Chris Packham leaves Hawk and Owl Trust

hotoIt’s going to be an interesting trustees’ meeting next week for the Hawk and Owl Trust. Earlier this morning it emerged in a tweet from Chris Packham that he had resigned as the H&OT President. No reason was given, but we can be pretty sure that Chris’s move was not wholly unconnected with the stance of the Chair of the H&OT, landowner Philip Merricks, on brood management of Hen Harriers.

This follows the poll results published by Rare Bird Alert on Wednesday which showed a very big majority of respondents were against the H&OT position on ‘brood meddling’.

The trustees may wish to address the storm of controversy into which their Chair has taken them.  This seems to be their last chance to change direction, if they wish to do so. If they stick with their current policy then they had better find a better way of explaining it than they have managed so far. The more words Philip Merricks has expended on this subject the more people have been puzzled, disappointed and angered.  It’s not exactly the position that a charity which needs public support would choose to adopt.

A clear statement of the H&OT position on Hen Harriers is needed soon after the trustees’ meeting, if only to try to persuade the membership (which includes myself) to stick around a while longer.

Finding a new President under these circumstances will not be very easy; maybe a grouse moor owner is available?

For previous blogs on this subject see here, here, here and here.


@chrisgpackham tweet:

I this week resigned as President of the Hawk and Owl Trust . Very sad , I’d been a member since 1975 .




41 Replies to “Chris Packham leaves Hawk and Owl Trust”

  1. it would appear they hadn’t bothered asking their president when they took their unanimous vote to help persecute hen harriers.

  2. Hi Mark
    In the interests of editorial completedness Chris did quickly write a follow up tweet “Personal differences over ideas of policy” Einstein not required to work out what that may mean but the early respondents to the initial tweet seemed shocked and possibly not aware of recent “policy” statements made by HOT

  3. I am sure that Chris will have spoken at length to the HOT before making his difficult decision, you have to assume this means there will be no U-turn from them on the subject of BM. Like Richard I was surprised by some of the comments on Chris’s Twitter feed, people not knowing about the issues surrounding Hen Harriers and Grouse Moors, or maybe about Chris’s stance on the subject. We need to reach a wider audience and to inform people about the options. It may be a simple approach but here is one thing we can all do to get a few more signatures one the petition to ban driven grouse shooting.

  4. I’m sure it is a huge wrench for Chris Packham to have done this given his long support of HOT, perhaps that alone may make the trustees and Mr Merricks finally think again.
    Despite not being a member of HOT I do hope they reconsider their ill founded position. Even those of us (NERF & RSPB) that have said that given a healthy Harrier population we would CONSIDER the prospect of BM at that stage have almost been villified by Merricks as confrontational. This is a bit rich given that all we are asking of the grouse industry is to obey the law of the land whilst accepting that ” the harrier problem” can be reduced by diversionary feeding.

    1. If Hen Harrier populations are healthy then why would brood management even take place? This is where it falls apart for me because it looks less like a genuine conservation strategy and more like a way to keep HH’s from reaching their full, natural numbers to please the shooting industry.

  5. Didn’t Philip assure readers of this blog that he’d been in touch with Chris & he was supportive of HOTs actions? More of Philip making it up as he goes along, or deliberately misleading?

    1. Benjamin – Philip didn’t quite say that, but he said something similar on 20 January in a comment here. We haven’t until now heard from Chris – presumably because he was working on Winterwatch and then talking behind the scenes with H&OT.

  6. Paul – diversionary feeding which should also include habitat management to encourage prey species other than Red Grouse. The new Langholm project has gone out of its way to produce new heather but no new grasslands for voles and waders. It has even destroyed Black Grouse habitat so why are people still calling them ‘grouse moors’!! Some people say ‘resigning’ weakens the fight. Should Chris have stayed to fight the HOT on their decision?

    1. Not so. There are Black Grouse on Langholm. None a bit further south in Kershope and Newcastleton where their old habitat has been destroyed by the commercial forestry.

  7. When it was decided, prematurely, [in my view], by HOT to support Brood Management of Hen Harriers, before we have a population to “manage”, Chris has been in a difficult position. Given his outspoken views on the Persecution of Birds of Prey on our Grouse Moors, the Board would know this, which begs the question, was this action by them a deliberate policy, knowing what Chris,s reaction would have to be. We are with you Chris.

