Whatever it was that Defra published yesterday, it was not an action plan to save Hen Harriers. It was a hybrid between a Hen Harrier inaction plan and an action plan to postpone the demise of driven grouse shooting. In that regard it was generally a damp squib; a small victory for the grouse shooting industry and a small defeat for the RSPB and a rather larger defeat for the Hen Harrier.
Why do I say that?
Well, for starters, this so-called plan has no targets except to have a few Hen Harriers dotted around the English uplands at some stage in the future (see Success Criteria). For heaven’s sake! This is Defra – they have a responsibility to restore the SPAs designated, in part, for their Hen Harrier importance under the Birds Directive, to favourable conservation status. This is not even an aim of the plan. There isn’t even a milestone towards this spelled out in the plan. This legal responsibility is ignored in the plan. Why has the RSPB welcomed this plan without this very obvious objective?
Second, the RSPB has failed to get either vicarious liability or licensing of game shooting into this plan, even as something that government will look at. It seems to me that the RSPB often forgets what its own policies are.
Third, it is good to see satellite-tagging in this plan, but then, how could it not be? It is also good to see that the point made in this blog (here, here, here – but I’m sure elsewhere too), that this needs to be done on a wide geographic scale, and not just in England, in order to learn more about Hen Harrier biology and to catch more criminals, is recognised. There is no costing of this work and no analysis of whether current resources are adequate. There is no promise from Defra of a big increase in resources to make the most of this modern technology over the next few years. Why did the RSPB not insist on this as a part of the plan? And why are the Moorland Association, National Gamekeepers’ Organisation and others not identified as finding major resources for this aspect of the ‘joint plan’? Why aren’t landowners and keepers contributing hundreds of thousands of pounds to this work over the next five years? You work it out!
Fourth, I was interested to see that the cost of provisioning a brood of Hen Harriers is stated as being a mere £1,150/year. That’s amazing! In England, we are told that there should be 330 pairs of Hen Harrier in the uplands – although none of us can even imagine a time when that might be the case. But if we could, then they wouldn’t all be nesting on grouse moors (or feeding on them either). But let’s assume they would be (but they wouldn’t!), that would be a cost of c£350,000 a year for an industry that claims it spends £50,000,000/yr on management. A drop in the ocean! A pittance! Put your prices up a bit and the whole problem is sorted if that figure is correct. Indeed, Defra could even consider paying for diversionary feeding itself at those rates. I guess it would cost less than £100,000/yr in practice. Chicken feed to get the problem sorted. Why isn’t that even considered in this so-called plan?
Fifth, there is a hint of good news, in that the Defra plan says that the intelligence building aspect of combatting wildlife crime will continue and be part of the work of NWCU – rather difficult to abolish it then!
Sixth, although most attention has been and will be focussed on the mention of a southern reintroduction and a think about, and then a trial of methods of, brood meddling there is no indication that Defra will fund this work – and why should it? This is classic ‘kick it into the long grass’ behaviour and my prediction is that nothing will happen. And of course if it did, then neither of these actions would do much for the missing c330 pairs of Hen Harriers that we should see in the English uplands. Whatever the shooting industry might say, they know that nothing much will happen in these areas, but it is a small victory for them that the very idea of brood meddling hasn’t been ruled out completely.
And so we have a government department publishing, at long last, its plan for a threatened species which omits to have as its aim the restoration of that species to SPAs designated for it, and fails even to set an ambitious population target for recovery. Defra has forgotten what it is for – and it has also forgotten who it is for. It exists to save wildlife and further the public good, not to be nice to its mates in the grouse shooting industry.
We have a plan where the RSPB hasn’t really been able to get anything worthwhile in the plan. Defra isn’t going to do anything that it wasn’t doing already, the criminals have not been made to cough up money for satellite tags, there is no target with which to hold government or anyone else to account, and the policy objectives of stronger regulation are missing – yet the RSPB welcomes the plan. A bit strange and a bit disappointing.
Yesterday was one of those days when several things came together. We had this hopeless non-plan for inaction from a government department that has so lost its way that its support from the environmental community should be practically zero.We had the revelation on this blog that the shooting industry, at least the Buccleuch Estate part of it, can’t be bothered with any of this stuff and wants to be able to employ lethal control of raptors. And we had a popular movement, unaided by any major wildlife conservation organisation, reaching 30,000 signatures on an e-petition to ban driven grouse shooting.
The least significant of the three is this Defra plan for inaction, which we can see as a plan to postpone the demise of the grouse shooting industry.
The grouse shooting industry has no wish to occupy any middle ground. The RSPB has failed to influence Defra at all to do its proper job, but the general public is making it clear that they see an end to driven grouse shooting as the solution to the problems of the Hen Harrier and a whole range of other ecologically damaging consequences of this hobby for the rich.
Sign this e-petition to ban driven grouse shooting to help Defra get its head straight and to show the grouse shooting industry that there is a real plan out there to save the Hen Harrier.