Following my blog on Thursday I did phone the NE helpline to ask where I could find the information promised by their Minister, Richard Benyon, in his Parliamentary reply (see Thursday’s blog to catch up on this subject – and read the comments there too). The people I spoke to were very helpful and mentioned that I wasn’t the first person to be asking about this subject – so I directed them towards my blog.
I received an email later in the day asking whether this report was what I was after, to which I had to reply that they would have to ask their Minister that question, but if this was all they could find then it probably was.
This report is a good report – its title is particularly good; A future for the hen harrier in England? The question mark is of great importance here as last week’s news suggests that the answer to the question might be ‘No’ and I notice that the question mark falls off in other mentions of the report on NE’s website (funny that).
It was refreshing to read what the government’s nature conservation advisor in England (those were the days when NE was much more than a ‘delivery body’ for government) said then about the hen harrier. Here are some quotes:
- evidence of persecution is irrefutable
- we have observed masked and/or armed individuals in the vicinity of nest and roost sites and recorded activities likely to disturb birds at or near their nests
- we have nevertheless found direct evidence that Hen Harriers have been persecuted
- we have, for instance, been looking into the disappearance of six Hen Harriers at an autumn roost known to us in the northern uplands. The anecdotal evidence of deliberate persecution given to us in confidence by a local land manager correlates with the information provided by the last known location of a number of birds that were being radio-tracked by project staff
- a number of birds, including six birds fitted with satellite transmitters have been tracked from the Bowland Fells into parts of the North Pennines managed principally as driven grouse moors, and have not been recorded subsequently
- in three incidents nests had been destroyed by illegal burning
- we have also come across eight instances where other birds of prey have been shot, poisoned or disappeared on sites where Hen Harriers have been observed
It probably just slipped the Minister’s mind to mention any of that in his Parliamentary answer.
I have a lot of time for Richard Benyon, I encountered him many times whilst I worked for the RSPB, and I remember him saying some very nice things about me when he heard I was leaving the RSPB, for which I thanked him at the time (and thank him again here), but is he looking like a biodiversity minister when he deals with these issues or does he look like a fellow grouse moor owner?
Mr Benyon is a past trustee of the Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust although it was quite a long time ago (1994-97) (as is another of his fellow Defra Ministers, James Paice; from 2003-09) and I would put £100 up to 1p that the GWCT has members, supporters and funders with grouse moor interests in the north of England (those are odds of 10,000 to 1 on).
Mr Benyon himself appears to have some grouse moor interests. In the Register of Members’ Interests he properly declares ‘rural land and property in Inverness-shire’ and this appears to be at Glenmazeran. Glenmazeran is an estate which has signed up to being against bird of prey persecution which is good to see. And a Richard Benyon from Glenmazeran isn’t terribly keen on windfarms we discover (at least, not in his back yard). You can go and stay at Glenmazeran Lodge for a spot of flyfishing and grouse shooting.
And so it may come as little surprise that Mr Benyon is not keen on the idea of vicarious liability for land owners (but I am – please sign up here). And we still await Defra’s response to my FoI and EIR request for information about any role (there may be none) that Mr Benyon played in the Walshaw Moor affair.
I wonder whether Mr Benyon has been shown the map of hen harrier movements from the NE study. I’d like to see this map please. Just a map of final resting locations of harriers whose transmitters ceased to work would be interesting enough given that we are told that some of them which were being satellite tracked disappeared in grouse moor areas. Which grouse moor areas were these, please? Can we, the funders of this research, please see the map?
The point is, Minister, you didn’t properly answer Fiona O’Donnell’s question did you? You didn’t mention disappearance of birds. You actually said that hen harriers wander around and then return to breed – are you sure that is entirely truthful? Don’t some of them end up legs-up in the heather of grouse moors? Your answer was misleading in my opinion simply on the basis of what the report actually says. I am sure you did not mean to mislead, and you may not ever have seen the report yourself and you may not realise that the report had such a lot of mentions of illegal persecution but you didn’t mention it at all.
But the report itself was pretty guarded in what it said. It is now time for NE and Defra to be more open about what that study suggests is happening to hen harriers and where it is happening. Did the tracked harriers all disappear while flying over TESCO car parks – if so we should be told as TESCO sites are clearly very dangerous for them? Did the hen harriers tend to disappear over Forestry Commission woodland – if so we should be told as this gives us a strong clue about the reasons for the declining population of the hen harrier in England? Or do the hen harriers tend to disappear when flying over grouse moors, or even some particular grouse moors?
Come clean please, Minister, on what that NE study actually found.