Managing expectations

IMG_2630Let’s take a step back and look at the idea of a brood management scheme for Hen Harriers.

The idea of ‘doing something’ to Hen Harrier eggs, chicks and/or adults, to reduce their impacts on driven grouse shooting has been kicking around for years.  If the shooting industry had not been so intransigent, and if Hen Harrier numbers had not continued to decline, then my guess is that they could have got some of what they wanted many years ago. They haven’t learned and still are making unreasonable demands from a position of moral weakness (illegal raptor persecution has continued and arguably intensified).

Over 10,000 of us (including me) signed Andrew Gilruth’s e-petition, asking Defra to publish the non-agreed and non-joint Hen Harrier non-plan. It hasn’t been published, so in theory and largely in practice, we don’t know what it contains. I’d like to know. [By the way, Andrew Gilruth’s e-petition has hardly attracted a signature in the last three months despite being supported by the GWCT, BASC, the National Gamekeepers Organisation and the Countryside Alliance, and is stuck below 11,000 signatures – other e-petitions are available].

The RSPB does know what it contains and doesn’t like it (maybe because it is probably illegal) and suggested to Defra that they should publish the agreed elements of the plan and put the rest, the contentious bits concerning brood management, out to consultation. That seems very sensible and Defra could still do that, and if they did I would welcome it.

Paul Irving, Chair of the North of England Raptor Forum (though I guess speaking in a personal capacity), posted a thoughtful comment, with which I pretty much agree on this blog yesterday. It started ‘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.“‘

‘Rich’ posted another comment on this blog yesterday with reference to brood management with which I largely agree. He started thus: ‘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:

Those comments (and others) and the RSPB’s view are well worth looking at. Personally, I wouldn’t countenance the implementation of a brood management scheme until the grouse shooters had shown good faith by reducing persecution and allowing Hen Harrier numbers to increase substantially. However, I might be prevailed upon to demonstrate my good faith (if I were in a position of power rather than being a guy with a blog) by signing up to such a scheme now – but it couldn’t swing into place until Hen Harriers were far commoner. What is far commoner?  That would be up for negotiation – but note the word ‘far’ in front of the word ‘commoner’.

Where we are, is that the conservation community is guardedly open to the possibility of some sort of brood management scheme for Hen Harriers.  Since no such scheme has been proposed and no-one has asked the public’s opinion on it, then it is difficult for any of us to know whether our distaste at the very idea could be swallowed for the sake of the Hen Harrier. Maybe it could, maybe it couldn’t.  So, let’s see it, as the RSPB suggested months ago, and then debate a proposed scheme rather than the principles of an unknown scheme.

So it’s clearly up to Defra what they do, and we can vote soon taking into account any actions they take on this issue.  Some leadership from the government would be welcome, but unexpected.

One thing that Defra, or a future Defra, should consider is introducing vicarious liability for wildlife crime (all wildlife crime) and a sensible brood management scheme for Hen Harriers (if such a scheme could possibly be constructed) as a package at one and the same time. And tell both ‘sides’ that they won’t get the bit they like without the bit that they don’t like so much.  That would be the politically cute thing to do as a Defra Minister (you’ll notice that I am not a Defra Minister).

But if I were advising the grouse shooting industry I would point out to them that they are losing the public debate and that some of us are determined to keep that debate running and high profile into the future.  This is not all about Hen Harriers but there were only four pairs of Hen Harrier in England last year and there should be hundreds. The lacking Hen Harriers are absent because the grouse moors of the north of England represent an enormous crime scene. As satellite tagging spreads, then the magnitude of the crime will become ever more apparent and will generate ever more tales like those of Bowland Betty and Hope and  Sky which will make the position of grouse shooting more and more untenable, and also the position of any political party which is seen to have been soft on the crime coming from this industry.

It’s not just about Hen Harriers – it’s about Peregrine Falcons, Mountain Hares and blanket bogs as well. Those issues haven’t gone away and won’t go away even if Hen Harrier brood management comes in.   Grouse shooting needs to clean up its act.

And it’s not just about wildlife either, the evidence shows considerable environmental harm to water quality, flood risk, greenhouse gas emissions and aquatic biodiversity from grouse moor management too. Those issues won’t go away even if a Hen Harrier brood management scheme comes in.  Grouse moor management needs a complete make-over.

Oh yes, and grouse shooters oppose the switch to non-toxic ammunition too.

And so, if I were advising the grouse shooting industry, I would tell them that they would be wise to start making concessions all over the place otherwise the opposition to their industry and ‘sport’ can only increase across a broad range of issues.  Knowledge of its harmful impacts will spread, and its days will be numbered.  Grouse shooting’s days already are numbered, but giving some ground will increase that number, remaining intransigent will decrease it.

Of course, if you think that grouse shooting should be banned straight away, or if you want to give the intransigent grouse shooting industry a reminder of what awaits them, then you should sign this e-petition.





18 Replies to “Managing expectations”

  1. Mark,

    Speaking in a personal capacity, I find this a balanced and welcome perspective on the vexed BMS issue. And if anyone is to take the lead on running a pilot (trial) scheme to assess the viability of the concept, then I would be very happy to see the H&OT doing so. Equally, as I pointed out the other day, there are several other organisations with appropriate experience and skills that could do the job as well.

    Anything that moves this wretched debate on, and gets us nearer to finding a mutually acceptable solution for all, is to be commended and will have my full (personal) support.

    Looking forward to seeing breeding Hen Harriers gracing the skies over the south-west of England (and elsewhere of course).

