting Hen Harriers, and never will.
    The plan appears to be nothing more than a diversion, more smoke and mirrors by a government that does not want to take on the vested interests which own the land, control game shooting and allow the criminal practices embedded within the management of some shooting estates to continue.
    This is unacceptable, just like the shallow and limited proposals regarding the ban of heather burning.

    I would suggest that in the developing world, corruption is blatant, transparent and out in the open. It’s usually a movement of money into the hands of private individuals who manipulate the system to their own benefit.
    Could it be that in this country the corruption which has the ability to influence the political decision making process is woven into layers of subterfuge? The process is legitimized and is so well hidden that it can’t be seen? It’s not about the movement of money to an individual , it is more about “Quid Pro Quo”, and it’s not obvious that it is even happening?
    However could it’s influence be apparent when examination is made of- what information is presented to government, what is emphasized, what is under played, which matters get parliamentary time, which government policies are enacted, which get delayed, or why a political course of action is decided upon, and others rejected. Is corruption still there, but so well hidden we don’t even recognize it as corruption?
    I would go as far as to say this is a feature of much of how human interaction operates- “what is in it for me??”
    Is human nature as altruistic as we would like to believe?

    One only has to consider how quickly the government acted to implement legislation to deal with the coronavirus epidemic, legislation that struck at the heart of peoples civil liberties, freedoms and economic well being, and yet was deemed necessary to tackle the pandemic. It was a walk in the dark, and it may be sometime before we fully understand all the consequences of “lockdown.”
    Why is HS2 still going ahead? It’s very clear that some of the factors behind the initial decision to undertake this project have changed. Would it not be sensible to pause and review, to ensure HS2 is still necessary in a post Covid world where our ways of working might have fundamentally changed, where high speed train travel may no longer be necessary?
    Whilst the plight of the Hen Harrier is in a totally different league to consequences of Covid19, and this is not about underplaying the value of human life, or the suffering and grief this pandemic has brought.
    Why is it that despite years of research and volumes of evidence, so that the causes of the Hen harriers decline are well understood, and the persecution they suffer is irrefutable,- why is it 51 tagged Harriers have disappeared or been killed in the last 2 years, and no doubt countless others which we don’t know about have suffered persecution?
    In a recent Yougov survey – 81% agreed the Coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak has shown the importance of protecting and restoring nature.
    – So why is it that the necessary legislation to protect a species on the verge of extinction is never enacted????
    Can we imagine any successful business dithering and procrastinating in its decision making process?
    Delay could be ruinous. So how does the government justify failing to act?
    Willful blindness??
    Or just well disguised corruption to retain the status quo- a nod here, a wink there, a wheeze to make it appear as though something is being done, when in reality nothing really has changed????

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