Collaboration or collaborationism?

As I understand it, the non-joint non-plan for ‘managing’ the almost non-existent English breeding Hen Harrier population would have involved fiddling about with one of the nests in Bowland this year (had the landowner requested it).

The two nests were ‘too close’ together despite the rather large gap to the next pair of breeding Hen Harriers in England.

It’s bizarre, although since Defra has not published the non-joint non-plan, despite thousands of us signing the e-petition to ask them to do so (whatever happened to that one?), I am only guessing.

If brood management of the pestilential almost-extinct Hen Harrier were to be one of the last really bad decisions made by Defra ministers then they’d need some help in the logistics of removing Hen Harriers from their nests, rearing them in captivity and then releasing them later.  Where might they go?

There might be a queue of gamekeepers (wearing gloves of course) wanting to lend a hand but their expertise surely lies in other brood management activities.  Despite my huge respect for them, the GWCT might not consider themselves to be the ideal candidates either. There are always academics who claim to be impartial but might be partial to being paid to do this work, so that’s a possibility. But the ideal partner would be a conservation NGO and the most obvious candidate is the Hawk and Owl Trust under its relatively new chair Philip Merricks.

As a member of the Hawk and Owl Trust I wouldn’t be very keen on hearing that they were involved in the non-joint non-plan to solve the grouse moor managers’ problems with the almost-extinct English Hen Harriers.

They couldn’t even be thinking about it could they? I’ll email them and ask.


37 Replies to “Collaboration or collaborationism?”

  1. According to my understanding Mark, the birds will be released back onto the moor they came from, or as near to it a practicable.

    1. Thanks Phil. Thinking about it, releasing birds back on to the same moor, where they’re clearly not wanted (hence the brood being taken into captivity in the first place), seems a little bonkers!

  2. Thanks Mark for your comment that the ideal partner for a potential Hen Harrier conservation brood management scheme would be a conservation NGO and the most obvious candidate is the Hawk and Owl Trust. To answer your question – yes the Trust is indeed thinking about this. As it would with any initiative for any raptor species that sets aside unproductive antagonism and which specifically has the potential for clear conservation benefits in securing the future of Hen Harriers in the English uplands. You will know that the Hawk and Owl Trust comes to this conclusion from a position of real conservation knowledge, as we manage a 7000 acre heather moorland nature reserve on the North York Moors.
    You will be aware that the strapline of the Hawk and Owl Trust is “Working for wild birds of prey and their habitats”. That, and nothing else, is what guides the work of the Trust.
    As a new member of the Trust you will be pleased to learn that the Trust’s AGM held in late autumn last year, agreed nem con (ie no one against) that the Trust should become involved in the Hen Harrier/grouse moor issue. And that a month or so later, the Board of Trustees agreed unanimously (all were present with the exception of one Trustee who was abroad) that a Hen Harrier brood management scheme trial (NB trial) is the way forward for the recovery of Hen Harrier populations.
    You mention that I am a relatively new chair of the Trust. However you may not be aware that I served as a member of the Board of Trustees of the Hawk and Owl Trust for a six year period in the 1990s. When the Chair, Barbara Handley tragically died in post eighteen months ago, I was approached, as a long term member of the Hawk and Owl Trust and asked if I would come back on to the Board and chair it. Which I was honoured to do, taking up the post of chair in late autumn 2013.
    Which gives me the opportunity to welcome you Mark as a recent member of the Trust. When I was at the Bird Fair this year, I was pleased to learn that you had come on to the Trust’s stand and joined up. I hope that it was to support the Trust in “working for wild birds and their habitats” rather than to provide a vehicle for your political objectives. Or is that thought being unfair to you?

    PS I hope you saw that rather good piece on Countryfile last week re the Hawk and Owl Trust conservation officer working with farmers in Somerset in persuading them to put up owl boxes in their barns and to create tussocky grass margins in their fields as barn owl feeding areas. That showed the Trust at its best, working with those who have the greatest potential to do most for wild birds of prey – the land managers. As could be the case in the English moorlands.

    1. Philip – thank you for your comment which confirms my suspicion that the Hawk and Owl Trust now thinks that ‘a Hen Harrier brood management scheme trial (NB trial) is the way forward for the recovery of Hen Harrier populations’. Have you told your members that before? I missed it if you did. An interesting decision which perhaps would benefit from some explanation. See today’s blog.

