So, what is the Hawk and Owl Trust’s position on brood management?

hotoYesterday I speculated on what might be going on in Tory ministers’ minds to lead them to consider making a highly contentious move in the highly contentious issue of Hen Harrier persecution. Rather than Ministers being exercised about how they could live up to their pre-election promises on marine protected areas, or recovering farmland bird populations, or even saying something sensible about neonicotinoids this fag-end of a coalition government is thinking about dealing with the pest that is the Hen Harrier.

The Hen Harrier eats grouse and so it is a big problem for grouse moor owners except that there was one grouse moor in England last year, as I understand it, that had a pair of Hen Harriers nesting on it and about 146 that did not. That was the grouse moor in the Derwent Valley below which the ‘Sodden 570’ gathered in the torrents of rain last Hen Harrier Day to protest at the fact that Hen Harriers are missing in their hundreds from our hills because of illegal persecution, criminal acts, by grouse shooting interests.

There were four pairs of Hen Harriers nesting in England in 2014 but there should be well over 300 according to the current scientific estimates (which might, I understand, be revised downwards in due course but that’s what they are at the moment).

Grouse shooting is experiencing record grouse bags at the moment, those four pairs of Hen Harrier (three of them nesting off grouse moors) haven’t brought the industry to its knees, and so it is only because of extreme pressure from the grouse shooting industry on their chums in the Conservative Party that means that Defra is worrying about this issue.  Any wildlife-friendly set of Ministers might tell the Moorland Association, the Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust and the British Association for Shooting and Conservation to go away and come back when they’ve shown that their members who manage grouse moors are a bit more law-abiding.  But then, there is an election coming up.

To consider a brood management scheme there would have to be a plan for managing broods of Hen Harriers (removing them gently from their nests high up in the hills, rearing them in captivity, and then releasing them back in the hills – although the details of such a scheme, if they even exist, have not been shared with the taxpayer by Defra yet) and so there would have to be some brood managers. In a second blog post yesterday I pointed out that the Hawk and Owl Trust might have the expertise to carry out this role in this contentious non-published plan of action to help the grouse shooting industry.

Late, late for me anyway, yesterday evening the Chair of the Hawk and Owl Trust confirmed in a comment that the Hawk and Owl Trust Council agreed last year that ‘a Hen Harrier brood management scheme trial (NB trial) is the way forward for the recovery of Hen Harrier populations’.  This came as news to me as a new H&OT member and it seems from correspondence that I have received overnight that it comes as news to many raptor workers, some of whom are H&OT members.

Rather than let us leap to any wrong conclusions it would be helpful if the Hawk and Owl Trust made clear its position on this contentious matter. Is the Hawk and Owl Trust actually lobbying privately for brood management to go ahead? Under what conditions? And, even, why?  There is nothing on the Hawk and Owl Trust’s home page to explain its position – hang on, yes there is, there is its Twitter feed responding to the dismay that this uncertainty is causing.  Any misunderstanding can be removed if the Hawk and Owl Trust come clean on what it is and isn’t supporting.

A Guest Blog here is always available but maybe a full statement on the Hawk and Owl Trust’s home page would be a good start.





54 Replies to “So, what is the Hawk and Owl Trust’s position on brood management?”

  1. It is very disappointing that a highly respected conservation body like the H&OT would be involved in such a scheme. I understand that if DEFRA were to push through the brood management plan that it’s better that someone like the H&OT take it on but, we have to all stick together and stop the Grouse Moors from descamating our wildlife and environment. It’s a bigger issue than Hen Harriers, it’s about the whole ecosystem of the Grouse Moors, it’s about crazy predator control, it’s about Mountain Hares, it’s about carbon storage, water quality, it’s about rich land owners tearing the soul out of the land for profit. That’s what we have to stand up for. To even suggest that brood management could be considered is playing into their hands and H&OT should distance themselves from it as soon as possible.

  2. I am sure the H&OT have their reasons for going down the path they have decided to take. I believe its the wrong path. Brood management will not provide the solution to this toxic issue. We have already witnessed the killing of Sky & Hope the two Bowland Hen Harrier that disappeared along with their satellite tags last year just 3 miles from their natal territories. I have no doubt that young harriers will be successfully reared using the brood management scheme, but can anyone including the H&OT then guarantee their safety once these birds find their way back onto England’s upland moorlands where they will disappear? This problem will not be resolved satisfactorily until the root cause of the harriers decline on red grouse moors is addressed. Until there is a firm and lasting commitment from the game shooting industry to stop the illegal killing we are wasting our time and throwing money down the drain.