    1. ‘Balance’ and ‘balanced’ are words beloved of the shooting lobby. They are used in the same way that the same establishment uses ‘political’. The status quo, however corrupt, is always ‘balanced’ and anyone seeking change is ‘political’. So lets all be sensible and discuss this over a good dinner…..
      I’d suggest that ‘this wretched debate’ was concluded 60 years ago when raptors received legal protection, so is not now a debate at all, but a campaign against organised crime. It ‘moves on’ when shooting is no longer above the law or when grouse shooting itself is moved on. The latter solution is inching ever closer in Scotland at least.

    2. A plan to increase hen harriers… that should not start until the numbers have recovered. Priceless.

      1. Andrew – oh! You are keeping going. If someone, against their better judgement is bending over backwards to see your point of view, you might want to offer them your support. The arrogance of the grouse shooters is beyond belief.

      2. The plan, Andrew, is to ensure that the harrier population cannot increase to a density that would compromise very intensive driven grouse shoots.

        1. The plan is to increase hen harriers – across all suitable habitat (driven grouse moors are only 50% of that).

          1. Let’s have another go – Andrew, do you agree that the brood management plan should be published for consultation, so we can see the details?

  2. It is hard to understand the argument that BM becomes acceptable on an SPA once numbers exceed the level on which the site was designated, if that is in fact what some people are saying. Those numbers relate simply to the qualifying level for designation and can be well below the actual capacity of the site. Plenty of SPAs are not occupied to capacity. That does not mean that developers can remove the ‘spare’ capacity on a site in terms of habitat. That would affect the integrity of the site and also of the site network where spare capacity on sites accommodates species movements and regional population fluctuation. Plenty of developers have attempted to lop the ‘spare’ capacity off a site and have been knocked back. If you accept that a hen harrier SPA can have a population limit beyond which birds can be removed, in fact if numbers become any kind of criterion for management or development on SPAs, then a population limit can presumably be applied to all SPAs and ‘spare’ capacity can be removed. Just asking.

    1. There should be no Brood Management until populations are much higher than present levels (but accept this might not be the case without knowing the detail). Certainly if this was not the case it is unlikely it would be lawful. Brood Management should not directly affect settling density of harriers – birds are left to incubate. It might indirectly increase settling density if harriers were not persecuted. It is also likely to increase productivity with chicks reared in captivity, so not exposed to poor weather, predation, low provisioning rates etc. The key issue is where those chicks were released, but as this is not a proposal for a translocation then, in theory, this should be close to where the chicks were taken.

      I think there are compelling arguments against such a proposal, but the capacity of sites to support birds should not be reduced.

  3. A key question for me is do we need to be ‘doing something’ to hen harriers to reduce their impact on driven grouse shooting?
    Hen harriers are currently on their arse in an English context (and declining in Scotland in key grouse areas) yet in complete contrast we have GWCT’s latest (2013) report showing a sample of 25 northern English moors producing a record July average density of 358 birds per km2 – the highest ever! This year appears even better and the word on the hill is that one moor in north Yorkshire has produced a staggering 1,200 birds per km2 – Mark, can you remind me of the figure that the industry quotes is the number of birds per km2 needed to run a viable driven shoot? (clue – its a lot less than 358/km2 and certainly less that 1,200/km2!).

    1. Gongfarmer – obviously not at the moment. That’s why the other side are in such a weak position.

      1. 60 birds per km2. I think some are getting greedy and have no room for hen harriers regardless. They just love killing harriers as much as grouse but won’t admit it. For that reason, I wouldn’t negotiate with criminals. Time for some compromise (i.e. stick within the law) on the other side or ban it altogether.

  4. I don’t mean to be “stating the bleedin’ obvious” but for brood management to work it needs broods!! As there are virtually none then brood management becomes merely an academic “if only” idea rather than a serious solution. If the grouse estates liked the idea and were prepared to give BM a go then they would allow Hen Harriers to stay on their estates and wouldn’t be killing off the fledglings in an illegal act. Likewise a reintroduction scheme in the style of Red Kites. The owners of the areas where the birds could be placed must not be hostile to their presence but allow them to survive. In these simple terms therefore the the problem is with those estate owners who persecute raptors and they either need to change, have the reason for their persecution taken away or have themselves removed. How about a bit of laird management?

  5. I fully support your stance Mark and that of the RSPb regarding brood management (BM), namely it should only be considered when there is a major increase in Hen Harrier numbers on grouse moors and all grouse moor owners are clearly obeying the law regarding birds of prey.
    While the Hen Harrier is the premier issue on driven grouse moors it is really only the tip of the iceberg since as you rightly point out Mark, there are so many other issues including the persecution of other raptors, mountain hares and anything else the industry likes to call predators. On top of this there are the issues of water pollution and degradation of the upland bogs etc. So it would be totally erroneous to think that BM of Hen Harriers is going to solve the problems of the uplands. It clearly needs a complete culture and attitude change by the shooting industry.

  6. So the keepers set the population target at their balance point…. eventually the translocated birds reach saturation, there is nowhere for the grouse moor surplus to go…. so the culling begins. And then its extended to peregrine, and eagles and pine martin and…. the principle has been lost.

    …. and all the while the biodiversity of the moorland suffers, the bogs are destroyed, our rivers are ruined and the towns are flooded. Better still we are paying for it all!

    There is no reasoned argument that brood management is good for the environment or good for harriers. If the Hawk and Owl trust want petting zoo harriers to make their egos flutter that’s up to them…but they can no longer call themselves a conservation organisation.

  7. Andrew, can I just say that for someone who works for a wildlife conservation trust, I would have thought you would be supporting the Hen Harrier instead of taking the piss, but as you mainly work for Grouse Estates, you wouldn’t want to be seen doing that!

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