Defra take note!

B8_smdgIEAATD_mRare Bird Alert asked people, any people (but over 750 people), to express their views on whether they would support the Hawk and Owl Trust in taking part in a brood management trial. Do have a look at the selection of comments on the Rare Bird Alert website too.

Only one in six people agree with the position of the Hawk and Owl Trust as far as it is known and understood at the moment. This should be a sobering finding for the Hawk and Owl Trust’s Chairman, Philip Merricks, who has been so keen on this idea, and also for the other trustees who are said to be right behind this proposal too.

hotoIt is up to the H&OT what they do.  And I would be the last person to put someone off doing what they believe is right just because it might be unpopular, but in this case, it appears, there is no ‘might’ about it.

I’m not sure I ever saw any similar type of information (I guess none existed) when the RSPB took the most unpopular decision that I can ever remember it taking – to support a cull of Ruddy Ducks in the UK (see pages 72-74 of Fighting for Birds) but I would be amazed, totally amazed, if the feelings had been anything like as opposed as they appear to be over the H&OT’s position, as agreed by its trustees.

But I am more interested in Defra’s position. Going back a couple of weeks to a blog I wrote saying that Defra might have one more bad decision left in it before the general election, this poll certainly would indicate that it would be a ‘brave move, minister’, for the Secretary of State to put her head above the parapet, so close to a general election, on this subject.

Only if Tory ministers wish to curry favour with rich Tory, grouse-shooting, voters would it make any sense at all for Defra to show any interest in brood management when the raptor workers on the ground, and the RSPB on the ground and, I hope, buzzing around the ears of Defra ministers, are against this proposal as it stands. And remember, it hasn’t been published by Defra, and it hasn’t been out to consultation.

I don’t know why I should give advice to Defra ministers and civil servants, but if I were them, I might put the brood management proposal, if it is written down and agreed by GWCT, Moorland Association, BASC, NGO and, it seems. Hawk and Owl Trust, out to consultation as the RSPB suggested. You never know, we might like it more when we see it than when Philip Merricks can’t explain it, and when Andrew Gilruth can’t be bothered to explain it.  And a consultation is never a bad thing.

After the general election, who knows what position we will all be in – I’m not predicting anything – and we can all start again.

Thank you to Rare Bird Alert for setting up this poll. Nice one!  We can be sure that the H&OT trustees will find it helpful next week in working out their way forward.



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42 Replies to “Defra take note!”

  1. Mark - Having recently been sent a number of copies of your tweets and your other social media messages to birding groups urging them to get their members to take part in the poll, I guess that one message that even minded observers will take, is how easy it is to manipulate sectional opinion through use of a persistent and active social media campaign.

    Other recent messages to me made have the point that it might have been more useful to have waited for full information on the brood management scheme trial to have been released by the authorities before launching a poll on an issue, which is based on partial and imperfect information.

    1. Philip - you amaze me!

      You don't comment on the results of the poll - would you like to? In fact it seems as though you are completely dismissive of it. Are you sure that is wise, as a trustee of an organisation that depends on public support?

      Are you suggesting something underhand has gone on - that's a bit rich!

      You, personally, were quoted by RareBirdAlert as saying that you thought the poll was a 'great idea' - were you misquoted? The tweet is reproduced below:

      Rare Bird Alert ‏@RareBirdAlertUK

      Hi @MarkAvery @Hawkandowluk I spoke with Phillip over w'end +he thought our poll on HOT and BM was a "great idea"! >

      9:06 AM - 2 Feb 2015

      You aren't suggesting, are you, that birdwatchers are a sectional interest when it comes to the Hen Harrier? I think they might be quite a large chunk of your membership?

      My Twitter account did not tell people how to vote - but promoted the poll. You'll find that my Twitter account is followed by all the organisations, such as your own, but also GWCT, Moorland Association, BASC etc who are promoting a brood management scheme but clearly they did not bother enough to promote it any further. Even though, they must know how 'easy it is to manipulate sectional opinion through use of a persistent and active social media campaign'. Did Hawk and Owl Trust promote the poll which you are quoted as saying was a 'great idea' - if so I missed it?

