Maybe no harriers in England? Lead poisoning suspected. And a bit of wuthering.

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.


73 Replies to “Maybe no harriers in England? Lead poisoning suspected. And a bit of wuthering.”

    1. Mel – Thank you. Yes I found that but it’s hardly an answer to ‘what the findings were of Natural England’s project to fit hen harriers with radio or satellite transmitters between 2002 and 2012?’. I’ll be phoning a 0830 to ask.

  1. This is absolutely tragic! How can the greenest Government ever let one of the most iconic British birds disappear. I am not a birder but was in awe in seeing them on the Isle of Man one year where they seemed to be doing very well.

    What would be the public and Government’s reaction if this was the osprey or the otter?

    1. Cowboy – an this is a victim of deliberate illegal killing. It’s not a side effect of the way we live and all veruy complicated. it’s veryu simple – people break the law and kill them. It’s shameful, shocking and sad.

  2. Sadly a PHD these days are like environmental assessments. Depends who is the pay master!

  3. Hi Mark. I suspect that he is speaking of the report that accompanied the Natural Press release issued in December 2008. From other direct sources I’m not aware there has been anything else published since then. I note Richard Benyon is beginning to falter in terms of the publication of results, which one assumes will be damning, with at least one Bahama Death Triangle demarcated!! The eventual solution, of course, is a long session camped out at the library of the University of Liverpool which is where I understand said PhD is associated. I’ve banged on about this issue for several days on my Blog ( ) and since hearing Richard Benyon’s reply I shall continue to do so along with other action. I am not reassured!! Polite suggestions aren’t going to solve this problem, but a long , uncompromising campaign, fielding hard edged proposals of what would help to resolve the situation, is needed. Perhaps some of these can be fought through the forthcoming Wildlife Review consultations arising from the Law Commission review besides much other effort besides. Apologies for going on, but this topic incenses me. Good job by Fiona M……….associations with Islay of course!! Best wishes, John.

  4. There may be an issue about pre-empting papers in preparation, or the PhD thesis itself. Or it could be that the findings of the work are inconveniently off Defra’s message.
    On the subject of FOI requests in general – Mark could either get lucky, or be in for a long wait. Obfuscation and delay are the order of the day – a quick check through the climate blogs should confirm this. Think – months, years, legal challenge …

  5. I worked on the HHRP as a fieldworker from 2002 until 2008 and I resigned in disgust at NE’s lack of balls. Throughout the project reports were watered down and the damning evidence was buried. The map you talk of was included in a report by SM but was removed.

  6. You posted yesterday about the extinction of the Golden Toad and today about the local extinction of the Hen Harrier. Both events are truly sad and depressing but the difference is that the toad disappeared for reasons that – to the extent they are understood – are complicated and extremely difficult to wrestle with, being linked to global issues of pollution, deforestation, climate change and so on, whilst the hen harrier’s disappearance is simply due to the selfish and illegal actions of a wealthy minority of people (I am, of course holding the landowners/shoot managers and their clients to be vicariously responsible for the actions of the ‘keepers who I know are not highly paid).
    Of course we should all do whatever we can to prevent further ‘golden toad’ events but realistically that is a huge, long term battle that involves re-balancing the global economy and we shall certainly see more losses along the way in spite of our efforts. By contrast there seems to be no acceptable reason why the illegal persecution visited on raptors by shooting interests in this country should not be stopped in its tracks. It is morally outrageous that anyone should be able to get away with such behaviour in a supposedly civilised country and wealth and influence should not be allowed to trump the law. Please keep up the pressure on the government to bring an end to this disgraceful situation and hopefully we shall, in time, be able to see the Hen Harrier return to the moorlands that it should rightfully occupy.

