The Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust launched an e-petition in mid July asking Defra to publish a plan developed by a group of stakeholders (as I believe we should call them – I loathe that term) to aid the recovery of the Hen Harrier.
This e-petition has been enthusiastically promoted by GWCT, the Moorland Association, Countryside Alliance, gamekeepers and BASC. Despite all this support it reached 10,000 signatures only in September and the GWCT et al. have been waiting expectantly for a response from Defra.
This blog has given short shrift to this e-petition as right from the start it appeared to be a poorly judged publicity stunt rather than a serious contribution to the debate. I have called it the non-joint non-plan and Defra’s response, see below, does much the same. Because it isn’t agreed it isn’t a plan, and until it’s agreed it won’t be joint. Well, no surprises there then.
The Defra response is rather perfunctory – it made me smile. However, it does, for once, actually answer the question posed rather than ramble around it in an unconvincing manner as has usually been the case.
The Defra response also reminds us all that as recently as 2010 there were a dozen pairs of Hen Harriers in England and that is a poor show when there is enough available habitat for 330+ pairs (although Defra don’t mention the 330+ figure – they never do – it’s too embarrassing). Under this government the Hen Harrier population has fallen in just four years from 12 to four pairs and there is just the hint in the Defra response that they are waking up to the fact that they need to do something about this (bit late now chaps!).
The conflict between driven grouse shooting and the conservation of protected wildlife is a real one. It is clear that you can’t have lots of Hen Harriers and enormous ‘bags’ of Red Grouse shot for ‘sport’. At a time which is described as a ‘golden age of grouse (shooting)’, with bags reaching record levels on many moors, the Hen Harrier population is at pretty much an all-time low in England because of illegal killing of these protected birds.
No, you can’t have lots of shot grouse and lots of protected Hen Harriers. You have to choose. Which do you choose?
The ill-judged plea to publish the non-joint, non-plan, was an attempt by the grouse shooters to railroad Defra, the RSPB and the public into agreeing that we want lots of grouse shooting and will live with few Hen Harriers. That, quite palpably, isn’t what we want.
The non-joint, non-plan would have allowed, it seems, chicks to be moved from one of the Hen Harrier nests in the Forest of Bowland this year because it was too close to the other nest – and we have four pairs in England.
Even this government wouldn’t be foolish enough to position itself, after buzzard-gate and badger-gate, as being on the side of the grouse shooter instead of the Hen Harrier this close to a general election. Maybe after the general election…
The shooting community, and nothing else, has reduced the Hen Harrier population to its parlous position through illegal acts – at a time when grouse bags are booming. The choice is stark – lots of grouse shooting and very few Hen Harriers or very little grouse shooting and rather more Hen Harriers?
And it isn’t just about Hen Harriers ( or Peregrines, or Goshawks or Short-eared Owls), or Stoats, or Mountain Hares, it’s also about climate change, flood risk and water bills, it’s about blanket bogs and what sort of uplands we want.
Society as a whole needs a plan, preferably a joint plan, for the future of the uplands, and when you take that wider longer perspective there is no place for driven grouse shooting and its ecosystem disservices and its assault on wildlife. So please sign this e-petition to ban driven grouse shooting.
The Defra response to the GWCT’s e-petition.
This e-petition has received the following response:
As this e-petition has received more than 10 000 signatures, the relevant Government department has provided the following response:
The Government is concerned about the hen harrier population in England and acknowledges the need to take urgent action.
The latest survey undertaken in 2010 found only 12 pairs in England. In 2013 no young fledged for the first time in over 50 years and although we are encouraged that there are four nests this year with good numbers of young, hen harrier populations are so low that recovery across their former range is unlikely to occur unaided.
In its document “Biodiversity 2020: A strategy for England’s wildlife and ecosystem services”, the Government set out priority actions. One of these is to “Take targeted action for the recovery of priority species, whose conservation is not delivered through wider habitat-based and ecosystem measures”. The Government considers that hen harriers merit additional action to reverse the decline in their population numbers.
In 2012 Defra established the Uplands Stakeholder Forum Hen Harrier Sub-Group to seek shared solutions for hen harrier recovery. The Sub-Group comprises senior representatives from Natural England, the RSPB, the Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust, the National Gamekeepers’ Organisation, National Parks UK and the Moorland Association.
Since the establishment of the Sub-Group, the members have developed a draft Joint Action Plan which contains a suite of complementary actions intended to contribute to the recovery of the hen harrier population in England. The e-petition suggests that the Joint Action Plan could have been published in January 2014, but final agreement is still being negotiated. Since the Sub-Group members all have a role to play in delivering the suite of actions, it is important to secure as much agreement as possible before publication so that it can be implemented in the co-operative and pragmatic way needed to help the recovery of the hen harrier in England.
This e-petition remains open to signatures and will be considered for debate by the Backbench Business Committee should it pass the 100 000 signature threshold.