      And to suggest that we should all wait for more information is very amusing. Your failure to explain the value of a brood management scheme whilst promoting it so enthusiastically is probably what got you into this position, isn't it? 'Brood management is 'the way forward' but I'm afraid I can't explain how or why' is seen by many as your position at the moment.

      What did you think of the result of the poll - you haven't said?

      1. Hi Mark (and Phillip)
        Just had an email from Phillip, who as you will see is happy for me to copy the text of it here, our comments follow it.

        "Thanks for sending this through. It was good to speak with you. Good to hear that our Pallid Harrier of twenty plus years ago still remains in your mind.

        Just one thing - I see from Mark Avery's comment on his own blog today that, after you and spoke on the phone, you tweeted that I thought the poll was "a great idea". Indeed I did say that to you and I still think a poll is a great idea but you will remember that I said that it would have been a much better idea and a much better poll if there had been two proper structured statements giving facts both for and agains BEFORE there was a poll.

        I understand that perhaps the space constraints of a tweet meant that you could not tweet my comment in full. Hence I would be grateful if you could clarify my comments.

        Of course it might be difficult to get this rambling email into a tweet but I am sure you will do your best.

        Thanks, best wishes, Philip
        PS - Or if you like you could post this email yourself on Mark's blog."

        Regarding Phillip's quote "sending it through", this is referring to the full poll results and all the comments left by users. Hopefully these will be distributed to all members of the HOT board and anyone else who is involved in the decision making process.

        He is absolutely correct in what he say in his email, he did indeed say that as well as being a good idea it would be good to include maybe 500 words or so from the HOT and perhaps yourself on the issues involved. However as I pointed out to him the poll had already been running for a few days, had hundreds of votes and it wouldn't now be right to change it. I believe this could have skewed the results, either way, I might add.

        Furthermore, although I didn't discuss this with Phillip, I did find the request a bit odd. At the beginning of the poll we posted a links both to your site and also to the HOT'.. What information could have been added that wasn't already out there, I thought? Surely the HOT would have put out in the public domain (via there own website) everything they believe would show people why the decision they had come to was the right one! If its not on their own website is the RBA one the best place to put this?

        I did say to Phillip that we would be very happy to publish an article from the HOT on the RBA website but as yet I have yet to receive any text, tho I did give them a couple of reminders about this today so maybe it will be along in a few days.

        Not sure any of this really adds anything to the debate but its out there all the same.

    2. Philip it saddens me that you seem to be suggesting that something underhand has taken place here. Rare Bird Alert ran a poll asking people to indicate their views on proposals for a brood management trial for Hen Harriers and Mark linked to it and encouraged people to vote. The vote was open to anyone and we know that Mark's blog is read by a number of supporters of grouse shooting so they had the opportunity to vote as much as anyone else and also to encourage their allies to vote.
      As Rare Bird Alert is a web-site aimed at birders rather than at hunters it is perhaps not surprising that the results went in the direction that they did and no doubt a poll hosted by, say, Shooting Times would produce a different result. So, the result cannot be taken as representing the views of society as a whole (sadly, most people are probably indifferent to the issue) but it does nevertheless show that a significant number of people with an interest in the conservation of hen harriers are unhappy at the proposal to begin a trial of brood management at this stage. Defra would be unwise to dismiss that out of hand.
      You suggest that a poll was premature because it was based on imperfect and partial information but - aside from the fact that this lack of information is largely down to you failing to provide more - there are various perfectly good reasons to reject the proposal just based on what we know:
      1) Hen Harriers do not need brood management to increase in numbers. BM is in fact a way to reduce/remove the inconvenience that Hen Harriers represent to grouse moor managers. Hen Harriers need people to stop shooting and otherwise persecuting them and then they will increase on their own.
      2) There are significant questions regarding the legality of BM.
      3) If BM is to be used as a tool to reduce conflict with grouse moor operations this should only be after the Hen Harrier population has already recovered to an agreed level. It is ludicrous to suggest that a virtually extinct population is causing unacceptable economic losses to the grouse industry and unacceptable that a cessation of law breaking by game-keepers and their employers should be conditional on BM (or indeed on anything - complying with the law should be unconditional).
      4) Alternative, less invasive methods are available to reduce Hen Harrier impacts on shootable grouse numbers, i.e. diversionary feeding.

