Bit by bit, answers are emerging…

I’m grateful to the Chair of the Hawk and Owl Trust for some attempts to answer some queries posted here yesterday (see comment by Philip Merricks on this blog and an abridged version copied with my comments below). The Hawk and Owl Trust is, of course, under no obligation to answer questions on this blog so it is very nice of them to do so.

Defra is remaining silent, as best I can see, on this issue, leaving it to the Hawk and Owl Trust to make all the running on this highly contentious issue of brood management of Hen Harriers.

The grouse shooters have gone fairly quiet on this issue recently, choosing to leave the HAwk and Owl Trust to make the running on this scheme, it seems.


1. You say ‘Defra will pay for it.’ – in other words, the taxpayer will pay for itNot grouse moor managers then?  This is a scheme designed to ‘help’ an industry, some of whose practitioners (and practically nobody else) have reduced the status of a protected species in England close to extinction. Is this the best use of limited and falling conservation resources?
2. You say ‘The cost will not be that much.’ – but can’t tell us how much (I’m not complaining about that) which means that we can’t make up our own minds on whether it is ‘not much’ or ‘too much’. How many satellite tags would it pay for I wonder?
3. You say ‘Chicks would be removed from a HH nest at about a week old. Then taken to a heated aviary for approx two weeks (until they can thermo-regulate). Then taken out on to the moors into pens sheltered at one end and netted at the other so that they can become socially imprinted on to their release sites. Then released at approx ten weeks.
The big advantage of this method is that it is likely that four or five chicks would be raised to fledging whereas naturally, probably less that one would be, and if the nest was persecuted none would be. It seems pretty obvious as to what method of being raised the the HH chicks themselves would choose!‘ – I think Hen Harrier chicks would opt for the ‘Stop people killing us and we’ll take our chances with foxes etc ‘ option.
4. You say ‘timing would be as soon as Defra wants. Could well be this breeding season.’ – that would be very surprising given that this scheme is not out for consultation nor is it even published, except, it seems, bit by bit on this blog.
5. You say ‘To be carried out by Hawk and Owl Trust staff who have long term experience in this work with other Raptor species. The Trust’s Scientific Advisory Ctte tell us that this form of raptor translocation has never (or it might have been has very seldom) failed with all other raptor species around the world.‘ – so not put out to tender? How odd? And so the Hawk and Owl Trust intends to benefit financially from this scheme.
6. You say ‘if it succeeds and HH numbers increase considerably, we would think that was wonderful and I hope that those who were so hostile to it (and to the Hawk and Owl Trust) might say sorry.‘ – you’d have to ask those people, I’m trying to find out what is planned and am not entirely against brood management. However, it does seem to take a lot of questioning even to get a few details of what is, you hope, going to be implemented this breeding season.  Remember, I am one of your members Philip! And was completely unaware of what the organisation I support financially was planning.
7. You say ‘HH numbers would certainly not be capped by us.’ – but don’t say that there is no prospect of capping. Having decided to get so closely involved in this contentious scheme you should be ensuring that other parts of the scheme will fit in with your charitable objects.
8. You say ‘See my comment in post above re Defra’s advice on this being compliant with EU and Domestic legislation.’ – I also noted that Defra have aid nothing at all on this subject and noted Alan Cranston’s comment on this blog ‘when you say ‘legal authorities’ you mean (at most) lawyers advising Defra and more probably, ‘what Defra officials say their legal advisers would say if they were to ask them’. Curiously, the courts often seem to disagree with the advice government legal advisers give to the government. Certainly to the extent that HOT would be mad not to seek it’s own legal advice.‘.


Philip keeps saying that this is a trial – but a trial for what? What is the overall plan and how many Hen Harriers are promised through the implementation of this plan?

How much will it cost? Is this the best use of money for nature conservation? For Hen Harrier conservation? The Hawk and Owl Trust hopes to be the beneficiary of this funding.

Defra would be very very brave to do anything other than publish a consultation paper on Hen Harrier conservation under these circumstances.  Even that, depending on how it is worded, would be quite a brave move this close to a general election.




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60 Replies to “Bit by bit, answers are emerging…”

  1. I'm really confused now. The Trust states on its web site that:

    'addressing raptor persecution is a pre-requisite of our talking to Defra and landowners. Until this issue is addressed in a satisfactory manner, any form of management of Hen Harrier is impossible.'

    Yet Phil's comments imply that discussions are on-going - they must be in order to get this scheme going within the next couple of months.

    Does the Trust seriously contend that raptor persecution has now been addressed to its satisfaction? That's miraculous. I strongly suspect the Trust is making this up as it goes along.

      1. Andrew - hardly priceless - we will all be paying for it and not your grouse-shooting members who are paying your salary. We haven't been told the price and we haven't been told how many more Hen Harriers there should be if this scheme is implemented. You keep ducking that last question even though you, GWCT, were until this week, and HOT's revelations, the main advocates of the scheme. How many Hen Harriers will we get for our money?

      2. And you Andrew continue to visit at around the same time of day, make some comments, get an immediate flurry of 'likes' - do you have folks lined up at the GWCT office ready to 'like' your comments by any chance?! Priceless.

      3. Andrew, stop bring disingenuous. You know that there is no chance for increasing Hen Harrier numbers until gamekeepers stop killing them.

    1. Steve I think you are right, HOT seem to be making it up as they go along. The whole thing stinks, and why on earth is BM even being considered when illegal killing is so wide spread? It just doesn't sit right. I can imagine that a lot of you scratch my back I'll scratch yours is going on behind the scenes here. As someone else said, what about the Buzzards, Peregrines & other raptors that are being persecuted too? The Grouse moor issue is a lot bigger than just Hen Harriers.

