How about this for blatant wilful blindness from an Environment Minister.
This response to a Westminster parliamentary question on the continued illegal persecution of birds of prey in the uplands is about as disingenuous as it gets. I doubt very much if Rebecca Pow wrote it herself – this’ll be the work of a DEFRA civil servant – but Rebecca Pow has allowed her name to be put to it without even a hint of shame.
[Westminster Environment Minister Rebecca Pow]
Here’s the written question from Fleur Anderson MP (Labour Shadow Minister):
‘To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, what steps he is taking to prevent the killing of (a) hen harriers, (b) golden eagles, (c) peregrines, (d) goshawks and (e) other birds of prey in the uplands and support the recovery of each species’ populations’.
And here is the response from Environment Minister Pow, published in Hansard yesterday (10th September 2021), ironically on the same day that I’d blogged about there being no prosecution for the shooting of five buzzards found shot and buried on a grouse moor in the North York Moors National Park during the first lockdown in April 2020:
‘All wild birds including birds of prey 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 birds of prey is effectively enforced. There are strong penalties for offenders, including imprisonment.
To address concerns about the illegal killing of birds of prey, senior government and enforcement officers have identified raptor persecution as a national wildlife crime priority. Defra sits on the police-led Raptor Persecution Priority Delivery Group, which takes forward activities to raise awareness and facilitate intelligence and incident reporting, leading to increased prevention and enforcement activity. The group focuses on ‘hotspot’ areas of the country (which will include some upland areas) rather than specific species, although the golden eagle, goshawk, hen harrier, peregrine and white-tailed eagle have been identified as being of particular concern.
Additionally, the Hen Harrier Action Plan seeks to secure the long-term future of the hen harrier as a breeding bird in England. It includes measures to stop illegal persecution, and an action to reintroduce the hen harrier in the south of England. 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. This year has seen a further increase in the number of breeding hen harriers in England. 84 chicks fledged from nests across the uplands in County Durham, Cumbria, Lancashire, Northumberland and Yorkshire. These are the highest numbers for hen harrier breeding in England since the 1960s’.
It’s quite obvious that this answer has been designed to pull the wool over the eyes of your average member of the public, assuring the uninformed and the gullible that the Government has this under control and there’s no reason for anyone to be concerned because the Government is ‘committed’ to effective enforcement and the criminals are sent to jail. That would all be fine if there WAS effective enforcement, and that offenders DID get sent to jail for these heinous crimes, but it’s an utter fallacy.
Yes, it’s accurate to say there are strong penalties available for raptor persecution crimes, including imprisonment, but as Minister Pow will know, there’s a huge gulf between there being a provision for this in the legislation and it being applied in real life. For example, when was the last time that a criminal gamekeeper was sent to jail for killing a bird of prey? That’s an easy one to answer – never, in England & Wales. It has never happened. The only time a gamekeeper has received a custodial sentence for killing a bird of prey in the UK was in 2014 when a gamekeeper was filmed clubbing to death a goshawk on the Kildrummy Estate in Scotland two years earlier (see here). It was headline news at the time precisely BECAUSE it was the first ever custodial sentence, and it was the last, too.
It’s also complete deception to claim that the Raptor Persecution Priority Delivery Group (RPPDG) is delivering increased prevention or increased enforcement in the hotspot persecution areas. There isn’t ANY evidence to support such claims. The RPPDG is, in my opinion, a partnership sham, designed to look as though efforts are being made to effectively tackle illegal raptor persecution in England and Wales. It’s been in existence since 2011 and the ‘delivery’ results speak for themselves – so far it has achieved absolutely sod all in terms of contributing towards the conservation of raptors in the UK and instead has frustrated the efforts of those organisations who are genuinely trying to stamp out persecution (e.g. see here).
And as for the so-called Hen Harrier Action Plan – readers of this blog don’t need reminding what an absolute joke this is. It does seem, however, that the Minister needs to be reminded that the illegal persecution of hen harriers on grouse moors is systemic, as demonstrated by the Government’s own commissioned research published in 2019 (here) which showed that satellite-tagged hen harriers are ten times more likely to be killed on land managed for driven grouse shooting than any other type of land management.
Surely it’s not beyond the understanding of the Minister and her aides that the number of chicks fledged since the brood meddling trial began is irrelevant if the slaughter of those birds continues after the fledging period? We know that at least 56 hen harriers have been illegally killed and/or have ‘disappeared’ in suspicious circumstances in the last three years alone (see here for the grim catalogue of death) and this number is set to rise when the police get around to publicising more incidents that have happened this year. Oh, and there hasn’t been a successful prosecution for any of them.
Nothing has changed. Raptors continue to be poisoned, trapped and shot on driven grouse moors and the Westminster Environment Minister’s wilful blindness is responsible for enabling that to continue.