  3. Does Chris Packham (Hawk and Owl Trust president) know about this?!

    It would be obscene if this hitherto respected wildlife conservation charity – the champion of persecuted birds of prey no less – were contemplating facilitating this scheme, the purpose of which is to prevent the full recovery of hen harriers in England in order to enable the worst sort of unsustainable, intensive driven grouse shooting.

    I very much hope the Trust will clarify that it does not support brood management, but rather supports better law enforcement to tackle bird of prey persecution.

  4. Were a hypothetical organisation about to find itself in a very awkward position over a controversial job, with hundreds of members potentially resigning, reputation damage and senior staff in the firing line, there are 3 positions it could take: (i) ride the storm, (ii) decline to be involved and (iii) the classic save face consultancy response of letting others decide for you. This last position often manifests itself by providing a rather pricey quote per unit of work. In consultancy they say you should never turn down any work; simply price yourself out of a job if upon reflection you don’t want to do it.
    I would imagine that a brood management scheme would cost at least £750,000 per nest per year + expenses. If the client called your bluff and accepted your pricey quote, the DEFRA press release on this “providing excellent value for money” would be priceless and a gift for opposition politicians. Indeed, for good copy the actual quote should really be determined in units understood by journalists/politicians e.g. kidney dialysis machines or heart defibrillators.

  5. Terry has hit the problem with the brood management on the head. The newly released young birds will at some point go to the high Grouse moors & disappear. Alternatively, not having been brought up on the high moors I guess they might just start territories away from the moors. But as the Hen Harrier population starts to increase it will lead to more birds being shot as they wander onto the moors. So an expensive PR stunt to deflect attention from the real problem of illegal shooting on Grouse moors of Hen Harriers. Im sure the Grouse moor owners will be happy for everybodies attention & DEFRAs money being mis-spent on this scheme. That money should be spent on policing the Grouse moors & prosecuting both the gamekeepers & the moors owners. If the moor owners cant be traced due to complex offshore companies then a simple clause should be introduced to the law to close all Grouse shooting on that moor for a full season (first offense) or multiple season (for repeat offenses). That simple change could start to provide proper coexistence of Grouse moors & Hen Harriers.

  6. So – “the Board of Trustees agreed unanimously that a Hen Harrier brood management scheme trial (NB trial) is the way forward for the recovery of Hen Harrier populations.” This is a deeply political decision. I saw this because its corollary – expecting rich and powerful landowners to abide by the law of the land (as enacted by our democratically elected representatives) must therefore not be the way forward.
    Phillip Merricks is a highly intelligent person (can’t speak for the other trustees) and he must realise how this will be interpreted by the rest of the world.
    Incidentally, it’s a bit rich of him therefore to have a pop at you for perhaps joining HOT for political reasons! Still you’ve got broad shoulders.

  7. Steve’s proposals above would be both simple to implement and effective in outcome. I would add one more – the withdrawal of government grants from this whole despicable business. Unfortunately none of these will get even to the serious discussion stage whilst those who would be involved in their consideration are also either grouse shooting themselves or are related to / friends with the very people who profit from grouse moors.

  8. Terry’s right. Surely the whole issue of brood management in this instance is fundamentally flawed. If we assume that suitable habitat where harriers are not currently persecuted will already have harriers there, where exactly is it expected that these brood-managed birds will go? And what happens then? Will it simply result in more ‘work’ for gamekeepers to do?

  9. I used to think that a brood management scheme might be a good theoretical solution to the grouse-harrier conflict, although it was always difficult to see how to get to the position to implement one in practice.

    However, the Langholm Moor demonstration project has really made me question the need for such a scheme. Firstly, the results from Langholm so far indicate that hen harrier predation on grouse has been effectively eliminated by supplementary feeding. Of course, this picture may change after 2014’s results are analysed given the large number of harrier nests that were present, but at the moment there already appears to be a solution to the harrier-grouse conflict without needing a derogation from the law protecting harriers. I wonder how the cost of running a brood management scheme across all grouse moors would compare with supplementary feeding?

    Secondly, rather than highlighting the success of supplementary feeding, most of the publicity about the LMDP’s interim results seems to have focused on the fact that predation by ‘other raptors’ might still be a problem. This suggests to me that a harrier brood management scheme would simply lead to even more demands to control other raptors.

    Finally, why does it always seem to be assumed that taxpayers will foot the bill for a brood management scheme, and why do we already fund supplementary feeding? Managing a grouse moor seems to be an activity that requires deep pockets, so surely it is not unreasonable to expect the owners to foot the bill for any work that is required for them to avoid breaking the law?