  2. Prsumably a species license will be required from the Governments statutory adviser? In which case, the rationale for said license would make interesting reading.

  3. Why might this be trialled in this breeding season? The mechanics don't need trying surely. Is there not good working knowledge available from the BM of Montague's.

    It is in my view ridiculous that the HOT are in this debate/argument with the non-land management 'side'.

    Its surely not for HOT to be arguing for this? MA, GWCT etc should be making representations to DEFRA with a costed project and how much they are going to contribute both in kind and in cash!

    The above all said, why on earth is there all this recent discussion when there is no justification for BM founded on any serious assessment of hh impacts on any moor?

    I'm right up for arguing for the dismantling of driven grouse shooting and debating what to have in place and how to pay for it. This whole BM business is a sideshow and a dangerous one at that - think buzzard, golden eagle, goshawk, short-eared owl for goodness sake!

  4. Essentially, you have an intensifying land-use - very high-yielding grouse moor management - being conducted within high-biodiversity, nationally and internationally-important wildlife sites. This intensified land-use conflicts with the biodiversity value of these areas. Rather than moderate land management intensity to mitigate its impact upon one of the key features for which these sites are valued, the Hawk and Owl Trust is proposing to reduce this key biodiversity value to a level that is compatible with the intensive land use.

    There's a hard-won principle at stake here, which is that some areas are of sufficient wildlife value that we identify them and seek to moderate our activities within them in order to protect these wildlife values.

  5. I am getting more confused with the HOT statements and position, that is if they are the position of the Trust and it's members not Philip Merricks. Their so called pre-requisites for becoming involved in discussions seem as flexible as a rubber band and are already being broken as discussions are already taking place in one form or another with various bodies. I wonder how many of the members, when Hen Harriers were discussed at the AGM, realised that they were really only talking about brood management and how many now feel that they were conned?.
    I love the statement that DEFRA will pay. That is our taxes, not DEFRA money and I for one have a strong dislike with any more cash being thrown at the owners of land where criminality occurs. This is like like paying a burglar not to burgle, etc. Stupid. The whole essence of brood management is to treat the symptoms not the disease. The disease is ileagal killing of raptors and a failure to vigorously enforce the present law or reinforce it in the way that needs doing (vicarious liability). In all HTO non-statements (their website apparently contains a hasty paragraphor two put up after this all became public and ripped messages from Twitter). there is great reluctance to accept this and line up behind this position. they seem much happier to line up in defence of criminality.
    There are couple of other of other points I see missing from the various statements
    - where are the broods to manage coming from?The existing 4 (best for several years), If not what is the trigger level and what area is breeding population calculated over to trigger such a scheme). Also brood management is reliant on a high level of success in imprinting. Yes this has worked with Ospreys but not to 100%. The Hen Harrier is a different sort of raptor and has different behaviour and migratory patterns so there is no guarantee of this being successful. Look at how Red Kites spread rapidly once relatively low numbers were successfully achieved. We can still expect HH to range widely and choose to breed in areas other than their release area.
    - Any such scheme is a commitment for as far as can be seen. Why?. Very simply because the process implies a cap. What nobody refers to is the process to control numbers once the cap is reached. Again, over what area populations would be calculated (UK/county/individual moor etc). What happens when the cap is reached?. Do you destroy nests and eggs?, do you allow illegal shooting to happen?, etc. If brood management was successful these questions need answers by the proponents at the consultation stage of any such scheme before it is entered into.
    The other question I would like to see answered is "who are the honest brokers who will oversee and referee any such scheme. DEFRA and (un)Natural England are unworthy of consideration. Their performance over badger culling shows why - dodgy figures, appalling use of science, ridiculous statement (badgers moving the goal posta), etc. The HTO have removed themselves from consideration. Had they been open in their position and made an public offer to be involved in discussions and maybe operation if no other course was open might have left their credibility intact. As it is to a lot of people concerned about conservation they could not be the accepted face of brood management.
    Finally the way the HTO have, by their behaviour, damaged the position of the RSPB and other conservation organisations in this debate is unforgiveable when what is needed is a united approach against a group of vested interests who believe they are above the law of the land!.

  6. After pouring over various posts on the blog and a few replies, I have to say that this subject is making my head swim. Apologies if I missed something along the way but can someone illuminate me on where the starting point is?

    1. Any brood management scheme must surely be reliant on a stock of young harriers in the first place. As far as I can tell (and we could quibble over precise numbers), the RSPB response seems to be perfectly fair. Just supposing brood management was to take place, what assurances would be in place for the future existence of any nest where the young were removed? Would it be acceptable for example, that something were saved should a nest go on to fail for any reason (and I am being polite here)? I really cannot get my head around why this is theoretically a good idea.

    2. Quite a lot of commentators including the H&OT have mentioned that any brood management scheme would have considerable post-monitoring effort put into it. The past record is not exactly encouraging so how do you monitor a hen harrier? We already know that ringing/tracking does not work in helping trace the fate of the birds so is this not just more of the same?

    3. OK, I am going it...there are some grey areas over how the H&OT has presented this matter to its membership but I will leave that. My understanding is also that there has been very little public consultation on this matter hence why the RSPB is not happy or that DEFRA wants to hide a few details. Why the hasty rush to implement a scheme ahead of a General Election but put into play because of the convenience of the onset of the breeding season? It is not unusual for conservation and welfare organisations to go up against one or another - with the prize of membership recruitment - so is this a possible case that the H&OT breaking ranks? There is also an amount of cynicism that makes me wonder if the timing was not coincidental with the BBC airing Winterwatch and the RSPB launching BGBW at this time of the year. (Incidentally, I am not claiming any conspiracy against Chris Packham but I think he may have been used inadvertently.)

