Useful reminder – bye bye Hawk and Owl Trust

logo-talking-naturallyThe Talking Naturally podcasts are essential listening these days. I certainly enjoyed the latest one with Philip Merricks, chair of the Hawk and Owl Trust. And it was useful in jogging my memory.

The whole thing was basically about brood meddling – a scheme promoted by a bunch of shooting organisations and the Hawk and Owl Trust and opposed by the RSPB, me and, it seems, a large majority of birders. Oh yes, and by Chris Packham, who felt so strongly about it that he resigned as President of the Hawk and Owl Trust over this issue.

But wait! Actually neither I nor the RSPB totally oppose a bit of brood meddling – once the Hen Harrier population in England has been allowed to recover to c60 pairs which would indicate that the British grouse industry could be trusted (at least a bit) we would cautiously sign up to it too.  Remember that last year there were four pairs of Hen Harrier in England (this year there were 12) and that there should be and could be as many as 330 pairs if they were left unmolested. So we are talking, rather hypothetically since Hen Harriers still ‘disappear’ in England each year, and are killed for sure too, about when we might feel that the massive concession of brood meddling should be given to grouse moors. Philip Merricks thinks we should have a trial now and so do shooting organisations – the rest of us either oppose it completely, or think that the criminals should mend their ways before they are given any such concession.  You don’t quite get that flavour from what Philip Merricks says in the podcast.

hotoPhilip and I agree on several things. He says that the current situation isn’t working (but erroneously seems to think that masses of police effort goes into catching wildlife criminals on the grouse moors of the Establishment – funnily enough, it doesn’t (funny that!)). Philip’s solution is to reward and appease the criminals, my solution is to ban driven grouse shooting because the criminals are criminals, intransigent criminals, and intransigent criminals who have shown they can’t be trusted.  But banning driven grouse shooting is about so much more than Hen Harriers (read my book).

Philip calls YFTB ‘loony’ – he’s right.

Philip seems to believe, as I do, that moorland owners know who is doing this killing. He seems to have talked to quite a few in the industry gets the impression that gamekeepers ‘will take revenge’ on birds of prey if they don’t get what they want. Sounds  like a pleasant bunch of people doesn’t it? And he’s very well-informed about people using night vision technology – did you notice that?

9781784270506Philip seems very keen on my (and Keith Betton’s) book, Behind the Binoculars, quoting, and requoting, one small passage from my interview with Ian Newton.  Ian, to my knowledge, has never before said anything publicly about brood management but he does so in Behind the Binoculars. Perhaps you should buy a copy to see exactly what he says on the subject but I’ll give you just a taster – Ian says he doesn’t think there is much enthusiasm for brood management amongst grouse moor owners and also ‘how many grouse moor managers would you trust on this after what’s happened in the past?’ – and that, of course, was before the events of this year, the year of disappearing male Hen Harriers, and was actually said early in 2014, before that year’s Hen Harrier season (and before the disappearance of Sky and Hope). But do read the interview with Ian and a little later in the interview when he opines that ‘many gamekeepers will be killing birds of prey habitually‘.

Philip shows himself to be out of touch with birders with much of what he says. He’s also out of touch with political reality in many ways. First, he seems to think that the Hawk and Owl Trust is occupying some middle ground in this debate – no you aren’t! It’s the extremist wing of the debate. It’s the landowners’ wing of the debate. It’s as though the Hawk and Owl Trust, under Philip, has crossed the floor of the House of Commons and joined the other side. The middle ground is currently occupied by the RSPB who will stomach brood-meddling (as would I) once Hen Harrier populations increase, but who would also stomach driven grouse shooting despite its many environmentally damaging aspects.  My position is clearly more extreme than that – I’d like to see driven grouse shooting banned. Yes it’s an extreme position – an extremely sensible one! Sign here if you agree, please.

Then Philip accuses me, in particular I think, of being political. That’s always what the forces of conservatism say to people who want change – as though keeping things the same isn’t political! Really! So, yes, I am political but no more so than Philip himself.

Philip also trots out the completely hopeless analogy of talking to grouse moor managers being a bit like talking to the IRA in the past. Now I don’t want to venture into Irish politics but there are a couple of things that Philip might want to reflect upon. First, we’ve done the talking for years and years before he came on the scene with his ‘let’s give the criminals what they want to solve wildlife crime’ solution. Done that. Didn’t work – they’ve had their chance. Second, the IRA weren’t allowed to achieve what they wanted – there is no removal of the border between the north and south, there was no concession of democracy to terrorists, they (and I almost am scared to point this out since they have guns) didn’t win!

Philip says that the Hawk and Owl Trust is forging ahead with complete staff and trustee unanimity – that’s not what I hear. Some keep telling me, and others, that brood meddling is going nowhere and I keep saying that I’ll believe it when I hear it from Philip. Well the excellently entertaining podcast is about an hour of Philip telling the world that we all need brood meddling straight away so that isn’t quite right. But it is a useful reminder that I should cancel my direct debit to HOT – so I have.

Bye bye Hawk and Owl Trust. As far as birders are concerned, you blew it!

