Still a slim chance

Parliament is dissolved in 11 days’ time and that is all the time that remains for Defra to do something this year!

It could be about to release a report suggesting a lead-free future, but I somehow doubt it.

It could be about to throw lots of money in the direction of the Hawk and Owl Trust to do brood meddling but I very much doubt it (although, now I think about it, have you ever seen Jilly Cooper and Liz Truss in the same place at the same time? Interesting…).

hotoBut the H&OT has published a couple of articles on their much-disliked and contentious way backward.

One is labelled science – though that quite clearly is not what it is about (read it here). Although dropping the names of Ian Newton and Des Thompson into the article, it is written by Steve Redpath.  Perhaps for the first time under a H&OT banner, the brood meddling scheme is revealed as a cap on Hen Harrier numbers.  This is compared with a conservation measure of rescuing harriers in France threatened with death from agricultural machinery as though they were similar. Eh?

Whereas in France harriers are rescued, and are the beneficiaries of the scheme, in England it is grouse moor owners who are rescued and are the beneficiaries of the scheme (at the taxpayers’ expense Philip Merricks once told us here in a comment on a blog). Grouse moor managers are rescued from having ‘too many’ Hen Harriers on their moors (a fully protected species) and are rescued from having to risk the possibility of prosecution if caught killing these protected birds.

Steve says that there are two ways of resolving conflicts: compromise and trying to win. He actually suggests that dialogue and enforcement might be the two options. Well, we have tried dialogue for decades and Hen Harrier numbers have declined so that isn’t going to work unless the grouse moor managers change – and, if anything, they are changing for the worse. And enforcement? No that is unlikely to work either (which is why the RSPB option of licensing is also not much good). And enforcement on the Hen Harrier issue still leaves the blanket-bog burning issue, the greenhouse gas emissions issue, the water pollution issue and the increased flood risk issue unresolved. And the Mountain Hares. And the Golden Eagles. Oh yes, and the Peregrines.

No, you were right the first time Steve. Trying to win is the best option, and that means sweeping away driven grouse shooting as an unsustainable activity which has no place in our future. Let’s do that. Sign here to ban driven grouse shooting.

And while you’re at it, why not vote for the Hen Harrier as our national bird – it’s the only vote that will actually help the species for which you vote. Raising the profile of the Hen Harrier will help to protect it in future.

And to learn more about the case to ban driven grouse shooting then you could wait for the publication of 100,000 words on the subject – coming to a bookshop near you in time for Hen Harrier Day and the Inglorious 12th.


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14 Replies to “Still a slim chance”

  1. HoT have gone very quiet on Brood Meddling lately haven't they? Hardly surprising when they are advocating a cap on a species which is already subject to one through illegal activity. Illegal activity that HoT should be fighting to stop, not legitimising by supporting a scheme that is a sop to those who persecute wildlife. I'm with you Mark, winning this fight is the only way to preserve the Hen Harrier in England.

    1. Fascinating - I'm writing this at 10.10pm and, within the last forty minutes, some 50 people have 'disliked' Mark's post - is someone out there organising the troops by any chance?! HOT or GWCT perhaps......

      1. Steve - that's very encouraging isn't it? That's how I feel about it.

      2. And again - last night, 'dislikes' stood at 59; this morning, 97 - whereas 'likes' increase by fewer than 10. Message to Hawk and Owl Trust: if you're going to coordinate your troops to dislike posts, don't get them to do it all at the same time. It's too obvious.

  2. Mark - have I misunderstood something? If a ban on driven grouse shooting were introduced it would have to be enforced wouldn't it? So enforcement must be part of the answer? Possibly even some sort of licensing of the remaining grouse shooting to make sure it wasn't 'driven'?

    This isn't meant as a hostile question, just seeking clarity... Thanks.

  3. To win is to take action, words have failed for far too long. Does the right to or freedom to roam include many upland moors or grouse shooting moors? Maybe exercising the right to roam in the areas on the 12th might be deemed irresponsible, but possibly effective. I haven't studied the law or have a deep knowledge of it, but the right or freedom to roam in England and Wales is described thus in Wikipedia:
    'In England and Wales public access rights apply to certain categories of mainly uncultivated land—specifically "mountain, moor, heath, down and registered common land." Developed land, gardens and certain other areas are specifically excluded from the right of access. Agricultural land is accessible if it falls within one of the categories described above. Most publicly owned forests have a similar right of access by virtue of a voluntary dedication made by the Forestry Commission. People exercising the right of access have certain duties to respect other people's rights to manage the land, and to protect nature'.
    Just thinking out loud, not always the best thing for me to be doing, but feeling like something more proactive has to be done.

  4. First, I find it odd for Steve Redpath to lump the hen harrier problem in with wolves and elephants as simply another ‘human-wildlife conflict.’ They are patently incomparable. A resource-poor Kenyan or Cambodian villager, facing crop-raiding elephants, is a world away from a heavily publicly subsidised large English estate owner providing a bit of outdoor fun for wealthy shooting folk. And, generally, the Cambodian villagers with whom I’ve worked look for ways to discourage the elephants – they have no wish to have someone come in and dispose of them, as HOT plans to do to hen harriers! And as for wolves, rather than kill, or capture and move them, the response to livestock losses is generally to invest in a loud dog or provide financial compensation should stock be lost. Of course big UK grouse moor owners kind of get their ‘compensation’ ahead of time via subsidies.

    Presumably Steve’s prescription for resolving elephant crop raiding and wolf sheep depredation would be to remove the elephants and wolves, rather than mitigate their impact? If mitigation works for elephants (chilli and tobacco-based deterrents; changing to less vulnerable crops) and wolves (noisy dogs, compensation), why not hen harriers (diversionary feeding)?

