Hen harrier persecution continues amid increased breeding success

There’s been quite a lot of news about hen harriers in the last couple of weeks as this year’s breeding figures have been announced: 119 chicks from 49 nests, 34 nests being successful (see Natural England press release here).

That is the highest number of chicks fledged in over a century, according to Natural England, but there are many questions still to be answered about these figures and as ever, Natural England isn’t being transparent with the results.

I’d like to know how many of the 49 nests were on privately-owned grouse moors. Not on tenanted grouse moors (e.g. like National Trust and water utility companies’ land) where tenants are now at risk of having their shooting leases withdrawn if persecution takes place, e.g. see here), not on RSPB reserves, or Forestry England land – but on actual privately owned moors managed for driven grouse shooting. I think it’s telling that this detail has not been provided.

13 of this year’s 119 chicks were ‘brood meddled’ from four nests at unknown locations in northern England – not very impressive considering 13 chicks successfully fledged from a single site, the Tarras Valley Nature Reserve, without any need for brood meddling.

For new readers, hen harrier brood meddling is a conservation sham sanctioned by DEFRA as part of its ludicrous ‘Hen Harrier Action Plan‘ and carried out by Natural England (NE), in cahoots with the very industry responsible for the species’ catastrophic decline in England. For more background see here. Brood meddling is in place entirely as a result of the authorities failure to stop grouse moor managers from illegally killing this species. Instead of prosecuting these criminals, the Government has sanctioned the removal of the harriers from the grouse moors, to be reared in captivity and then released somewhere else to become targets for being killed on another grouse moor later in the year.

Two of this year’s pitiful brood meddled hen harriers removed from their parents in the wild and caged inside an aviary. Photo by Jemima Parry Jones.

The hen harrier brood meddling conservation sham is a five-year trial, started in 2018 and is being used to assess whether grouse moor owners’ attitudes towards hen harriers will change. I look forward to reading the scientific committee’s report, but judging by the continued persecution of this species on driven grouse moors, it can hardly be described as a brilliant success. A brilliant wheeze, perhaps, from the point of view of the grouse moor owners who’ve had harriers legally and forcibly removed from their moors, but a conservation success? How can it be when the original cause of the species’ decline (illegal persecution) hasn’t been addressed and is ongoing?

We already know that since 2018 when the brood meddling trial began, at least 70 hen harriers have either been illegally killed or have ‘disappeared’ in suspicious circumstances, most of them on or close to driven grouse moors (see here). A scientific paper published in 2019, using the Government’s own data, demonstrated the unequivocal link between hen harrier persecution and driven grouse shooting (here).

And even in this latest press release from Natural England, we’re told that 15 hen harrier nests failed this year, “including failures subsequently investigated by the police“. How many were investigated? Where were they? How many were on privately-owned grouse moors? What were the outcomes of the police investigations? Why hasn’t there been any publicity about these suspected crimes?

The press release also reveals that since March this year, three more satellite-tagged hen harriers have ‘disappeared’, with at least two of them the subject of police investigations. Why hasn’t there been any publicity about these suspected crimes? I will update my list of dead/missing hen harriers shortly.

It continues to be a source of huge frustration that Natural England will go all-out promoting the ‘good news’ stories about hen harriers but never provides prominence to the ongoing cases of illegal persecution. I’m sure the £75k bung it’s received from the game-shooting industry has absolutely nothing to do with it.

I also note that Natural England’s press release says absolutely nothing about the unspeakable atrocity inflicted on hen harrier Asta, whose wings were torn off so her satellite tag could be fitted to a crow in an attempt to deceive the authorities that Asta was alive and well.

Changed attitudes? I don’t think so.

UPDATE 4th September 2022: Natural England utterly compromised on tackling hen harrier persecution (here)

12 thoughts on “Hen harrier persecution continues amid increased breeding success”

    1. Just about to post this when it popped up, thanks Tim Sarney. The word that came to my mind was disingenuous!

    2. What a piece of utterly self-serving hypocrisy that letter from Dockerty is.

      One hopes the Graun published it to highlight that…

  1. Scandalous – I don’t know who is worse, Unnaturral England or the grouse shooting industry! How can we push for more transparency from NE? National vote of no confidence? Embarrass the buggers into transparency.

    1. What are the political parties saying about this scandalous situation in England? There’s still a point in pushing the Conservative & Unionist party (although they seem to be AWOL, on holiday, up on the moors … erm…). And what about Keir Starmer’s Labour/New Labour Party? What are they doing about raptor persecution? What legislation would they bring in if they got into power to stop the devastation on England’s moors (what have they done in Wales?)
      Or the LibDems? (hmm… I suppose they’d ditch any policies to get in to power with anyone).
      Hmm… not looking good.

      1. Whatever we might thin k it probably low on the agenda for Labour /libs and greens. Tories in bed with the shooting lobby and will do nothing, they have had ample time to show us they care not..

  2. On the tenanted moors with RSPB wardening there was a nest for every 770 hectares and a successful one every 900 ha. On all other grouse moors there was a successful nest for every 22553 ha. that is a 25 times lower density than on RSPB wardened moors.
    This suggests, even taking into account some areas will have a low density because they have just been colonised this year, that whatever we think Hen Harriers nesting on none RSPB wardened grouse moors ought to be in far greater numbers than they are.
    If we turn to the failure rate on RSPB wardened Moors it is 15.4%, whereas on other grouse moors it is 47.6 %. That is a 3 fold difference! Perhaps somebody can explain this without resort to the obvious answer because I cannot.

    1. Paul – thank you for sharing your incredible knowledge.

      I am often hugely impressed with the comments on this blog. This blog is a shining star in a very dark sky.

    2. This RSPB blog (link below) helps provide some context, in detailing the numbers of hen harriers breeding on the United Utilities Bowland Estate in 2022: a third of England’s successful hen harrier breeding population, on one estate! By my reckoning, the UU estate covers about 40% of the Bowland Fells SPA, but apparently has over 87% of the Bowland SPA population!


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