    2. Philip, this is completely bonkers; you should pull back publicly or you will lose all respect and many of your members. How can you possibly see benefit in moving even a single brood of a species that has been persecuted nearly to extinction in England from one place where they will likely be murdered to another? And the argument from ‘unproductive antagonism’ is so long past its sell-by date that I wonder why you even bother to trot it out. How after all these years can you still be in favour of unproductive pseudo-cooperation? I think you also owe it to Mark to explain why you think opposing illegality is a ‘political objective’.

    3. Typical HOT, they should rename themselves the secret squirrel society. I for one wont be renewing my membership. It seems they are all about the money.

    4. You state that H&OT members ‘agreed nem con (ie no one against) that the Trust should become involved in the Hen Harrier/grouse moor issue’ – were members also voting on H&OTs support of a Hen Harrier brood management scheme trial? I am aware that fewer members usually attend H&OT AGM’s at Fylingdales due to its location. Were non attending members asked to vote via email or post about (a) the Trust’s involvement with the Hen Harrier/grouse moor issue and (b) H&OTs support of a Hen Harrier management scheme trial? I am a member and cannot recall being asked.

  3. Plenty of organisations with the requisite knowledge and experience of removing Birds of Prey (BoP) from the nest, rearing and them releasing them back into the wild Mark. The RSPB must have more experience than most with BoP translocations – Red Kites, White-tailed Eagles etc

    Or perhaps Roy Dennis’ Highland Foundation for Wildlife. Roy has an enviable track record in this field – most recently translocating Scottish Ospreys to Spain –

    Or how about the Golden Eagle Trust with the Irish Golden Eagle reintroduction Project – and experience with translocating White Tailed Eagles – – and Red Kites – – from Scotland and Wales, respectively, to Ireland.

    Or the French group who handled the Montagus Harrier Brood Management Scheme – .

    Equally, if the Hawk & Owl Trust was chosen to do the job then I, as a member, would be very content for them to take the lead. And if Philip Merricks’ leadership can bring the same sort of the magic he has wrought with lowland wader populations at Elmley to England’s Hen Harrier population (, then more power to his elbow!

    1. Keith – it will be a great comfort to nature conservationists that the Hawk and Owl Trust has the support of the Director of Songbird Survival. Maybe we’d better let the Hawk and Owl Trust explain themselves first.

      1. Mark,

        As always, posting on here in a personal capacity unless otherwise stated, and in this instance, as made abundantly clear, as a member of the H & OT. Just like you.

        1. Keith – yes, you are very reluctant to set out the views of your own organisation in a Guest Blog, aren’t you.

          1. On here? After your dreadful gamekeeper ‘hate-fest’ blogs of 6th and 7th October last year (as Phil the Hen Harrier Skydancer Project volunteer so aptly and pithily termed them). You bet!

            We set out our views at times and places of our choosing – therefore most unlikely to include this blog any time in the near future given that recent irresponsible piece of incitement.

          2. Keith – you said that (the hate-fest bit) before and it wasn’t true then either. What you won’t say, is what your views are, the views of the organisation that you represent (or here, are ducking representing) on any of the issues discussed on this blog. People will draw their own conclusions about an organisations whose director snipes at others but when offered the chance to set out his stall keeps quiet. You must be very nervous about what people would think of Songbird Survival. You don’t have the nerve that Tim Bidie did.

            Je suis charlie.

            You clearly don’t recognise the irony of the fact that I keep allowing you to write your hate-fest comment, months after the blog appeared, even though it was nonsense at the time and is hardly ‘recent’ as you wrongly state. I let you make incorrect personal remarks about me, here on my own blog, because I believe in free speech. That’s also why I did not edit the comments which came in response to the blogs you criticise and why I have tolerated, indeed encouraged, Tim Bidie’s large number of erroneous comments here. And that’s why you are still welcome to a Guest Blog to set out Songbird Survival’s position on predators, birds of prey etc.

            Tu n’es pas charlie.

  4. Hi Mark,

    Brood management has been shown to be useful tool in exceptional cases where populations are at high risk of extinction due to certain overwhelming threats.

    However, it is completely and utterly unacceptable to do this with the Hen Harrier in England. This action would amount to blatant pandering to a few misguided individuals who simply don’t like Hen Harriers because they get in the way of leisure activities that they undertake purely for selfish personal enjoyment and financial gain.

