Natural England – are you still there?

Photo: Kositoes via wikimedia commons
Photo: Kositoes via wikimedia commons

Natural England – for people, for places, for nature.

NE, you have been studying Hen Harriers through satellite-tagging for 12 years and yet despite a hard-hitting report A Future for the Hen Harrier in England (2008) you have remained strangely silent about the worsening status of the Hen Harrier in England for six years.

In that report you point squarely at criminal behviour as being the main problem facing the Hen Harrier:

‘Whilst evidence of persecution is irrefutable, it should be noted there is no proof linking incidents to particular individuals, as proven by the lack of successful prosecutions. This in no way diminishes the effect of criminality. We believe that whilst illegal killing continues to be a widespread activity both in this and in
neighbouring countries, the prospects for the Hen Harrier’s return to its former range and numbers unaided are slight.’

Why is my national statutory wildlife conservation organisation not commenting with authority on the parlous state of the Hen Harrier in England today?

Do you not care? Do you care but do not dare? Have you been completely muzzled by Defra?  What exactly is NE for?

Please show some backbone and give the people who pay your salaries an update on the status of, and threats facing, this bird for whom you are the statutory agency with most responsibility for its status in England.


Please comment on the recent disappearance of two satellite tagged Hen harriers from the Forest of Bowland

Please update us on the results of the 12-year study that you have been carrying out with our funding.  In particular, how long do the satellite tags you use usually last? When they stop transmitting, what are the usual suspected causes of failure?  How many of the tags stop transmitting on or near grouse moors and is this what would be expected from chance or is the incidence of failure higher?


Natural England – for people, for places, for nature? Really? Do something that will convince us.  Prove it!

And meanwhile, please sign this e-petition to ban driven grouse shooting.



21 Replies to “Natural England – are you still there?”

  1. Natural England’s silence is all about maintaining relationships with the estates it appears to me. If embarrassing details were made public highlighting where our tagged hen harriers have gone missing it would certainly upset a few estate owners. Its high time the hen harrier was placed first and worry about the landowners integrity and concerns later, what have we got to loose, the harrier is already on the very verge of total annihilation because of sustained persecution. Can the situation get any worst in England from where we are today?

    1. Terry – thank you. I don’t know whether you are right but there is a lot of talk about partners and stakeholders these days. That is of course fine, although rather naff, unless it means cosying up to the criminals. It does not help that David Cameron has tended to fill Defra with GWCT (Benyon, Paice), CLA (Benyon, Paterson, de Morney) and shooting Ministers. Whose side are we supposed to think Defra is on? And that has cowed NE.

  2. I sit just possible it isn’t commenting because it’s been told not to ? NE isn’t RSPB: Ne reports to Government Ministers and in a policy area like this I’m not sure anyone – Minister or NE staff – would actually be foolish enough to stand up and claim NE were operating truly independently. NE is no different from the passport office, an agency that could be brought back under direct Ministerial control at the whim of the Secretary of State. Unlikely to happen in NE’s case because no Minister is going to want to step into the firing line on an issue like this ! In the meantime, my sympathies are with the squeezed, conflicted NE staff.

    1. Ministers need NE between them and an angry environmental lobby, badger culls continue, Hen Harriers and other protected birds of prey continue to be illegally persecuted and shooting estates receive agri-welfare payments to continue grouse moor management, so maybe NE are now perhaps the Ministerial guard dogs?

      Sadly, they are not fit for environmental safeguarding, as was their previous remit. Oh and remember that they are to transform NNRs to public theme parks through Open Access, so dog p** parks and mountain bikes, horses &c. so now they don’t have time to work with real partners to deliver conservation, a shame because there used to be good staff …. sadly a species as rare as HHs I fear.

      Go on NE staff, lots of dislikes? Happy to be proven wrong, but would need evidence and robust science and the chances of NE managing either, mmh tragically not where I come from, but ever an agnostic.

      1. CRoW dedication is on foot only? Nature is there for us all, and access should be encouraged. It Jeeps engage people to nature, seeing it as theirs, not locked away by a land owner or to be ‘portected’ from the masses. Nature and access can and must coexist.

