One of the more reasonable aspects of the dreadful government response to our e-petition to ban driven grouse shooting is that it regards the fact that there were a few more Hen Harriers this year (although many of the males disappeared of course) as encouraging. It is a little bit encouraging – but not very.
We know, and Defra knows, that the current science (as I keep mentioning, there’s supposed to be some more coming along in a while which may revise the figures downwards) on the basis of currently available habitat, suggests there would be around 330 pairs of Hen Harrier nesting in the English uplands if they were not illegally killed.
I notice that on Twitter both the Countryside Alliance’s Chief Executive, Tim Bonner (@CA_TimB), and the TGCW’s Director of Everything, Andrew Gilruth (@AndrewGilruth), are trying to give the RSPB a hard time about this. In particular, they seem to have a problem with the RSPB mentioning that the science suggests that there ought to be an awful lot more Hen Harriers in England.
Their line of attack seems to be that the RSPB doesn’t keep mentioning how many of other species there might be. Well, apart from the fact that is nonsense anyway, the reason to highlight the 330 pairs of Hen Harrier that could be nesting in England is to make a proper contrast with the 2, 4 and 12 pairs that attempted to nest in the last three years. And the main reason for doing this is that we know, and the WTGC accepts, that the gap between the handful or couple of hands full of pairs usually on offer and the several hundred that ought to grace our hills is due to wildlife crime. And that’s what makes the grouse moor situation so unacceptable. A ‘sport’, a sport of trivial economic importance, is wiping out a protected species over the whole of the uplands of England. Nearby in Wales, where there is no driven grouse shooting, Hen Harriers thrive.
This aspect of the issue is covered in Chapter 1 of Inglorious (still the Amazon UK #1 best seller in target shooting (what a laugh!)). The Welsh situation is summarised on page 31 (57 pairs of Hen Harrier in 2010 in the last national survey – potential 250 pairs in Wales – but at least the population is in long term increase).
Andrew Gilruth also should remind himself of what it says on page 34 of Inglorious: As an example, the GWCT’s director of fundraising, Andrew Gilruth, when interviewed by Charlie Moores of Birders Against Wildlife Crime in July 2014, referred to Dick Potts’s paper as an early example of how his organisation had long accepted the critical role of illegal persecution in the fate of the UK Hen Harrier populations, and said about illegal persecution, ‘I don’t think that anyone is under any illusion that it needs to stop. I mean, the scientific literature is full of information about what the issue is. The challenge is about what to actually do about it.’
Ah, but that was last year when the CWTG were, laughably, putting themselves forward as the best friend of the Hen Harrier and the best friend of the RSPB. Things have changed now.
I don’t remember GWCT or the Countryside Alliance promising us any particular number of Hen Harriers in the future – or did I miss that bit? How many will they allow us to have?
Defra needs to get its act together. Its response to our e-petition made it look as though it was the mouthpiece of the shooting industry in general and grouse shooting in particular. Defra is not providing any leadership on this issue. What is the Defra plan for Hen Harriers? How many of the 330 pairs of Hen Harrier that should be living in the English uplands will Defra deliver? And how quickly? What is its novel response to the current dire situation? How is it going to tackle this wildlife crime? When is it going to recognise its nature conservation responsibilities and stop appearing to side with the criminal elements of the ‘sport’ of grouse shooting.
Defra against badgers (despite the science on bTB transmission), against bees (despite the science on neonicotinoids) and against birds of prey (despite the science on Hen Harriers and the law that protects them). What a shameful government department it has become!