Natural England ignores ongoing raptor persecution & now plans to captive breed hen harriers for release!

Do you remember DEFRA’s ludicrous Hen Harrier Action Plan, published in 2016 and responsible for hen harrier brood meddling – the conservation sham sanctioned by DEFRA and carried out by Natural England, in cahoots with the very industry responsible for the species’ catastrophic decline in England? (For more background see here).

Well the conservation sham has just been extended, this time to the proposed ‘reintroduction’ of hen harriers to southern England, also part of the ridiculous Hen Harrier Action Plan.

[A brilliantly apt cartoon by Gerard Hobley]

The so-called southern reintroduction has been on the cards since 2016 when the ‘Action Plan’ was first published, to be used as a massive distraction from the ongoing illegal killing of hen harriers on British grouse moors. But Natural England has had terrible trouble trying to persuade conservationists in Spain and France to donate hen harriers, especially given the UK’s appalling raptor persecution record – even though Natural England staff have been caught out trying to play this down on a number of occasions (e.g. see here).

Hmm. What to do? What to do? Ah, how about, we ask some other countries for some donor stock (countries that we haven’t tried yet, like Finland, Sweden, Norway) so we can release their birds in to southern England (and we won’t mention the suspicious disappearance of a hen harrier in the proposed release area), and how about we also take some chicks from nests in England and keep them in captivity forever and use their chicks to release in to the wild, and call it a ‘conservation breeding programme’ (cos we did it with peregrines last year, remember?), and then why don’t we also take some un-releasable hen harriers from rehab centres in France and Spain and use them as breeding stock as well so we’ll have more young hen harriers to chuck out in to the countryside whilst we all sit with our fingers and toes crossed that they don’t venture anywhere near a grouse moor? (And we’ll keep quiet about the ongoing raptor persecution crimes being uncovered near the proposed release site, including this one).

Yeah! And we can pay our old mate Jemima Parry Jones and the International Centre for Birds of Prey (ICBP) at Newent, Glos to do all this ‘conservation breeding’ – they’re not gonna turn down a big pay out, just as they’re getting paid for doing the hen harrier brood meddling. Yeah! £350K should do it….it’s tax payers money but there’s no need to tell anyone about it, we’ll just keep it quiet in case those pesky conservationists find out, see through our propaganda and try to take a legal challenge against us.

Think this is all a bit far-fetched? Well have a look at the following documents, released last week as part of a larger bundle under Freedom of Information requests that Natural England has sat on since January. It’s worth paying particular attention to Natural England’s options appraisal (the 2nd document), undertaken last year during lockdown. Abandoning the whole ridiculous idea of releasing hen harriers in to a country where they are systematically and illegally killed by a large part of the driven grouse shooting industry (52 hen harriers known to have gone since 2018) was apparently not an option due to the ‘reputational risk’ to DEFRA and Natural England if they pulled out.

That should be the least of their worries. Make no mistake, if there is an opportunity for a legal challenge against this insane plan, it will be taken.

More soon.

Here are some of the documents to look at:

UPDATE 25th March 2021: This news article led to a story being published in the environmental journal the Ends Report (here).

UPDATE 26th March 2021: Natural England’s shady approach to IUCN guidelines on hen harrier reintroduction (here)

27 thoughts on “Natural England ignores ongoing raptor persecution & now plans to captive breed hen harriers for release!”

  1. I’ve come to think that most ‘re-introductions’ are pointless, given that in many cases the cause of their decline has not been dealt with…it only takes one Farmer with a gun to get it into his head that this or that Predator ‘might’ take his investment and boom….

    1. Some time ago the Scottish Gamekeepers Association put a post on their facebook page about a proposed lynx reintroduction into the Cairngorms. No less than two of the commentators said if that happened they’d go out lamping for them, this is the same sector in which we are supposed to believe illegal raptor persecution is rare and dying out. There have been official lynx reintroductions in Europe that failed because lynx were targeted by a ludicrously intolerant and selfish segment of the hunting community. Hunters have actually been more strident opponents of the return of wolf, bear and lynx in parts of Europe than livestock farmers have, but I think in Scotland the crofting/hill farming lot will compete with them in terms of drama queening, remember the Gairloch sea eagles?

      There have also been attempts to discredit reintroductions, which along with ecological restoration are a threat to the status quo. There’s still a hell of a lot of crap about the golden eagle reintroduction to Ireland that still surfaces in arguments with the other side. In this SNH report into that project on page 49 in the second and fourth paragraphs the SGA is singled out for criticism for making inaccurate and misleading claims. To me this finger pointing at a ‘stakeholder’ is extraordinary in an official report which shows how bad things were and how pissed off the authors were too. Good for them, we need more of this honesty!

  2. I’m sure you’ll keep us posted on any possible intended legal challenge! Good luck, whatever you decide!

  3. I sometimes think that Natural England are a bigger threat to our wildlife than the gamekeepers they work for.

  4. The recovery of raptors from the historically low levels before the ban on DDT will depend on recreation of safe habitats for them to live, not captive breeding. So glad that I live in an area where their influence is slight. NatureScot is not perfect, but seems more open to logical influence than NE!

  5. Total madness. Where is the accountability in what they do. There must be a way of enforcing an audit or review of NE’s actions. It is public money being wasted not to mention the likely doomed Hen Harriers. Such a waste!!

  6. Their thinking must be that if HH get a foothold in non-keepered areas, then they will spread irresistably like Buzzards have done and Red Kites are (slowly) doing this past 20yrs – i.e. by sheer weight of numbers, and just about hang on in the fringes of keepered areas. The thing is that BZ and Red Kites are more a widespread generalist with established safe populations to draw from in most regions. For the HH captive breeding programme to replicate this, they will have to create a huge battery farm – they will need thousands of birds released in a short few years to try and win a foothold by sheer numbers. Or maybe NE simply want it to be the raptor version of what anglers call a ‘put and take’ trout fishery, show off a few specimens that will look good for the photos. Seems a total load of BS to me.

