The news that there may be no hen harriers nesting in England this year is sad but this day, if it has come, was going to come soon.
Of course, extinction in England is a bit of an odd thing as England is ‘just’ a line on a map and on other sides of that line, in Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales, and indeed France and elsewhere on the continent of Europe, there are harriers flying around not realising that their English brethren have gone ‘extinct’.
It’s not the last one that matters, except symbolically, it’s the fact that there should be a few hundred hen harriers in northern England that matters – because even in the good years in the last couple of decades the best recorded numbers have been in the low double figures rather than low treble figures.
It’s the hundreds of missing hen harriers that is the outrage not the loss of the last one.
The RSPB has called for action from government to include a plan endorsed by landowning and shooting organisations. Well, that would be nice. But it isn’t going to happen in my opinion as we’ve all been around this circle many times before. RSPB is going to need to come up with something a bit more imaginative than that, I fear.
And, by the way, whatever happened to those radio-tagged hen harriers that Natural England was tracking? Where did they all end up? May we see a map please? Has the Minister, Richard Benyon, seen the map? Does he recognise any of the estates on the map? Has he ever gone grouse shooting on any of the estates on the map? Did the last hen harrier fly out of England with the map in its talons instead of a fistful of grouse?
We know the answers to some of these questions because the Minister, Richard Benyon, was asked a Parliamentary Question earlier this week by Fiona O’Donnell MP:
Fiona O’Donnell:To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs what the findings were of Natural England’s project to fit hen harriers with radio or satellite transmitters between 2002 and 2012; and if she will place in the Library any reports on this project submitted to her Department.
Richard Benyon: Natural England has undertaken intensive studies of the movements of hen harriers since 2002, as part of its hen harrier recovery project. The preliminary results have already been published in a report available on Natural England’s website and I have arranged for a copy of the report to be placed in the Library of the House. This was based on the results of tracking 106 English-born hen harriers fitted with radio or satellite transmitters in the period 2002-08. This work showed that hen harriers travel over large distances and some individuals range widely over both upland and lowland areas before returning to traditional upland heather moorland sites to breed. Since 2007 a further 13 birds have been fitted with radio or satellite transmitters as part of a PhD study of the hen harrier in England, part-funded by Natural England. The data collected from tracking these birds are currently being analysed. The work will be published as part of a PhD thesis and, if appropriate, submitted for publication in a peer-reviewed scientific journal.
Fiona O’Donnell: To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs what steps her Department has taken to reduce persecution of hen harriers under the Wildlife Crime Priority for raptor persecution.
Richard Benyon: DEFRA co-chairs the UK wildlife crime tasking and co-ordinating group, where it has supported the inclusion of raptor persecution as a wildlife crime priority for the last four years. The hen harrier is one of six priority species for wildlife crime action.
In 2011 DEFRA stepped up its involvement by participating in the police-led raptor persecution wildlife crime priority delivery group. The group’s objective is to raise, community trust and awareness to encourage intelligence and incident reporting, which should in turn lead to prevention and enforcement activity for raptor persecution.
I’ve looked on the Natural England website and I can’t find anything meaningful about this study. I may be looking in the wrong places – all I did was go to their website and put ‘hen harrier radiotracking’ into the search engine there so I could easily have missed a study which radiotracked hen harriers. I’ll have to phone the Natural England enquiry line, Telephone: 0845 600 3078 (local rate), between 0830 and 1700 tomorrow to ask them to point me in the right direction. If you are interested in this subject then you might want to do the same.
My guess, is that the NE study shows that a lot of birds disappear, or their transmitters cease to function, in areas managed primarily for shooting, mostly grouse shooting, in the north of England. It’s only a guess of course, and it could be that there is something in the air that prevents the transmitters from working in such places – my guess would be lead. But it’s just a guess and I can easily be proved wrong by a map. Let’s see the map, please.
And while I am at it, I’d like to remind NE that while they said that they needed another 20 days to fulfill my FoI requests I can’t see any reason why they couldn’t have put a few reports in the post quite some time ago and I expect them to arrive tomorrow. I shall be making a formal complaint on their lack of fulfilment of any of my request if these documents do not arrive by the end of the week. Sorry – but you are, in my opinion, just mucking me about.