The Hawk and Owl Trust will be at the Bird Fair this weekend and will be keen to take your money and explain why brood meddling will help the Hen Harrier.

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50 Replies to “Useful reminder – bye bye Hawk and Owl Trust”

      1. Quite. And I have to say I'm far from convinced that brood removal is a legitimate activity at all, let alone when the hen harrier population reaches just 6o pairs in England. I see hen harrier persecution as emblematic of a wider suite of problems associated with driven grouse shooting. If we arrive at a point at which we have 60+ pairs of hen harriers on driven grouse moors AND those driven grouse moors have cleaned up their act in respect of the persecution of other protected wildlife, moderated the intensity of legal predator killing, ceased the drainage and burning of fragile moorland habitats, etc, etc - then, at that point, I can see that driven grouse shooting has gone a long way to earning its social 'licence to operate', and, being benign overall, brood removal might be possible to address very specific problem cases.

        Having 60 pairs of hen harriers as the only condition - leaving all the other problems unaddressed, is, in my view, missing a whole lot of the point.

        Actually, I strongly suspect that the defining features of driven grouse shooting are damaging land management and excessive predator control - without these defining management charactoristics, one cannot achieve the high grouse densities demanded.

        If the RSPB and Mark can set out how light-touch, benign driven grouse shooting is viable, please do so, and I might be convinced. As it stands, and having read Inglorious a couple of times, I think driven grouse shooting should be banned.

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  1. Thanks Mark

    As you will know I was invited by Charlie Moores to answer the questions that he asked me on his Talking Naturally interview and as you rightly say the questions that he asked were primarily about a brood management trial - NB trial.
    I guess the best thing would be for your readers to listen to the podcast themselves.
    The points that I tried to put across were:
    (1) After 20 or more years of increasingly adversarial and acrimonious arguments, do you want to trial a new approach that looks as if it might might resolve the issue? Or do you want to perpetuate the conflict? Which would give Hen Harriers a better and secure future?
    (2) in all of the very numerous comments on your many blogs on this issue over recent months, there has not yet been a conservation - NB conservation- reason put forward against a trial of a brood management scheme. Although there have been many ideological ones.
    Mark - I am happy to boost your sales by suggesting that your readers purchase a copy of your very recently published book 'Behind the Binoculars'. Then they can read for themselves pages 140-1 where in your question to Prof Ian Newton you make the comment that - "Killing Hen Harriers is a perfectly rational reaction by gamekeepers" - And in his reply Prof Newton answers you by writing - "Really I think you are left having to accept a third proposal, that harrier densities could be limited on grouse moors, to levels that allow some Hen Harriers to survive but allow driven grouse shooting to survive too. The idea was to move the eggs or chicks of some harriers but the difficulty was in finding landowners willing to accept them. "-
    What is different now is that the Hawk and Owl Trust has a list of a considerable number of moor owners who are keen, pleased and proud for their moors to act as host sites for these harriers. Which is a great move forward by these moor owners.

    Mark - I am unable with this iPad to paste pages 140-1 of your book on to this comment. Hence I will send it to you in a email to follow immediately and would be grateful if you could do so. That would enable your readers to read the whole section. Thanks.

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    1. Philip - hi!

      (1) - no, there is another option. Let's just ban driven grouse shooting. It's worthless to society for so many reasons, not just raptor persecution. Your plan doesn't address the bigger issues of water quality, greenhouse gas emissions, damaged blanket bogs or increased flood risk.

      (2) Thank you for telling me what my own book says - I am well aware of its contents. You seem to be speaking for Ian Newton an awful lot - I had a private chat with him at the Bird Fair today. Ian's thoughts are in my (and Keith Betton's) book and just as people can listen to the podcast and make their own minds up on your position, they can read Ian's words and make their own minds up on his position too.

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    2. Harriers need protection not conservation. If the HOT want to talk about conservation, then Mr Merricks should explain how the wholesale habitat destruction and species extinctions that are caused by driven grouse shooting management sits with their position. Conservation is much bigger than Hen Harriers.
      We get very excited about harriers but in truth they are just one cog in the ecological wheel of our moorlands... what is the HOT doing about Juniper? Nothing, because they are not focussed on conservation... only single species management... a bit like their pals the game keepers.

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    3. Merrick.
      I won't pretend not to be angry at you and HOT.
      What makes you think that a conservation alone stance is somehow superior to a holistic view?
      We are dealing with criminals here who are wiling to make deals on how and when they obey the law. The whole of brood meddling is based on this although it will be hidden in fancy words. It is outrageous. It is blackmail pure and simple.
      How cam a criminal act not bring in other values, i.e. moral, ethical and emotional ones.
      I very sincerely hope we never make deals with these criminals except to help them once they reform (with diversionary feeding) but not by limiting the Hen Harrier population.
      What's next, brood meddling with Golden Eagles, White-tailed Eagles or Peregrines. Logically they must be next. You are trying to open the gates into some pretty ugly territory and hide behind the word conservation.
      Your comparison with the IRA is ridiculous on so many levels.