      I do hope that the HOT will reconsider its position or at least make much more information available about what it intends to do so that we we are in a position of having perfect and complete information. A fuller explanation of what you are planning to do and how would certainly be welcome.

    3. In which case Philip, why the reluctance to provide the 'full information'?

      If readers hadn't been agnostics then we might be forgiven for thinking that they might be migrating towards sceptical after all this prevarication?

    4. Philip - also worth having a look at the TNS (one of the big research agencies) survey which found that RSPB donors - a good proxy for those who are passionate about birds: 67% supported; 7% opposed (2% of these being strongly opposed).

      1. Andrew - have you had enough time to find the answer to the question 'How many Hen Harriers are we promised through the adoption of brood management?'.

        1. How many spoon-billed sandpipers were promised by: WWT, Birds Russia, Moscow Zoo, RSPB, BTO, BirdLife International, ArcCona or the Spoon-billed Sandpiper Task Force - when they started their brood management?

          The spoon-billed sandpipers were being illegally killed. How many people told these organisations that brood management could not start until the population had recovered?

          Considering how much has been said about Defra providing more detail; I was surprised that only 9.6% of RBA readers were seeking it before making a decision.

          1. As someone who has been involved with Spoon-billed Sandpiper conservation work in East Asia for more than a decade I can tell you now that the situations are not remotely analagous. Spoon-billed Sandpipers are Critically Endangered with less than 400 individuals left. Massive reclamation of their staging habitat throughout the Yellow Sea eco-region (tidal-flats with a very specific substrate which the species has evolved its unique bill to feed on) coupled with being accidentally netted as 'bycatch' in their wintering grounds by subsistence farmers/fishermen and nest predation from gulls following an expanding fishing industry in Chukotka is what has brought the species to the brink - not deliberate persecution to protect an industry. Calculations were made that at the rate of decline if something drastic was not done the species could become globally extinct within a decade. In the face of some scepticism, conservation management was started. This was done to try stop one of the rarest birds in the world from disappearing forever, and has been just part of a process that includes mitigation and education measures to stop accidental hunting pressure. Given the ongoing problems with reclamation - remaining critical staging grounds in China are threatened for example - the species may never survive the 21st century.

            How that situation can be sensibly compared with the problems facing Hen Harriers is impossible to see. Harriers have huge amounts of habitat available to them. They could recover populations very quickly (as Langholm demonstrated) if only the illegal and deliberate persecution stopped. This is not a Critically Endangered species for which there is no other option but to instigate conservation management, and to try to suggest that because it was done to help Spoon-billed Sandpipers it should therefore be done for Hen Harriers is just wrong.

          2. Andrew, had to do a double-take to check that you were actually comparing Hen Harriers in England to Spoon-billed Sandpipers.
            S-b.S - a species threatened with global extinction due to a number of factors, including illegal persecution (largely by very poor people) and wide scale destruction of habitats in developing countries.
            The Hen Harrier is threatened in Britain due to one single factor - the illegal persecution by a small number of very wealthy people because it it has some impact on them shooting other wild birds for 'sport'. Oh yeah and these are same people who call themselves custodians of the countryside!!
            To even begin to compare these two situations is absolutely pathetic, and nobody who GENUINELY respects wild birds would even attempt it.