    Bill. Murphy.

  8. Does Philip Merricks consider Chris Packham to be part of the “sectional opinion” then?

  9. Perhaps a bit of studious re-branding is required: Hawk and Owl Trust – HOT, to Hawks Off Our Turf, HOOT, to, maybe Sodding Hawks Off Our Turf, SHOOT. I’m not sure which would appeal most to the Trust’s new (shooting) constituency?

  10. A sad day for Chris, HOT members and the wider conservation community who support HOT. Phillip clearly did not properly consult HOT members, has not been open with his statements and did not consult their former high profile president. Surely Phillip’s actions amount to him breaching charity guidelines and he should resign from HOT. The only way HOT could have come back from this was by a quick u-turn but Phillip would rather the Trust lose its high profile president. He is completely misguided and if he feels so strongly for Hen Harrier Brood Management, he should have pursued it away from HOT. Their Twitter account is not helping either. Well done Mark Avery and Rare Bird Account for making this public knowledge. I completely support Chris Packham’s decision. Phillip, please stand down.

  11. Really sad times for Hen Harriers,those wishing to help them are in complete disarray.
    This blog and followers want one thing,HOT want something different,RSPB something different again and it seems to me that some raptor groups while supporting two of the previous mentioned actions have reservations of them.
    The Grouse moor owners and employees must be having a laugh and I guess DEFRA will be thinking we can get away with the status quo as it is now.

  12. I am very, very sorry to hear Chris has resigned as HOT President. I would much rather his disagreement’s with Philip’s policy was debated in the open before Chris decided to leave. This is bad news and I for one will be very angry indeed if Philip’s actions end up seriously damaging HOT to which I have given a great deal of time and effort. Philip does look increasingly like a bull in a china shop.

    1. Roderick – Philip doesn’t want to do anything in the open! He knows that if he does, he will get strong opposition that goes against his agenda. Sadly, HOT has already been seriously damaged.

  13. I was a H&OT member for over 10 years and spend several weeks a year volunteering for a charity that is ‘working for wild birds of prey and their habitats’. I am disillusioned by recent events and very sad about the loss of Chris Packham as president; I fully support his decision to stand down. I will not be renewing my membership and refuse to listen to Phillip Merricks’s pro Hen Harrier Brood Management propaganda. If the Trust wants to gain any respect back, I agree with SG that Phillip Merricks’s needs to stand down, there needs to be a u-turn on the HH BM and I suggest their PR Officer has some training on how to communicate with HOTsmembers on social media. I have read replies such as #getyourfactsright – how rude! The Twitter replies to concerned followers have been passive aggressive and without thought. I also suggest that there is a review of the board of Trustees. HOT previously had wonderful conservationists as Trustees, now it has recruited carefully selected Trustees which fit in with Merricks’s agenda. This is a very serious situation. HOT members should start a petition to ask for change and a U-turn. We need you Mark to have our voices heard!

    1. Hi Mary,

      I have a little experience in journalism and some of working as a press officer, so I’ve had one eye on how H&OT have handled the public’s interest in their intervention on BM.

      To be honest, they are really struggling. Mr Merricks commented on a blogpost here that H&OT don’t have a press office so they can put more of their resources into frontline work. That’s fine – although I detected a hint of ‘You Forgot the Birds’ about the insinuation that other charities are spending too much money on PR – but when you make an unequivocal statement on a controversial (‘hot’) issue, you have got to be prepared for scrutiny and criticism of that statement.

      Had I been advising H&OT, I’d have basically said, ‘if you’re going to make this intervention now, you’ve got to have a robust, evidence-based case and be ready with the answers to any critical questions, with solid explanations. The statement should pre-empt criticism as much as possible by covering the most obvious lines of attack.’ I’d also ask them whether they had discussed it with the various members of Defra’s Hen Harrier Subgroup.

      The RSPB and GWCT have been building up and communicating their stances on BM over a long period – H&OT, on the other hand, have charged headlong into the public arena with a partisan statement and now seem surprised and upset that they’re being questioned about it.