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      1. You need not worry about all those other birds of prey, Anand, because Philip has asserted that brood removal shall only apply to hen harriers - end of! What Philip fails to understand is that he's not Mr Big, some sort of God or benign dictator able to decree that no precedent shall be set. He may feel sure that brood removal shall stop at hen harriers, and no soul shall dare ask 'if it's OK for very rare hen harriers, why's it not OK for more abundant peregrines, buzzards, golden eagles...?'.

        Philip, whether you like it or not, the pigeon facing enthusiasts are already asking for peregrines to be controlled; the pheasant shooting community is already asking to be allowed to 'manage' the broods of buzzards.

        If it's acceptable to remove hen harriers to make way for high densities of grouse, why can't I remove peregrine broods to save my racing pigeons, or buzzards to save my pheasants? Who the hell is the Hawk and Owl Trust and Philip Merricks anyway?!

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    4. My post can be said much more concisely.
      You asked why Mark doesn't mention the conservation benefit of brood removal.
      I can't speak for Mark but for me the answer is bloody obvious.
      Because it is a criminal issue not a conservation one.

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    5. It seems that you would like to keep the discussion only to conservation and by that you mean the population limit of one species on a its prime habitat.
      Sorry if i don't oblige.
      There is another issue here. The laws against wildlife were introduced by the government of the people. These are our laws. The wildlife acts have been some of the few laws that was for the whole population, protecting our natural heritage. Who the hell is the HOT to decide who is allowed to break these laws and act huffy when we don't applaud. As another commentator has commented, a cabal indeed.

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    6. Philip, in response to your second point, claiming that non of the 'anti' brood removal comments on Mark's blog and elsewhere have mentioned conservation. Your grand plan isn't conservation either.

      You define 'the problem' as too many hen harriers interfering with an intensive land use - driven grouse shooting. You don't see the ridiculously high densities of grouse demanded by those partaking in driven grouse shooting as a problem - hen harriers are the problem.

      Your 'solution' is conduct a trial to see if you can ensure the hen harrier population fails to recover to anywhere near its potential population size on driven grouse moors by removing hen harrier chicks such that the adults desert and go elsewhere. So, to resolve the 'problem' you propose to deliberately prevent harriers from recovering in the uplands and to shift them to the lowlands. Hen harriers have no place in the uplands, in your view. Uplands are where wildlife gets shot.

      You choose to ignore the various other conservation problems that come with high-yield driven grouse shooting - persecution of other birds of prey, the scorched-earth policy towards any other predators which might take grouse, excessive burning of peatlands releasing carbon which in turn contributes to ocean acidification and climatic changes, damage to upland stream water quality and thus ecology...need I really go on Philip?

      You assert that satellite tagging of hen harriers will act as a strong deterrent to hen harrier killing, yet fail to answer why satellite tagged hen harriers continue to get shot. You'd think that all these grouse moor owners you are in touch with would be tempted to lend credibility to your assertion by instructing their game keepers not to kill hen harriers.

      You say that a game keeper on a moor will be presented with two options when hen harriers settle to nest on their moor: shoot them to get rid of them, or call in the Defra-funded HOT Squad to get rid of them. Either way, the problem is hen harriers and the problem is sorted by getting rid of the bloody things, leaving driven grouse moor managers to kill other birds of prey, kill whatever other vermin and pestilence their moor is infested with, continue their burning and peatland draining.

      Your grand plan is to remove upland hen harriers and to actively facilitate a land use which quite clearly isn't fit for the uplands.

      And you call that conservation?

      And your scientific advisory group, eminent as it is, remains silent, preferring to negotiate with Defra in secret, while publishing books and papers declaring how vital disclosure and public engagement is to tackling human-wildlife conflict. I predict that the closed-door approach of HOT and its science committee will provide a good future case study of how not to approach such conflicts.

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    7. Mr Merricks,
      Fuming away at work i realised how irrational your statement is.

      'there has not yet been a conservation ... reason put forward against a trial of a brood management scheme. Although there have been many ideological ones.'

      I don't need to defend Mark but it is relevant to my main point. How can Mark be accused of being idealogical? Mark supports the RSPB offer to start brood meddling after there are c60 Hen Harrier pairs in England. This is the opposite of idealogical it is a compromise. What i would like to know is why haven't you and HOT been pushing for this solution? Please I genuinely want to know. I can understand why the grouse shooting lobby don't want to because they want business as usual i.e. no Hen Harriers on 'their' moors but it is absolutely astonishing that HOT cannot move one inch from the entrenched position of the shooting lobby. It is hard to come to any other conclusion than you are hand in glove with the whole criminal gang.
      Personally as I have posted elsewhere I don't agree with any kind of dealing with criminals gangs. You can accuse me of being idealogical, if having zero tolerance of wildlife crime and habitat destruction etc. is considered idealogical then i'm proud of it.
      It is also worrying that someone with so little understanding of rational argument and logic should have so much power over the fate of our raptors.

      This how the man who fell to earth sees your 'solution'.
      1. Langholm experiment
      Scientist: 'I say chaps would you mind terribly if you stopped killing harriers for a while just so we can get some data.'
      Grouse mafia: 'OK but just for a while though. We might have to call in favours later.'
      Scientist: 'Jolly good, thanks.'