  7. Way too much organisational ego involved here for them to drop it, let alone admit they got it wrong or what the real motives behind this farce were.
    Classic Kings New Clothes routine whereby they simply herald a new outfit for the king.
    There are a good number of people involved who are being compromised and are happy to go along with it while pretending to be conservation minded.

  8. Sadly this appears to indicate that they have enough support in Johnson’s Government to defy any movement for new legislation in regards to Driven Grouse Moors. .We know what happened at the last Westminster Debate. they didn’t even appear to take it seriuously so confident were they of having the numbers to simply scoff at our efforts.
    Keepers and beaters are known to boast wildly and talk freely during their after shoot drinking sessions — or at weekends at their favourite pub. I’m sure inducements can be given to beaters to talk freely about these boasts if approached in the right manner.
    i know of one ex-military beater who regularly goes “up the hill for the birds” in the evenings from mid to late spring. More details would emerge with every pint that is pulled.

  9. Ok for Ospreys to be re located then, but not Harriers, Harriers need to be increased, this is a way of doing it, yes it will likely be costly, so would the Osprey reintroduction that was featured on your blog the other day.

    1. As you rightly assert Raymond, “Harriers need to be increased”. How about if gamekeepers stopped illegally killing them then? That should do the job should it not? Your comparison with osprey re-introductions, however, shows a staggering level of ignorance as RPUK has pointed out.

    2. The only reason that this has been suggested is because the French and Spanish have refused to provide Hen Harriers to the UK to be killed by criminals in the ranks of gamekeepers, farmers and landowners. That is the problem Natural England are trying to overcome – because it is easier to captive breed than to stop the criminals in the shooting industry from killing them.

      1. I am staggered at the train of thought which has arrived at this outcome of captive breeding. It either emanates from a DG shooting camp or a quasi conservationist but it beggars belief when you consider the team which put the idea together, the conversation had and how they then sold it to N.E. Wherever it originated within NE it is a mark of the position which the organisation occupies compared to where it should be and the degree to which it has been corrupted.

  10. Pheasants may be reduced in numbers consequential of licensing, so is this Natural England putting up more birds to be shot in the name of sport for their peers? Maybe appeasement for Pheasant ‘control’?

  11. This is beyond madness. I have seen projects go out of control many times in the past, but checks and balances normally pull things back. No senior voice of restraint is visible here. Where is it to be found?

  12. This is a diversion from the real issue, which is eradicating the illegal persecution of Hen Harriers, and providing safe natural habitats on grouse moors for their survival.

    There appears to be very little thought or energy being directed by NE to deter or prosecute the criminals who are responsible for Hen Harrier persecution.
    There is almost acceptance that satellite Hen Harriers will disappear on or near grouse moors, and no one will held accountable.

    Instead of dealing with the root cause of the issue, NE appear to be splashing around in the froth, in the hope it will make people believe that they are taking Hen Harrier conservation seriously.

    No one is fooled- instead of this nonsense NE and DEFRA should focus on persuading the government on exactly what is needed to root out the criminality in our countryside.

    It’s not rocket science- If upland moors are the natural habitat for Hen Harriers, but because those upland moors have been turned into grouse farms to supply an unnatural number of game birds, which means Hen Harriers are unable to live and breed on them safely, – then it is the use of those moors as grouse farms which needs to change – not the way the Hen Harrier live.

    Do African countries where rhino or elephant poaching is a major issue try and solve the problem by moving those animals from their natural environment to a zoo? Or do they use armed rangers and other methods to try and stop the illegal poaching?

    Are we going to reduce Hen Harriers to the same fate which has befallen tigers, in that there are more tigers in captivity, in so called breeding programs than there are in the wild?

    This proposal by NE should be of concern not just to those involved in conservation but to every game bird shooter.
    Because of the way so much of the grouse industry is managed, do these shooters want to be held responsible for the situation arising where Hen Harriers are unable to survive in the natural environment?

    Every hunter with a conscience and ethical view on their pastime, really needs to start to question how the driven grouse moors are being managed. By continuing to participate in driven grouse shooting, are they supporting this very questionable industry? For the sake of conservation, would they be better switching their activities to walk up shooting, on moors, where wildlife is able to flourish without the threat of illegal persecution?

    Every effort should be put into ensuring Hen Harriers are able to thrive in their natural environment- and where those barriers are man made- it should be those man made obstacles which are removed- permanently!

  13. Surely it does not matter a jot if the birds are stolen from the wild or captive bred…the release is covered by IUCN guidelines. The Guidelines require the reasons for the need for reintroduction to be addresed before it can take place. The reason for the release programme is the loss of the birds through illegal persectution. The release programme should not be taking place until this has stopped. This is a point that the International Bird of prey centre should pay attention to. If they are complict in a breech of the IUCN guidelines they may loose out on a lot of genuine international conservation projects.

  14. I’ve just caught up with this item and having waded through the documents I am absolutely astonished that NE has allowed itself to be boxed into a corner over this scheme. It would appear that around £300k has already been spent with another £350k about to be committed with absolutely no certainty of a favourable outcome, and, in the meantime ,this same organisation passes round the begging bowl for the public to help with the running of its reserves. Tony Juniper needs to ‘get a grip’!

  15. Unfortunately, the ex conservationist. Tony Juniper, has no grip. Perhaps on the back of keeping “a lid on it”, a knighthood will follow. Awarded for the disservice to nature!!

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