RSPB speaking softly and left its stick at home.

By TimothyWF (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons
By TimothyWF (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons
The RSPB continues to talk up the hopeless Defra Hen Harrier plan even though it shows no sign of making a difference on the ground. In a rather unspecific update Martin Harper says that there is only ‘a tiny handful’ of Hen Harrier nesting attempts in England to date.  Tiny handful? Attempts?  This long-heralded update should have been a lot more specific about the state of affairs as it, according to the RSPB, represents the acid test of the Defra plan.  The news that reaches our ears is that there are between 0 and 1 pairs of Hen Harrier nesting in England but the RSPB should be better informed than this blog.

The picture painted by Martin’s blog is that it is a late season everywhere, but that there are nesting Hen Harriers in the places you’d expect them to be in Scotland and Wales but hardly any in England where grouse moor management predominates. It sounds as if things have gone backwards from last year’s disastrous season of 12 nesting attempts with five males ‘disappearing’ from active nests. This year there are no males, or hardly any males, or a tiny handful of males, to disappear.

When Martin writes ‘…there seems to be a notable absence of birds in many areas where we would expect to see them‘ he might well be referring to the Forest of Bowland in Lancashire, notified as an SPA partly because of its historic Hen Harrier numbers.  It’s really not that long ago when there were more nesting attempts in Bowland alone than now happen in the whole of England over several years.

He writes ‘We also remain committed to Defra’s hen harrier action plan. It would be premature to change tack based on early returns from a late season and it is in everyone’s interest for this plan to succeed. It might yet be that late nests save the day and we’re able to point to positive progress come the end of the season.’ whilst adding ‘…I must stress that, while this picture remains incomplete, the signs are not encouraging’.

The RSPB statement goes out of its way (and it really is out of its way) to praise the Moorland Association for condemning illegal activity even though the Moorland Association has taken no steps against its member on whose land the recent illegal pole traps were found.

The RSPB seems to be pretty relaxed with the wildlife criminals and now exhorts us all to come to a Hen Harrier Day rally and wait until September for a final update when the RSPB will…  Well, it’s not clear what the RSPB will do.  The state of affairs of the Hen Harrier breeding season will be perfectly clear on Hen Harrier Day in early August and we should all expect the RSPB to have come to some conclusion on the way forward by then.

The RSPB position is the equivalent of walking softly but carrying a big stick, except they have left the big stick at home and haven’t waved it around at all and now they are going to keep quiet for several months.  Watch this space for news of an opportunity for some more direct action in the much nearer future.


And, of course, the Hen Harrier plan which is assured of success is to ban driven grouse shooting – that’s our stick and we aren’t speaking softly any more because there are now more than 40,000 of us and we’ve only just started. Please sign this e-petition to ban driven grouse shooting.

Photo: Gordon Yates
A Hen Harrier looking to you to sign the e-petition banning driven grouse shooting.  Photo: Gordon Yates



33 Replies to “RSPB speaking softly and left its stick at home.”

    1. Read the latest article from yesterday on the RSPB Skydancer blog. Another 2014 Bowland hen harrier, Highlander, went missing in late April, last recorded in Durham. Why is there no mention of this in Martin Harper’s HH update of the same day? Or did I miss it? I would hope that this would have warranted comment in a 2016 update?

      Are there grouse moors in Durham? Of course there are.

  1. Shock – Horror! Do the RSPB expect that no news will signal content in that it might be good news? Clearly the news is very bad and #DeedsbytheTweeds have yet again enjoyed ‘controlling’ raptors unabated by the law or anyone else who wanted to see more protection. Enough.

    1. Martin Harper has now added a comment to his blog claiming that giving information on nesting attempts would compromising protection efforts. Does he take us all for fools?! Simply giving a couple of numbers – without saying where the attempts are/were – cannot surely alert criminals to their location?

      Martin – we’re not fools, but you’re sounding foolish.

  2. Well said Mark. I’m tired of the RSPB trying to be all things to all people.

  3. A little off topic, there is only so much I can say about the RSPB trying to sit in the middle of the road to avoid traffic, but did anyone see last night’s Countryfile and its ode to grouse moors about how they all were wildlife paragons even though the presenter failed to see much in the way of non-managed wildlife? They even threw in an insinuation of culling mountain hare as an essential. One of the worst bits of BBC and kowtowing and that was even without the softball interviews of the utterly sick making David Cameron.