    4. Finally and putting aside the H&OT position, it seems to me that the RSPB position is cautiously sensible. However, there are two sides to this and one is that the RSPB could in theory, be sidelined on the matter if it the scheme was to go on and work from the outset (unlikely) even if it sticks to its 40-pair idea. By contrast, the rest is all done with smoke and mirrors and serves to discredit the RSPB either way because Position B leaves the RSPB not supporting a so-called conservation measure that no one in their right mind ever intended to implement. In other words, if brood management fails, as seems likely the RSPB still gets the blame for not supporting it. It may seem a little that these two things are not exactly the same thing in the long run but surely there is a massive risk assessment exercise even before the scheme can be implemented? In that respect, the H&OT seem to be taking a bit of a slack attitude with regard to building a trapdoor to leave the scheme. More than a tiny bit of me thinks that all this is way too convenient given the way Beefy and backers acted.

    Apologies if other people have already raised some of these points but I am seeing a very not so well-disguised conspiracy here...and that is not normally something I ascribe to.

  7. From looking on their website, I cannot see how they have a strong Scientific Advisory Committee or a background that would them front runners for this ghastly HH BM idea.

  8. If BM were to be rolled out this year, then I imagine someone would make a complaint to Europe over non compliance with the Birds Directive and the whole gets thing put on ice. It would eventually flush out the 'plan' and associated paperwork/correspondence, something FoI might do more effectively and quickly. If this comes to pass then of course there would be interesting public sector procurement issues to consider as well.

  9. The whole concept of Brood Management is fundamentally wrong and morally indefensible. If there is one upside from this whole sorry episode is that Defra will be paying for the scheme - perfect. That will go down well with Joe Public.
    I'm amazed that the current Govt. would set themselves up for so much criticism so close to the General Election.

    I know very little about HOT, however I know from my time spent working for a now defunct conservation organisation that it is not uncommon for the views of the Chairman and Trustees to be completely out of chime with the grassroots of the organisation they represent - so with this in mind I'd advise against being too critical of the HOT until all the facts are out in the air.

    Whilst on the subject of HOT Trustees - is the vice-Chairman the same chap who for years was the Director of the CLA Game Fair?

    1. Defra's budget has been trimmed to the bone; it'll have to find this cash from within its existing nature conservation budget, what's left of it. But at least the Hawk and Owl Trust is set for a tidy windfall. I hope they don't lose any members, but any they do will be more than offset financially by their leadership of the public-funded brood meddling scheme.

      1. HOT have failed to give further information. They are releasing statements but they think they can just pull the wool over peoples eyes it seems. They still have not answered how many members attended the AGM and what members voted on. What proportion of members had a chance to vote? I am a member and I know nothing about any of this! Also, interesting that the vote took place at Fylingdales rather than via email or post. Anyway, is it not too early for HOT to be asking members to vote on this matter? I really hope they sort this out and listen to people and their members.

  10. Mark et al.

    I've been following the debates on brood management on this and other blogs. I have done a little background reading and using my understanding of the law (as a professional ecologist, not a lawyer) to offer these thoughts.

    Some Background

    The hen harrier is listed as an Annexe 1 species under the Conservation of Birds Directive 2009 (2009/147/EC) see for a lot of information on this.

    There are fourteen Special Protected Areas (SPA) that have been designated specifically for hen harrier (see though this is likely to be out of date in terms of population. numbers).

    It is established in law that any plan or project involving hen harriers, certainly when the plan/ project (Brood Management in this instance) potentially affects the favourable conservation status (FCS) of any of the SPAs, has to take in to account obligations set out in the Conservation of Natural Habitats and of Wild Fauna and Flora Directive 1992 (92/43/EEC) see for more information on this Directive (see for a guidance document).

    Any plan or project (such as Brood Management) that would likely have a significant effect on the FCS of an SPA (in this instance) is required to pass the ‘three tests’ set out in Article 6(4) of the Habitats Directive.

    The three tests are sequential and all three have to be met. The first two have to be met, BEFORE you consider the third.

    The three tests are:
    1) there must be no feasible alternative solutions to the plan or project which are less damaging to the affected European site(s);
    2) there must be imperative reasons of overriding public interest for the plan or project to proceed; and if these two are met;
    3) all necessary compensatory measures must be secured to ensure that the overall coherence of the network of European sites is protected.

    So for a Brood Management project to be allowed, Test 1 (no feasible alternative) has to be met. In my view, as diversionary feeding is an alternative solution and has been shown to work, then Brood Management fails on this test. There may well be other alternatives but you only need to demonstrate one. There is therefore no need to progress with Test 2 and thus Test 3. Brood Management is not an option on this Test alone. However, for the purposes of this comment, I will endeavour to look at Test 2 and 3 on the false assumption that Test 1 is met.

    Test two is the imperative reasons of overriding public interest – often referred to as IROPI. They’d have to demonstrate that Brood Management is in the public interest (e.g. for human health or safety) and that it is 'imperative' and 'over-riding'. I’d like to see the arguments, which can include socio-economic, but these arguments would have to meet a very high threshold. The odd gamekeeper losing their job (and remaining unemployed in the long-term) and the odd rich person not being able to shoot some grouse (and not spending any more money in the rural economy) is not likely to constitute 'public interest'. It is a (very) niche activity involving very few members of the public. Even if they were able to demonstrate an economic argument, it would have to be 'imperative' and over-riding'. I would guess that they would need to demonstrate that the wider rural economy and social structure would be significantly harmed.

