Everyone loves the Hen Harrier – don’t they?

Photo: Tim Melling
Photo: Tim Melling

The science suggests that there should be a lot more Hen Harriers in the UK uplands than there are at the moment.

Let’s just take Scotland for the moment.  The science says there should be c1650 pairs (I have taken the central point of an estimate and then rounded it) in Scotland on the basis of the available habitat.

How many are there? In 2010 there were 489 compared with 633 in the previous survey of 2004.

489 is not very close to 1650, and 489 is less than 633. That doesn’t look like progress to me.


Let’s move to England. The science says (though it’s a bit less reliable here, I would say) that there should be c330 pairs (again, in round numbers – I’ve always thought this a bit on the high side but I may be wrong).

How many are there? In 2010 there were 12 pairs compared with 11 in 2004 (woohoo!) and those figures look enormous compared with the 2 pairs last year (2013 ) and unverified reports of only 2 pairs this year too.

2 is not very close to 330, and 2 is less than 11. That doesn’t look like progress to me.

The HH is clearly having a rough time of it. Away from grouse moors, in Wales and Northern Ireland, HH are doing pretty well. Funny that.

In Scotland, most of the missing HH should be living in areas dominated by driven grouse shooting.  In the English uplands, the landscape is dominated by areas managed for driven grouse shooting.  HH hung on in places like United Utilities land in Lancashire, and, rather tenuously, on the RSPB nature reserve at Geltsdale for longer than most but they eventually petered out, or almost so, too.

Illegal persecution by grouse moor interests has more or less wiped out the HH from grouse moors across the UK – the RSPB said in 2011 that there had been only 5 successful pairs of HH on grouse moors across the UK (and there should have been about 500 pairs!).  And, because of the biology of the bird (being a bit like thick soup – see yesterday’s blog) persecution of grouse moors reduces the population across non-grouse moor areas too. As does illegal killing at winter roosts too.

But everyone loves the Hen Harrier don’t they?

When I asked BASC Chairman Richard Ali how many HH he would like to see  in the English uplands he said 250 – but I don’t really think he meant it. I’m sure his members, those involved in grouse shooting anyway, wouldn’t sign up to that number. But that was what BASC said they wanted. If they would like to correct that statement then they are welcome to let me know and I’ll tell you all about it.

How many HH would the Moorland Association like to see in the uplands of England? I think we should be told.

How many HH would the GWCT like to see in the uplands of England? I think we should be told.

How many HH would DEFRA like to see in the uplands of England? I think we should be told.

How many HH would Natural England like to see in the uplands of England? I think they will be told by DEFRA!

How many HH would the RSPB like to see in the uplands of England? I think we should be told.

How many HH would the Countryside Alliance like to see in the uplands of England? I think we should be told.

How many HH would the Peak District NP like to see in their area? I think we should be told.

How many HH would the North Pennines AONB like to see in their area? I think we should be told.

How many HH would the North York Moors NP like to see in their area? I think we should be told.

How many HH would the Yorkshire Dales NP like to see in their area? I think we should be told.

How many HH would the National Trust like to see in the uplands of England? I think we should be told.

How many HH would the Northumberland NP like to see in their area? I think we should be told.

How many HH would the CLA like to see in the uplands of England? I think we should be told.

Thirteen organisations – how many will answer the question do you think?

And if they did, which they won’t, how wide would be the spread of the answers?

You might wonder what my answer would be – I’ll tell you when half of the organisations above have given us their answers, or when I think it would be fun to tell you, or when this e-petition reaches 5000 signatures, or on 12 August 2014 – whichever is sooner.

Please sign my e-petition to ban driven grouse shooting – if you do, it may get to 3000 signatures before I wake up tomorrow morning for Day 10 of its existence. Thank you to all who have signed already – please get a friend to sign too.




18 Replies to “Everyone loves the Hen Harrier – don’t they?”

  1. How many hen harriers would the Duke of Westminster like to see in the English uplands?

  2. Hi Mark, Good stuff. Keep it up. Might be good to include a weblink to the Petition in the last paragraph. You probably intended to do so but certainly worth making it as easy as possible for people to sign. Especially for busy people who are supportive but don’t have capacity to search for links. Just a thought.

  3. Hi Mark,

    I hate all this HH killing as much as the next birder even if, at an international level, 1000 pairs of HH are a drop in the ocean. I haven’t signed your petition yet, although I might before 12/8. Out of curiosity, what do YOU think the effect of the end of driven grouse shooting (as well as, to all intents and purposes, the end of muirburn and the control of abundant generalist mesopredators such as crows and foxes) would be on a number of things:

    a) upland waders
    b) rare grouse (Black & Caper)
    c) sheep stocking rates on former grouse-moors
    d) deer numbers
    e) afforestation rates
    f) rural employment in the affected areas

    While I’m with you on various issues (such as vicarious risponsibility for landowners w/r to their employees) I’m genuinely unsure about the overall costs and benefits to ending driven grouse.



    1. Paul – I’m glad you are thinking about it. That’s what I believe I have done, and that’s what everyone should do. Look with care at both sides of the argument.

      Some, but not all, of the answers to your questions are on tomorrow evening’s blog. Others can come over the next few days, weeks months. I’d like you to sign the e-petition of course, but I’d also like people to think more deeply about the issues.

    2. “rural employment in affected areas”

      No disrespect to you Paul but this issue always tickles me, much as it did when the Hunting Ban came into effect and the green tweed brigade were crying all over the place. Were they bothered in the slightest when all the Pits, Steelworks and Shipyards closed ? Do they give a shit when another NHS Hospital bites the dust ? I do not think so somehow…..