  7. Hi Mark
    You say that England is just a line on a map. On one side of this line there are hen harriers and on the other there are none. There are gamekeepers and shooting estates on both sides of this line with probably many more in Scotland, so gamekeepers cannot be the main reason for the differences. England has a greater percentage of it’s land down to intensive farming with less hunting ground available for hen harriers. England also has many more hill walkers with associated dogs and also many more birdwatchers. and worse bird photographers. Maybe high human population levels causing excessive disturbance to the breeding and feeding behaviour of hen harrriers could also be a major factor to their decline in England.
    Last week I travelled the A9 road between Perth and Pitlochry and saw 2 hen harriers in the space of an hour and I know that a lot of the moors here are heavily keepered. So what is your explanation for this?.

    1. Hen Harriers will always be attracted to Red Grouse moors because the moors are managed ‘purely’ to produce artificially high numbers of grouse, and gamekeepers will continue to kill them for purely financial reasons for as long as they can get away with it. In the Isle of Man there is a large, healthy and naturally fluctuating population of around 30 pairs of Hen Harriers, despite there being relatively few grouse. Why? – Because there is no driven grouse shooting!!!!

      1. What is the ideal form of moorland management and do we even need any? I suspect we do and a complete absence of it would lead to less biodiversity, carbon loss, extensive wildfires etc. One therefore has to ask how to achieve it and it seems to me that the route to good management has to be through economic interests. We need to recognise the positive side of grouse management while ameliorating the downsides

        1. Giles – we do need to look at the positive and negative sides of grouse moor management, I agree. And we do need a much better understanding of how few (or many) people are responsible for the downsides.

          But everything and everyone is a mixture of good and bad. Just because there is good and bad doesn’t mean, i think you would agree, that the good necessarily coancels out the bad. Perhaps Hitler was a tender lover, great dinner party guest and was very kind to animals but genocide and wagign war is quite a gig negative obn the other side – and were both illegal acts. Drug traficcing, I would imagine, brings some economic benefits to some sections of some local communities – but it’s illegal and highly damaging overall. I came across an interesting article some time ago saying that the Kray twins had been the largest (I think) donors to the Aberfan disaster appeal – people are interesting and complex mixtures.

          Raptor persecution is illegal. People who kill birds of prey may be pillars of their local communities in other respects but they are criminals in this respect.

          1. I don’t disagree with you and exterminating any native species (except possibly ticks and head lice) is a massive conservation failure abd especially tragic with such an iconic species. The Hitler comparision might be slightly awry as if we ranked animals as morally equivalent to people then many conservationists would come out as fascists (genocide against grey squirrels/mink etc)

      2. Fluctuating due to natural causes on the Isle of Man? Why is it so unthinkable that natural causes apply on the mainland as well?

        And what evidence is there for gamekeepers being responsible? The one and only case in the past seven years which was thrown out due to lack of evidence? The out of date study using data from before 2004? The idea that gamekeepers are responsible is nothing more than speculation.

        Hen harriers have not nested on the RSPB’s reserve at Geltsdale since 2006, which was apparently down to natural causes. I don’t suppose a gamekeeper was responsible.

    2. Some facts for you David.
      There have been three national surveys of Hen Harriers in Scotland. The first in 1988/89 estimated a breeding population of 408-594 pairs (Bibby & Etheridge 1993). The second in 1998 located 436 pairs, 76% of UK breeding population (Sim et al . 2001). The third in 2004 revealed an increase to 633 pairs, 79% of the British population (Sim et al . in prep.) and a 32% increase over the 1998 estimate. More surprisingly, this increase was confined solely to the west and far north and that the numbers of breeding pairs in the east and south where grouse-moors are prevalent had all declined.

    3. Some more facts for you David.
      “Recently, some important reviews have quantified the magnitude of hen harrier persecution. For example, Redpath et al. (2010) found that there were records of only 5 successful hen harrier nests on the estimated 3,696 km2 of driven grouse moors in the UK in 2008; an area of habitat estimated to have the potential to support about 500 pairs”.
      Source: A Conservation Framework for Hen Harriers in the United Kingdom
      Fielding, A., Haworth, P., Whitfield, P., McLeod, D. & Riley, H. 2011. A Conservation Framework for Hen Harriers in the United Kingdom. JNCC Report 441. Joint Nature Conservation Committee, Peterborough.

