hotoThere is no stopping the Hawk and Owl Trust’s Chair, Philip Merricks, in his eagerness to tell us all how brilliant a brood management scheme is, and how popular it is, and how clever it is, and yet there is little start to him telling us what it is.

We are told by Philip that ‘The Trust’s approach to resolving this dreadful Hen Harrier/grouse moor issue was formulated at the Trust’s AGM at the end of last year where all members present voted (nem con – ie no one against) for the Trust becoming involved in the HH issue.’  Since Philip has used similar words more than once here I think we can take it that the AGM did not approve the HOT promoting a divisive brood management scheme without coming clean to its membership that it was doing so.

It was, Philip tells us, at a ‘formal meeting of the Board of Trustees where the Trustees voted unanimously to involve the Trust’s expertise in a brood management scheme trial‘.  That all sounds very proper and I expect a paper was produced that listed the pros and cons of such an involvement. Did it commit the HOT to promoting a brood management scheme I wonder? Did it say that HOT would sign up to a particular brood management scheme and did it specify that scheme? If so, then I’m a little surprised that Philip, the HOT in fact, has been so incredibly vague about what this scheme actually is.  Let’s be clear, the words that Philip uses to describe the trustees’ decision, ‘involve the Trust’s expertise in a brood management scheme trial‘ could mean many things to many people.

Philip tells me that he is sure that I ‘will be pleased to know that the Board of Trustees will discuss the whole issue at their meeting next month when all opinions received will be fully considered.‘. I am, indeed, interested, not least as a member of the HOT, to hear that.

It would be very difficult for any ordinary members of the HOT, like myself, to voice an opinion on a brood management scheme that hasn’t been published or disclosed.  The HOT’s Chair’s enthusiasm for the scheme is evident; what the scheme is, about which he is so enthusiastic, is undisclosed. It’s very odd.

What is clear to all though, is that the HOT has entered a highly contentious issue and has aligned itself with pro-shooting interests and against what many might normally be seen to be the HOT’s natural allies of raptor workers such as the NERF and the RSPB. The RSPB’s Conservation Director, Martin Harper’ recently reiterated the RSPB’s disquiet over brood management, and repeated the Society’s wish that the details of such a proposal be published by Defra.  The trustees of the HOT may wish to be reassured by their staff and Chair that the HOT has answers to the RSPB’s 25 questions about brood management before going much further.

Philip keeps on saying how popular this position of the HOT is, and how new members are being recruited day by day. That might be the case.  The very nature of taking one side or the other on a highly charged and divisive issue is that some will love your position and some will hate it. If the HOT is thought to have played a major role in advocating for a brood management scheme then that will appeal to some and put off others. Many of us are waiting to hear what the scheme might be. The HOT’s Chair has been unable or unwilling to explain it here despite comments involving thousands of words. When we know what it is, and Philip could be a lot more forthcoming on that score, then we’ll know whether we like it a lot, a little or not at all.  And that will determine our view of the HOT too.



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34 Replies to “Compromising”

  1. I expect their stand at the next Bird Fair will attract a lot of visitors willing to exchange greetings.

  2. Thanks Mark. Sorry that I don't have much time today to get engaged with your blog. However I do invite your readers to look at the three comments that I posted on your blog a day or so ago - the blog headed. "How about this one".
    Re your first paragraph.. In fact re your first sentence. I am not, repeat not, telling you and your readers how brilliant a brood management scheme is. What I am suggesting is how important it is to trial it. NB Trial.
    I would have thought that you and anyone with anyone with a scientific background would be all for a research trial.
    That will provide an answer for a way forward. Or not, as the case may be. Instead of relying as at present on a string of highly charged and often abusive comments as the determinant factor.

    1. Philip - clear as mud, I'm afraid. A trial of what? For what?

      I do hope your trustees had rather more to go on than you have been prepared to reveal here. If not, then I'm a bit surprised at their decision. If so, then I'm a bit surprised by your inability to explain that position.