  10. I hope that the Hawk and Owl Trust will join calls for any brood management proposal to be:

    a) subject to Appropriate Assessment under the Habitats Regulations (it will of course have a likely significant effect if conducted within any SPA or affecting SPA hen harriers),

    b) subject to public consultation prior to any decision to proceed and

    c) fully supported by a scientifically-robust evidence base that demonstrates that it is actually required – that the factor causing the near extinction of hen harriers in England can only be addressed by brood management, not diversionary feeding, conviction of those persecuting hen harriers, etc.

  11. Mark
    You ask for clarification of the Hawk and Owl Trust’s position on the Defra Hen Harrier brood management scheme trial. As you know the Trust is a slim line organisation that focusses its efforts on practical, pragmatic conservation by working on its own nature reserves and with land managers in the wider countryside for the benefit of all raptor species. Hence it doesn’t have a dedicated PR or press dept.
    Hence initially, perhaps followers of your blog might like to closely read my three comments posted on your blog of late yesterday and this morning (your blog headed Collaboration)
    I will answer the questions asked on your blog of today when I have a moment (I do have my day job of managing two NNRs, so time is always short).

  12. Mark
    The potential offer of the Hawk & Owl Trust to assist in a brood management trial is surely to be welcome. Rather like someone offering to pay for a taxi to a pub to prevent drunk drivers from offending, should we turn it away?

    While I am aware that this has caused great consternation from those wishing to stop all cars going to the pub (aka ban driven grouse shooting), any offer to help resolve a human:human conflict (grouse shooting:raptor supporters) should not be automatically thrown out because we hate even the idea of a resolution of a deeply divided conflict.

    The persecution of raptors is illegal but is still undertaken by those who don’t generally hate them, but who fear for their livelihoods and jobs by having to ensure that a certain number of grouse fly somewhere near the butts. The ‘easy call’ to just stop killing raptors with no alternative legal options to manage them, effectively means that upland gamekeepers become redundant by failing to provide sufficient birds to shoot Aka no money, no keeper, no managed moorland. (Langholm Demo Moor 7 yr rev out Dec 14 points towards this

    A joy to many but I fear for the many unintended consequences as outlined in my guest blog for Mark last year –

    If some form of brood management can be made to work with ‘gold stars’ to those moors hosting them (the scheme would die within seconds if a GPS tagged relocated harrier was proved to be killed by a grouse keeper), surely any advance on 4 breeding harriers in England is to be welcomed?

    We can all be equally brave in swallowing our differences (put aside any James Blunt ‘classist gimp’ comments) and attempt to explore ways to end this human conflict so that driven grouse shooting and harriers – along with their respective multiple benefits – can co-exist in the future.

    Yours, unfashionably, in the middle of the road

    1. Because when the drunk driver gets out the taxi he will start beating his wife. We need to stop the habitual drunks ….. take away their booze and ban them from the pub.

    2. ‘Rather like someone offering to pay for a taxi to a pub to prevent drunk drivers from offending, should we turn it away?’
      No, rather like a judge taking a drunk drivers licence away or giving a prison sentence.
      What other crime is given a reward.

  13. The government should concern itself with doubling prison sentences and applying a law of vicarious liability. (Fines are just pocket money for millionaire landowners). The innocent would not suffer but Hen Harrier populations would soon rise.

  14. Hang on a sec, before you can brood manage there have got to be some broods and anyone suggesting that intervening (other than to protect every chick) when there are maybe 3 nests in the whole of England is clearly bonkers. But then there is an air of unreality to any discussion about ‘management’ whilst there are effectively no HH nesting in England – surely thjs discussion is similar to a bank robber suggesting to the police that if he gives back half the money that’ll be fine won’t it, and he can walk away scot free with the rest ?

  15. Thanks, Mark.
    You will be aware that the RSPB formally announced last year that, although they supported a Hen Harrier brood management scheme in principle, they would not support it in practice until forty pairs of Hen Harriers had become established on the moors of Northern England.
    This was a good idea as it would have required grouse moor managers to demonstrate that they had stopped persecuting Hen Harriers. But to get to forty pairs would have taken a long time and as the Hen Harrier is a colonial nesting species, this would have meant that it is likely that in time significant numbers of HHs would have nested on just a few moors and most other moors would have no nests. Which might not have been helpful in getting HHs widely established. And as one MP unhelpfully said at a meeting in the House of Commons, that postponing a brood management scheme trial until forty pairs were established, was similar to a doctor saying to his patient that he wasn’t going to give him any medicine until he was well on the road to recovery.
    Hence, the Hawk and Owl Trust Board of Trustees thought long and hard about how real and realistic pressure could be put on grouse moor managers and their gamekeepers to immediately stop persecuting Hen Harriers. The Trustees came up with two immoveable conditions that would need to be agreed to before the Trust would talk to Defra:
    1) All Hen Harriers fledged within a brood management scheme trial would be satellite tagged so that their movements could be tracked. And the knowledge that they were tagged (and the fear that other HHs might be) would prevent any gamekeepers from shooting them in the sky.
    2) Should any Moorland Association, Game & Wildlife Trust, or National Gamekeepers Organisation member be proved to have illegally interfered with a Hen Harrier nest or to have persecuted a Hen Harrier on their grouse moors, the Hawk & Owl Trust would pull out its expertise from the brood management scheme trial.
    It was well understood, appreciated and accepted by Defra and others that these two conditions meant that it would then become in the interests of grouse moor managers to ensure that Hen Harrier persecution would cease – ie that these two conditions would mean that there would be an immediate overriding reason for grouse moor interests to protect Hen Harriers.

