Four marks out of 320 for grouse moor managers

The RSPB report today that 2011 saw only four successful pairs of hen harriers in England.

There should be around 320 pairs of hen harriers in the English uplands.

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.

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15 Comments

  1. What I fail to understand here, if the RSPB really wish to help the hen harrier, and I am sure they do, why have they failed so far to get behind and support the e-petition’s objectives? Two million members’ votes would go a long way to ensuring the petition reached the 100,000 signatures required sooner rather than later. Why was this important detail omitted from this hen harrier press release I wonder?

    Like everyone else involved in raptors and their conservation the RSPB are only too aware that if landowners really wished to bring a halt to the persecution of harriers on England’s uplands they could easily do so; clearly the scientific evidence demonstrates estate landowners support what is taking place by their failure to act, hence the need for Vicarious Liability.

    Terry Pickford, North West Raptor Protection Group

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    • Richard Ebbs

      I am very surprised that Terry Pickford hasn't read Martin Harper's blog today. As the current RSPB Conservation Director he strongly advocates the introduction of vicarious liability in England and urges all those who have not yet done so to sign the epetition.

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      • Mark

        Richard - yes he does and the RSPB have been tweeting this recently too. Let's hope a wider appeal to the membership follows - I would imagine it will.

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  2. Maybe this is one of the powers that Cameron plans to repatriate? I'm sure there are many in the current government that would be happy being able to ignore the birds directive permanently, not least The Chancellor.
    The RSPB have called on game estates to take up diversionary feeding in their latest press release. Whilst the results of the Langholm study justify this there is no mention of the critical factor - funding. Unless someone steps in to fund this can we really expect the 'problem' estates to take it seriously as a viable alternative to their stocks of carbofuran and lead shot?

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  3. Dennis Ames

    Nothing to add Mark,it has all been said so many times and we seem no nearer a solution.This however must be one thing we agree 100% on.
    Do think the RSPB should have given this petition much more publicity.One problem we had was that it would not let OH sign as we have just one e-mail address.

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    • Mark

      Dennis - let's wait and see whether the RSPB fits promotion of this epetition into their work over the next few months - there is plenty of time. It's not as easy as people may think to organise these things alongside everything else. Let's be patient.

      Good point abouit the email addresses - I hadn't thought of that (of course it applies to all such things but it is a good point).

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  4. Roderick leslie

    There's only one positive in this - the one estate in Bowland - I assume it is United Utilities and if so I would like to thank them for preventing HH becoming completely extinct in England. It does them credit.

    I find it really scary and horrifying that it is not the uncontrollable Grey Squirrel finishing off the Red's despite the best efforts of so many people, nor a woodland butterfly species wiped out by lack of management but a large, dramatic bird where we know exactly where it should be living and the precise, and controllable, reason why it isn't. I think this situation is putting the future of grouse shooting far more at risk than Hen Harriers ever did. There has not been a concerted movement against shooting in this country yet - the extinction of Hen harrier in England could well be the trigger. I'd suggest its time shooting interests really addressed this - it is their, not RSPB's, responsibility - before public opinion swings against them.

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    • Mark

      Roderick - I agree with almost everything that yopu post here so i don't always bother to say so - but, I agree! And good point to thank United Utilities at Bowland.

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  5. Dennis Ames

    How about making it law that estates with no Hen Harriers have Grouse shooting banned.

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  6. Stella

    Why should the vast majority have to 'fund' shooters NOT to kill our native wildlife? It's now illegal to smoke to public places - no one has offered me funding to ensure I do don't break the law. The shooting estates are well able to fund themselves - think of the money they will save by not buying illegal poisons and gamekeepers time saved on not having to spend all spring and summer setting poison baits, checking for dying raptors and then 'getting rid of the grisly evidence'. As an example - one estate charged £1000 per Woodcock the other year [another bird that is desperately in need of protection from greedy guns] - so don't tell shooting estates are in need of extra funding.

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  7. Paul v Irving

    The whole situation for harriers is utterly appalling and despite the best efforts of many has only got worse, yes we should all sign the petition and encourage others to do so. But it may be too little too late, I for one think that we should lay the blame in two places, primarily at the door of grouse shooting, many of whom are still in denial about the whole issue of persecution. they have had far too many chances untaken to solve this. no we should not fund supplementary feeding they should.
    then there is the whole SPA/SSI thing the failure to support and make this work lies with government and especially NE and DEFRA constantly giving mixed signals ( Helen Phillips praising keepers for their contribution to biodiversity. The fudging of the state of moorland SSSIs, poor burning agreements and no supervision of them, HLS money to moor owners with no harriers or peregrines. The failure of the environment council process to so far ( 6 years?) to deliver any change.

    If the harrier goes grouse shooting should go.

    UU aside most estates stand condemned for inaction if not the persecution.

    Should we go to the EU with this all of us together? to change the secene at this late stage will be very difficult and remember most persecution takes place in the winter.

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    • Mark

      Paul - thank you

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  8. This is definitely the basis for any complaint to the EU in my view.

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  9. Cumbria Will

    Just playing devi's advocate here, but how many of the 4 successful pairs were on RSPB reserves?

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    • Mark

      Cumbria Will - none at all.

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