      1. Mal – thank you for this. Quite right. Harriers are practically absent from grouse moors in all parts of the UK. It’s a disgrace. They do best where moors are not managed for the shooting of red grouse. There isn’t really any doubt about what is going on is there?

      2. Mal and mark
        I have read and reread these so called scientific papers. Evidence based on assumptions or suspicions to my mind is far from positive and removes credibility from these papers. For example that 12 adult hen harriers had disappeared from a breeding site under suspicious circumstances is not evidence. Other “evidence” has been based on hearsay such as for example “Someone in a pub told me that birds of prey were being killed at a certain place”. Other “evidence” was based on the fact that other types of birds of prey had been persecuted in an area , so that this must mean that hen harriers had also been persecuted in the same area. Three nests were destroyed by fire and two nests had eggs or chicks removed, which again is not exactly sound evidence of persecution. The difference between the number of potential breeding sites on heather moors and the number of occupied breeding sites is not evidence for hen harrier persecution. Evidence is the numbers of prosecutions for causing hen harrier deaths. I do not know how many of these exist or have been recorded but I would guess that they are few and far between.

        I am quite disappointed in all of these so called scientific papers which are based on so many assumptions and basically are a waste of time and money.

        1. David H – then I don’t thinki you have read the science. What about Dick Potts’s Ibis paper? What about the papers in JAppl Ecol? What about the hen harrier framework paper? I will reference all these again in a blog next week but there was a time, when there were more harriers, when the organisations who had most to gain from the killing of hen harriers admitted that illegal persecution was a massive problem. Nowadays things seem to have slipped back to denial. And the denial looks like hypocrisy to me.

    4. Dave – see Mal’s comments on this post and see the scientific papers on the subject.

  8. Mark,

    I’ve read the news stories (and your blog) on the demise of the hen harrier and the lack of response from Natural England. Neither surprises me. There is no political will to take on the landowners (and given the Minister responsible is also a landowner, it would be like asking for turkeys to vote for Christmas) in the current environment (economic and political). It just ain’t going to happen. I agree, any negotiation with the landowners will be pointless, and even if, even if they agree on paper, they’ll almost certainly renege in practice. As a breeding species in England, under current landownership, they are gone (but not forgotten). Period.

    The way forward needs to be different and more radical. There are two realistic options that I’ve thought of:

    1) An NGO (or more realistically, a conglomerate, led by the RSPB) to buy up land in the uplands and manage this for hen harrier and other wildlife. I am sure that Buglife (who punch far above their weight) would be able to provide a list of invertebrate taxa, working with Butterfly Conservation and the British Dragonfly Society (and others); Plantlife could do the same for the plants and the Wildlife Trusts too. It would fall within the scope (and remit?) of the B-lines project, Futurescapes, and Living Landscapes. This, in my opinion, would be in conservation terms, a practical and pragmatic approach. And as uplands are a good source of water, utility companies should be persuaded to be involved. And they are carbon sinks too – so let’s think about energy and transport companies getting involved.
    2) The Law Commission is reviewing wildlife legislation and is due to report in February 2013. The Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 is woefully out of date (and was much detested by landowners when it was being pushed through Parliament as a private members bill – it held (may even still hold) the record for the number of amendments (c. 2,000 I think) taken to get it through both houses – I mention this as it places some context to the history of nature conservation in the UK – we’re all animal lovers…right?).
    However, there is scope and opportunity to review wildlife legislation with respect to birds and be cleverer about the deterrents in place if a wildlife crime of the scale and nature allegedly perpetuated by the gamekeeping fraternity is committed. For certain species (e.g. Schedule 1), any death caused by illegal poisoning (or the use of an illegal substance such as Carbofuran) on land owned or leased for shooting/ game management should attract a significant fine amounting to a percentage of the total income generated by the Estate for the most recent submitted tax year and/ or a complete ban on any shoots for the following financial year. All stewardship payments will be terminated for a defined period (though I think this latter point exists already). Each subsequent transgression receives a doubling in punishment. The fine(s) will be placed in to a central pot to support the objective in my point 1.

