The Hawk and Owl Trust has failed dismally to explain their position as far as I am concerned. This statement appeared on the Hawk and Owl website which I now intend to analyse:
Philip Merricks, Chairman Hawk and Owl Trust
20 Jan 2015
‘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.
Let’s start with the conditions:
Condition 1: fledged Hen Harriers must be tagged. This is nothing to do with a brood management trial. It can happen anyway, and it’s clearly one of the things that grouse shooters fear most – being caught at it! Only the guilty need worry but that might be quite a few people. An expansion in the number of satellite-tagged birds has already happened and through the generosity of LUSH and others is likely to continue. It is the surest way to demonstrate the scale of the problem of illegal persecution and the more Hen Harriers that are tagged the better. It’s nothing to do with a brood management scheme. And because Hen Harriers move around such a lot it is not the least dependent on cooperation from grouse moor managers. This is a pretty worthless condition.
Condition 2: this is about building trust, I assume, although actually it is about building fear in the criminals’ minds rather than trust in the minds of those who love the Hen Harrier. The RSPB’s suggestion, of no brood management scheme coming into place until there are 40 pairs of Hen Harrier in England is a much better way to build trust because it depends on the majority behaving well and a tangible gain of Hen Harriers on the ground. Since more Hen Harriers is what everyone says they want, then let’s see them before the criminals get to operate a brood management scheme (even though the agreement for the brood management scheme to come into operation could be in place from the start). 40 pairs seems characteristically over-understanding by the RSPB. If I were the grouse shooting industry I’d grab it while it is still on the table.
Now let’s go back to the biology of the situation:
Philip Merricks says that to get to 40 pairs would take a long time. I think he is wrong, but if he is right then that’s just too bad, isn’t it?
We know that when Hen Harriers were protected at Langholm in the Joint Raptor Study that they reached 20 females in six years. That’s not very long at all, and we are talking about the whole of the north of England, not one grouse moor in southern Scotland. Get real! This is not much to ask and the Hawk and Owl Trust is supposed to be a raptor conservation organisation not a spokesperson for intransigent landowners.
If it takes a long time to get to 40 pairs then that will be because illegal persecution has not reduced very much and we will know that the grouse moor managers are not the least bit serious about sticking to the law. Forty pairs is a good threshold, though rather low, and if reached will demonstrate good faith from the industry harbouring the criminals. That tangible indication of a willingness to change is the least we should expect.
This next bit really does show that the Hawk and Owl Trust is thinking more of land owners, maybe thanks to its land owner chair, than about Hen Harriers. Apparently there is a problem that the Hen Harriers might not distribute themselves evenly enough for the grouse moor managers and there might be too many of them in one place. Well, tough!
Let’s see shall we?
If there were 36 extra pairs of Hen Harrier in England then my bet would be that quite a few would be on United Utilities land in Bowland, some would be on National Trust land in the Peak District National Park, some would be on the RSPB reserve at Geltsdale and the rest would probably be spread through Northumberland, Durham, Yorkshire and Lancashire. Forty pairs is not very many once spread over the whole of northern England but it appears that the Hawk and Owl Trust thinks that might be a bit too much for grouse moor managers to cope with. Call yourself a conservation organisation? Whose side are you on? It seems that you are bending over backwards to placate the grouse moor managers. This is awful.
Now let’s just imagine that lots of Hen Harriers did all turn up on a few grouse moors (but we certainly won’t know until we try it) – so what?! If all 40 arrived on one of the 147 grouse moors in England then about 146 grouse moor owners would be laughing their heads off. I’m sure they’d have a whip round for him and offer him a few day’s grouse shooting because they love the Hen Harrier so much. This would actually be a stunning success – if it happened. More Hen Harriers, less criminality, more trust and only one grouse moor disadvantaged – what could be better than that for all concerned apart from one grouse moor? You’d have a 1 in 147 chance of being unlucky – any grouse moor manager should be thrilled at those odds.
But if, as is rather more likely, the Hen Harriers went to Bowland, nature reserves and spread themselves thinly over the remaining grouse moors then no-one could complain about that either. There would be more for the 60+ million of us who aren’t going grouse shooting next year to watch and enjoy, and no grouse moor would have anything but a minor inconvenience from Hen Harrier predation – and even that could easily be allayed with diversionary feeding. Another good result.
If grouse moor managers want to be treated seriously then they should man-up and agree the RSPB suggestion. The fact that the RSPB will be criticised by some of its supporters should give the grouse moor managers some vicarious (see what I did there?) satisfaction but they are never, ever going to get a better offer. And what the Hawk and Owl Trust is doing arguing the grouse moor managers’ case I really don’t know.
If HOT wants to retain some respect (both ours and self-respect) then I suggest they start back-tracking fast. This blog and the one before it give HOT (and Defra) some clues on how to move forward.
Coupling the brood management scheme suggested here (which is basically, as I understand it, what the RSPB has asked for all this year) and coupling it to the introduction of vicarious liability for all wildlife crimes, would be a perfectly sensible package where nobody gets exactly what they want. The RSPB (and NERF and, in its former guise before the landowner takeover, the Hawk and Owl Trust) has already given all the ground that it should. The RSPB is standing on the halfway line whilst the grouse shooting industry is standing on their own goal line. Time to step forward lads.
Or, we can just blow the whistle on the whole sorry industry, right now.