    It is now abundantly clear that human persecution is the primary reason why we only have 4 pairs of Hen Harriers, instead of 300+ that should be breeding in England. A small minority of people are intentionally destroying the biodiversity that belongs to us all. They are denying the excitement and enjoyment of seeing Hen Harriers in the wild to over 60 million people in Britain, as well as countless others in the countries along the species’ migration routes.

    The time has come to call a halt to long outdated management practices that have been illegal for over half a century. Grouse moor managers must update and adapt their business plans to the 21st century and stop acting as if they are above the law. If it is not commercially viable to do this then they must simply shut down their operations. No other industry gets away with destroying biodiversity. The same standards must apply to the shooting industry.

    Meddling with the broods of specially protected wild birds of prey is not conservation in this context and cannot be justified. It would surely be contrary to the EU Birds Directive and the Wildlife & Countryside Act 1981 (as amended).

    If the Hawk and Owl Trust are truly involved in this proposal then all genuine raptor and wildlife conservationist should resign from the organisation forthwith.

  5. Blue Sky Birding makes some interesting points which I am happy to answer.
    It is clear that the Hen Harrier/Grouse Moor issue is very much more than a wildlife/human conflict issue. The deepest part of the conflict is human/human.
    I am told that there have been attempts to broker a solution for very many years but nothing has come of it due to some intransigent positions on both sides. I am old enough to have thought many years ago that the hugely more serious Northern Ireland bloodshed was incapable of being resolved. But it took two brave Prime Ministers and others to swallow their pride and broker a Peace Accord. I cannot believe that it is not possible to do the same with Hen Harriers on grouse moors.
    But that will only happen if those with strong views on both sides analyse what they want. Do they want Hen Harriers to return to the moors and grouse shooting to continue in a new manner with the presence of Hen Harriers? Or do they want the conflict to continue?
    At the moment it is clear that some gamekeepers perceive it is in their interests (job security etc) to act illegally and to persecute Hen Harriers. A brood management scheme would turn this on its head so that it becomes in their interests to report the presence of Hen Harrier nests which then, with a brood management scheme trial in place, would be likely to fledge four or five birds from each next each rather than the one that is likely in natural circumstances or none as in the case when gamekeepers persecute them.
    The key seems to be to ensure that it is in the interests of grouse moor managers to act legally rather than as is the case at present to act illegally. No doubt that social scientists would be the ones to explain this human/human conflict resolution best.

    1. And once those chicks have hatched and been released back into the wild, what then? What’s in place to protect them as adults? Unless 100% of nests are subject to brood management, adult birds will continue to be killed.

      And if it does go ahead, who will be funding this free service for gamekeepers? Not us taxpayers I hope. I’d rather my money went on better enforcing existing legislation, rather than bending it to suit a minority.

      Philip – I’ve always had the utmost respect for the Hawk & Owl Trust, but in this case I strongly advise that they consider their position very carefully indeed. The conservation community is watching…

    2. Philip Merricks asks: “But that will only happen if those with strong views on both sides analyse what they want. Do they want Hen Harriers to return to the moors and grouse shooting to continue in a new manner with the presence of Hen Harriers? Or do they want the conflict to continue?”
      Actually what some of us with ‘strong views’ want – and see as absolute priority – is the ending of the widely acknowledged illegal killing of Hen Harriers. To in effect excuse wildlife crime as too tempting to resist and offer brood management as a financial incentive to halt illegal persecution (or does ‘to ensure that it is in the interests of grouse moor managers to act legally’) says all that needs to be said about what is really behind the ‘brood management movement’.

    3. Philip
      The reason issues such as Northern Ireland could be resolved in the way it was is that both sides were prepared to concede enough ground.
      I don’t believe organisations such as the Hawk and Owl Trust should concede the kind of ground you are willing too.

      As I see it the options we are being given by the shooting fraternity is as follows.
      Either we kill Hen Harriers or you carry out our preferred method of brood management, the end. What part of that is a them preparing to negotiate or concede ground?

      On the other side you have a number of solutions being offered to licensing of grouse moors, to outright banning of driven grouse shooting. You could levy those who shoot grouse (and lets face it they can all afford it) to cover the costs of loses of stock to Hen Harriers etc etc. But they are not prepared to entertain these ideas.

      You said it took people to be brave, well being brave can take many guises and in the cases of organisations such as yours that should mean standing strong and working towards a much fairer solution than agreeing to brood management.