    Is this second point realistic? Well, it places a collective responsibility on the Estate – not just the gamekeeper and not just the landowner. All seek to lose if one commits the crime. The burden of responsibility on the employer increases. However, it doesn’t solve the issue of policing though; and this is where the real crux of the problem lies. This is more tricky, but there is a precedence, in Wales, as I recall. Red kite. I am sure I read as a YOC member that the SAS and the army were used to guard nests as part of their training and on one occasion, an egger got the fright of his life when a grass tussock stood up revealing a soldier brandishing an automatic weapon. I see no reason why the SAS or the army couldn’t do some training on the uplands of England.

    1. Richard – thank you. Very thoughtful and very interesting (as always).

      On 1) – the cost would be 10s of Millions. This isn’t impossible but would be, at best, a considerable drain on conservation resources to be a partial solution to an illegal activity.

      On 2) – we’ll have to see. But time ticks away.

      1. Mark,

        Apologies for the delayed response; I’ve just come back from surveying breeding birds; no hen harrier (not the right habitat); but I did see a hobby.

        I agree with your comment on the costs involved in purchasing land; but perhaps the weight of more than one NGO, combined with business input, could present an incentive? For example, perhaps a transport company could ‘offset’ their CO2 emissions by purchasing hectares of upland moor or contribute towards a lease agreement in partnership with NGOs such as the RSPB and National Trust. Whilst it may be a bitter pill for nature conservation NGOs to swallow, I think it needs to be done anyway. There is some form of precedence (my opinion): Harapan Rainforest in Indonesia. Illegal logging is surely a comparable issue and the RSPB and Indonesia’s equivalent have successfully saved a piece of rainforest from such wanton destruction.

        And I still think that the army should be deployed, if only to see the gamekeepers’ face.

  9. The RSPB, National Parks, Water Companies, National Trust and local councils (eg Sheffield) already own, together, several thousand hectares of the Peak District and Pennines. If they worked together on improving the habitat quality & effective wardening, and got serious committed back up from the Wildlife Crime Units of the Police, then perhaps progress could be made? Needs a few strong leaders to pull it together.
    (forget NE – they have responsibilities AND legislative powers but have never used them).

  10. Too little far too late. Individuals in high places who should have spoken out many years ago chose not to do so, instead choosing to place politics and their jobs and pensions above their principles I am sorry to say.

  11. The Gamekeeping profession are a nasty lot arnt they ?
    Casting my mind back to a pleasurable day last August I remember you and I visiting the head men of the Scottish Gamekeepers Asociation. Now I don’t think after meeting Bert Burnett anyone could call him an untruthful person and his passion for his profession shines through and he and Peter Frazer both told us that Harriers passed through the estates they worked on during the winter often but never nested.
    Further up the road we met the head keeper on Glen Tanner whom was hanging up fifty odd brace of grouse shot that afternoon.
    Glen Tanner have nesting harriers and I was amazed at the photographs of them feeding on the venison he leaves out each day. I remember him saying a golden eagle fed on the site as well.
    Now the visits were not hand picked but rather rushed as I left them as usual for myself to the last minuet.
    Winding up I remember some animosity to some estates however and all managed by one company but I can’t remember the name now !!

    1. Andy – you are quite right. What has happened at Glen Tanar is a shining light for how the future could be and should be. And, as you know, I wrote it up like that in The Field to publicise its success.

      Not all gamekeepers are baddies. Not all grouse moors are baddies. But there isn’t anyone else bumping off these marvellous birds.

      I wish there were more estates like Glen Tanar. Can you name one in England?

  12. Hi Mark,
    Really dire situation for hen harriers in England and not forgetting almost ALL managed grouse moors in Scotland.

    A question that springs to mind – with no breeding harriers on Langholm were do you see this projects future?

    1. Mike – thank you. Yes, although there are hen harriers in Scotland there are hardly any on grouse moors. funny that. And the statutory agencies say that it is because they are bumped off – disgrace!