        1. Responsible access perhaps Erewash, but would you care to try to enforce that across the piece then? No EIA because NE used Chinese Walls (ha), as judge & jury on EIA / HRA etc. naturally there’s no possible impact is there?

          What does it matter about rare breeding birds or the special interest species of the site? Adders have been killed because they might bite dogs, ok that dogs bite peaceful visitors though, after all why should they be on a lead? But hey that’s ok if it’s CRoW?

  3. How can we as a country pontificate to other countries e.g Malta about shooting their birds when apparently our own governmental nature body appears to encourage its own shame by turning a blind eye. Step up to the plate and stop being patsies to a pastime which will eventually fall by the wayside, but not before we lose a few of our (natural treasures) Hen Harrier en route.

  4. Come back Richard Saunders all is not well in NE now, once passed on to the lords hen harriers will no longer hold on on to our green and pleasant land….

    1. m parry – out of date there mate. It’s now, thanks to Francis Maude putting the screws on the honourable Caroline Spelman, a ‘delivery body’. It’s certainly a body – lifeless and inert.

  5. How can you feel sorry for the staff! If they had guts they would rock the boat but they just look after number1. How can you sleep at night? Here is another example – 3000 tons of river material removed from an upland river which just so happens to be an RSPB reserve, SSSI, SPA and in a AONB with the blessing of NE. This is total damage of an SSSI but like so many of these upland areas ‘Who gives a dam’!!

    1. So, should these poor demoralised staff be pensioned off? Then at least we can get a straight line at the real target instead of having them defend developers or bad government policies, initiatives etc.?

      Sadly John it ain’t just upland areas, here in the lowlands they preside over damage to Natura 2000 sites as well (the statutory NEro fiddles whilst Rome burns).

      1. Mud-lark – I wouldn’t be too harsh on the junior staff and middle management. It is a lack of leadership at the top that can be criticised, I feel. Perhaps the Board ought to exert their power a little more?

        1. If you’d read between the lines it wasn’t the junior staff I was ‘getting at’, I acknowledged that there did used to be good staff. I can only offer experience of NCC, EN & now NE so around three decades and sadly they sure ain’t what they used to be. Science and vertebrae removed by successive politicians, ably assisted by lack of collaborative working (staff & NGOs)?

          As for the Board, it doesn’t seem two minutes since you wrote about the newly appointed Chairman.

          Sadly many have lost their nerve, as John remarks they have to (understandable to some) look after their civil service pensions etc.

          So, do I deduce that you think NE are fit for purpose? If not then what is your preferred option?

          1. Mud-lark – I think the organisation is fit for purpose but it’s badly led, badly managed (from Defra) and grossly under-performing. need to change the government, the Ministers, perhaps some civil servants, the Chair and the Chief Exec – then the staff who matter might get on and save some wildlife.

  6. Without trying to sound fawning, I didn’t even realise that Natural England were a government department until I read your book. I thought they were a charity.

    1. Mark – Nature Conservancy to Nature Conservancy Council to English Nature to Natural England.

      We trained hard . . . but it seemed that every time we were beginning to form up into teams we would be reorganized. I was to learn later in life that we tend to meet any new situation by reorganizing; and a wonderful method it can be for creating the illusion of progress while producing confusion, inefficiency, and demoralization.

      Petronius Arbiter, 210 B.C. (probably not a genuine quote – but a good remark nonetheless)

      1. & if your description were applied to anything other than civil service/statutory function it would either go belly up or be abolished?

        Sorry but given your catalogue of cull targets I can’t see a case that they are retained.

        I remember what happened after the 1997 Review, looks like we’re here again – circles whilst Rome burns?

        1. It is one thing to criticize NE at a policy level and right to attack it for not coming clean on issues such as hen harrier persecution and moorland mis-management. It is another to attack dedicated staff (which is still the majority) in an organisation that has been hammered by cuts, staff losses, office closures and yes muzzled by by a vested interest government.
          Mud-larks truly abject comments (with a somewhat withering apologist acknowledgement eventually) serve no purpose. Obviously must make him/her feel a hell of lot better though.
          Rod Leslie knows because he knows. In the meantime NE staff on the ground and even higher up will carry on trying there hardest to ensure that not just hen harriers have a future but as much other wildlife is safeguarded as possible with all the means that are at our disposal.

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