      This is (probably, because you haven't told us what is envisaged, even though you are very keen on it) a technology trial rather than a science trial. It's about whether something will work rather than explaining the laws of nature. There is no reason why anyone, with or without a scientific background, should be in favour of something that it's main proponents cannot explain. Tell us what you are planning and then we can make up our minds.

      What result of the 'research trial' will provide an answer for the way forward? What answer will show there is no way forward? What are you on about? Just tell us what is planned, rather than telling us how keen we should be on it. It's quite simple - tell us what is planned and we can all make up our own minds on whether we like it or not.

    2. Sorry, Philip, but your urging that 'it's just a trial, don't worry, trust us' really isn't helpful. Only by publishing the details as to purpose, methods and legality can anyone judge the merits or otherwise of what you are proposing.

      Are you testing to see if brood management affects harrier predation rates? I'm assuming to do this you'd need quite a sample size of harrier nests, spread across England (to capture obvious variability in biotic and abiotic factors) to get both control data and data on predation rates where harrier chicks are removed. If you conducted such a scientific experiment across England in 2014......well, with just four pairs of harriers, you'd not have been able to. Are you assuming that we'll see a sudden colonisation in England in 2015 to give you a decent sample size? Or maybe you're planning to conduct your trial in Scotland?

      Or perhaps you're not actually investigating whether brood management will affect predation rates?

      Maybe all you have planned is to remove one or two hen harrier clutches - again, perhaps in Scotland, as there aren't really any in England - and see if they can successfully be reared in captivity and then released? Well, that seems to be a slightly trivial question - I'm sure survival rates would be higher in hand-reared harriers. So what? The recent evidence (of a tagged hen harrier shot) indicates survival rates of hen harriers won't change after release - tags provide no disincentive and they'll get shot!

      Even a trial requires a project proposal of some sort. Please end all this speculation by assuring us that the details will be published for consultation.


    3. Mr Merricks, its kind of obvious by your vague replies that you don't have any specific details. But in order for you to have got to your position you must have accepted the premise that it is possible to have too many Hen Harriers. You must also have accepted that if brood management is successful (sorry but in the absence of any information from HOT, I am assuming that BM has to stop when the population outside grouse moors becomes saturated), then it will be ok to start culling

      Tell us then how many is too many?

    4. Philip, I also refer you to the comment I made a few days back too. Where does your disengagement strategy lie? No one, least of all yourself, has explained what is involved in any strategy, which seems incredible given that this is something that is supposed to be underway in a few months. (BTW, I think your charge about abusive comments is merely that you are detecting a rightful scepticism over all this.) Let us do a little basic maths to understand the gist of the scheme that you are presenting to everyone.

      If there are three active hen harrier nests in say, Cumbria and you take half the young from each of the nests. Would it be acceptable that one, two or three of the natural broods then go on to fail? It seems to me that if only all of the nests carry on to be successful, that you have got a successful scheme. I really do not think that we have any kind of information here because you have failed to present any details to a scheme that is due to start within a few weeks. Even if you took half a brood of blue tits, I would not give this much of a chance of success because of the unknowns such as weather (even putting aside persecution of fledged HHs) but playing with a species that does not offer much in the way of mathematical manoeuvring seems crazy. However, you are still presenting us with a scheme that you are refusing to flesh out publicly. It could be the most colossal gamble in the history of conservation ever in the UK.

    5. Regarding Heather, the recently shot hen harrier in Ireland. A report states that:

      ''She was killed with a shotgun in the Waterville area. The cause of death was only established this week.''

      The Hawk and Owl Trust continue to insist, on their web site, that:

      ''Importantly and as we have repeated time and time again, 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.''

      And the Hawk and Owl Trust tell us that they have been in talks with Defra and that ''brood management could commence this spring.''