      2. Ditto langholm 2.

      3. Brood Meddling.
      Grouse mafia: 'I say chaps, we're back to killing those damned harriers again and it's all going swimmingly but some prats with blogs are causing a bit of a stir so how about we ship them off so you lot can deal with them. It makes us look like we care but of course just between the two of us if they fly back we'll just have to have some pre-12th target practice
      HOT: that sounds like fun jolly good idea. Tally ho.

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  2. What is a trial of brood management supposed to be testing? I don't think it is necessary to prove that Hen Harrier chicks can be successfully reared in captivity as I'd think that everyone is pretty much agreed on that already. Is it to test whether the level of persecution changes when broods are being managed? It is a bit difficult to see how that could be effectively tested at the present low level of nesting attempts. In some ways it might end up being harder to detect persecution: if the parents of a nest that has its brood removed are no longer anchored to a nest site but wandering over the moors they could be bumped off without anyone noticing.

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  3. As coincidence would have it, I have just finished listening to Charlie Moore interviewing Philip Merricks on Talking Naturally and I found some of Philips answers most illuminating; offering an insight into the mindset of someone who embraces a Brood Management System (BMS). Perhaps one aspect that wasn’t discussed was the potential financial gain that The Hawk & Owl Trust (or any other such organisation) may receive for participating in this scheme. And it’s great to hear Mark that you have now joined Chris Packham by leaving HOT.

    Having listened to what Philip said, and what he didn’t say, I’m now wondering if actually there really is a joined Hen Harrier Action Plan. A plan that exists between a cabal consisting of the Grouse Shooting Industry, Defra/Natural England and HOT.

    I know that 30 years in the police (including 10 being a Wildlife crime Officer) has left me very cynical but Philip (quite rightly) stated that much of lowland England is suitable for hen harrier re-introduction, eg Salisbury Plain. Now being from Scotland I’m not going to pass comment on that but I have been to the west coast of France, where the genuine Brood Management Scheme was carried out (a scheme designed to maximise the number of harriers by saving broods from being crushed under the wheels of agricultural vehicles as they bring in the crop from cereal fields – for that is where harriers nest in many parts of the Continent).

    I recall watching hen and Montagu’s harriers and wondering why this doesn’t happen more in the UK. So I don’t disagree with Philip that relocating some broods might expand hen harrier breeding territory into lowland UK. However, I have to question why this hasn’t naturally developed more in Scotland and, would this not then bring these birds into conflict with the pheasant shooting industry? Have I just answered my own question there?

    Now the cabal is keen to start this meddling scheme as soon as possible with a view to increasing the number of harriers and we have this idea of seeing more hen harriers flying about our moorlands.

    What I take from the interview is the cabal want to re-introduce hen harriers to lowland England and there could be areas which are suitable and where they might be save and which could result in a substantial rise in the hen harrier population in England – compared to the current status. If this was to happen then the cabal could claim to have saved the species, that conservationists now have the X number of breeding harriers in England that they always wanted and therefor they no longer have something to moan about.

    I don’t see what they want to do as a Brood Management Scheme or even a Brood Meddling Scheme but as a Species Relocation Scheme.

    As long as red grouse produce chicks and hen harriers exist on moorland, harriers are going to eat red grouse chicks. Philip states that if you remove the problem then you will remove the cause for the harriers being killed (and he doesn’t deny who is killing them so credit there) but I cannot see how any problem has been removed. If you allow the moorland population to rise to an artificially low, but agreed level, then you are increasing the numbers so how has the problem been removed; it has been increased.

    The threat of the HOT leaving the scheme if and when a member of one of the groups forming the cabal is convicted of shooting a hen harrier, in practical terms, is meaningless and unworthy of debate.

    Furthermore, there is a huge ‘elephant in the room’ in relation to what the cabal want and what others may find acceptable in relation to number capping. If I’m wrong and this whole matter is just about upland hen harrier numbers then nobody has answered what ultimately happens to the eggs or chicks when the artificial number of harriers reaches it maximum. Until that is answered I am totally apposed to “a bit of brood meddling”.

    If I’m right and the cabal thinks that they can dispose of the ‘excess’ eggs/chicks by relocating them to lowland England then that opens up a huge new debate – or at least it should.

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  4. The Hawk and Owl Trust staff who do not back the Trust's plans for brood management must break ranks, speak up and cause a rebellion within HOT!

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  5. It is a sad state of affairs. It also saddens me how money driven the Hawk and Owl Trust are. What was once my favourite bird charity has slid so far down in my estimations I would rather donate my hard earned money else where. So I do!

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  6. I 'm sure most people Phillip talks to tell him he's got it right -that is easy to achieve, the core of group think. Whilst I think his intentions are good, whatever chance there was of holding the middle ground was finally blown out of the skies this spring. As a recent ex- trustee I've made ,y views clear in an intersting exchange with Phillip. Were Grouse shooting to try for the sort of transformational double somersault performed by the FC in the 1990s Phillip might indeed find himself in the centre ground - but what chance is there of that ?