          3. More muddying the waters Andrew. As I am sure you are aware the case of the spoon-billed sandpiper is not at all comparable. The captive breeding project there is a last ditch attempt to save a species that is in imminent danger of world-wide extinction. The threats it faces are along thousands of miles of flyway and include habitat loss as well as illegal trapping. Brood management in Hen Harriers is primarily proposed to alleviate predation on grouse chicks for the benefit of grouse shooters and - unless you are saying that grouse moor managers and their keepers just can't help themselves from shooting hen harriers - is not what is necessary to allow the hen harrier population to grow. Given that brood management is really for the benefit of the grouse shooter rather than the hen harrier it is perfectly reasonable to insist that it should wait until harrier numbers have increased to an agreed level.

          4. What an inconsistent approach to the problem. The problem of course is not the hen harriers ability to breed, they are very good at that.

            The real problem is that there are apparently not enough grouse alive on the moor in August (to kill for fun). So if its the grouse that is under threat why not apply the brood management to the ailing grouse population?

          5. 'Moor' diversionary tactics & distraction dribble, so grist to the mill in terms of helping any agnostics of the merricks of BM?

      2. Andrew - interesting survey. According to it ~24% of the public are RSPB donors. That is encouraging. Clearly however, massive though the RSPB membership is, 24% of the UK's population are not RSPB members. I wonder what percentage of their actual members (as distinct from occasional/one time donors) would back BM now? Perhaps we'll find out. I also wonder whether the H&OT would dare poll their members! Finally I wonder how much information those "ordinary people" polled by TNS were given about the situation (HH population size, alternatives to BM, reasons for current situation etc.). In short, if I was the H&OT I know which survey I would expect to more closely resemble the views of my members.

      3. Andrew and Philip, the CA's figure of 67% was based upon the responses of 160 people from a sample size of 230 people who said they had donated to the RSPB. I don't think that constitutes a particularly representative survey. In addition, the CA kindly reproduce this data in a tiny font so you'll have to squint to read it.
        I'd be interested to hear what information about brood management/translocation was provided for those donors to make their decision? How was "donor" defined; someone who donates monthly or once gave a quid a couple of years ago but nothing since? Like the proposed BM trial, the devil is in the detail. And I'm not seeing many of them.

      4. "a good proxy for those who are passionate about birds"

        Passionate is a much devalued word these days as it is flung about with such abandon. We can agree that these donors care about birds. Many of us care about cancer too and donate to cancer research charities but I imagine that rather few of us would claim to know much about the best way to cure one kind of cancer or another. If we were asked "if it would reduce the number of people dying from cancer would you agree with such and such an action?" (pretty much how the CA survey framed its overarching question) without any qualification we would probably say yes, though our level of agreement might be reduced if we were then informed about particularly nasty side effects, for example. You might say that the second and third CA questions qualify the first but they are hardly the relevant qualifications, I'd suggest. The RBA survey was rather more specific, asking if we agree with the HOT going ahead with a BM trial under the present circumstances. Furthermore it allowed people to comment and those comments made clear that respondents were fully aware of the various issues relevant to the question. Of course we can all pick and choose the surveys that support our case but I think the CA survey is really only muddying the water.

      5. I'm expected to believe something about RSPB members quoted on the Countryside Areliars website!

    5. Phillip - perhaps HOT should run its own pole and ask ALL of its members to vote? Many of us have a background monitoring wild birds of prey in their natural habitats. At least the Rare Bird Alert was open to all HOT members unlike the vote at your recent AGM which was not advertised in advance nor mentioned in the post AGM report. You must have details otherwise the vote at the HOTs Trustee meeting with have breached charity guidelines.

    6. Do you think that maybe Philip, that its possible that the majority of people are against brood meddling? You and HOT of steadfastly refused to answer and evaded the many legitimate questions you have been asked on both this blog and elsewhere. Why would any right thinking person support something that you won't share the detail of? Quite frankly it looks like you are making the whole thing up as you go along.

