Yesterday 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.