      The statement they made in January was simply not strong enough. ‘Immoveable condition’ #1 (of 2) given as justification for their support of BM can be shredded, as expressed, in two words flat – ‘Bowland Betty’. And you really should not be issuing tweets along these lines…

      Hawk and Owl Trust @Hawkandowluk · Feb 7
      @MarkAvery @anitateague a story that we wish more people would look into before they turn against us. BM is potentially PART of way forward

      … at all, but especially not when the people who have ‘turned against’ you include your own president and many other people who are extremely well informed on the topic. Has Chris Packham not ‘looked into’ this story? How about NERF or Martin Harper?

      As an organisation, it is your responsibility to communicate your standpoint effectively – stroppily accusing people who disagree with you of not knowing enough is very poor practice. Instead, you should be giving the information that proves those on the other side of the debate to be wrong, in a professional way. As it stands, H&OT are failing in this regard.

      I sent them a list of questions on Wednesday and was told today that I will receive a response ‘next week’…

        1. I personally think that the rest of HOT is being swept along by Philip’s enthusiasm for brood meddling – he’s taking the lead, Lin is attempting to clear up a bit in his wake.

  14. Before Hen Harrier Day 2014, HOT volunteers were sent a strong email message from the chairman (Philip Merricks) stating that HOT supports Hen Harrier Day, but not the ban on driven grouse shooting. Phillip was stating that the way forward was to work with landowners and he said he had met with CA, GASC etc. He ended the message that HOT volunteers must use their common sense to ensure that we do not have any photos of us taken wearing our HOT t-shirts next to banners than support the ban on driven grouse shooting on Hen Harrier Day. I proudly marched on Hen Harrier Day, but not wearing my HOT shirt. I did not like or agree with the restrictions. The email included a strong exchange between Philip Merricks and former HOT Trustee Roderick Leslie, the latter who disagreed with Philip’s stance on Hen Harrier persecution. Philip didn’t want to listen. I feel let down and hurt by HOT. Twitter keeps saying that a pre-requisite to brood management is an end of hen harrier persecution, but that brood management could start in 2015.

  15. All rather sad really. A month ago I was on the point of joining HOT – Now I label them “Toxic” and I’ll be keeping them at arms length until there are some pretty fundamental changes.

    Still, Chris Packham gets to keep his integrity. I’m glad about that……..

    1. I’m in the same position – read David Cobham’s book ‘The Sparrowhawk’s Lament’ and thought HOT would be worth joining. Then Philip Merrick brought in his brood management strategy and that completely changed my mind.

  16. For once someone has lived up to my expectations – I 100% support Chris P’s decision. No one with any integrity [and Chris has that in abundance] could have remained a President of an organisation intending to pursue such a damaging and divisive policy as that proposed by P Merricks on behalf of the H&OT.
    Free of the concrete block of PM & H&OT, Chris will, in his own way, now have an opportunity to help stop the outrageous and criminal persecution of Hen Harriers, which we should remember is only the tip of the iceberg that is the wilful destruction of our precious and fast disappearing wildlife.
    On my scale Chris has always scored 10/10 – now I’d give him a gong.

  17. HOT is a bit weird in that it doesn’t appear to have an employed senior management team as such, with Philip running things pretty much as as Chair of Trustees.

    I suspect that Philip has calculated that in the medium to longer term, hen harrier brood management will benefit the Trust despite short-term criticism. A trial of itself probably wouldn’t earn the Trust a great deal of funding. But if brood management were subsequently rolled out, the Trust would stand to gain an awful lot from operating this larger scheme across England and presumably Scotland and Ireland.

    The Trust will also likely attract additional memberships from the shooting community it will serve through brood management. And Estates it is cooperating with will no doubt also support the Trust financially.

    I’d not be at all surprised if, some way down the line, the Trust also facilitates buzzard brood management. The Trust has previously criticised plans to reduce buzzard populations through interfering with buzzard nests, but could hardly sustain that position if it were concurrently doing precisely this to hen harriers.

    1. Just to confirm Steve J’s suspicions, the CEO of Scottish Land & Estates tweeted the following this evening:-

      Doug McAdam ‏@DougMcAdam Feb 7
      I just joined & donated to @Hawkandowluk today to support their bold & progressive stance. Show support & join today!