  2. That is a gratifying result Mark, thanks for blogging it. Over a two thirds majority saying no to supporting the HOT position, is substantial.
    It is also pleasing that many of the comments are saying that the shooting industry must obey the law before brood management is even considered. This is absolutely right.
    As I have said a few times before, raising the issue of trialing brood management at this stage is a complete distraction form the real issues associated with driven grouse moors and is not helping the efforts to stop the destruction in our uplands at all.
    Let's hope this poll will now help this distraction to disappear until such time in the future when it may or may not be appropriate to consider it. That time will be when Hen Harriers are returning to grouse moors in good numbers without being shot out of the skies.

  3. This week Raptor Politics published a comment from a contributor called 'Falcoscot' in which he compared the conflict in northern Ireland with the hen harrier issue. He was more or less claiming that if the terrorists could sit around the table and resolved their issues with the British Government then both sides involved with the hen harrier conflict should do the same. I have added my reply below.

    Falcoscot, There are a number of serious flaws with your argument when it comes to saving the hen harrier. First of all the conflict in northern Ireland resulted in the tragic loss of people's lives. In the end, yes the terrorists agreed to sit around the table and resolve the issue agreeing to lay down their arms for the good of humanity and sanity bringing peace to northern Ireland. There is a significant difference; the estates and their gamekeepers have been taking part in Natural England's Hen Harrier recovery project for many years, but at the same time the killing of hen harriers continued unabated of red grouse moors. To have a chance of success with brood management gamekeepers and their employers must all agree to lay down their arms and allow the hen harrier to return to the uplands of northern England. I fear this will simply not happen as things stand at the moment. I do agree however, banning driven grouse shooting will never happen, and if it did the situation could become much worse for all raptors throughout the uplands here in England where red grouse are shot. Estates would simply turn to other forms of grouse shooting (walk up), but at the same time estates would almost certainly get rid of all birds of prey in one swoop.

    1. Hi Terry,

      I know you have a wealth of raptor experience so respect your opinion, but I don't understand why you think banning driven grouse shooting could make the situation much worse for all raptors throughout the uplands (hard to imagine!). This almost sounds like an ecological version of Stockholm syndrome. I might christen it Helmsley syndrome - to mean identifying and sympathising with the parties holding one's natural heritage hostage... Are you suggesting that the remaining gamekeepers would kill the few remaining raptors on our uplands out of spite as a reaction to any ban? Or do you think that a decline in raptors would occur as a result of possible land use changes following a ban? I'd be interested to hear your thinking.

      1. Hello Hugh, The reason I think raptors may suffer the consequence of a driven grouse shooting ban have already been published in some detail by Mark Avery within an earlier blog. Perhaps if you e-mail Mark he could send you a copy of my comments.

        I firmly believe that there will not be a ban by the way, but if that was to happen in my opinion the possibility exists that estates would ensure all grouse predating raptors remaining were taken out by a programme of raptor cleansing. As things stand at the moment most red grouse estates in northern England are already close to accomplishing this, but it could become much worse I fear without improved enforcement and a political will by the government to stop persecution one way or another on grouse moors.

        The NWRPG have already discovered two posters in Bowland claiming the area to be a raptor free zone, WHAT DOES THAT SAY?

        In the early 1970's the NWRPG had located no less than 39 breeding female hen harriers throughout Bowland. The reason there were so many at that time was because gamekeepers were skilled at eradicating most ground predators, for example fox, stoats and mink. Perhaps because the old school gamekeepers working in Bowland at that time knew very little about hen harriers, and having to walk the moors rather than ride as they do now, they missed many nesting sites most seasons. That is certainly not the case today. I hope this answers your questions?

        1. Not really Terry to be honest, but I'll have a trawl back and look for your earlier posts...

  4. One thing that always astounds me in these discussions is that it always feels like the tail is wagging the dog.
    It is up to shooting to find a solution that the rest of us are satisfied with, not for society to be pressured into an agreement that suits shooting interests.