    Frankly, this smells a lot like an opportunity for more research funding for Steve Redpath, so he can indulge his academic theorising about ‘human-wildlife conflicts’. I wonder of he’ll land a grant to recruit a PhD student to research this ‘conflict’?

    It’s remarkable to read so much muddled thinking. Consider this example: in one paragraph on the HOT web site they state that the shooting of hen harriers:

    '' a crime which the Trust utterly condemns as abhorrent. But, the reality is that this crime is very difficult to detect and, if detected, is extraordinarily difficult to prove in law.''

    But, a few sentences later, HOT states that, as an immoveable proviso of its leading brood management:

    '' If any member of the moorland management representative organisations were found to have illegally interfered with or persecuted a Hen Harrier on their moors, the Trust would pull out from its involvement with the trial – this puts the onus firmly on the moorland interests to stay with the programme. ''

    So, on the one hand persecution is ‘extraordinarily difficult to prove’. Yet, on the other, if a member of any of the participating organisations (anywhere in the UK, one might assume), where found to have illegally interfered with or persecuted a hen harrier (notice how on-going persecution of other protected raptor species suddenly wont be a problem to HOT!), then HOT will pull out. We frequently see fresh accounts of illegal raptor persecution – but, as long as it’s not a hen harrier, that’s just fine, as far as HOT is concerned. This is a substantial weakening of HOTs position: previously it has referred to ANY raptor persecution - now they specify hen harriers only.

    And just how does HOT intend for something that’s ''extraordinarily difficult to prove in law'' to be proven, in law?! As far as HOT is concerned, hen harriers can continue to disappear, as long as the reason isn't proven - in law, and other bird of prey persecution can continue. One has to remember that persecution is often a tradition – it tends to happen ‘on spec’, and it’s ''extraordinarily difficult to detect''. So to assume that it’ll miraculously cease stretches credibility – particularly when the industry responsible continues, to this day, to deny that persecution is a serious problem. Where are the public pronouncements from GWCT, MA, NGO, BASC - confirming that hen harriers are being driven to extinction by game keepers, stating that this must stop - and reporting guilty parties to the police? One might expect nothing less from organisations with which you wish to be able to trust.

    Another odd HOT statement reads as follows:

    '' A further observation that the Hawk and Owl Trust states is that this potential trial brood management of Hen Harriers is for the benefit of moorland management. It is done on the understanding that this does not set a political precedent for any other raptor species. ''

    Hang on a minute! There are already calls from the raptor persecution community to be allowed to practice ''brood management'' on other annoying raptors. Wasn’t DEFRA set to fund buzzard brood management (by shooting down nests, taking and destroying eggs, taking buzzard chicks into captivity etc) a couple of years back, before they were forced by logic into a u-turn? The political pressure is already there and coming from the very shooting partners HOT is now working with. Your’re not simply setting a precedent – you’re bolstering an existing call for wider brood management. As I’ve pointed out before, if one is allowed to suppress the vanishingly small population of hen harriers ‘to benefit moorland management’, what possible justification could there be not to allow the suppression of, say, buzzards to ‘benefit game bird rearing’, or peregrines ‘to benefit racing pigeon management’?! HOT appears to be claiming ‘they’re different’ without telling us just how! Well, they are – hen harriers are exceedingly rare, peregrines and doing pretty well, and buzzards are doing very well indeed.

    Let's wait and see if pressure mounts to expand brood management to other birds of prey, and if HOT and their scientific theorists embraces this wider roll-out as the ''only way to address human-wildlife conflict' caused by unsustainable game management practices.

    1. Can I suggest you read this?

      1. Thanks Jane - will do. I've amassed a huge library of peer-reviewed papers and several books on this subject. It's a widely contested area, as you'll be aware. There were only a couple of nesting hen harriers in England last year; there is a workable form of mitigation - diversionary feeding. Resolving a human-wildlife conflict by removing the wildlife without trying out less drastic mitigation, such as diversionary feeding, seems premature. Devising ones plans in secret is no way to build consensus around a solution.

  5. As a way of ensuring that it is known where the young harriers die, rather than use satellite tags which only transmit infrequently, the type used should transmit location very much more frequently, and transmit immediately all acquired data on detection of likely death. I appreciate that the battery life would not be be very great, but I don't think that it would need to last long before a young hen harrier died on a grouse moor belonging to a member of the moorland management representative organisations, and the transmitter (and it's associated bird) could not be located. There again, this might not be enough evidence for the trial to end, unless there was a successful prosecution? No bird, no transmitter, no prosecution, and no trial abandonment, certainly.

  6. Can anyone tell me if the Vice Chairman of the Hawk & Owl Trust, Col. Robin Rees-Webbe is the same man who organised the Country Landowners Association annual Game Fair in 1994?

    Has he since had a "road to Damascus" experience and seen the error of promoting the shooting fraternity? Or is he a shooting man who respects the right of predators to exist in the natural world? Or, to take a cynical viewpoint, has he infiltrated a conservation charity to influence its operation as regards raptors?

    Or is it a different Col. Robin Rees-Webbe?

    1. It's hard to be certain, but at first sight (just by internet searching) it seems as though blood sports are strongly represented on the HOT board of trustees. It could be that falconry, salmon fishing and foxhunting are among the interests of board members.
      I did ask Philip Merricks for clarification on this blog some time ago, but got no response.

  7. Obviously clutching at straws...

    The only comfort that I can take from this is that if this project gets the support of all of the shooting an land owning bodies then they are openly admitting that they are currently engaged in wide-scale criminal activity. Surely this would be a sound basis for the removal of all agricultural subsidies and government land management grants from Grouse moors.

  8. Hope the Hen Harrier conference in Buxton goes well tomorrow Mark. Sorry I won't be at it but I will be very interested in the outcome, which no doubt you will report.


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