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  7. The one thing i can't agree with Mark on is any kind of upper limit on Hen Harriers in England or elsewhere.
    I don't agree with the blackmail demands of criminals. We should have the full potential population of this protected species. Otherwise what sort of precedent does it set and what does it say about our inability to accept a top predator. How many eagles or Peregrines do the blackmailers say we can have?
    News this week about wolves in Italy and California and we can't even live with a medium size raptor!
    I do support the idea of conservation organizations helping with diversionary feeding.
    Luckily (or not) it seems impossible that it will ever come to that. The criminals aren't suddenly going to start co-operating. What will happen, the godfather sits down with all the family bosses and decide to have one or two pairs each? The whole of brood 'meddling' is like an admission of guilt and organized crime. It makes me sick and very angry.
    Logistically i also just can't see how it would work either. Why would a gamekeeper go to all that trouble and expense if he can just shoot them. Who would actually do all the work of translocating the chicks. What a waste of bloody money.
    So Mark i agree just ban the whole rotten corrupt enterprise.

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  8. Philip Merricks's analogy was very bizarre.
    I have scratched my head for a few minutes and i can't think of one other example of negotiating with criminals.
    Perhaps to really prove his point he could come up with another example otherwise it rather makes him look desperate.
    The comparison between the IRA is idiotic. There is one similarity though, they are/were both institutionalised. Otherwise it feels like an own goal to Merricks.

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    1. Philip's claim that his approach to the hen harrier situation is similar to the Northern Ireland Peace Process is frankly bizarre. In Northern Ireland, both sides were intent of killing each other. The conflict wasn't resolved by removing one side in favour of the other. Philip is proposing to appease driven grouse estates by removing the hen harriers. And, Philip, really, stop comparing your efforts to those of Mo Mowlam.

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  9. Mark
    I listened to the podcast and enjoyed the 'nature' of the conversation on a tough, inflammable subject. I was glad that Charlie and Philip did not enter into ‘disrespectful dialogue’ but remained refreshingly honest, open and informed. The H&O Trust is not in the middle ground - it's in a brave new world of seeking to apply conservation measures rarely tried here (but used in Europe) - that can help towards 'peace' being negotiated between the human interests antagonising each other in this conflict.

    Any way out of this conflict is not 'giving in' to criminals - why should intervention by humans in rearing waders before hunters have actually stopped illegally killing spoon billed sandpipers, be any more acceptable http://www.wwt.org.uk/conservation/wwt-projects/spoon-billed-sandpiper/
    We all flinch when gamekeepers are mentioned, or rich people that own ‘who’s countryside is it?’.
    Yes, they commit wildlife crime – just like over-zealous twitchers who tried to ‘steal’ red footed falcons, on-site damage from vigilant raptor groups in Bowland or those that poorly locate rodent poison boxes http://www.barnowltrust.org.uk/hazards-solutions/rodenticides/

    My own analogy is this and I’m sure it’s easy to pick holes in it.
    I fear, nay I know, that in many a remote rural pub there are still those that habitually break the law by drinking and driving. Of course we should 'shop' them to the police as criminals but do we? No, we don’t. Not because we condone their behaviour, but because they would lose their jobs, their children go to the same school, they drink with us in the pub; so what do we do, we club together to buy a taxi to prevent the law breaking.

    We all conveniently forget how the Larsen trap came into being – did the RSPB wait for gamekeeper to stop using poison so the buzzards would increase? No, they sanctioned the Larsen trap for immediate use which gave keepers a better way out (the taxi) and which prevented indiscriminate poisoning.

    OK, brood management may not be ideal (anything’s better than existing dire situation) and some may have painted themselves into ‘un-climbable-down’ corners, but let's be big enough to get over our hatred of those that do kill raptors to find ways out for hen harriers to live on thriving grouse moors and for grouse moor managers to change their ways.
    Yours etc, Rob

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    1. Rob - you're right, your analogies can be picked apart by a child. |

      You and Philip keep ignoring the fact that the criminals only need to cease or reduce their criminal actions for a while to get the population up to 60 pairs in England and then brood meddling is on the table (as far as RSPB and I are concerned). Is that much to ask - that the criminals give ground to earn trust which they have lost through their actions over many years?

      If this is the best you can do then you will find that even that 'yes at 60 pairs' offer might be removed from the table or more strongly challenged by others.

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    2. Rob,
      Taking your comments chapter at a time. If HOT which to take part in a HH range expansion plan, i.e. into lowland England/UK then that is one thing (but then that has never been explained as far as I can see) and I would state that if that is the case then HOT are probably well placed to carry out that programme. If the plan is merely to increase the upland population then the hen harriers are better placed than HOT to achieve that - as everybody knows.

      As for the spoon-billed sandpiper comparison; when we see from afar just how threatened that species is and acknowledge that the reality is that we are unlikely to have much influence on the enforcement of any laws there, then releasing birds into a far from ideal situation is perhaps all that can be achieved.

      We live in the first world and we should be able to influence what happens here by the enforcement of our laws and that is the major difference between the two situations.