    1. I am saddened to read Philip Merricks’s view that only by acquiescing to demands for brood management of a species on the verge of local extinction can “real and realistic pressure” be put on grouse moor managers and their gamekeepers to end persecution.

      The petition to ban driven red grouse shooting for its multitudinous harms to the natural environment (summarised by Mark on this blog) has in my opinion already built real and substantial pressure on the grouse shooting community. The backlash in certain media outlets bears witness to how this pressure is being felt. This HOT concession however unfortunately eases that pressure and provides a veneer of respectability to an outdated, environmentally disastrous sport dependent on criminality.

      The first condition that the HOT has installed alongside their apparent agreement – that all fledged birds be satellite tagged is a false insurance against persecution. Look at the fate of all the disappeared tagged HH in recent years.

      The second condition is more interesting, that evidence of persecution by any of the BM plan’s partner organisations’ members would lead to the HOT walking away might seem more promising, but I fear leaves too much wriggle room. Look at the unwillingness by certain people (the CA amongst them) to even accept that Bowland Betty was shot. Were the HOT to ever walk away from an established BM scheme it would be relatively easy for their expertise to be replaced by a similar organisation with similar conciliatory aims.

      Change can happen. Tiger hunting is now an anachronistic embarrassment for ageing royals. Lion hunting has been banned in Botswana, Zambia and Kenya. We could ban driven red grouse shooting here and it is unquestionable that our upland ecology would benefit from such a ban, no matter what the moorland association and other driven shooting apologists claim. Come on HOT – be brave, be ambitious, reconsider!

    2. Condition1: Satellite tagging didn’t stop Bowland Betty from being shot and others from ‘disappearing’.
      Condition: An impossibly high bar – who is going to ‘prove’ this to your satisfaction in such a vast, remote landscape with so few hen harriers left. Don’t you think there would have been some convictions already if this was so easy? Gamekeepers kill hen harriers because they know they can get away with it. Unbelievably naïve.

    3. As David Cobham, Vice President of H&OT, points out in the chapter on hen harriers in his book ‘The Sparrowhawk’s Lament’, it’s easy enough to put a handful of ice cubes into a nest, chill the eggs and cause the brood to fail – without ‘any Moorland Association, Game & Wildlife Trust, or National Gamekeepers Organisation member be[ing] proved to have illegally interfered with a Hen Harrier nest’

    4. A very narrow view, a very narrow view indeed. It completely overlooks that grouse moor management shafts an entire ecosystem. The HOT will be enabling wide scale habitat destruction, species eradication and promoting accelerated global warming….
      Harriers are very important….but they are only a small cog in a big mechanism, brood management looses the big picture.

  16. It would be interesting to know how closely the H&OT consulted with RSPB over this decision given that the RSPB are the conservation organisation that has invested the most resources into hen harrier conservation over the years.

  17. I am not a member of the HOT but do contribute to their coffers by occassional visits to Sculthorpe where I have been happy to pay the “donation”. It seems strange to me that a respected conservation organisation would be prepared to go against the general consensus that the reduction almost to the point of extinction in England of HH is due to illegal acts. By gatting involved in brood management they would provide a tiny fig leaf for DEFRA and the shooters whilst damaging their own reputation and risk financial loss through reduction in membership and visitors. Also it is suprising that any organisation dependent on its membership for a large portion of it’s income and voluntary labour would not seek their input into the discussion and decision. There seems to be a significant conflict here for Chris Packham, their president, given his stated position. I am sure he will state clearly and unequivocaby as always where he stands in respect of the HOT Trustees decision.
    The trustees decision implicitly supports those breaking the law, rather than supports the enforcement and strengthening of that law (vicarious liability). I would much rather see the HOT campaigning for either the licencing or banning of driven grouse shooting otherwise it risks becoming a leper of the conservation world and harming all the good work it has doneandcontinues to do.