    Of course, Test 3 would be incredibly difficult to pass as by definition, Brood Management demands that the overall coherence of European sites cannot be protected as numbers will be being maintained at an artificially low number.

    So in my view, Test 1 cannot be met; but even if it theoretically could be, Test 2 would be difficult, especially as there are >20,000 people who have signed a petition demanding driven grouse shoots to be banned; so Test 3 is unlikely ever to be reached. Even if…even if, Test 2 was met, given my comments above regarding Brood Management, Test 3 could never be met.

    Therefore, Brood Management, in my opinion, simply cannot occur as the law stands. It would require a change in EU law; or the UK leaving the EU.

    There is also the point that could expose Brood Management to Judicial Review and therefore wider scrutiny of the grouse moor industry. The whole concept around Brood Management is being discussed because the species is subject to illegal persecution. That is the acknowledged causal factor for the hen harrier’s precarious nature conservation status – illegal persecution. This is accepted by Government (see so in a Court, I suspect it would be irrelevant what any other organisation would claim to the contrary. So could a Court, under the current legal environment, allow Brood Management despite ongoing illegal persecution? I doubt it for two reasons:

    1) The integrity of the SPAs could not be guaranteed (i.e. FCS maintained) as the process is being established under the status quo of ongoing illegal persecution; and
    2) it is not in the tax payer's interest to pay for Brood Management when there is no guarantee that released Brood Managed birds would not be persecuted.

    I would be interested to hear intelligent and rationale counter-arguments to the above as I am sure other would too.


    1. Excellent analysis, Richard, thank you. I'm surprised that the Hawk and Owl Trust are assuming that this is simply a matter of Defra/NE issuing a research licence, forgetting (or maybe just being ill-informed) that there is other (tougher) legislation.

      But I was wondering - do you feel they might actually have a problem with an earlier bit of the same legislation, Article 6(3)? It states that (and apologies to readers for the following extract of a legal text, but it's important):

      ‘Any plan or project not directly connected with or necessary to the management of the site but likely to have a significant effect thereon, either individually or in combination with other plans or projects, shall be subject to appropriate assessment of its implications for the site in view of the site’s conservation objectives. In the light of the conclusions of the assessment of the implications for the site and subject to the provisions of paragraph 4, the competent national authorities shall agree to the plan or project only after having ascertained that it will not adversely affect the integrity of the site concerned and, if appropriate, after having obtained the opinion of the general public.’

      So, brood meddling (sorry, management) is a plan/project which would likely have a significant effect on SPAs, whether conducted within an SPA, or affecting hen harriers that are part of any SPA population. Brood management isn't required to deliver the conservation objectives for any SPA (to the contrary, it's designed to hold the recovering population down to a level lower than the SPA could otherwise support).

      The competent authority is Defra, and I guess also Natural England (although they're just an appendage of Defra, all be it a rather shrivelled one). The proponent (Hawk and Owl Trust) is required to provide such information as the competent authority (Defra) requires to conduct its Appropriate Assessment.

      The government is strongly advised to consult the public on this Appropriate Assessment, and government policy is, indeed, to make such assessments public.

      Now, the Appropriate Assessment broadly applies the mitigation hierarchy, the first bit of which is to avoid harm. So immediately the Hawk and Owl Trust has a problem - there is a means whereby they can avoid brood management - diversionary feeding.

      They might, perhaps, claim that a mere trial of brood management is trivial or inconsequential as to its effects on any SPA, but they must consider its effects both alone and in-combination with other plans and projects, and its cumulative effects. So it's brood management combined with heavy persecution and general moorland mismanagement (which of course is a problem under Article 6(2)!).

      So, it does seem that a) Defra must conduct an Appropriate Assessment and b) brood management can be avoided by doing diversionary feeding instead.

      I'm sure the Hawk and Owl Trust, being well informed and diligent, will have considered all of this at great length, and are confident that their brood meddling scheme will pass the Article 6(3) and 6(4) tests with ease. Not.

      1. Steve J et al.

        Article 6(3) is the mechanism that enables the three tests referred to above. An Appropriate Assessment (or Habitats Regulations Assessment as it is frequently referred to in the UK) is a report which methodically goes through the three tests.

        Hope this helps you.


  11. I've been reading the comments and contributions with interest, but have yet to make up my own mind about all this.

    My first question is to ask why on earth Defra has left it to HOT to announce and defend this development? In my career I have sometimes commissioned contractors to deliver something very controversial, at least locally, and it has never crossed mind that I should ask them to do the PR for my decision.

    Second, having been in some other organisations' committee meetings where they've debated similarly difficult topics, I'm sure that cash is only ever a factor in the sense of being confident that the organisation won't be left covering a deficit. Whatever else HOT's motivations may be I'm certain making a profit isn't one of them.

    As to whether this is a good use of taxpayer money - to support a small industry owned by wealthy landowners - that has to be a decision for for Defra to justify. Otherwise asking every charity to justify every penny of govt money they receive that could have been spent on something else is the nightmare logic that has been unleashed. Before very long we will all be asked to justify why any taxpayer cash at all is spent on birds and butterflies when that money could have been spent by the NHS saving cancer patients/sick children/insert heartwrenching ill person of choice.

    HOT are proposed as contractors. If Defra has decided to go down this road, better they do so with the contractors most likely to deliver good results. From what I know, HOT seems to be reasonably well placed. But the question of whether it's a good idea to go down this road in the first place is again one for Defra.

