The RSPB report today that 2011 saw only four successful pairs of hen harriers in England.
This is a clear failure of the UK (predominantly English) government to implement the EU Birds Directive. Article 1.1 of the Directive makes clear that it applies to all native species. Article 1.2 of the Directive makes it clear that the Directive applies to the birds, their eggs, nests and habitats. Article 2.1 requires Member States to maintain the population of species at levels which correspond to ecological, scientific and cultural requirements. What might that mean I wonder?
Well, my cultural requirements are that there are a lot more hen harriers in England because I like them, they are part of my cultural heritage, I want to see them, I want to enjoy them and I gain great satisfaction from knowing that they are there, being beautiful, even if I don’t see them.
But don’t just take my word for it, government has already decided that the English uplands are important for hen harriers – the hen harrier is one of the reasons why large areas of upland England are designated as Special Protection Areas under the same Birds Directive. The following two sites were designated partly on the basis of their hen harrier populations in the 1990s: Bowland Fells (8 pairs of hen harriers), North Pennine Moors (11 pairs of hen harriers).
Government figures suggest that the English hen harrier population inside and outside of SPAs should be over 300 pairs and so the English Government is failing under Article 5 of the Directive to take the requisite measures to establish a general system of protection for all species of birds referred to in Article 1, prohibiting in particular:
(a) deliberate killing or capture by any method; (b) deliberate destruction of, or damage to, their nests and eggs
or removal of their nests; (d) deliberate disturbance of these birds particularly during the
period of breeding and rearing, in so far as disturbance would be significant having regard to the objectives of this Directive. Unless of course, it is meant that it’s OK to set up a general system of protection but you don’t have to enforce it or implement it even when a protected species is close to national extinction.
Article 4 of the Directive refers to species, like the glorious hen harrier, on Annex 1 of the Directive which require special measures to be taken as follows: The species mentioned in Annex I shall be the subject of special conservation measures concerning their habitat in order to ensure their survival and reproduction in their area of distribution. In this connection, account shall be taken of: (a) species in danger of extinction; (c) species considered rare because of small populations or restricted local distribution. Well the hen harrier is in danger of extinction in England and is considered rare and restricted and so special measures should be taken within its habitat to stop people bumping it off.
Generally the hen harrier has been selected in the Directive as one of the species requiring special measures and SPAs have been identified to help to protect it. Those SPAs are failing the hen harrier because people are bumping them off despite the general system of paper protection given to this and other species. The English government has signed up to the Directive, it has recognised some areas as being important for hen harriers and yet it has not made the site protection or legal protection measures work well enough even to maintain the hen harrier at its very low levels when the sites were designated and there now exists evidence to show that the hen harrier population in England should be over 300 pairs.
I give the Government four marks out of 320 for their abject failure in implementing the Birds Directive to protect the hen harrier.
One small step that hen harrier lovers everywhere could make would be to sign this epetition asking the English Government to dop what Scotland has already done and create an offence of vicarious liability for employers whose employees break the law which is supposed to protect birds of prey like the hen harrier.