      And the Trust insist that if any hen harriers are shot, they'll will pull out of the brood management scheme. And that persecution will stop due to the presence of some satellite tagged hen harriers.


      - Why are satellite tagged hen harriers still being shot? The disincentive you rely on isn't working.
      - If it takes weeks to work out how a tagged hen harrier died, how on earth do you expect satellite tagging to increase the likelihood of the culprit being apprehended?
      - Why has the culprit in the above shooting not been identified by the shooting supporters, such as GWCT? Are they committed to making this work, or not?
      - Given the above incident, have you ceased discussions with Defra - as you state you will?
      - Given that you'll not discuss brood management until persecution stops, why are you still actively discussing brood management?
      - Are we not all being taken for fools?

    6. You really haven't a clue have you Philip? You continually ignore and evade the legitimate questions put to you and claim that you can't give detail because it hasn't been finalised yet, but on another of Mark's blogs you were talking about starting the trial of brood meddling next summer?! You also continually ignore all questions about if HOT stands to make any financial gain from the trial, and also can't tell anybody what has changed since you withdrew from the Hen Harrier talks in 2013 stating the following "the lack of any progress or willingness of the grouse moor owners and their representatives to recognise the existence of raptor persecution in any meaningful way; despite solid scientific evidence to prove lethal persecution exists." That is still the case Philip. Let's face it, you are making this up as you go along

      1. Worse still Benjamin, the HOT link on hen harriers simply links in Philip Merrick's responses on this blog without acknowledging the questions aimed at him. This strikes me as more than a little disrespectful yet he complains that there have been disrespectful comments made on this blog. I think the time has come to fill in a few of the gaps, otherwise known as unanswered questions.

        1. The fact that Philip has responded four times without HOTs motives becoming any clearer speaks volumes. I'd like to know how many broods of Hen Harrier Philip thinks there will be to meddle with this summer, and after he's told me that then if he could let me know next Saturdays winning Lotto numbers then that would be excellent.

  3. It is a great pity that the management of the HOT have raised this issue of brood management at this stage as it detracts from the central issues of the campaign to stop the destruction of all our raptors and other wildlife on grouse moors. There are so many other battles to be won including upholding the law, before the details of brood management come into play, if they should at all. There should therefore be full support for the approach the RSPB is adopting in this campaign together with full support for the additional campaign of a complete ban on driven grouse moors in the event little or no progress is made by the RSPB route.
    Brood Management is a long way down the line and the HOT are not helping matters by raising what is a distraction at this stage.

  4. Why are the HOT so kean on this, it couldn't be all the free publicity they'll get, the wages and expenses they'll be able to claim from DEFRA or the chance of working at close quarters with a raptor seldom if ever encountered in captivity could it?

  5. Whilst trawling through the darker regions of the web last night (I need something constructive to do now Gillian Anderson is no longer on telly), I came across this draft discussion paper in Latin from a recent meeting which I think clearly explains the Hookiebeak or Raptor Trust position. However, you’ll notice that when I used Google translate, something funny happen to key words in this document.
    Title: Game Keeper Management Scheme (GKMS)
    Aim: to reduce illegal activity in the uplands and reduce conflict between criminals and everyone else in the countryside.
    Rationale: to reduce conflict, some gamekeepers and moorland owners, who are a law unto themselves, need removing for a trial period from the uplands so that legitimate shooting and other countryside pursuits can continue.
    Method: HoRT will look to develop this scheme in areas where high levels of countryside criminality and grouse moor management occur and so remove a number of game keepers from their posts. Details of the number, location and actual method of removal will be provided in our detailed GKMS.
    Legal issues: There is some disquiet amongst members that removing a few game keepers from upland areas and translocating them to other places may not be strictly legal in the ‘is it in fact lawful sense?’ However, the board considers that in areas with rampant criminality a little bit more might be OK for a short while (note to committee: check this with lawyers). It is acknowledged that further consideration will need to be given to identifying areas with low crime rates that would be prepared to ‘receive’ these game keepers. A HRA (How’ll Really Act) will of course need to be produced to avoid European infraction proceedings. A minor inconvenience is public sector procurement practice, so we will have to advertise this trial and ask several organisations and individuals to explain how they would implement such a scheme.