    In my experience - not on nationally significant projects but reasonably varied none the less - disputes with the complexity and heat of HH vs grouse industry tend to only be resolved by a compromise of some kind in the end. If BM really can be tied to making the industry much more robustly accountable for the illegality within its ranks, would that not be something of a win win? On what I've heard so far I'm very unconvinced that this linkage - which for me would be critical - is currently anything like robust enough. But the precise nature of that linkage, the nature of the monitoring and the thresholds to trigger action- are yet again more properly matters for Defra.

    If they could be made robust, and if there was a threat not just of the contractor withdrawing from BM but the introduction of licencing/a ban/other serious sanctions, then the proposals start to have more of an air of being the last chance for the industry rather than another cover for their continued illegality. Which I suggest would be a good thing.

    Finally - getting all this in place for this season? I think not. That degree of rush, esp with an election looming, reeks of a backroom deal, not a properly thought through way forward.

    I will continue to read and digest! But mostly I'll be waiting for Defra to do its job and justify its position in all this.

    1. Bill - thank you. excellent comment.

      A few comments from me.

      It would appear that Defra has not made up its mind (understandable considering the controversial nature of the subject) but that HOT is advocating strongly for this option. After all, Philip says that HOT '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'. It's the way forward.

      I'm more concerned about how much money is being, perhaps, spent on this brood meddling scheme than who gets it. But let's see how much dosh is involved. How much do you think it might be?

      It would certainly be up to Defra to justify any spend in this way. It would have to justify why the money was spent at all, and where it was spent. Putting the scheme out to tender would be the normal way to ensure the lowest reasonable cost and the right contractor, but Philip seems to think it's in the bag for HOT. How odd!

      I assume you may not have been involved with disputes where one side is breaking the law in a widespread and deliberate way?

      Thanks for your comments which are very much to the point.

      1. If HOT are unilaterally actively advocating that does put a slightly different slant on things. But it's quite a conspiracy theory to suggest that they would do so, and presume that they'd get the contract, unless Defra were already a supportive party to their discussions. Which is not to say it can't be true! One for Defra to confirm or deny again...

        I'm used to procurement regulations requiring multiple bidders and demonstration of best value. Unless Defra has weaker regs than HLF or a Local Authority it's hard to see how they could simply hand HOT a contract. Hmm the conspiracy theorist in me wonders if they could do so via the medium of a grant rather than a contract... in which case our queries are indeed legitimately directed at HOT after all. A question for Mr Merrick as well as Defra.

        RE disputes - I've certainly been involved in conflicts where both parties were behaving illegally (eg fox hunt vs sabs). But perhaps to restate my view another way, when conservation comes up against a powerful and well connected vested interest, conservation seldom wins outright even when it should. We all know of instances where an important private landowner or business has commited offences but NE/EA/etc have declined to prosecute - whereas had a cons org disregarded consent etc, even to do something good, they'd have come down on us like a ton of bricks.

        1. Bill - thank you again

          Well it certainly looks as though HOT is advocating for this way forward since Philip says that HOT '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'. If that's what they agreed then it's perfectly respectable (whether or not the decision was a well considered one) for HOT to lobby for it to happen. But it doesn't appear that HOT is waiting for Defra to make up its own mind, it is helping it make up its own mind.

          Philip's comments here do not suggest that HOT is anything but keen and enthusiastic for brood management to go ahead. If they weren't bothered one way or the other then I'm sure Philip would have said so in the hundreds of words he has spent commenting here.

          And Philip has clearly been discussing these matters with MPs since he quotes one of them in his comments.

      2. Mark on the HOT website it says that they asked members if they should get involved in the Hen Harrier issue, was it put that simply? Did members know that they meant they would get into bed with the law breakers, or did they assume that they would help protect them? It also says they won't start discussions until the persecution issues have been addressed, did I miss something?

    2. Bill - I think your questions could only be answered if and when the details of the scheme, including supporting evidential basis and legal analyses (e.g. Article 6(3) Appropriate Assessment), are published for public consultation. At the moment, Philip's account is rather fuzzy, and Defra is silent. No-one can really form a solid view until the details are in the public domain.

      1. Indeed so, Steve - one of many reasons why suggesting all this can be up and running for the 2015 season is at best niave.

  12. I can't see any reason whatsoever for even contemplating brood management on any grouse moor, there would never be a need for it if the gamekeepers stopped their criminal activities of illegal Raptor persecution. Whether brood management by HOT or anyone else is implemented is totally immaterial unless there is a proven increase of naturally breeding Hen Harriers over several moorlands and for several seasons. This can only happen if it's backed up by a published declaration of no further Raptor persecution by the estate owners and their gamekeepers and a proven stop of all criminal offences against raptors. In other words as things stand at present, brood management is just an admittance of failure to bring illegal Raptor persecution under control, it's an appeasement and licence to kill to the shooting fraternity at best and a waste of Hen Harrier chicks that might just have had a chance to survive long enough to reproduce.

  13. Well maybe it is one way to get money into HOT coffers,trouble is that money lost from members leaving may well cancel it out.
    It certainly makes no sense,even each brood of chicks out on the moor for 10 weeks before release will need 24 hour protection and then when released with a sat tag will only last a few weeks with tag and bird never recovered.
    While pro Hen Harrier people are frustrated at this ridiculous proposal of HOT those who are damaging Hen Harrier numbers must be laughing their socks off.
    The lunatics are running the asylum.

  14. The Hawk and Owl Trust deplores illegal persecution of birds of prey and sees its complete cessation as an urgent priority for all in the countryside.
    The Hawk and Owl Trust calls for any alternative to be sought to lethal control where humans come into conflict with birds of prey.

    Well I never.