  18. Well done Chris Packham, a man who stands by his principles and he should get a lot of respect for that. Losing Packham will be a huge loss for them (not that Merricks cares) and regarding Mary’s comments about their PR officer, it seems Lin Murray’s favoured form of defence is to attack attack attack! she is as bad as Philip Merricks in her blinkered and ill informed views.


  19. I am not sure that Chris’s resignation will make much of a difference and indeed, it will serve a purpose to remove a potential associated critic. I have my suspicions about what is happening at HOT but I am certain that my initial idea that HOT had deliberately broken ranks was correct. I am not normally one for conspiracy theories but I see a common thread running through this matter that goes back at least 5-6 years. As many people have commented on this blog, there is a common theme to Philip Merrick’s comments and a lot is in what he does not say rather than what he does…and I suspect we will have more of the same on this line to come.

    1. I confidently predict that the HOT will be the first of smaller NGOs that will go out of existence over the next few years. As I have mentioned previously, HOT’s strategy is perfectly poised and with no exit strategy, it seems likely that some people are being used as pawns in a wider game. In that respect, the collapse of the HOT (if it seems likely) will be just as bigger victory as the policy that is driving the collapse. It seems to me that this is an attempt to clear the battlefield given the failure of the Beefy’s Charity Commission challenge against the RSPB.

      Incidentally, I am not naming any names here because it is more than possible certain people have been inadvertently manipulated but there are fingerprints and I urge you all to do a bit of digging on the Web. I am sure an old fashioned left winger like Craig Charles will not mind me pinching one of his catchphrases but ‘Let the wars begin!’

  20. Good for you, Mr Packham! Brood meddling is nothing short of a total sellout. The condescending and arrogant attitude shown by Phillip Merrick has plunged an admirable organisation into the sewer, and the man should be removed from his position forthwith!

    1. HOT members were incredibly proud to have Chris Packham as their president. It is a complete scandal what has happened! I completely support Chris’s decision. I am just in shock that the trustees and PR officer would rather see an amazingly talented scientist, naturalist, conservationist and public ambassador for wildlife leave than make a u-turn. Phillip, pursue brood management via your own works not HOT!

  21. I think Ian Peters has probably got it right. I too don’t like conspiracy theories but this whole thing seems very suspicious to me.

    The rich and powerful know that environmental organisations oppose unlimited exploitation of our Earth, and they are already blatantly targeting official organisations. How come a venture capitalist and property developer got put in charge of Natural England?

    If they have somehow got in place a person (or people) who will lead to the self-destruction of the Hawk and Owl Trust then they will be very pleased. I’ve had the Hawk and Owl Trust on my list of organisations to support one day when I had money to spare, though they’ll be off it if this doesn’t change. But if I were a member I would probably choose to stay and fight the takeover bid from within, because if everybody leaves then the rich and powerful will have won. It’s possible that that is precisely what they want.

    But I still support Chris Packham’s decision to leave. As the President he’s the public face and he must be able to support the Trust fully. His resignation will I hope bring this dirty takeover campaign out into the (hopefully cleansing) light of publicity.

  22. Pete – So there are Black Grouse on every Red Grouse moor in the UK!! Sorry they are not. Yes I know they still survive on Langholm but not in the numbers if the moor was managed for them. And yes land has been taken away from them.

  23. Looking for something about the HOT just happened on a old blog of yours,just wonder how much effort the RSPB put into getting that magical 100,000.

    There have been murmerings and rumblings about what the RSPB is doing on this subject so I was pleased to be able to report in my Birdwatch column that the RSPB were fully behind the e-petition. Martin Harper, the RSPB Conservation Director told me that ‘the RSPB fully supports the petition‘ that the RSPB ‘do plan to promote (it) to our members‘ and that the RSPB ‘hope and expect to exceed the 100,000 threshold to trigger a parliamentary debate‘.

    Well done RSPB! And all that is very good news as the e-petition is currently hovering at around 8000 signatures, despite Chrissie’s very good work, and so it stands 92,000 short of that magical 100,000 figure. It’s good that the RSPB has nailed its colours to the bird of prey mast – hardly surprising though – but it will require a good deal of effort to get that figure across the 100,000 finishing line by November this year. So, please do sign the e-petition here and now so that the RSPB has a smaller task in the future.

  24. As of today (9 February) The HOT web-site is still listing Chris as the Trust’s President. Time to update their web-site methinks.

Comments are closed.