  18. My first thought is that the lunatics have taken control of the asylum.
    Support for brood management represents an important nail in the coffin of the protection currently given to BOP.
    The anti-BOP factions must be hugging themselves right now!

  19. It is pretty astonishing to hear the Hawk and Owl Trust claim that ‘a Hen Harrier brood management scheme trial…is the way forward for the recovery of Hen Harrier populations’. This is patently absurd.

    Let’s be absolutely clear about the purpose of brood management. It is not, as Andrew Gilruth and others would lead us to believe, a necessary conservation intervention. Hen harriers will recover of their own accord if only the persecution ceased. Rather, it is a tool for keeping the hen harrier population from fully recovering.

    Further, allowing shooting interests to reduce the density of hen harriers in order to tackle a perceived conflict with their commercial interests sets an awful precedent. You’ll recall that the government was forced into a u-turn over its plan to ‘trial’ buzzard brood management. Shooting interests would dearly love to be allowed to legally reduce the populations of buzzards, peregrines, sparrowhawks and other birds of prey, each far more abundant than hen harriers. If one allows them to do this to hen harriers, what possible reason could there be to deny them the right to do it to these other, far more common, birds of prey? It would be illogical to allow it in the case of the near-extinct hen harrier, but not the comparatively abundant buzzard, sparrowhawk etc. What argument would the Hawk and Owl Trust present against this wider suppression of bird of prey populations?

    Brood management is not required to address the so-called human-wildlife conflict. Diversionary feeding works very well in reducing red grouse losses to hen harriers.

    Put simply, the very intensive red grouse management undertaken on driven grouse shooting estates is not sustainable – it’s not an appropriate land-use. It leads not only to conflicts with hen harriers and other predators, but also damage to upland habitats, emissions of biomass carbon and, possibly, increased water run-off and downstream flood risk. Where such intensive management takes place on designated moorland (i.e. SPAs, SACs), it is legally suspect. This land use is not fit for the moorlands upon which it takes place.

    In my view, the way forward is for Defra to put the brood management component of the Hen Harrier Plan in the public domain – with supporting evidence to demonstrate why it is necessary – and allow a period of public consultation. The Hawk and Owl Trust must demand this at least, and should not proceed with its involvement until the results of consultation are known.

    Further, the legality of any brood management on or affecting SPAs should be demonstrated through a Habitats Regulations Assessment (HRA). Again, the Hawk and Owl Trust should not proceed until the results of this assessment are known and consulted upon. As a reputable nature conservation organisation, the Hawk and Owl Trust must know that it would be unlawful to proceed until such an HRA has been completed and has demonstrated that any broad management would not adversely affect any SPAs. Or is the Hawk and Owl Trust saying that the comparatively small shooting community is a very special case indeed, that UK wildlife laws should be suspended to allow them to suppress the hen harrier population so they can pursue their intensive driven grouse shooting? What other minority sectors should be given special dispensation to ignore hard-earned wildlife laws?

  20. Ian Gordon makes reference to the Hawk & Owl Trust membership. Hence please note my comments below about the nem con decision of the membership present at the recent AGM and the unanimous decision of the elected Board of Trustees. Mention was also made as to whether Chris Packham, the Hawk and Owl Trust President, was aware of the situation.
    This is to let your readers know that Chris and I had an exchange of texts about this just before Christmas. In which he said that it was “potentially good news” but that he didn’t trust the grouse moor community. He ended with the comment that we needed to see what would happen “because ultimately any progress would be good news at the moment.”
    Chris is a highly intelligent and high profile President. Together with other Presidents of NGOs, I am sure that he will have taken note of what was decided when the members were formally consulted at the most recent AGM. The members decided then (no one voted against) that the Trust should become involved in the Hen Harrier/Grouse Moor issue. When the issue was discussed at the most recent meeting of the Board of Trustees, it was unanimously agreed to talk with Defra about a potential Hen Harrier brood management scheme trial.
    Mention was also made about a conservation consensus. Is it realistic to think that the comments posted on Mark’s blog are an indicator of the wide spectrum of conservation opinion? An analyst might well suggest that many comments are from those who are highly motivated to post a blog as they are strongly opposed to a brood management scheme. I have just spoken to the Hawk & Owl Trust main office, and they tell me that they have received over thirty phone calls today about all this and just about all have been supportive. Which is good (at least for the Trust) to hear.

    1. Philip: could you clarify, did the members vote on whether or not the Trust should be involved in the brood management scheme, or simply that the Trust should ‘get involved in the Han Harrier/Grouse Moor issue, as they are not the same thing.

      Of course the Trust should be involved in the hen harrier/grouse moor issue, by lobbying for an end to persecution of birds of prey by the shooting community.