      And on a final note if your trustees are so sure it is the right thing to do why not poll your members and ask them?

      Although I totally disagree with the trusts position on this issue I would like to thank you for taking the time to get involved in the debate and answer people directly. Just hope that you and the board are prepared to have their minds changed when you see how strongly your members and non-members alike feel about your stance.

    4. Comparison with the Irish Troubles is tosh of the highest order. The major agreement was to give amnesty for a lot of the past crimes and move forward within the prevailing legal framework with compromise on running the legislature.

      I don’t remember it including translocation of protestants from Belfast to Stranraer.

      Going on from that, brood management is a poor second to parent reared and survival rates will be lower.
      – Where is this translocation area and why are there no hen harriers there already.
      – Hen harrier chicks pose no problem to gamekeepers(grouse). Adults and juveniles do so what do you think is going to happen to them when they translocate themselves back onto the grouse moors.
      Philip, I really would like to hear your thoughts on these last two points.

      This is a stalling tactic from the shooting industry. “Look we are trying” and 10 years down the line we will be no further forward.

      The shooting industry should get the harriers back and once population levels are better they need to demonstrate the impact of the harrier population on their industry and THEN discuss possible solutions.

  6. Keith Cowieson refers to breeding wader populations at Elmley. What he is perhaps not aware of is that Elmley now holds the largest population of breeding lapwing in lowland UK and at the same time, really crucially, has one of the largest concentration of raptors in SE England. Breeding Marsh Harriers are plentiful at Elmley and certainly take a fair number of lapwing and other wader chicks.
    But by ensuring that our conservation management results in good numbers of wader chicks being fledged, the wader population can comfortably tolerate predation by Marsh Harriers.
    An example which grouse moor managers and their gamekeepers will have to learn to follow in relation to grouse and Hen Harriers.

    1. Oops, Philip I tried to reply but it looks like I replied to Charlie Moores instead! See above anyway

  7. You’ve hit the nail on the head there Philip, grouse moor owners need to accept the fact that Hen Harriers predate Red Grouse and they should learn to live with it and learn about predator-prey relationships. Maybe if they were happy to just shoot a few less then both species could co-exist as nature intended. The Elmley Lapwings are thriving alongside Marsh Harriers and our Red Grouse could thrive alongside Hen Harrier too…its onlt the shooting part of all this that complicate it. If grouse didnt have a price on their heads this conflict wouldnt be an issue.

  8. Approaching this from the middle ground, I can see sympathise and see both sides of this debate (However in reality there are multi aspects to consider).

    Ensuring Hen Harrier populations increase fundamentally stands at the forefront for future conservation action. Brood management seems to me, just to be one method that has worked for other species in other ‘unique’ circumstances.
    Surely defra should be getting to together with all the relevant NGO’s and national renowned experienced individuals to pan out all potential conservation methods by working with evidence based scenarios

    However with a BIG BUT, all potential future management for increasing Hen Harrier populations throughout England is completely pointless unless the core reason for their demise is reduced or hopefully in this case stopped all together.

    As much as increasing the productivity of a species may temporarily increase demography, if longevity is reduced to the point where breeding age or success in illuminated by continuous persecution, there seems very little point.

    As this debate rattles on across the moorlands, conferences and through the web and social media, the undeniable motion to put into place to stop the slaughter is to step up and better in-force wildlife legislation. I know this is no easy thing but little roads in the right direction, from a multitude of individuals and organisation, could potentially have a positive impact on future Government stance on this ongoing issue.

    Oxfam recently announced that by 2016 the top earning 1% will be richer than the rest of the world combined. It would be a sad day when the small minority of (often individuals fitting into this 1%) ‘sport hunters’ would take away the wealth of species such as Hen Harriers away from the rest of us.

  9. Philip Merrick appears to be suggesting that we should consider relaxing UK and EU environmental protection legislation simply because a small minority of people find it a nuisance to comply with during pursuit of their chosen leisure activity. The Hawk & Owl Trust’s apparent position on brood management of the Hen Harrier surely invites similar ‘solutions’ to be proposed for other situations of potential human conflicts with rare breeding birds of prey and other species.