  15. Love this quote

    'And so the Hawk and Owl Trust intends to benefit financially from this scheme'

    They only do anything if there is a few quid in it for them. Having said that they have got a lovely brand new HOT truck up at Sculthorpe I noted the other weekend! which part did I pay for?

  16. #. Thanks Mark for your comment that "the Hawkand Owl Trust is of course under no obligation to answer questions on this blog so it so very nice of them to do so". Let me say that it's nice of you Mark to say that.
    #. Many of the comments on your blog repeat that HH persecution has to end and then they will think about agreeing to brood management. Well that has been the approach for very many years and it hasn't got anywhere - ie there are few HHs and few convictions. Hence time for some new thinking.
    #. There have many questions about the fine detail about brood management. I keep repeating that this is a trial. Doubtless the research element of the trial will discover what the fine detail of a brood management scheme needs to be. No doubt that the Hawk and Owl Trust's Scientific Advisory Ctte (Profs Newton, Thompson and Redpath) will analyse the trial each year and give advice on how the methodology can be refined.
    Incidentally there has been an approach from another ornithological Prof as to whether he may join the Ctte. Which would add more scientific weight to an already scientically heavyweight committee.
    #. One comment mentioned that one member of the Trust's Board of Trustees had been
    a director of the CLA. Implying that being connected with landowners was something to be ashamed of. In fact the opposite is the case. Gaining the confidence of landowners has meant that the Trust has been able to do wonderful work for raptors throughout the wider countryside in partnership with landowners. And will continue to do so.
    #. To follow on from that, it might be interesting for your readers to know a bit about the Hawk and Owl Trust's Board of Trustees. In addition to the afore mentioned individual, they comprise of a retired Natural England nature reserve manager, a former local Govt officer, a retired insurance director, a headmaster, an internationally renowned manager of a bird of prey centre, a solicitor, a retired engineer, a management consultant and myself. To add a bit of spice, one of the Board used to be a political activist and spent much time selling Militant Tendancy - I am not telling you who that was!

    1. Philip - very evasive on the central point of to what is your proposed trial leading? It's a trial that will be part of a brood management scheme whose aim is...? Andrew Gilruth keeps coming on this blog and saying 'more hen harriers' but then runs away silently when asked 'how many more hen harriers?'. And you can't or won't answer the question either. It's very strange. You and Andrew, GWCT and H&OT, have become the main advocates of brood management as the solution to the hen harrier's problems and yet neither of you can tell us how many hen harriers will benefit. One? Ten? One Hundred?

      You seem to be selling a scheme that doesn't have a price (OK - I can live with that as you may not be able to reveal it, or it may not be known) and doesn't have an intended outcome for what you claim are its main beneficiaries, the Hen Harriers.

      'Roll up! roll up! Spend an undisclosed amount of money and buy an unknown number of Hen Harriers!'. You can see why there should be no buyers for that, at the moment.

      I bet you aren't keen on vicarious liability are you?

    2. Sounds a bit like if you can't beat them join them. There are many of us that will continue to fight for our raptors and not give up when it gets a little tough.

    3. Phil - you and the Hawk and Owl Trust web site state the following:

      'addressing raptor persecution is a pre-requisite of our talking to Defra and landowners. Until this issue is addressed in a satisfactory manner, any form of management of Hen Harrier is impossible.'

      Yet in your latest comment above you say this:

      ''#. Many of the comments on your blog repeat that HH persecution has to end and then they will think about agreeing to brood management. Well that has been the approach for very many years and it hasn't got anywhere - ie there are few HHs and few convictions. Hence time for some new thinking.''

      With all due respect, your inconsistency is becoming a bit of a joke.

    4. Philip,

      Please do not twist my words, I asked: "is the vice-Chairman the same chap who for years was the Director of the CLA Game Fair?"

      I'll assume from your reply the answer is yes. That he is a landowner is of no concern to me, but I am intrigued by the Game Fair angle (no pun intended). Is it not reasonably to surmise that someone tasked running the CLA Game Fair for a number of years is likely to have strong connections to the shooting industry? But to save any further beating around the bush, let me just ask, is the Vice Chair of the Hawk & Owl Trust involved in Grouse Shooting? Or are any of the other Trustees? I think we have a right to know.

    5. So Philip, your plan is to.carry on allowing gamekeepers to.illegally kill Hen Harriers and other raptors, while removing Hen Harrier chicks from their nests and.moving them.somewhere else so.they can killed by gamekeepers. A magnificent plan for.recovery.there... I never thought I'd say this, but I'm glad I'm not a HOT member.

    6. Quote:

      "#. Many of the comments on your blog repeat that HH persecution has to end and then they will think about agreeing to brood management. Well that has been the approach for very many years and it hasn't got anywhere - ie there are few HHs and few convictions. Hence time for some new thinking."

      I doubt anyone would disagree with that. I suspect it was just that need for 'new thinking' that led to Mark creating his petition! (

      I'm all for compromise, but when people are engaged in illegal and immoral activities that harm wider society, we should stand up to them, not pander to their whims!

    7. Any chance of answering the question of why this was not made public to your members for a year? Do you understand (or care?) that many members who have just joined or renewed in the last year might feel mislead?

      1. I am a HOT member who did not attend the AGM as it was too far from me to attend. I believe it was attended by less than 30 HOT members as most are located in the south. HOT members have not been asked to vote in the correct manner on this issue. The Trustees have been strongly influenced by Phillip Merricks and his powerful contacts. This is a sad day for HOT. It seems to be that HOT has become Merricks's way of influencing the HH BM in a way that does not offend the shooting community. Should anyone be allowed to do this to a charity. Were members fully aware of Merricks's intentions? He seems to have been going to lots of meetings without consulting the members. Why have all members not been asked to vote? No doubt, the Trustees were presented with 'compelling information' from Merricks without knowing the full facts.