      But did the membership vote for the Trust to facilitate/support brood management?

    2. Divide and Rule! The hen harrier persecutors must be cheering at the Hawk & Owl Trust’s attitude and it’s potential to destroy any consensus between the conservation organisations in opposing the ongoing illegal activities on grouse moors.

    3. How many members were consulted? I have not been consulted nor have other friends who are also members. What about the >99% of the members who could not attend and know nothing about this? I cannot see anything about this in HOTs members’ magazine, one of which arrived late Autumn 2014. HOT needs to present ALL the facts and send a voting form to ALL members. If not, surely they have breached their position as a charity?

  21. Mark, There have been quite a few comments on here about ways in you can confine the activities of those involved in grouse shooting or positively guide their activities so they remain within the law.

    You cannot create little additional bits of legislation without creating problems so we need to look at the wider picture.

    There is no offence of Vicarious Liability and never can be, VL being a concept within other legislation (and has been around for many years). You can’t be charged with VL itself and is really about making people responsible for others actions mainly because they have deeper pockets. VL is much better suited to civil offences or situations where someone can be shown to be actively involved in managing / directing another.

    I signed your petition and I also support the licensing proposals. If the petition works all well and good but if anyone was to take a bet on it I suspect most money would be on licensing coming through rather than eradication of forms of grouse shooting.

    Having thought long and hard about it, licensing does seem to cover all the concerns set out on here and elsewhere. Grouse are wild birds so it wouldn’t take major legislation change to move them within a Specific Licence proposal. Licences would require a named individual to hold the licence so you wouldn’t have anonymous bodies controlling the situation. Licences could dictate how grouse were managed and shot. Licences would be the carrot that some people want to hold out to grouse managers. Licences could be phrased to allow / restrict estates participation in brood management schemes, if needed. Above all, licences would be the stick should wildlife crime occur because they could be removed immediately thus placing liability for any employee’s offence vicariously on the licence holder.

    1. Licensing would only work in my view if they were granted only to those moors that could demonstrate a nesting presence of HH. This would in effect mean a moratorium in driven red grouse shooting, but would mean that those moors with HH could name their price to shooting parties, thus effectively incentivising gamekeepers to encourage the presence of these birds. However given that Langholm appears to show that HH and a shootable surplus are ultimately incompatible, it seems that licensing is a red herring and driven red grouse shooting will never coexist with a healthy population of HH. We need to persevere in the struggle to get this abomination banned.

  22. If done correctly, I think Brood Management could be a positive step. I’m not convinced, however, that DEFRA will be pushing to ensure the finer details, that could prevent a scheme from failing, would be included:

    1. A licence could be issued, but stipulating no intervention until SPA populations recover to classification levels. This would almost certainly be a legal requirement to prevent infraction proceedings. SPA levels would still provide the necessary ‘safety net’ for grouse moor managers.

    2. Only once SPA populations had been exceeded, could brood management be introduced where local densities were in excess of agreed thresholds.

    3. Agreed thresholds for harrier density should be based on the best evidence. They should not be revised downwards to placate shooting interests who want to maximise shooting bags / maximise profits by virtually eliminating predation, rather than accepting a sustainable level of predation.

    4. There would have to be complete freedom to check compliance, potentially covertly, with the necessary funds to detect any ongoing persecution included as part of any project’s costs. This would involve monitoring roosting birds, settling birds, nesting birds and satellite-tagging all fledged birds, with the locations / fate of any birds provided on line for all to see.

    5. If the scheme works then great. If not, monitoring effort is sufficient to demonstrate ongoing persecution. Brood Management would represent the last chance for shooting groups and, if it failed, the next step should be legislative reform (assuming there is not a fundamental shift in our knowledge of harriers along the way).

    I think it is this last point which is over-looked. For legislative reform to be given any serious consideration (be it banning or licensing), all potentially lawful measures will have to be tested. On this basis, either success of failure of a Brood Management Scheme could be a positive result.

    Personally, I’m glad the Hawk & Owl Trust are involved and think it is a brave step. I’m just hoping they can ensure that, if it does ahead, it is done correctly.

