Wild Justice challenges Natural England’s plans to release hen harriers in southern England

Regular blog readers will know that for the last five years, Natural England has been planning a so-called ‘reintroduction’ of hen harriers to southern England as part of DEFRA’s ludicrous Hen Harrier Action Plan (see here for an earlier blog and some earlier key posts).

Ever since it was proposed, I and a number of others have been arguing that it is just another greenwashing conservation sham, aimed to divert attention from the real issue threatening the hen harrier population – the continued illegal killing on driven grouse moors.

[A brilliantly apt cartoon by Gerard Hobley]

Getting detail about the proposed ‘reintroduction’ plans from Natural England has been like pulling teeth; they’ve dodged and ducked questions at every turn. However, in March this year the latest round of FoI requests revealed that Natural England was now planning on getting hold of some injured, un-releasable hen harriers from Europe and using them in a captive breeding programme to produce young birds for release on Salisbury Plain (see here). This is believed to be a direct result of potential donor countries refusing to give healthy hen harriers to the UK because the UK clearly can’t look after the hen harriers it’s already got (at least 56 hen harriers have been confirmed illegally killed or have vanished in suspicious circumstances in the last three years alone, most of them on or close to a driven grouse moor).

One of the main objections to Natural England’s reintroduction proposal continues to be the agency’s apparent denial that raptor persecution is a serious threat to any released birds. This denial is, in my opinion, a clear breach of the IUCN’s reintroduction and conservation translocation guidelines (see here), whereby the cause of the species’ extirpation and any ongoing threats need to be addressed before any birds are released.

Campaign group Wild Justice has also been looking at this issue and yesterday sent a letter to Natural England to challenge the poor quality of the scientific evidence that Natural England has provided in its reintroduction assessment document.

The letter from Wild Justice can be read on their blog (here) and I’d thoroughly recommend you take a look to understand just how rubbish Natural England’s scientific assessment is. So rubbish, in fact, that Natural England has cited papers and books that don’t even cover the [flawed] scientific arguments it’s making!

Wild Justice will be considering whether formal legal action is required against Natural England once NE has had an opportunity to respond to questions posed in Wild Justice’s letter.

9 thoughts on “Wild Justice challenges Natural England’s plans to release hen harriers in southern England”

  1. I believe I recognise a ‘dead hand’ at work here. Any southern England release programme will likely fail, giving rise to a propaganda opportunity to later claim that the Hen Harrier is failing not through persecution alone, but for other environmental reasons.

    That Natural England appear prepared to sponsor this charade reminds me of the recent findings about the Metropolitan Police:-(

    1. I am more worried about success. Some birds don’t appear to roam far. If even one pair succeeds that could open the flood gates to a full on lowland scheme allowing the continued massacre of uplands birds. If all chicks are satellite tagged then we should still see the killing of the ones that do roam onto grouse moors but will that data be available. A scheme, which is essential trying to artificially manipulate the ecology of a native bird, is in my opinion, going to play dirty. I wouldn’t trust them to release any data that cast the scheme in a bad light. It is too fixated on a desired outcome and that is placating grouse moor owners.

  2. The Leigh Day letter, cited by Ruth in her penultimate paragraph above, is an absolute ‘must read’. It certainly shows up NE in a very poor light, not least by its insufficient attention to detail and failure to use evidence from its own data-sets. It’s a sorry state of affairs that NE apparently thought that it could get away with such a gimcrack piece of work. With any luck this will be the final nail in the coffin of this ill-judged venture.

  3. Why not just give this a try? Salisbury plain has a lot of military-only land, including artillery ranges from which public access is forbidden, gamekeepers are absent and as long as the birds don’t mind soldiers (and most don’t), they are perfectly happy.

    On this theme, how well are hen harriers doing on the Warcop Training Area?

    1. So you are advocating moving away from your mates with shotguns to an area with Heckler and Koch SA 80s’ and artillery.

      What Hen Harriers need, I suspect, is a bit of peace and quiet!

    2. Hi Dan, Warcop as a release site to develop one of your ‘colonies’. Grand idea. And in time these could breed up more ‘colonies’ in a welcome expansion east into those predator-free heather clad valleys that make grown men shed a tear & start humming Elgar. Hold on, I’ll tell you what – lets save some effort here. Give me a pointed fencepost to podge a hole into a boggy bit of peat, and they can just chuck them (the Harriers) down it at the beginning and save the fuss.

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