      I'm afraid that your kind deed with the habitual drinker is only going to result in him/her doing it when you are not there resulting in you having a dangerous drunk driver on your roads. Shop him/her and shop the criminals that are treading on harrier nests at 3 o'clock in the morning. This comment aimed at all of course.

      I recall giving a speech, about 20 years ago, at a Wildlife Crime Officer's conference at Police HQ, Hendon on the legal and illegal use of Larsen traps knowing full well that many gamekeeping organisations were present. My main message was "if they must be used then use them legally". I doubt if a year has passed without these traps being used illegally and yet still it remains a legal option for 'corvid control'. And I doubt if a year has passed without illegal poisoning taking place so the Larsen Taxi has taken all on a pointless journey. Perhaps we need to follow Denmark and ban something (so I hear) that is their own invention.

      Natural levels of hen harriers and unnatural levels of reg grouse simply cannot occur or more precisely will not be allowed to occur. Sadly, looking for some sort of compromise is futile.

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    1. Owen
      Check out tweet and reply @RSPBBirders 21 July 15 "Does anyone know WHO witnessed the reported attempt to catch the Red-footed Falcon ?" (@RSPBbirders)
      Yours, whacko, R

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      1. That some one attempted to catch the bird is not in question. That you have the gall to suggest this was over zealous birders/twitchers IS. This is the second time I've seen you suggest some mad shit in regards to raptors.

        1st was that there may hhave been fewer male harriers gone missing because they're polygamous. And now this.

        Mad as a bag of cats.

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      2. Rob, I think that the comment about the Staffs Red-footed Falcon is a misfire. Genuine local birdwatchers were actually doing their best to protect the falcon from being taken into captivity and also dissuading idiotic photographers from providing him with artificial food, in partnership with local police.

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        1. Misfire? I'll say so. Prejudices in full view there Mr York. What fantasist would imagine twitchers wanting to steal a RFF?

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  10. I wonder if the meddling cabal have had some sort of assurance that the landowners would be prepared to fund the nest robing project? They have not been prepared to pay a penny towards diversionary feeding, a sad solution which has been proven to work. Diversionary Feeding is dirt cheep compared to the cost of BM so why on earth would they fund a scheme that is much more expensive??
    The HOT do not seem to realise that they have been duped by a bunch of the most insincere con artists in the country.

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  11. Mark
    Enjoy my Nature Notebook in The Times tomorrow. No mention of harriers but perhaps a touch of conservation tensions between human protagonists...you should read the book mentioned in my col. It's illuminating but uncomfortable for many.
    Yours aye

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  12. I've always made a point of speaking with the H&OT at previous birdfairs. Today, I treated it with the contempt it so richly deserves.

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  13. I'm afraid any form of brood management (meddling) should be avoided like the plague, it is just another road down the line to appeasing the shooting fraternity while they continue to break the wildlife protection laws as and when they please. If these people were as keen to see the recovery of Hen Harriers, (and don't let's forget the goshawk's, Peregrines, Eagles, Buzzards, Sparrowhawks and other predatory wildlife which are killed on the shooting estates) then they'd put a stop once and for all to the uncontrolled illegal raptor persecution that takes place every day throughout the year. They know they themselves can't or won't stop doing it, regardless of what they say, so the only way to put a stop to it is to force them to stop by either severe penalties if they don't comply or complete stoppage of driven Red Grouse shooting for good. I would prefer a total ban on driven grouse shooting throughout the UK !!!

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  14. Thanks Mark
    Like you I had a great day at the Bird Fair today. And like you, I had a chat with Ian Newton and lots of other interesting people.
    One point that was made to me at the Bird Fair was that if the dreadful crime of killing harriers is, as you say - "a perfectly rational reaction by gamekeepers - " then we have to be rather more astute in getting it stopped.
    As it appears that killing harriers is a crime that appears to be impossible to stop, we have to remove the reason for the crime.
    Which is what a brood management trial would do. And which would then make it a perfectly rational reaction by gamekeepers NOT to kill harriers.

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    1. Philip - no. It would be interesting if Ian Newton were to speak for himself rather than you speaking 'for' him. I interviewed Ian, one of my heroes, for my (and Keith Betton's) book, Behind the Binoculars, and what he thinks about the issue is there in black and white. If Ian wants to enlarge upon it, then that is up to him. I am not going to pretend to speak for him - you do.

      Hen harrier killing is not a crime which is impossible to stop - we can stop it by banning driven grouse shooting. It's quite simple. Driven grouse shooting is a pointless worthless unsporting 'sport' for the rich - we don't need it and we'd be better off without it. It depends on wildlife crime and so we should just send it on its way.

      And its faults are far more varied and deep than simply raptor persecution. You should read Inglorious - it seems that you have only read the back cover. Go on, read the rest of it and then come back with a decent argument.

      Theft is a perfectly rational crime - thieves want to be richer. Does that mean that mean that it is acceptable? I suggest not.

      Please keep replying on this blog as you are digging a deeper and deeper hole. Can you see out of it?

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    2. ''We have to remove the reason for the crime'' - we have to remove the hen harriers you mean? Bizarre logic.

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    3. Hi Philip,

      I have a question following on from your interview with Charlie Moores.