  23. I’ve had all day thinking on this, firstly like most raptor workers I find BM unpalatable but under certain circumstances I was, and still am prepared to contemplate it. One of the problems in this long drawn out saga that is the harrier problem or rather the persecution of hen harriers problem has always been the other sides unwillingness to give an inch. That is why we are at the impass we are currently “enjoying.”
    1 We surely need an viable population BEFORE BM because it is not to help harriers it is to keep the breeding season density low. Also as has already been pointed out, currently almost all young harriers disappear in their first autumn/winter. so demanding a viable population implies at least a significant reduction in current persecution levels.
    2 Both The Forest of Bowland and North Pennines SPAs are designated for breeding harriers. There should be according to those designations 7 and 11 pairs respectively breeding successfully. I believe without compromise that those figures MUST be met before there can be any BM in those regions.
    3 The density that BM is triggered at in the current Non-joint non-plan
    is one pair every 10 km or 1pair per 314 sq km. This is approximately 30 times, yes 30 times lower than the Moorland Association’s own grouse density figures show that moors can support with the grouse take uncompromised by predation. Remember 30 times!
    If HOT as agreed to BM under these circumstances ( 1, 2 and 3) without change to the current proposals then it is hardly compromise it is total CAPITULATION and their ordinary members and supporters must act accordingly.
    I also believe it will trigger a complaint to Europe which will destroy the chance of the required derogation.
    Also there is question of who pays, it should certainly not be the tax payer. IMO it should be the estates themselves.
    We also have the question of supplementary feeding. This has shown over the last 7 years at Langholm to work, it reduces the take of grouse chicks by harriers by nearly 90%. That should be by far the prefered option, if all estates used it BM might not be needed for years and years! Oh but the estates would have to pay for this and it doesn’t keep the harrier density low.
    Satellite tagged harriers have being going awol for years and years Philip, currently their over-winter survival rate on moorland is zero, will yours fair any better? I doubt it.
    If HOT have agreed to BM without these safe guards and options built into their plan that is not compromise it is total CAPITULATION.
    I wonder what Chris Packham really thinks of that?
    If I was a HOT member I’d be asking these very questions and without the right replies I would be resigning forthwith. Currently I feel stabbed very deeply in the back!.

    1. Paul – thank you. As always, your views are pretty close to mine. I, you, and the RSPB, would all consider BM as part of a package but not remotely as in the non-agreed, non-joint, non-plan which hasn’t been published or sent out for consultation.

  24. i can’t add anything to the excellent conservation and legality points already made.

    But on the politics, the forthcoming election has absolutely no bearing on this. These people are going to vote for Ed Miliband if DEFRA doesn’t give them want they want? Really?

    That’s even less believable than the proposition (which they don’t even seem to bother to try to make) that they’re not persecuting these birds.

    We’ve seen what a campaign against illegality can achieve in Malta and Chris Packham will see his credibilty holed beneath the waterline if HOT proceed with this appeasement with him as their president.

    1. “These people are going to vote for Ed Miliband if DEFRA doesn’t give them want they want? Really?”

      What Defra does or does not decide will not affect how they vote but it might well affect how keen they are to chip in with contributions to the party’s campaigning funds. Sad to say but the amount of money you have to spend in an election makes a big difference to your chances of success these days.

  25. The thing is, the very phrase ‘brood management’ appears to underline that populations are healthy. The phraseology is very tenuous and to me suggests the type of activities you might conduct to, for example, control pigeon numbers in urban areas. It hardly suggests an effort to support populations of persecuted native raptors at barely remnant numbers.

    Why should any of us kow-tow to lawbreakers in order to compel them into obeisance of existing laws?

  26. It appears that Mark had two BlogPosts on the same topic running yesterday and for some reason I missed this one until now. Here are my comments:

    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.


    Philip Merricks 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. Merricks’ 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 Merricks 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 Merricks’ 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.

  27. The Hawk and Owl Trust has certainly found an A1 way of alienating members and losing them. I have been a member for many years and would very likely resign over this issue (depending obviously on the line that the Trust now takes) although I would first contact the organisation to hear “from the horse’s mouth.” On present form, it looks as if I would get no satisfactory answers.

    Raptorpersecutionscotland has now joined in, with some forensic and entirely justified criticism of the Hawk and Owl Trust’s position. What it has written, along with the many similar comments on this blog, effectively dismembers the stance taken by Philip Merricks and demolishes his case.

    Grant any sort of raptor management “quota” including a hen harrier brood management scheme and where would the process stop and what other species apart from the hen harrier would be drawn into the quota/intervention management net? As has been pointed out, a fundamental change of direction in upland land management is what is needed.

  28. This scheme is riddled with ethical wrong-doing.
    Apart from the most obvious:
    Because criminals refuse to abide by the law and government bodies refuse to do anything about it we must give in to the criminal’s demands. The government could end the problem extremely quickly and simply if they wanted to, by licensing grouse moors and then refusing licences and subsidies, without a legal level of proof. So because of the incompetence of government we are supposed to make deals with organized crime.
    This leads to the less obvious.
    The nest removal scheme assumes and depends on the existence of organised crime within the shooting industry. Without organized crime how else can the HOT hope to get any assurance from the grouse industry that the birds will not be shot after release. We are always told that the criminal element is a small minority and is not representative of the whole industry then why are we making deals with the so called law-abiding majority if they are not the problem. If they can control the so called minority then in my view this is organised crime.
    I can see that the HOT argument is that all they care about is an increase in Hen Harrier numbers and don’t care about how that is achieved but they are refusing to look at the political and ethical issues. A clear case of when science alone can be blind.