    3. There is no doubt that the wildlife will rebalance as the habitats re-establish. It will be very difficult to predict how this change will progress as the succession gets back on track…I am most concerned about the non-mobile species which have been extinguished…the vegetation (I know some people don’t count plants as wildlife but they are!). There may be a need to give them a help (through funding and policy).
      Re the grazing and afforestation… well these are both subject to the constraints of public policy…if the public want to re-wild the moor its not likely that they will enable the destruction of that self-same moor through agricultural or forestry policy/funding.
      Having said that joining up public policy is always a challenge.

      The main thing that gives me the confidence to be unconcerned- is that we are talking about a large group of native species which nature intended to live together(and the have being doing this for thousands of years).

  4. Wouldn’t it be great if everyone did love them,doubt the majority of people would think it probably a R.A.F. aircraft if that name was mentioned,even today’s birders seem disinterested in raptors.
    Sincerely hope your hard work gets success.

    1. Dennis – many thanks. How many friends have you asked to sign the e-petition so far? Obviously, I don’t have any friends otherwise I would do the same.

  5. Well just ask any that are likely but have been surprised by lack of interest even from birders.Twitter seems to be the place everything gets done on now.
    I did put it on rspb forum which I have said I was appalled at response,think rspb would stop any staff from doing anything and while I can say what I think and they can do little to worry me the staff are not in that position so if they do rule with a iron rod then they are back in the dark ages,slavery next.
    Think you are doing great as we know how hard it is to get 10,000 without the backing of a large organisation unless it is for a cuddly animal.

  6. As regards your teasing reference to your own aspirations, I’m sorry to be a spoilsport, but I do remember you saying on Twitter last year that, for you, 25 pairs and an expectation of more would show good faith. That seemed to me then to be sensible, realistic and feasible – and it still does. I know that you have personally lost patience with moor owners – hence your petition – and it is clear that the majority of your contributors on this site share your disillusionment. But I wonder if you stand by what you openly postulated last year.

    Much will depend of course on what the Defra-led discussions deliver in terms of a Joint Action or Recovery Plan.

    I’ve been frankly astonished that you haven’t made any reference to that in any of your posts this week (even this morning’s) – apart from one or two flippant replies to Andrew Gilruth of GWCT. I thought it was particularly odd that you didn’t mention it in your open letter to Steve Ormerod of the RSPB, which after all remains one of the key stakeholders involved in the conflict resolution process. I can only assume that Professor Ormerod and your former colleagues are not only insistent that there must be an increase in the population of hen harriers but also attach more weight than you do to the conservation and economic benefits that grouse moor management brings to the uplands.

    1. Lazywell – as you will have noticed, I don’t know what is in the so-called Joint, so-called Action Plan but I do hear that it is not nearly as close to agreement as GWCT keep saying it is. The RSPB is keeping very quiet about it (although to be fair, they are keeping very quiet about everything really). ‘You lot’ seem to treat it as your invisible friend – loved by you and talked about by you, but nobody else has ever seen it… I’ll let you know what I think if it becomes solid.

      I can imagine that any plan might have some focus on how many HH it might allow to survive. So, how many would GWCT like to see? We know that BASC want 250 (ha-ha!). Would GWCT like to go higher or lower?

      25 pairs seems a long, long way away. And an expectation of more is even further away. And there are a lot of other reasons why we might want to cease driven grouse shooting as a land use. Maybe you’ve missed the boat through moorland managers being so intolerant of HH (as in a previous blog). Maybe many of us can see no good faith being demonstrated when the HH is pushed almost to the point of extinction as an English breeding species – through criminal behaviour. Maybe we just can’t give grouse shooters the benefit of any doubt any more. Maybe your mates have blown it. Maybe the RSPB will think the same…

      1. At least the RSPB are still engaging. In light of what you appear to regard as your unanswerable case it just struck me as strange that you didn’t challenge Steve Ormerod on why the RSPB remain at the table. They did walk away from the Environment Council process for reasons which were never altogether clear; but they haven’t seen fit to abandon this one.

        As for what might be in a possible Joint Action/Recovery Plan, you will I’m sure have seen the recent GWCT blog on the point: http://gamewildlife.blogspot.co.uk/2014/06/defra-about-to-save-hen-harriers.html#.U5GweigqZ4E

        I see that the National Gamekeepers Organisation have committed to it; also the Moorland Association. I understand the RSPB did waver for a while about the principle of a Brood Management Scheme (once the recovery reaches that stage), but even regarding that I believe they are now onside. You will recall that it was essentially an idea first put forward many years ago by Dick Potts of the then GCT, which has more recently been modified by Professor Steve Redpath, surely one of our most thoughtful and independent minded raptor ecologists.

        All this strikes me as genuine and constructive progress. Why can’t you see the merit in it, rather than constantly pursuing such a disproportionately damaging and divisive stance?

        1. Lazywell – I don’t criticise the RSPB for remaining at the table – after all I kept us at the Environment Council table for longer than was worthwhile.

          I suspect if I were witnessing what goes on in those meetings I would be criticising others for essentially defending criminal activity – but I’m not in the room so I’m only guessing.

          The fact that the Moorland Ass, NGO and GWCT are very keen on this plan certainly tells the rest of us that it cannot be too tough. But then, we are talking about it as though it is a ‘plan’. It looks like a list of headings to me. I guess the RSPB is keen that the details are right and they are finding it difficult to persuade the others in the room. But how would I know?
          I’m glad you find the 3000+ signatures on the e-petition so worrying. How many might there be by the Inglorious 12th?

          By the way, how many HH would you like there to be in England? What’s the plan?

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