  17. In all this discussion about brood management Iam becoming a bit concerned that different messages may start emerge from different conservation organisations. If this should occur then for sure the shooting industry will play one conservation party off against the other in front of Defra.
    It is very important therefore that, while some conservation organisations may have differences of emphasis on how to proceed, that these organisations must nevertheless be prepared to support a common stance lead by a single organisation, in the face of the shooters and Defra.
    I would strongly suggest that the common stance should be lead by the RSPB being the largest of the organisations concerned with this issue of the conservation of our uplands and its wildlife as a whole.

    1. Was there not pretty much a unified stance before this move by Philip Merricks? All serious conservation organisations demanded persecution should stop and a significant recovery in numbers was proven before brood management was considered. It's this in particular that makes the sudden emergence of Merricks position (brilliantly exposed by Mark this week) so galling for me: the message was getting out - at long last - that Hen Harriers were being illegally killed to support a minority sporting interest. Pressure was building all the time, Hen Harrier Day 2014 is being followed by Hen Harrier Day 2015, the terminology has broadened (it's routine now to talk of 'criminals' and 'crime scenes' when discussing Hen Harriers and English moorlands), and we are all beginning to apprecaite the impacts of intensive grouse production on other biodiversity and the environment, when - pop - in comes Philip Merricks, releases that pressure, and shifts thoughts away from wildlife crime and on to experimenting with Hen Harrier nests and chicks (as Merricks himself says "There have many questions ]sic] about the fine detail about brood management. I keep repeating that this is a trial." It all really couldn't have come at a better time for the industry's lobbyists, which does make his position look like something of a betrayal of a great deal of hard work over many years. Yes, without doubt the RSPB should lead on future discussions (with NERF and others backing them up), and I for one hope they remain steadfast in demanding that any movement towards brood management should be entirely dependent on the persecution stopping and data being collected that proves that a sustainable recovery has taken place.

      1. Charlie, I agree. I surely can't be the only one thinking that there is naivity, there is stupidity, there is personal vanity, there is lots - but the HOT's breaking of ranks and rationality is fundamentally inexplicable by any of those measures. So what does explain it?

  18. I think I'm beginning to understand all this - joining the Hawk & Owl Trust is much the same as joining the Game & Wildlife Conservation Trust, British Association for Shooting and Conservation, Songbird Survival and the Countryside Alliance.

  19. I find this all very strange yes both I personally and the organisation of which I am currently chair (NERF) are opposed to this initiative and believe a number of conditions need to be met before we would consider brood management.
    When NERF walked away from the HH Dialogue it was over the total intransigence of the grouse lobby over this very issue. They wanted brood management from day one of any agreement even if that meant brood meddling ( I like it too Mark) with one of only two pairs in England if they were on the same moor. That was at a higher density threshold than that suggested my Andrew Gilruth recently and that may be in the plan. HOT walked too----- Whats changed?
    To my mind nothing.
    Surely before BM can come in persecution levels need to reduce SIGNIFICANTLY
    otherwise we or HOT are rearing birds at the tax payers expense that will just "disappear" like all the other satellite tagged birds already. to think otherwise is naive.
    Surely the other side need to demonstrate they are serious by a cessation of persecution?
    Surely one should know what the triggering density is and how realistic that is before one agrees to run BM!
    Philip says this is to break the impasse, sorry Philip it looks more like madness at the moment.
    Philip says that without BM harrier nests will rear very few chicks even if there is no persecution. Really! Etheridge et al showed years ago that without persecution HH populations grow at about 13% per annum.
    From personal experience of over 50 harrier nests 1986 to present clutch size varies from 3 to 7, fledged brood size from one to 7 with 3 or 4 the commonest fledged brood size. Hardly Philips implication of one or two.
    Surely before brood meddling we should try less intrusive methods like supplementary feeding which REDUCES GROUSE TAKE BY NEARLY 90%.

    Without trying that, and it works at Langholm, the grouse lobby want to trial something that we don't know will work rather than use a proven success. Perverse to say the least.
    It does however make one very sceptical that BM really is about controlling density, not AGs claim of more harriers.

    On that score Andrew all that needs to happen for there to be more harriers is for your criminal members and their criminal employees to stop bloody killing them. And thats cheaper!

    1. A new HOT Chairman and many new Trustees is what has changed. Even people closely linked with HOT have found out about the HH BM trial via Mark's blog. Is this how a charity should behave? On reading the financial report in the most recent issue of HOTs magazine called Peregrine, I see that HOT made a significant financial loss after a failed investment. I hope this is not an important factor behind this decision.

  20. Mark,
    The prospect of interference with HH chicks appals me, especially as it may happen soon, possibly this year, with no consultation, not even any information being put out freely, just being dragged out from HOT bit by bit, nothing from Defra.

    I am somewhat surprised Mark that you are willing to countenance this sort of interference with a struggling wild species.

    Surely those who support the idea can't really believe that foxes etc are what is keeping HH off these heavily keepered moors.

    1. Rob - well I've been criticised for not liking it and liking it! I share the RSPB's view that the right brood management scheme could be a decent compromise but the GWCT, Moorland Association and NGO wouldn't sign up to a compromise in the Hen Harrier dialogue and now the Hawk and Owl Trust clearly don't have a clue what they are in favour of as concerns Hen Harriers, but are very clear about working with landowners, so the idea of a brood meddling scheme is in complete disarray, isn't it?