  29. Following on from Patrick Stirling-Aird’s succinct yet powerful statement, I believe strongly that the change must come from within the shooting industry. From the Grouse Moor owners and managers themselves. The old ways of killing everything with a hooked bill belong to a former era. These outdated practices have been illegal for over 50 years and are no longer acceptable to a primarily urban-based population in the 21st century modern world.

    The loss in 2013 of the Hen Harrier as a breeding species in England was a watershed for birds of prey protection in the UK. Leaders within the shooting industry now have a limited time to change and update their business plans, weed out the so-called ‘rotten apples’ in their midst, and to chart a new path for their leisure activity alongside, not against, nature and biodiversity.

    The tide of public opinion has turned against them and is gathering at an unstoppable pace. Unless action is taken swiftly and decisively to effectively halt the persecution of Hen Harriers, and other protected birds of prey, the shooting industry stands to face a tsunami of voices that will likely constrain and even crush their so-called fieldsport beyond recognition.

    There remains a narrow window of opportunity for a few visionary leaders within the industry to step forward and establish a new road map (or perhaps field map?) for the future. I personally believe that it is still possible to modify the practices associated with Driven Grouse Shooting to allow it to exist alongside a healthy and self-sustaining wild population of Hen Harriers and other raptors. However, the number of people who share this view is diminishing daily.

    Leaders and spokespersons within the shooting industry should be asking themselves one question: Do they wish to be remembered for being at the helm when their fieldsport was subject to colossal and ever increasing pressure and restrictions? Or are they courageous enough to want to be remembered for introducing radical and sweeping changes to modernize the way in which the industry operates, and to truly work in concert with nature and the associated conservation agencies, to safeguard their fieldsport for the future.

  30. Can some help me with explaining Brood Management, This has just suddenly occurred to me and I don’t know why I didn’t think of it earlier. If we get sufficient broods to take some into protective custody what happens to the adults. Are they just left to wander around the neighbourhood annoying the natives. We know that Harriers have a habit of visiting other nest sites over a wide area, so it could lead to extra birds wandering neighbouring estates.

    1. And lets not forget that brood management will not prevent those wandering birds (if they are left alone) from disturbing drives come shoot day. I suspect most members of the grouse shooting community don’t want this to happen over butts of high fee paying clients so will no doubt take steps (by illegally removing all birds) to prevent this happening.

  31. I think we should not lose sight of the principles that could be surrendered by supporting brood management and the signals that this will send out, perhaps beyond the confines of grouse moors.
    It is a very poor principle to argue that because we are finding if difficult to stop an illegal activity we should give ground to those perpetrating it.
    It is also dangerous to agree to the principle that any species, no matter how rare or how iconic it may be, should be subject to ‘management’ if it inconveniences some vested interest group.
    NE awarding licenses for buzzard control was an ominous step; conservation bodies agreeing to brood management would be another. More than harriers could be put at risk!

  32. I think the Hawk and Owl ‘Trust’ has lost a lot of Trust regarding this whole sorry mess

  33. The Northern England Raptor Forum is very concerned to learn through the present debate on social media that the Hawk & Owl Trust is considering its involvement in what we view as the premature application of artificial brood management for Hen Harriers breeding on the upland grouse moors of northern England. We urge the Hawk & Owl Trust not to facilitate this wholly inappropriate technique which is contrary to the principles of sound conservation for a scarce and endangered species. The Hawk & Owl Trust’s involvement in such a scheme at this stage would seem to jeopardise their independence and pander to the undue pressures of the shooting lobby.

    NERF believes that the primary objective must be to see the population of the Hen Harrier in England reach a viable and sustained recovery by its own accord, with adequate protection against illegal persecution and through the application of acceptable techniques such as supplementary feeding at the nest. As a minimum we would expect to see the upland Special Protection Areas, protected under EU Directives, demonstrably supporting their designated populations of Hen Harrier. Across the whole region we’d expect to have at least 70 breeding pairs, below which published reports show there would be no economic impact on Red Grouse numbers. Only when this threshold is reached should the case for brood management be considered.

    Overall we have concerns that brood management, particularly at this stage, is contrary to the guidance on wild bird translocation, holding them in captivity and their release into a safe and suitable habitat as set out in the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) guidance

    The full NERF statement can be read at

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