      You say that 'peer group pressure' would ensure that all landowners behave and prevent harrier persecution from happening in the event of a BM trial being permitted and, further, that anybody who was guilty of such crimes would subsequently be 'shopped'.

      However, you have also stated that if any member of GWCT, NGO or the Moorland Association was convicted of crimes against harriers, then HOT would withdraw from the trial.

      So, with the threat of the trial being cancelled hanging over the landowners in the event that somebody was rumbled for killing Hen Harriers - wouldn't they actually be motivated to keep quiet if they knew that somebody was misbehaving, if they wanted BM to continue?

      There are some follow-up questions, actually. For starters - what happens if, during your trial, a Hen Harrier is found dead on or adjacent to a grouse moor and proved to have been shot, but nobody is subsequently convicted? Would you be happy to just continue the trial on the basis that nobody had been proven guilty?

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  15. Like most raptor workers I'm not all that keen on "brood meddling" which has of course been discussed on this blog before. As part of those discussions Merricks was asked some quite direct and relevant questions, almost all of which he ignored and failed to answer. Despite the fact that he claims we are all adversarial and to move the debate on we should embrace the idea of a "trial" of BM.
    QUESTION ONE WHAT DOES HE MEAN BY TRIAL?
    If he means we should test whether harriers chicks can be reared and successfully released in this way we already know the answer --- yes it works in France there is no reason to suspect it won't work here.
    If he means will the adults will relay if chicks are removed the answer is almost certainly no as most female harriers that loose the brood do not appear to recycle. Given these facts
    QUESTION TWO WHY DO WE NEED A TRIAL?
    Both RSPB and NERF have said that whilst BM is unpalatable they would be prepared to discuss it and probably accept it under certain provisions (no lethal control) once the harrier population had risen to say 60 pairs. The reasons for this seem two fold, the harriers need to be no longer in imminent danger of extinction in England and it would mean that there had been a considerable reduction in persecution, a good will gesture if you like from the "criminals." Remember criminality Philip? We don't hear the police suggesting a compromise solution to burglary, robbery, mugging, poaching etc and these people are currently robbing us of OUR natural heritage.
    Merricks talks about the HOT position being the one in the middle ground and we need to still be talking and trying to solve the harrier problem. Surely that is what is happening in theory in the DEFRA discussions although RSPB are the only independent voice for conservation (why are the raptor groups excluded?) Discussions had and have been going on for what seems like forever, characterised by huge difficulties created by the almost total intransigence of the "game lobby." That is why those original talks failed, why the DEFRA talks seem to have been difficult and why many of us see the HOT "compromise" as little more than capitulation. The analogy with the govt discussions with the IRA are hardly comparable in that both sides compromised!
    He talks of repopulating southern heathland and Exmoor etc with harriers, this is a further step and nobody has agreed to translocation yet. Indeed such translocation would need to follow the IUCN guidelines before it could possibly be contemplated.
    In the non-joint non-published DEFRA plan as presented by GWCT and MA the density at which broods would be meddled with is 30 times lower than the density that has been shown moors can support without damage to grouse numbers in August.
    QUESTION THREE. IS THIS THE DENSITY THAT HOT INTEND TO WORK WITH?
    Excluding all the none persecution reasons that many are opposed to driven grouse shooting and supporting Mark's petition BM sets a very dangerous precedent. Next will we see attempts at limiting legally the numbers of Peregrines, Short-Eared Owls, Goshawks, Buzzards and Golden Eagles on and around grouse moors with similar schemes? We need assurance that this will NOT happen.
    Merricks has appeared in photographs recently at GWCT social events, is he a member? and if so how can we accept that the position he has led HOT into has not been unduly influenced by the "game lobby."
    Sorry Philip currently HOT looks far more like it has joined the opposing camp, become quislings or traitors to raptor conservation, yours is a solution much less logical that that offered by RSPB or Mark.
    Finally I would urge all of those involved in the debate on harriers to read "Inglorious" even if you feel that you will not agree with the final conclusion it does present the history and facts in a very readable and digestable style.

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  16. I'm very concerned about the hen harrier situation and brood management is just wrong in such circumstances of blatant criminality. But having listened to Talking Naturally podcast I now have a more pressing concern; how is it possible that Philip Merricks is running a once respected conservation group?! If there is a PR dept in HOT they must be tearing their hair out knowing that he did such a self defeating and highly damaging interview. I have been warning people off joining HOT but I shouldn't concern myself Merricks is doing a grand job on his own. RIP HOT

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  17. I am sick of folk who know nothing about these moors. Hawk [= harrier ] and owl trust = short eared owl which are killed in their 1000s each year by these moor owners. 42 pairs of short eared owl on one moor last year when protected and 22 pairs on another. Once the voles crash they move onto unprotected moors and guess what happens then! So just on 2 moors you are talking of 128 adults + young which could be anything from 2 to 6 per pair + average 256 = 384 owls to be killed on other Red Grouse moors. Remember that was the total from only 2 moors so should I add another 0 on my figure for short eared owl!!Other birds killed include peregrines, buzzards even kestrels and any thing that might remove a feather from a Red Grouse or just disturb the shoot from the 12th August onwards. Red Grouse will not fly to the butts if owls, harriers, falcons, eagles or buzzards fly in front of the beaters. No point talking about 'brood management.' Where are you going to put all these short eared owls, peregrines etc!

