Natural England quietly alters terms of diversionary feeding licence (& hopes we won’t notice)

Further to Friday’s news that the Swinton Estate is under police investigation for the alleged disturbance of breeding hen harriers through diversionary feeding without a licence (see here), there’s been a further development.

You might remember from an earlier blog (here), that one of the conditions of Natural England’s class licence (CL25) permitting the use of diversionary feeding for hen harriers is that diversionary feeding may only begin once the hen harrier’s eggs have hatched. Diversionary feeding is not permitted during the incubation period (which is when Swinton Estate is alleged to have been providing diversionary food).

Well guess what? Natural England has changed the rules and surprise, surprise, diversionary feeding is now permissible during the incubation period!

Imagine that!

And imagine re-writing the rules at the same time as your star grouse shooting estate (apparently accompanied by a Natural England employee) is under police investigation for alleged hen harrier disturbance because hen harriers were being fed during the incubation period!

And imagine re-writing the rules and not announcing the rule change!

Imagine hoping that nobody would notice!

Sneaky, Natural England, very, very sneaky.

What the CL25 licence said about when diversionary feeding was permissible, prior to 13th May 2021:

What the CL25 licence says about when diversionary feeding is permissible, from 13th May 2021:

Gosh, it’s almost as though Natural England is making up the rules as it goes along, isn’t it? I am just marvelling at the breath-taking duplicity of this Government agency.

Having said all that, unless there’s an unseen commencement clause in the newly-written licence conditions (and nothing would surprise me because Natural England just cannot be trusted on anything Hen Harrier related), this new condition shouldn’t be applied retrospectively so the police investigation shouldn’t be derailed.

It’s also useful to note that both the previous licence and the re-written licence state that the female hen harrier shouldn’t be disturbed at the nest during this period. It would appear, looking at the footage, that the Swinton Estate employee and the Natural England employee still have some explaining to do.

I’ll be writing more on diversionary feeding activities in previous years at Swinton in a separate blog…..

UPDATE 17th June 2021: This blog article led to a follow-up article in the Ends Report here

UPDATE 17th June 2021: Natural England accidentally lets slip more alleged shenanigans with hen harriers at Swinton Estate (here)

27 thoughts on “Natural England quietly alters terms of diversionary feeding licence (& hopes we won’t notice)”

  1. I was actually told this a couple of weeks ago by a colleague, beggars belief and you are right NE cannot be trusted on anything to do with Hen Harriers. They bending over backwards to help shooting estates with harriers rather than helping the harriers. As a result with BM and feeding at the end of this daft experiment DGS will still thin Hen Harriers are a bête noire and will actually have learned nothing about living with this great bird.

  2. The original licence terms were surely written using historical and scientific data on the nesting behaviour of Hen Harriers, so you have to ask if something relating to disturbance and nesting behaviour changed, which could have prompted this change in terms !!
    I would not waste any time or effort asking as I am certain that there is zero data to support this change, the only driver for this seems to be the recent breach of this very term !!
    Natural England , the government branch of the DSG establishment!!

  3. What astonishes me when reading the terme of the licence is how blatent the whole thing is in terms of helping to raise grouse. You’d think someone there would go,
    “hang on, when we say, ‘ grouse are unlikely to be taken during the [harrier] incubation phase’, should we not have said, ‘curlew and lapwing are unlikely to be taken during the [harrier] incubation phase'”?

    1. They seem to be quite open in admitting that the scheme is to stop ahem certain people killing Hen Harriers because they take some grouse.
      This is what i find incredible about the whole farce, it is openly dependent on wildlife crime.

  4. I had heard a rumour that there was possibly more than one version of the licence and that maybe the wrong one had been issued. However, this cannot be the case if what the Enforcement Team tell us is correct – that no diversionary feeding licence had, in fact, been issued at the time of the incident.

  5. The danger here is the message it sends to the police and courts. As the rules have now changed the police will view it as a lesser issue and if gets to court the defence will, quite rightly in their role, point out that this offence no longer exists.

    1. It’s probably not even in the “publics interest” to continue with any current investigations or even charge anyone if any rules were broken under the previous licence terms!!

      This whole sorry saga just doesn’t instil confidence that the government and its agencies are really putting proper wildlife and environmental conservation over and above economic interests, and the worry has to be that any promised new legislation such as the Environment Bill will be riddled with “get out of jail cards” so that those with vested interests do not find the new legislation a hinderance to their current activities???