  5. Wow. Philip Merrick's condescending assertion that knowledgeable and interested parties are "sectional opinion" that can easily be manipulated has to be the conservation charity equivalent of Gerald Ratner effectively slating his own customers for buying his 'crap' jewellery. Good job HOT doesn't look to its members for funding or support. Oh, right...

  6. As long as there are criminals involved, then their actions have to stop before any negotiation on how to proceed. Let no one be fooled, there are crimes being committed by criminals. They need to be caught.
    Do you negotiate with burglars on how to remove the tempting flat screen TV? No, you try to catch him and lock him (or her) up.
    So all this brood manipulation idea does, is pander to the criminals. You are trying to tell them that it is the victims of the crime that are to blame - try telling that to the judge if you are ever in front of one!

    1. So Philip Merricks thinks that all those who disagree with him have misunderstood the situation and been easily influenced by others. Of course, all those on the shooting side have assessed everything independently and accurately before reaching their conclusion to slaughter all hen harriers.

      I guess Philip has to either argue that we all have it wrong-or conclude that he has. Always difficult for someone to admit that!

  7. ANY Brood Management scheme regardless of the details and protocols proposed is totally unacceptable at the current time and circumstances. IUCN Guidance is clear and unambiguous on this point. NO translocations should take place until all key threats that caused the species declines have been identified and addressed.

    We know now that the primary reason Hen Harriers are almost absent from England is due to direct human persecution. This threat MUST be addressed BEFORE any Brood Management scheme can be considered. Moreover, once the threat is removed the Harriers must be given a reasonable period of time (20-30 years) to re-colonise on their own before even considering the possibility of any meddling interventions by humans.

    Consideration of any Brood Management scheme at the current time is blatantly ANTI-conservation and merely plays into the hands of those who have been relentlessly and illegally persecuting these fabulous raptors for decades.

    HOT's misguided proposals are divisive and serve only to distract attention away from the pressing need to address the threat of direct persecution. Their current policy contradicts sound conservation science, and, based on the recent poll by Rare Bird Alert, is also contrary to overwhelming public opinion.

  8. Mark,
    You say: I would be the last person to stop anybody doing what they think is right just because it is unpopular ! Why try to stop driven grouse shooting then?! Maybe driven grouse shooting has its down sides but so does what the hawk and owl trust are supporting.

    1. Billy - thanks for your comment.

      Grouse shooting should be banned not because its unpopular (is it?) but because it is environmentally damaging.

      The Hawk and Owl Trust should do what they think is right whether it is popular or unpopular - but not if it is wrong, misjudged or wicked. I think it is wrong and misjudged, though not wicked.

  9. Brood management isn't the answer to the Hen Harrier problem, upholding the law is what's required. If the current laws don't have enough teeth then they should be strengthened.

    If the law is upheld Hen Harriers don't have a problem, the same goes for all Birds of Prey which are currently being persecuted. It's 2015 and ignorance is no longer acceptable.

  10. We learnt today from GWCT that there is "no denial" from the shooting community that persecution is the cause of the hen harrier's parlous state in England. At least I think that's what they meant (Twitter comments today). We also learnt from Shooting Times that Brood Management wouldn't work if persecution persisted. Again, that's what I took them to mean (Twitter comments today). While the views of GWCT and Shooting Times and indeed the Hawk and Owl Trust on Brood Management are interesting, I would love to hear what the Moorland Association and National Gamekeepers Organisation and their members think on the subject. Do they believe that Hen Harriers need a recovery plan because they have persecuted them (because if they don't, then what do they believe the point of a Brood Management scheme is?) Can they achieve an immediate and complete cessation of persecution in order to meet the HOT pre-condition for a brood management scheme? How can they guarantee that this condition will be met? Can we hear from the MA and NGO please?

  11. Philip Merricks accusing Mark Avery of manipulateing the results and dismissing them - check

    Andrew Gilruth having a dig at the RSPB rather than actually answer a question - check

    A sadly predictable response


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