  13. Can anyone get Chris Packham involved ,he would ruffle a few feathers..pardon the pun

    1. David – I know that Chris does feel very strongly about these issues so it’s not the worst idea. Chris has written the foreword for my book which comes out in August and I know, because he told me, that he particularly appreciated the chapter on raptor persecution.

  14. Have just spent 20 minutes on ‘phone to a very helpful person on NE enquiry line – he gave me two links over the ‘phone and I tried them – both led to “Page not found” messages. He then advised me to put “A future for the hen harrier in England Natural England” into Google and that led me to – which includes a report which says it was uploaded in October 2011. Don’t know if this was the one to which Richard Benyon was referring – maybe I’ll write & ask him?

    It seems a bit odd that their own website doesn’t lead to this but Google does – I did ask whether there was anyone available who could sort out the website – he said he didn’t know – but they had been “warned to expect enquiries about this”!

    1. BlueWren – welcome and thank you. Yes, that’s what the very helpful person to whom I spoke referred as well. but it’s a scant write up of work that started in 2002 isn’t it? I would encourage you to ask the Minister whether that was what he meant – I will too.

  15. Mark – apart from pestering the nice man on the NE Enquiry Line – what do you think we or others should be doing? I know there is already some good work being done by some – and I’ve heard some other people being quite critical that not enough is being done. But it’s easy to criticise … and not so easy to come up with solutions … would love to hear your views on what can be done

  16. Hi Mark,everything seems to have been said a hundred times and we are in the worst position ever I would guess with Hen Harriers in England.
    I do wonder if part of the reason Scotland has H H and England has none is the fact that Scotland has the law Vicarious Liability and England hasn’t.
    When on Mull last September Hen Harriers were not that rare a bird and of course that really made us realise how many we should have in England,at one place we saw a family or maybe a group of 5 all just enjoying themselves flying around in the same area for some time.
    Of course we need the Government to do something but it will take serious pressure from birders to achieve this and I am not sure that some of the people who like birds maybe see BOP as the enemy so to speak as they take small birds from their gardens,of course H H are innocent of this but have the same characteristics of other BOP.
    David Kelly —-I understand that Chris Packham has made sure his support for Chrissie’s e-petition is known.

    1. Dennis,
      I do think a law on vicarious liability is a desirable thing that we should definitely have but sadly it is not a magic bullet that will solve the problem all by itself. Scotland already has such a law but unfortunately still experiences raptor persecution so clearly it can, at best, be just one element of addressing the problem. It is still worth lobbying for though and one benefit of the e-petition reaching the 100,000 signatures threshold would be to trigger a debate in parliament which would be valuable in highlighting the problem to MPs and the wider public even if it was unsuccessful in actually bringing about a change in the law regarding VL.

    2. Dennis – agree completely on the need for England to catch up with Scotland on this issue. But it will help rather than solve the issue. But help is needed!

    3. Hi Dennis,
      a fair question the answer to which itis not vicarious liability that means Scotland has harriers, as does Wales,its that there is suitable habitat that is not grouse moor. They do almost as badly on Scottish grouse moors as they do in England.


  17. I do find it rather odd that statistically breeding Montagu’s Harrier is now more common in England that Hen Harrier (if you can call a few birds more common). Montagu’s get a lot of protection work targetted at them so it stands to reason that Hen Harrier should.

    1. Bob – I’ve never heard that point made before but it’s a good one, thank you.

  18. Why is it that when dealing with government bodies we’re required to make a formal request for information!? Information that should readily available to understand and educate those that care to ask. For example, If I want to know how many confirmed raptor persecution incidents occurred last year in Xshire England, I could call the RSPB and be given an answer, if not immediately, then almost certainly on the same day. Organised and coherent 🙂

    Its a shame to read about your current dealings with NE. The reason I’m compelled to have a minor rant here is that I’ve noted the exact same problem with certain other ‘Defra arm’, whilst trying to help a colleague who works for EIA, another great NGO. The query was simple enough, how many convictions have the government regulators achieved under the relevant regs in relation to UK exports of electrical ‘waste’ to the third world for (I would say ‘reprocessing’, I actually mean) ‘disposal’. After several weeks I got an answer “as a favour”.. However, I was reminded that should I pass this information on any further without another formal FoI and fee, then on my head be it..