      I think conservation organisations are going to be kept busy for a very long time challenging what is taking place!!!

      1. “This whole sorry saga just doesn’t instil confidence that the government and its agencies are really putting proper wildlife and environmental conservation over and above economic interests”

        You are behind the times. The Regulators’ Compliance Code for Natural England was changed under the Blair Government to incorporate the ‘Hampton Principles’ (published 2005):


        “Regulators should recognise that a *key* element of their activity will be to allow, or even encourage, *economic progress* and ONLY to intervene when there is a clear case for protection.”

        As George Monbiot writes: “It is not clear to me why an agency whose stated aim is to defend the environment should have to “encourage economic progress” (otherwise known as growth), which is arguably the primary cause of environmental degradation.”

        See The Hampton Report:

  6. 2016 was the first year when diversionary feeding was used before the eggs hatched. In this case the male was useless at bringing food to the female so it was felt that to have young in the nests, this was the only way forward. Out of 5 eggs only 1 male was produced and even he died later on a Northumberland moor presumed SHOT!

  7. Just when you thought N.E. couldn’t get any worse, they come up with this shoddy piece of obfuscation. This, of course, reflects badly on all their operations not merely diversionary feeding. Can they be trusted at all, on anything? I think not – time for a clearout from the top down – a vote of “no confidence” in the whole rotten organisation.

  8. Unbelievable – only it isn’t is it?

    Whatever Tony Juniper’s environmental credentials are well and truly trashed since he joined the other snouts in the trough.

    1. Tony Juniper has secured a 50 % increase in NE’s budget; which partly makes up for the shortfall post 2010 ; NE was a bloody mess long before he arrived, would you prefer someone else in which case name them ? If you can imagine the unpleasant reality of daily interfaces with this Government then you do the job and which will sack him if he steps too far out of line ?

  9. I am astonished by the arrogance of this underhand action by NE. Did they think no one would notice? Did they think no one would care? Unfortunately I don’t think they give a damn what others think of them. Talk about moving the goal posts!

  10. Diversionary feeding aside , why flush a bird from it’s nest and spend time there causing god knows how much stress and anxiety for parents ,questions must be answered by these two individuals who are trusted and no doubt well paid to protect these special birds , Shame on NE and All involved

  11. It’s a fascinating case. If the Enforcement Team are satisfied that there was nothing to enforce then presumably any potential offence(s) must relate to the disturbance aspect. This begs the interesting question as to whether prolonging disturbance unnecessarily could constitute an offence of reckless disturbance even if Schedule 1 disturbance cover was in place. In this respect it is noted that the wording of the new licence goes to some length to spell out that nests should not be visited to check the contents, stating quite specifically that ‘You must observe birds from a distance to find out if eggs are present. You must not disturb a female by visiting the nest.’ It is not clear whether such specific advice was provided previously, it being suspected that the latest very explicit guidance may well have resulted from the observed incident which appeared to involve a visit which would clearly have been unnecessarily protracted even had visits to count the eggs been permitted.

  12. I cant see how the position of the NE fieldworker and also the hen harrier project manager are anything other than untenable. For the government licencing agency to be in breach of its own licencing sets the bar very low for what is acceptable should there not be repercussions for this . Precedents need to be set and they are failing yet again if they keep employing people in this role if they are in breach of the legal rules. Imagine what would happen to a raptor worker if they were in breach of their schedule 1 licence? most likely loose the licence, loose the ringing licence and most probably be prosecuted as well. Would be interesting to know what experience and level of competence with harriers members of the NE hen harrier team had prior to being tasked with this politically sensitive role.

    Cant imagine the Swinton Estate are too please with natural England either.

  13. Don’t think a parliamentary question would make any difference, This government don’t give a dam they just do what they want with their huge majority in the parliament. It would need a general election to vote them out and Scotland, Wales and the North of England would have to vote against them. Can’t see that happening any time soon.

  14. Feeding the harriers means that rates of predation upon the grouse is decreased. We know that it can also enhance productivity and fed birds may produce more chicks. When supplemental food is offered early in the season it may also increase the number of breeding pairs and clutch size.

    What I do not understand is why a license is required to feed the harriers? A license is not needed to feed birds in your garden. What is the issue here? What damage is being done by feeding the birds?

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