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  18. Coincidentally, I conducted a phone interview with Lin Murray from the Hawk & Owl Trust a few days before Charlie Moores' interview with Mr Merricks was posted up. I've written up our conversation here -

    http://wp.me/p1xZHG-8g

    We covered much of the same ground as Philip and Charlie did, but there are a couple of comments in there which I hope people who are following this debate will find interesting.

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    1. Wow thanks for that.
      She is quoted 'the DNA of the tiny remnant English population may be compromised'
      She has invented a scientific fallacy, which a child could see through in the hope that by introducing continental Hen Harriers she can get them off moors into lowland habitat. Wow the extremes these people will go to to allow an elite group to commit crimes.
      Staggering.

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      1. Lin studied ecology at UEA I believe - she clearly flunked the conservation genetics unit is she believes that the English hen harriers are genetically isolated.

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    2. Hmm. Some conflicting points in there. For e.g. Landowners dont want another right to roam scenario vs driven grouse shooting isnt going away. Well if DGS isnt going away, surely they wont need to worry about another right to roam type scenario? Which is it?

      Why exactly do landowners not want a diversionary feeding scheme employed? Its been proven to work whereas brood management has not been shown to work in this country with this species to my knowledge. What's the HOT take on this?

      I also ask a question I ask in my other post. Where exactly are we proposing to release these birds back into the wild? Do we stop when suitable relocation sites are 'full'? What is a suitable relocation site? I'm assuming grouse moors are out of bounds?

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  19. I'm breaking my own rules here and replying whilst seeing red. I only got halfway down so apologies if any of this is repeated.

    First off - Rob (Yorke) I think you need to check your facts. It was believed to be Falconers who tried to steal the RFF, not twitchers. Not entirely sure what a twitcher would do with it.

    RE Brood meddling I have a question. Quite simply, how is it sustainable? I am unsure of the exact productivity figures for Hen Harrier but if we say the six pairs that nested this year laid, on average, 4 eggs. If they were all taken and successfully raised to release this would be 24 birds. Now the next bit is a bit subjective, but you will hopefully get my point. Lets assume only 12 of those birds make it back to breed in a pair - so 12 pairs. If you follow the same thought process that will be 48 eggs and 24 returning birds. etc etc etc. You could quite quickly reach 500+ birds. Even though these figures are arbitrary in the extreme it raises several questions for anyone proposing this method.

    1. Where exactly are you proposing to release all these young birds?
    2. Once released where do you expect them to return to?
    3. If 'successful' (debatable use of the word) - and it could be very successful very quickly - when do you stop? Do you reach a 'number' then stop? Will the persecution then start again and we have 300+ dead harriers on our hands.
    4. How do you guarantee that the released birds won't be shot in this country?
    5. When they return, how do you guarantee they won't be shot?
    6. Will it stop persecution of Peregrines and other raptors?
    7. What about nests not on but close to Grouse Moors where the Harriers may forage. Would those nests be left alone? Would the birds be left alone on the basis that the agreement has been introduced?
    8. If the answer to the above is yes, how would you guarantee that?
    9. Are Grouse Moor owners and their keepers honestly going to be happy with 500+ birds flying around?
    10. Who will 'sign up' to this? GWCT, BASC etc? What about the people who actually do the 'management'?

    On a slightly different note - no conservation argument against it. Hmm. From a purely 'we want more Hen Harriers' maybe. Puppy farming with a different species. However, how about these:

    We are treating only the symptom and not the cause.
    Hen Harriers are perfectly capable of maintaining self sustaining populations IF THEY ARE ALLOWED TO. If we stop shooting them they will do quite well thank you.
    It is not sustainable.
    Until we can guarantee that they, or at least the vast majority, will not be shot, we are potentially breeding a doomed animal and spending a fair bit of cash in doing so.
    There is a natural predator prey balance in all environments - we've just messed it up. In any re-introduction scheme there should be research to determine if the area can support the release. This is always sensitive. A naturally expanding population will find that balance on its own. How much research will be be needed to identify all the new areas, or do we just assume that any grouse moor will be OK? How do the owners feel about this? Presumably grouse moors will never be deemed as suitable as they cannot support HH's and driven shooting?

    I could continue but would be interested in answers to these as a basic start point. Seems to me that a ban on driven grouse shooting is still a better option.

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    1. Brilliant questions, Billyo, particularly concerning the shear numbers of broods to be removed year-in, year-out, in perpetuity (it would have to go on and on forever in order to appease driven grouse shooters, else the ceasefire will end). And the cost of those tens, hundreds, of satellite collars, to be affixed to new harriers, year-in, year-out! But, as Phillip keeps stressing - it's just a wee trial, not the fully scaled-up version.

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      1. Mark - someone ought to model the potential cost of full-scale, perpetual brood removal and satellite tagging to the tax payer - just how much does the Hawk and Owl Trust stand to make?!

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