  4. Oh Dear! It’s just as I feared – the RSPB is allowing itself to become part of the problem, just like the Hawk & Owl Trust.

  5. It is perhaps telling that so far the only positive comment on Martin’s blog has a link to a paper by the GWCT and a comes from Keith Cowieson (presumably the same Mr Cowieson who is the Director of “Song Bird Survival”). When SBS start think the RSPB is being ‘interesting and balanced’ it’s really time to worry. Every time I read something from the RSPB on this topic it conjures up an image of a ‘Gentleman Jim’ RSPB boxer with regulation gloves squaring up to an unabashed street fighter, armed with knuckle dusters and steel capped boots, just as it dawns on him that the ‘unbiased’ referee is, in fact, the thug’s best chum. At some point, the gloves will have to come off and if it’s not now then it really has to be in September if the dire prognostications with regard Hen Harrier numbers come to pass.

    1. Yep, the same Keith Cowieson (though when posting on Martin’s blog he prefers to be termed a mere RSPB volunteer). But be fair John, he also has support from Rob Yorke who knows the truth when he sees it (it’s all down to foxes and birdwatchers you know). He used to have other worries but apparently since he wrapped his head in tin foil the Communist Mind Control Rays have been blocked a treat.

      1. I’ve rarely read anything quite so disingenuous as Rob Yorke’s response to Martin Harper’s blog. He claims not to be “diverting from the persecution issue” but makes a great play first about predation by foxes and then insinuates that losses are caused by conservationists beating a path to the nest for predators to follow. It seems never to have occurred to him that it’s mighty strange that where fox numbers are suppressed most efficiently, that is on grouse moors, there isn’t a superabundance of harriers. Nor it seems has the thought crossed his mind that conservationists would not need to be there at all if the species wasn’t harrassed to the point of extinction by those he seeks to defend. It’s not that anyone’s “itching for the Hen Harrier Action Plan to fail” but that it does nothing to address the real problem as highlighted by the iceberg tip of incidents we have seen reported in the last week or two concerning pole traps, dummy harriers and shot Goshawks and Red Kites. The greatest absurdity is to claim that the situation is “little to do with wildlife, more about conflict between human interests”; the situation is entirely about wildlife laws, some in place for a century or more, being persistently broken by one interest group to the detriment of the Hen Harrier and other birds of prey.

  6. I had a talk with the ice-cream man in the Forest of Bowland yesterday afternoon, he told me an RSPB employee had confided to him this week there were no nesting raptors left to protect this year; this information backs up what the North West Raptor Group had already discovered.

    It’s about time the RSPB came down off the fence with their boxing gloves on instead of pandering to the rich and powerful estate owners, after all the public have a right to know the truth. Keeping such important information under the carpet until the September only makes an appalling situation much worse, undermining what the RSPB are attempting to achieve by making it appear there is something to hide.

    The Forest of Bowland is designated an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, represented by the Hen Harrier logo. I would argue this position is now totally inappropriate, instead the Doddo would be a better symbol and a more accurate representation of what has taken place at the hands of selfish individuals.

  7. Time to take the protest directly to the Lodge Mark? We could take a stick for every Hen Harrier that should be nesting in England and build a big nest with them outside the RSPB’s front door? Happy to cover any protest for the Guardian.

    1. Nicholas – that’s a very good idea – but it’s not the RSPB who is the problem (though they could do a lot more to be part of the solution).

      1. Maybe the RSPB would change their avocet logo to a hen harrier?

        That might concentrate their minds to get to grips with the issue.

    1. Brilliant!

      I’m sure its a relevant and on topic comment or Mark would have pulled it. I just wish I had the intellect/imagination/creativity to understand!