    After the meeting there was a game of musical chairs, where everyone played until someone was left without a Chair.

    Mark, I think you’ll see all your questions have been answered by this detailed paper and anymore criticism will simply delay the implementation of this vitally important framework plan scheme initiative trial.

  6. Broods should be managed by the parent birds and monies spent on their protection. I do not want to hear the Gamekeepers call of.....''Result'' echoing around our Moorlands.

  7. there is a rather large difference between compromise and rewarding criminals for their actions. the shooting lobby have demonstrated absolutely no compromise at all in driving our raptors to near extinction.

  8. I previously worked in clinical research for many years and have a lot of experience of well-designed and poorly-designed trials. If my objective were establishing and maintaining a healthy breeding population of hen harriers in England then I would design a suite of trials. First an observational study to look at the factors that have an impact on harrier numbers such as habitat, prey availability, weather, predation etc. It seems to me that these studies have been done and that we have between 1 and 10% of the harriers that the habitat would support. Then I would move to interventional studies: control one or more factors and see which regime is most effective in recovering harrier numbers. For example, stopping illegal persecution with or without diversionary feeding; the ongoing Langholme study is taking this approach. Once we have achieved a stable hen harrier population, I would then look at whether human sport and leisure activities are sustainable in the context of keeping a biodiverse environment and only then look at ways of managing certain species to minimise the destructive impact of human activities.
    With the objective of increasing hen harrier numbers to a sustainable level, a trial of brood management does not seem to address any of the immediate questions and I have not heard one good argument in its favour.

    1. Spot on, Lyn.
      Only by publishing details of the aims, methods and legality of what the Hawk and Owl Trust has in mind can we judge the validity of it.

  9. I heard a guy on the news talking about Britain's stance of not paying ransoms for the hostages (in this case they were taken by ISIS), he commented about how the Japanese government (I think) were considering meeting ISIS terms for his release. His closing remark was that surely everyone can see that this will lead to these tactics being used more and more.

    And that is how I feel about brood management, how can we possibly deny the control of common raptors on and around grouse moors if we allowed the control of endangered raptors?

    There are so many areas that need to be clarified, we use predator control to protect many vulnerable species, with this in mind would it be acceptable to set a ceiling on some species in some areas?

    What I mean is the uplands are key habitat for Merlin, Hen Harrier and Short-eared Owl, if common buzzard, peregrine and goshawk where allowed to breed unhindered in and around the uplands, what effect might they have on the species that are highly dependent on this habitat - we should bare in mind that these other species can and do thrive in other areas.

    We can't truly expect nature to balance itself as 'we' have removed to many apex predators from the food chain, however we are suggesting that a business that wants to shoot wild birds and is heavily funded by the taxpayer to enable it to do so, should be given the opportunity to legalise the control of one of our rarest breeding birds, at our cost and with our blessing.

    Even if we do it doesn't solve the problem, these birds are to be released again after brood management and where are they going to go? even if they don't come back immediately (which I feel they probably will) they are going to expand their range and unless we can teach them to become vegetarian as well they are going to go back to the uplands and all the associated issues will still remain.

    Which brings me to the conclusion that, we either stop driven grouse shooting and national parks, national trust, rspb wildlife trust and DEFRA find a way to manage these uplands for everyone's benefit (this would be particularly suitable to national park areas and SPA) but not all the land is state owned so some landowners might prefer to plant forestry or graze the land and this could be detrimental to the habitat.

    Or do we perhaps accept that to continue to operate there has to be some control on protected species, this could be very difficult to maintain as birds fly and so not only the moors but the perhaps the surrounding areas would need to be 'managed'to enable the grouse surplus to be maximised for shooting.