      How many Hen Harriers are we promised from a brood management scheme? Utter silence from its proponents in the Hawk and Owl Trust and the G(W)CT. And these are the two organisations publicly pushing this idea? And cannot, will not. tell us what its end point is supposed to be. Clearly it is a non-joint plan, but as I've always said, it's a non-joint non-plan too.

      If the criminal side of this argument don't grab the RSPB offer that, I suppose, is still on the table then they are destined for a slow decline as the evidence for illegality grows ever more personal with satellite tagged hen harriers dying embarrassingly all over the place, public revulsion at the scale of legal killing growing and the policy specialists getting harder and harder about ecosystem disservices in water quality, flood risk and greenhouse gas emissions. Oh yes, and they want to continue to poison us with lead too. Driven grouse shooting's days are numbered and they are numbered in small numbers because of the ineptness of the moorland owners to recognise where their best interests lie.

      No amount of bluster can make anyone think that there is a cogent scheme on the table. No government department could possibly approve such a scheme whose advocates cannot sketch out its most basic components.

  21. I am guessing that, unless there is a much more radical interventionist exit strategy we are not being told about, there is no proposal to limit harrier density as part of BM.

    If the number of nesting / breeding females is the population measure used to derive density (and determine whether or not an overall cap on harriers is planned as part of this scheme), unless you exclude harrier nests above the threshold for intervention and subject to BM, density of harriers should not be directly affected.

    You would not ordinarily exclude any failed breeders from a species' population total and, following this rationale, presumably you wouldn't exclude those settling / incubating females from whose nests chicks were subsequently removed. The threshold relates to the point at which intervention kicks in. The nests and adult harriers exist either way.

    If the chicks were released too far from the natal area, however, and imprinted on a different location, this would effectively remove all productivity from the moorland area within the BM scheme. Clearly this could have a population level effect.

  22. This is surely nothing other than entryism by the Field sports and landed lobby. They created the 'Song bird Survival' organisations (with some in the pigeon racing fraternity) to attack the underbelly of the RSPB's support-by emphasising the loss of great tits,chaffinches and the like to sparrowhawks-and then seek to turn the urban audience off the cause of raptors by talking about how cruel and horrid raptors are (notwithstanding the science).This coupled with plenty of articles in the Mail and Daily Telegraph accusing the RSPB of being fixated by raptors would lead to a loss of support for the hated (aka powerful) RSPB -but it's not worked.
    Creating their own raptor organisation is beyond even this group-but steadily infiltrating the little old HOT, is a different matter. That is what has been achieved,hence the turnaround in policy-from walking away from the flawed Defra brood management scheme, and its related nonsense in the 'Environment Council' only a few months ago,to the collusion being offered now. Brood management has only been applied in France and Spain to safeguard harrier nests from being combined in arable crops- and contrary to what has been spouted by the GWCT-never for the encouragement of field sports or shooting. One saves the harriers from death due to the incidental by product of legitimate land use operations (farming). HOT meanwhile provide cover for illegal activity, and at a stroke will provide sustenance to those who wish to bypass the objections of the RSPB, and the cause of raptor conservation. Stopping illegal persecution remains the cheapest,most effective and of course legal means of restoring hen harriers range and numbers.But it requires grouse moor managers to obey the law. Obviously an ask too far, even to allow 40 pairs of harriers (why so few?).

    1. Absolutely Catherine! I can say this now that I am no longer employed by the RSPB but I hated the thinly disguised attacks on the RSPB membership by smaller conservation NGOs and even wildlife/animal welfare charities. When it comes to shaving off supporters, I often wondered whether the beneficiaries ever really gained anything because the RSPB probably re-gained a lot of the supporters back in the long run. I am now convinced that the H&OT has simply decided to break ranks in conservation terms because it sees various pay-offs. It seems to me that there is a real pattern developing in 2015...not that this is new. How does it go? They ignore you, then they attack you...then you win!

  23. Ernest Moss, you said

    'so with this in mind I'd advise against being too critical of the HOT until all the facts are out in the air'

    Have they not had enough time to get all the 'facts' out in the air? when did this story first drop, was it 20th? that is 4 days to air the facts or is it 4 days to try to cover for the chairman and his misguided views on the subject

    1. Under the Treasurer's Report it says 'The Trust (i.e. HOT) has made a claim for compensation from Chase de Vere for the mis-selling of investments. Chase de Vere have admitted liability in one area and made an offer of compensation, however the Trust does not consider the offer fully covers the losses and is negotiating for a higher amount'. I am unsure if this has anything to do with it.

  24. It seems everyone is trying to sort the science out and confusion from this suggestion of brood management ,and those of us that support the Hawk and Owl Trust by either assistance or through subscription maybe should just step back for a minute and may realise nothing really good will come of it as the only reason for any conservation work is to try to put nature back where it intended to be,,,,,and why,,,,its through the hands of man's continued interference destruction and killing if these very birds in question,a very slippery slope,,,,of which my subscription will certainly be sliding to a more worthy cause.

  25. Moorland owners and upland keepers need a carrot not a stick and the same applies with Raptor Conservationists.

    Brood management is a carrot and as such, why throw out the baby with the bath water by not supporting the Trial.

    Persecution of upland Raptors is best left to legal prosecution but, in the meantime, brood management is a step forward and should be encouraged as a positive way forward by all parties concerned.

    1. Jack Snipe - how many breeding Hen Harriers will there be in England if brood management is implemented? Nobody seems to be able to say. What is the size of the carrot being offered? If you can tell me, and explain how it comes about, then maybe I am in carrot-buying mode.


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