    The moral of my little rant is that we don’t need a FoI request for clear cut evidence that this government, top down, simply isn’t doing enough in an organised and coherent way to protect the environment anywhere near as much as is needed. 🙁

    1. 770yd1n5pac3 – or may I call you 770? Welcome and thank you for a well made point.

  19. For a number of years a token pair or two of harriers have been left alone on England’s grouse moors. These birds apparently justifying continuing platitudes about the benefits of grouse moor management. Maintaining this rather dismal status quo might have made a lot more sense for those representing the grouse shooting industry.

    My only hope is that the harrier’s possible extinction and government’s own goal in dealing with the issue – their total silence and refusal to comment stimulating far more interest and exposing vested interests – might actually move things forwards?

  20. I wonder if in some cases our existing laws would do just as well as one of vicarious liability. Companies are wont to attempt to escape liability for anything that happens on their watch by claiming that it was down to the actions or failings of individual employees and not to any official company policy. However, if it can be proved that there was a “Directing Mind” at work, then the company would be deemed responsible.

    1. Peter – thank you for your comment. I thought it prudent to remove the last part of your comment although I take to heart what you wrote. The difficulty is indeed proving a ‘directing mind’. Vicarious liability is not ‘the’ solution – clearly it isn’t. However, I amsurprised that gamekeepers themselves do not argue for it – maybe they do behind the scenes (I would if I were them). I’m also surprised that the Labour Party does not promote it in this case.

  21. There are those who will say NE, RSPB and others have failed these birds but lets look at the facts.
    Since 2002 under the Hen Harrier recovery project 1 we protected nests—– so they killed the males whilst they were away hunting. Then they started to kill them as soon as they held territory before nesting. Or ran a dog through the nest to make it look like fox predation.

    2 So they were radio and satellite tagged——– so they preferentially killed those without wing tags or backpacks at winter roosts.

    3 People tried to monitor roosts——– so the keepers went back on filthy mid week nights and killed them, sometimes using night scopes and sights in complete darkness.
    Out here away from Bowland, Ive seen in the last few years a keeper on a public road suddenly stop leap out gun in hand and crouch behind the roadside bank but the harrier veered away before it was in shooting distance. I’ve seen another keeper sitting at an old traditional roost gun in hand when everyone locally knew there was a harrier about, fortunately she didn’t roost that night.

    Without huge enforcement effort and a change of attitude by those who command the keepers it may be a very up hill struggle….

    I’ve been involved to some degree with harriers since I was a schollboy nearly 50 years ago ( harriers have been unsuccessfully trying to colonise my home county of north yorkshire for most of those 50 years!) and it has actually got worse recently but we should ensure our anger at this drives us forward we must not dispare.

    Paul v Irving


    1. Paul – that’s very powerful. I think I should point out that some of what you say in points 1-3 seem to me to be your opinions as to what has happened rather than facts. And when you refer to ‘they’ I must assume that you mean a small number of people rather than everyone in the uplands, or every shooting estate or every gamekeeper.

      I have slightly edited yourr comment by ending a sentence with a row of dots rather than how you ended it.

      Your personal observations are fascinating – of a keeper crouching behind a wall or waiting at a roost. Those observations will bring it home to some people not so closely involved in the issue what is happening in the uplands.

    2. Mark, 60% of nests in the Dales failed when males disappeared during incubation.
      Then Pairs disappeared whilst site selecting or building, none this happens in no driven grouse shooting Wales. Tagging shows many birds go cold” or disappear whilst roosting. The suppositions I contend are reasonable. The reference to a particular estate removal is fine, although the head keeper has said semi publicly his task is the make the area raptor free.