    Which leads me back to considering the land use once again, can we convince people to consider other types of shooting (walked up for example) which are far more environmentally sustainable especially, when you factor in the other impacts (EMBER study, Carbon loss etc).

    It is difficult to see that the shooting bodies are interested in any compromise, deny the EMBER report, deny the issues of raptor persecution, reject lead alternative ammunition. They are stuck in loop of denial and have realised that stalling and delaying is working, so why change that tactic?

    With no compromise on offer (our way or the high way) I am afraid it would be with a heavy heart that I would support a ban on driven grouse shooting and hope that the habitat management can be arranged and more importantly maintained (will these subsidies still be seen as so important when they are not linked to lining the pockets of the rich and powerful?

    One final thought is that I don't believe many on either side know what they want? The people at the extremes know, they either want a ban or they want to be allowed to kill all predators no matter how rare or protected it may be. Those in the middle talk of compromise, are they really willing to compromise or meet halfway, what is it that you want, what is your ideal outcome and can you see a way to achieve it?

  10. Martin Harper's comment sums it up: you have to have some Hen harriers before you can start discussing brood management.

  11. Is it not true that if a bird fails to breed succesfully at a certain site then it will choose to breed in a different area for the next breeding attempt ?. If you remove the young from a nest will this not cause the adults to believe that their breeding attempt has failed and cause them to breed elsewhere next time around ?

    1. There is some sense on this side Dave because BoPs have been managed in this way in the past but you are right to be cautious. Managing red kites and osprey young is the result on many years of research but there is good reason to think that hen harriers are much more sensitive to disturbance. It may be surprising to some people that despite barn owls being used to human activity on farms, they are extremely sensitive to disturbance and peregrine falcon nests are often abandoned after cliff top nests are raided. Simply put, I do not see that the current information on hen harriers is anywhere near that level of understanding. It is possible that Philip Merricks has yet to reveal that the schedule for the trial will include a consultation and study period but that is not what is being presented in the HOT's explanation so far. As I and others have pointed out, this seems more to do with a breakout from the ranks, particularly away from the RSPB's shadow and as such, seems an awful gamble. This can only mean there is a substantial financial initiative that outweighs any possible failure of the scheme.

  12. My Thoughts,all of us in the middle I would think do not even need compromise all we need is a stop to illegal persecution.
    Some have been brainwashed into thinking this illegal activity is allowable.What are they suggesting that we allow the compromise of 50% of the illegal activity at the moment.If that is the case we are contributing to the problem.
    Philip,while I feel that your intentions must be good I feel that maybe you will be meeting with people and perhaps negotiating with some who commit crimes and are just encouraging you on this path as a delaying practice.
    The only trial we need is the trial of stopping raptor persecution which is really the only thing that will solve the problem.

  13. One thing I would like Philip Merricks to answer very clearly, and his answer doesn't require the rest of the HOT committee involvement, ( not that I think they've already been involved), is where does he expect to obtain sufficient numbers of suitably aged young in one breeding season to make any attempt at brood management even remotely viable! If he envisages obtaining them from Scottish breeding sites, then I for one would be extremely annoyed and would be pushing for all I am worth to make sure none of them come from any of the nests that I have been involved with. I'm fairly confident that many more Scottish Raptor workers would be taking the same stance if this was attempted.

    1. I think Nirofo you are confusing brood management with translocation. The two are entirely separate. The so called plan that HOT think we should agree to does not contain any translocation as part of BM.

      1. I thought Nirofo was suggesting that the only way that you would be able to get a large enough sample size would be to carryout the experiment at one of the harrier sites in Scotland...where there are harriers. There is no scientific experiment when you have a sample size of 4.

        The problem is, that at these sites, there are no game keepers or driven grouse shooting.... hey you don't think that there could be some sort of link...?