    Over recent decades, one of the outcomes of the return of the Peregrine Falcon to its former breeding cliffs has been increasing potential conflicts with rock climbers. In contrast to those involved in persecuting the Hen Harrier, officials of rock climbing clubs and organisations have recognized the need for their members to abide by the law. Laudably, they have generally either diverted or temporary closed certain ‘climbs’ to avoid disturbing these specially protected falcons. Merrick’s paradigm will surely open the way for a whole raft of applications for brood management of Peregrines all over the UK, and any other species that happens to breed in a place that is considered by someone to be inconvenient.

    Perhaps Merrick is blissfully unaware of the immense interest and enjoyment generated for literally millions of people across the globe by raptor online nest-cams? If Hawk & Owl Trust were to propose meddling with one of these closely monitored sites using the arguments he’s deploying for Hen Harriers, I believe the global backlash would be enough to destroy his organization, probably within days.

    Contrary to Merrick’s assertion, this is not a human-human conflict. This is about a small minority of individuals choosing the break the law of the land for their own selfish personal enjoyment or financial gain, or both. Unfortunately, due to the methods employed and the remote locations where these offences often take place, they are currently difficult to detect and prosecute successfully. But is that really a sound and sensible reason for relaxing the law? I think not.

    There must be thousands of past examples where workers have lost their jobs or companies have gone under due to those individuals and organisations properly respecting legal requirements established to protect wildlife and the environment. If the Grouse Shooting industry is not commercially viable without those who practice it needing to breaking the law then the answer is clear and simple. Shut it down. Period.

  10. Dear Mark, Apologies to Philip Merricks, I now realise that I have inadvertently spelled his name incorrectly. Would you be kind enough to edit the text of my most recent posting to add a letter ‘s’ to the end of his surname in the first and third paragraphs. And move the apostrophe to the right of the ‘s’ in the references made in the second and fourth paragraphs. Thanks.

  11. Does anyone know of any situation(s) in which brood management of raptors has already occurred in England? Please note that Red Kite and White-tailed Eagle reintroductions do not count – as the term indicates, they were reintroductions based on the removal of (mainly) single birds from nests which remained viable and not a management tool to control the population level in the natal areas.

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  13. Posted by Mark but a comment from ‘Ed’ –

    I have been watching this thread for some time, reading various comments with interest.
    Although recently retired, in my youth I was often involved with keepering on a large private shooting estate. Over the years my attitude to conservation and persecution of any wildlife has changed considerably although I have always had a love of all things in nature.
    Regarding the Hen Harrier issue, there are, in my opinion, several basic points which need to be addressed.
    The debate regarding persecution by Keepers of all Raptors is well documented and has been continuing for decades. Until both Keepers and, more importantly their employers, are held to account by association and really stiff penalties, including jail, are handed out, then there is not a hope in hell of resolving this issue. Unfortunately many said landowners are invariably are involved, either directly or indirectly, in National / Local Government / Politics or the judiciary and therefore have no appetite to hand out these stiff penalties to their cronies or their respective employees, hence only very rarely is an occasional Gamekeeper is prosecuted. His Employer must also be held to account.
    This situation therefore leads to a position where those attempting to rectify this persecution are often hamstrung.
    The law is the law and anyone persecuting any bird, Raptor or otherwise, should be subject to the full force of the law.
    If any Raptor is found poisoned or shot on any land where shooting is a business, then that landowner should be prosecuted “by association” as it is usually impossible to prove who actually carried out the persecution. A few prosecutions and the resulting publicity would soon result in landowners bringing their employees into line.
    Yes this is a bit drastic, but sometimes such action gets results and if it means that those who condone these barbaric acts cease their actions then we have a result.
    There seems to be no appetite to resolve this issue any other way.
    The H&OT proposition is wrong. Any bird / animal should be allowed to breed freely in its natural habitat and it is up to all of us to speak out in support of these defenceless species.

  14. The question remains: What is being done to stop those guilty of committing the crime of persecution in the first place. Deal effectively with this and there wouldn’t be an issue.

  15. I firmly do not believe that you can trade with gamekeepers. They are a law unto themselves QED. An old builder friend use to say that to get housebuyers to complete a purchase you had sometimes to “stand on their necks”. Bad as that sounds, I believe it applies to gamekeepers, this is not a complicated scenario. Stiff custodial sentences for the antagonists, and exceptionally heavy fines in default for the landowners. Otherwise they will continue to laugh behind your backs. And why not?
    Then you wouldn’t need breeding schemes, you would simply let nature take its course. The slaughter of raptors in the interests of commercial gain is an outrage, and the sooner the courts get a grip the better.

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