  22. Skipped through the other comments as most are emotional claptrap.
    Just watching Snatch on TV and in the words of Bricktop your English harriers on a gunmakers company are proper Fu***d !!

  23. For many years now, the vast majority of crimes against raptors have went unpunished and even the few events that do result in criminal convictions, the derisory sentences that the perpetrators always receive fills me with a great deal of anger.

    Citing inadmissable evidence is a very common practice and even video evidence is often ignored by the courts (I often wonder how that would work in a murder case!), but in a hypothetical scenario I have often thought what the punishment would be for a poacher, if that poacher was to enter land and bag a few brace of grouse (or pheasants) for himself. Would it simply be thrown out of court with the offender receiving no punishment? Somehow, I don’t think it would.

    See the following link and judge for yourself how Scottish courts dealt with this fairly innocuous individual and then compare that with seneces passed down for the plethora of illegal gamekeeping activities and wildlife crimes over the years.

  24. I read David H’s ideas suggesting it’s not illegal persecution causing HH extinction in England. From my own experience in the North Yorks Moors where they’ve never managed to breed successfully in recent times, spring birds prospecting nesting areas were frequent but woe betide those that occassionally stayed and tried to breed – they were quickly dealt with, and it was well known in the land management community that that was what was happening.

    There’s a simple of way of testing all the theories – simply stop grouse shooting for a decade. there’s little doubt in my mind which way HH populations in England will go.

    1. Thats the best idea yet Roderick, ban grouse shooting for 10 years and lets see what happens. How do we start an epetition? Alternatively the ban starts in 5 years time if the english hen harrier population does not reach a bench mark in that period.

  25. I think your idea is even better, Phil – it’s interesting that whenever something like this happens everyone says ‘what is Government doing ?’ Surely the question here, really, is what is shooting doing ? I also think everyone should be thinking about vicarious liability – I actually feel rather sorry for the keepers who are pressured by the sort of very rich, very powerful people who simply won’t take no for an answer – its the owners who really need to be in the frame. It wasn’t that long ago that nemployers coul;d slip out from under injuries to employees ‘it was their own fault’. Not any more – why for shooting estates, then ?

  26. It seems apparent that a huge cultural shift is required amongst the gaming fraternity so question is by whom and how do we bring this about?
    Furthermore tougher legislation would help.
    One suggestion: Any Person proven guilty of kiling or intentionally wounding any endangered species should not be permitted to maintain employment within or near to where these species frequent and be automatically jailed.

    1) Dog owners who are cruel get banned from keeping dogs.
    2)Drug dealers get their property, money and belongings confiscated and they are jailed.
    3) Persons shooting or poisoning BOP get fined a few hundred quid at most and maintain their current job and comfortable standard of living.
    I bet unscrupulous Gamekeepers shiver in their tweedy plus fours each time they go for the strychnine or whatever toxic substance they get hold of.

    Positive action is needed and quicker than fast.

  27. I think we might have to wait a long time for any such cultural shift to occur among the forelock-tuggers. There was someone on Countryfile the other week still defending the actions of the gamekeepers at the Kinder Trespass – eighty years ago and counting. As a member of LIPU UK I am only too aware of the struggles of our parent body to alter the mediaeval mindset of the Calabrian shooters of raptors on passage across the Straits of Messina (happily much improved now on the Sicilian side). There is apparently a belief that if you shoot a Honey Buzzard it guards you against being cuckolded – it must be like trying to talk to the Taliban. To my mind, anyone who shoots a Honey Buzzard, or a Hen Harrier for that matter, DESERVES to be cuckolded, for preference at the same hour.

  28. ” This male bird and two satellite tagged chicks from the two 2011 nests at Langholm have been followed through 2011″.
    “Signals from all three birds have now ceased,one in the Scottish Borders and two in Northern France”.
    “As no remains or tags have been retrieved it is not possible to establish the fate of the Harriers”.
    Who knows Mark and Mel, maybe the French Grouse keepers or English keepers traveled to Scotland to kill those harriers!!! I think not, maybe more homework is needed on your behalf instead of taking the easy scape goat route.

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