When will Natural England come clean on their (ie our) Hen Harrier study

A brood fit for meddling? Photo: Ian Newton
A brood fit for meddling? Photo: Ian Newton

Natural England has been carrying out a Hen Harrier study with radio-tagged and satellite-tagged Hen Harriers for years and years (since 2002 in fact). It formed part of the basis for the excellent NE report (A Future for Hen Harriers in England? which was published under a Labour government in 2008). Natural England has been curiously quiet about the results of their (ie our) study since then and only released some data from it after being asked many times by this blog and by others.

This study has formed part of  a PhD study by a NE staff member which was supposed to be completed at the end of 2014.

According to NE over £10k of their (ie our) funds was dedicated to the study.

Photo: Gordon Yates http://www.gordon-yates.com/
Photo: Gordon Yates http://www.gordon-yates.com/

I have asked NE, through an FoI request, to answer the following questions:

  1. Is the study of Hen Harrier tagging completed?
  2. Has a PhD been submitted?
  3. If so, has the PhD thesis been examined?
  4. If so, has the thesis been approved?
  5. If so, in which library is the PhD lodged and where can members of the public gain access to it?
  6. What plans does NE have to publish the data and to publicise the results of the study?
  7. What would be the process of obtaining copies of the data for personal scientific analysis?
  8. Were the locations of all Hen Harriers which ‘disappeared’ or whose satellite tags ‘failed’ given to the appropriate police authorities as information which would be relevant to possible crimes? Please supply details.
  9. Does the £10k published cost of the study include the salary of the NE staff member most intimately involved with the work?
  10. Does the £10k published cost of the study include the accommodation and subsistence costs of the NE staff member most intimately involved with the work?
  11. What are the true costs of this study to the tax-payer once NE staff time, supervision, travel, accommodation and subsistence are included?

11 Replies to “When will Natural England come clean on their (ie our) Hen Harrier study”

  1. Apologies if I missed it Mark, but who were the academic supervisors of the PhD and with which University was the PhD registered? Or is that a secret too?
    A real missed opportunity by Natural England to generate some real public awareness raising around the issue of Hen Harrier conservation in England, maybe they should ask BTO about the success of their cuckoo satellite tracking – good science and great awareness raising rolled in to one.

    1. Apparently the student is Stephen Murphy and he conducted it at Liverpool John Moores University.

  2. Does anyone have any idea what could have happened to the Isle of Man Hen Harriers? One went missing on the same day it was tagged, one went missing 10 days after, two after a year and one after 2 years. All went missing on the Isle of Man. Were there problems with the earliest tags?

  3. I suspect that NE are too busy dealing with invasive alien species…….tumbleweed…to get back to you in a hurry.

  4. Even back to Richard Benyon’s time as a Minister the excuse was always that they couldn’t release any of the results of the research as it was associated with a PhD. Since when has the requirements of a student dictated Government transparency? It will be interesting to learn at what point the thesis will be deposited in the University Library as I suspect any Government summary of the work will be a fudge!!!!

  5. Results of a PhD on such a topical subject, sponsored and at least part funded by our own statutory conservation agency would be a prime candidate for publication in a peer reviewed journal you would have thought … ?

  6. Not sure I really approve of naming a student who is doing a PhD and then vilifying him. I think that is a) rather unpleasant and unnecessary b) may well be illegal under the data protection act and c) I hate to say this but less than a year is not a particularly long time to get a PhD written up, I know several people who have taken years to write theirs up. Mark how long did you take to do yours as a matter of interest?? And was it useful as apparently it belongs to us all?!

    1. Jemima – I didn’t name him. In fact I took pains not to. But you are right that someone has on a comment on this blog and I could have excluded that comment but didn’t. The identity of the NE staff member is widely known and I don’t think is secret.

      I did not vilify him. My grouse is with NE which I feel is using a PhD as an excuse not to publish data which are of public interest and which would have been published long ago under any normal circumstances. You can see that the questions on this post are all aimed at Natural England and are designed to elucidate when the data would be available and how much taxpayers’ money went into collecting them. Those are perfectly reasonable questions for a study that has been going on for 13 years with precious few visible outputs.

      I understand from NE (because I asked them and they told me) that the current plan for submission of a thesis is November this year.

      Since you ask, I finished writing up my PhD three years and one month after I started it. So the writing was finished a month after the grant ended. That’s actually very quick – thanks for asking. I think it was examined in November that same year – 1983.

      It is entitled ‘The Winter Activity of Pipistrelle Bats’ and I’m sure a rather dusty copy resides in each of a couple of libraries in Aberdeen university. I’d be thrilled if people read it as that’s one reason why I wrote it. I think I published three papers from it and another few from work I did during that period. OK?

      Actually – here you go – here’s the link http://gradworks.umi.com/U3/45/U345072.html So, you see, it does indeed belong to us all – as science should, and as public-funded research should.

      Note added later: I’ve just remembered – the name of the PhD student is, quite properly, on the NE website. So there is no breach of confidence or secrecy here, yet alone of the law, and no vilification either. Would you like to apologise?

      Another note added later still: another couple of thoughts

      1. I hope you noticed the mention of your work in today’s blog by Chris Bowden.
      2. You are presumably, as a trustee of H&OT, fully behind the brood management line of Philip Merricks are you? I’m told that everyone is…

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