      2. Paul, before you can have brood management you need broods to manage! Seeing as how there are no realistic viable opportunities to obtain broods in England thanks to the all out illegal Raptor persecution taking place there, the only possible alternative would be to collect young either from Europe or from Scottish nests. The young birds would then require hand rearing to fledging stage for release in England ready for running the gauntlet of shotguns on various grouse moor estates. I suppose you could call that translocation if you want to be pedantic.

  14. I consider the Hawk and Owl Trust's stance to be ill-advised but would be justified in using stronger language than that. I will wait a bit longer to see how things develop before deciding whether or not to cancel my long-standing membership of this organisation.

  15. Philip Merricks is a despicable little man working for a despicable 'charity' shame on you Mr Merricks

    1. I think that Philip Merricks and the H&OT are misguided in their advocacy for a brood management trial but I don't believe that either deserves to be labelled 'despicable'. Compromise is often required to resolve a situation in which two sides are at loggerheads and I believe that Merricks is genuinely seeking to offer a compromise that he believes will result in an improvement in the status of English Hen Harriers and that other suggestions as to his motivation are fanciful. However, having said this I think he is deeply misguided. There is no sign of any significant compromise from the other side and there can be little confidence that, after release, the hand reared harrier juveniles will not get shot despite Merrick's touching faith in the protective efficacy of satellite tags.
      I suspect that a complete ban on driven grouse shooting will probably not happen any time soon and ultimately compromise will be necessary to resolve this issue. The RSPB has indicated via Martin Harper's blog that it is prepared to compromise on the issue of brood management but has specified a clear precondition that HH numbers should be allowed to rise to a minimum of forty pairs beforehand. What commitments should we expect from the grouse shooting side? I would expect the following:
      1) Stop illegal persecution of HH (as measured by a rise in the population to at least the level specified by RSPB;
      2) A commitment to manage HH predation of grouse chicks through diversionary feeding
      3) A commitment to abide absolutely with the terms of SSSI and other site designations with respect to potentially damaging operations.

      The shooting side could also go some way to establishing its good faith by becoming much more open. Instead of closing ranks all the time they should be much more serious about self policing; they should be reporting the bad apples that we are constantly assured are only a small minority within the community - they must surely recognise that the whole barrel is being spoiled. They could also demonstrate openness and good faith by routinely reporting hen harrier nests and roost sites when they find them on their properties. It would be easier to believe they are not slyly killing birds if they actively invite raptor workers to monitor all sites on their land.

  16. I'm not a member of HOT and given its current stance that we should accept the non-agreed non-plan I'm glad of that.
    Over a number of Mark's blogs Philip Merricks has been asked some quite reasonable questions about this"BM trial", almost all of which he has failed to answer.
    Diversionary feeding reduces the harrier take of grouse chicks by 86%.
    For every 5000 acres of grouse moor 2 pairs of harriers can breed without making any difference to the shootable surplus of grouse.
    So if many pairs of harriers settled on one moor and were all subject to DF then those 2 pairs per 5000 acres could be 14 pairs without any effect on the shootable surplus of grouse. Where's the need for BM?
    Coupled this with the non agreed plans 1 pair of harriers every 10 km before BM, which is THIRTY TIMES LOWER than 2 pairs per 5000 acres no wonder the grouse industry likes it----a lot.
    Given this I think Patrick has the right of it.
    Some answers might help Philip because it hardly looks like compromise does it !

    1. And once this concept of an ideal threshold has been established, we can expect to see requests to apply it on sites where there are plenty of harriers....just to "help the moor recover you understand." Sorry- BM is just a stupid diversion from proper conservation based on the law of the land and sound ecological knowledge.

  17. Poor Peregrines are killed in their hundreds and not a word on this blog. Remember there used to be a license to take young Peregrines into Falconry. When this was used on Red Grouse moors the adult Peregrines stayed alive as the keepers always got a good back hand from the falconer. No thought on how many Red Grouse were being taken by the Peregrines. Shame harriers can not be trained into falconry!


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