    2. Will that be upsetting the former and fine words not buttering the latter then?

  8. Contra Mark’s view, the RSPB is now very much part of the problem. They are the largest, most influential, organisation that is capable of confronting the problem head on but are signally failing so to do. Today’s anodyne drivel from Martin Harper was the last straw. As a consequence, 5 minutes ago, I cancelled my subscription of 30+ years. I will find something more worthwhile to spend the money on.
    Regarding the Hen Harrier non-Action Plan – I remember the days when objectives were judged sensible if they were SMART – specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and time defined. What exactly are the SMART objectives for this non-Plan? Does anyone know?

  9. Just the other day I commented on how well both Marks & RP UK blogs complemented each other. I have to say I have now discovered there are two others who also complement each other oh so well, namely the Moorland Association & the RSPB. Both are doing sterling work in concealing the virtual elimination of hen harriers on grouse moors due to persecution.

    Yes Random22, I watched Countryfile last night. It was on Invermark estate in Angus if I recall correctly & if I recall further it was on Invermark just a few years ago where the first pair of white-tailed eagles in eastern Scotland had their nest tree chained sawed to the ground. It’s not surprising we didn’t see any birds of prey during the visit.

  10. It’s a sad day when RSPB, HOT, BBC, DEFRA, Natural England and the Police all talk in with the same softly softly, let’s not upset the custodians of the countryside rhetoric, even when they know the scale of the deceit. The end of a week that saw scathing pieces in the national tabloids on Raptor persecution, the BBC come along to show us all how much these country gents are doing for the biodiversity of the countryside, convenient.

    To coin a phrase, They’re all in it together. The only question is why?

  11. you only have to read the RSPB’s member magazine (which no longer has ‘birds’ in the title) to see that its become a bloated, asinine, gutless charade of a conservation body. In terms of twee- ness, it makes Miss Marple look like The Shield. Middle of the road and middle class.

  12. Perhaps every disgruntled RSPB should take some proper direct action and start disrupting the shoots – you should give it a go, it’s quite rewarding to see all those red faces bursting with rage because they’ve paid a heap of cash to kill something and now they can’t.

    When all the other avenues have proved fruitless (and they’ll continue to be so) then you’re left with only one course of action.

  13. If it’s direct action you want why not organise to go out onto the moors, enmasse, where persecution has taken place, in summer and disturb the grouse, not nice but it may make the grouse moor owners realise that if they continue to tolerate persecution then their grouse numbers will be affected. Nothing illegal just a walk on access land. See
    North Yorkshire’s dreadful response to persecution here
    Easier for Mark to do than anyone else.

  14. Well I’ve finally had enough, I will not be renewing my RSPB membership. I posted this on Martin Harper’s blog;

    ‘Martin, is there anyway I can donate directly to the Investigation Team’s work with the assurance that this is the only place the money will go? I’m a birder with over 35 years under my built, latterly working as a professional ecologist, and it genuinely pains me to say that your pronouncements have convinced me that the RSPB leadership is so out of touch with my views, and with the reality of the situation, that membership is no longer an option for me. I quite simply don’t want to make any contribution whatsoever to your salary; I don’t want to pay for wishful thinking (‘here’s hoping I’ll be able to relay some more positive news’), I want to pay for effective action’.

    Maybe there will be a reply, maybe not.

    1. Jim, Although I don’t support your approach, it is certainly open to you to cancel your RSPB membership but continue to make donations of a restricted nature for specifically identified work that the charity undertakes, eg the Investigation Team. The RSPB – like any charity in such a case – is duty bound to allocate your donation in accordance with your wishes; although you can’t of course dictate how the Investigation Team carries out its work.

  15. Martin’s response to me;

    ‘I am sorry that you have decided to resign your membership. If you want to support the investigations team directly (which would be much appreciated), you can send a cheque to Supporter Services at The Lodge, Sandy, Bedfordshire SG19 2DL with a note saying YOU wish it to be restricted to our Investigations appeal (REF 12-0-073) or call on 01767 693680 (Mon – Fri 9am – 5.15pm) and say the same making payment by credit or debit card. The team can then code it to this appeal. All appeals are restricted and audited as such. If you are a UK tax payer then you would ideally indicate that you wish the donation to be gift aided and we’ll confirm the decision in writing. If you have any problems, let me know’.

    So there you go, it is possible to support the bits of the RSPB that continue to be effective without paying for any of the froth on top.

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