Those awkward Hen Harriers

Photo: Gordon Yates
Photo: Gordon Yates

OK let’s get back to Hen Harriers.  Aren’t they lovely?

Those who have been defending or promoting driven grouse shooting find Hen Harriers difficult to talk about.  It will be interesting to see how much utter tripe some MPs may come up with in the debate we expect to see over the future of driven grouse shooting.  As an MP, you can get away with saying almost anything in parliament but you can’t get away with saying it secretly or erasing the account of your saying it. Any MP who misrepresents the facts about Hen Harriers in a debate on the future of driven grouse shooting should expect to be swamped by letters from her or his constituents afterwards.

In all modesty, you will find Chapter 1 of Inglorious a good guide to the biology and status of the Hen Harrier in the UK and Chapter 3 deals with the crucially important Langholm study (Inglorious was the second book in the BB Book of the Year list after all – with Prof Ian Newton FRS on the panel of judges).

You won’t have heard, because of editing, Andrew Gilruth being challenged to admit the scale of illegal killing of Hen Harriers on Farming Today. Andrew finds this subject difficult.  You can hear how difficult a subject he finds it by listening to the unedited and free (though slightly fiddly to get to) podcast (it’s the 3rd item this week) which accompanies the Spectator article by Matt Ridley.  I will wait with interest to see how the editing of Countryfile this evening deals with this subject because Andrew was, again, challenged by me to admit that the main problem for Hen Harriers is wildlife crime.  Andrew finds the subject difficult.

I was on BBC Radio Cumbria on Friday morning and heard Moorland Association chair, Robert Benson, avoid the subject for quite a while until the presenter asked him outright about Hen Harriers (as I had raised the subject in my slot).  My recollection (I did make a note of it but I seem to have lost the scrap of paper) was that he said that he ‘hoped and prayed’ that there would be more Hen Harriers in England next year. Well Robert, that isn’t necessarily a winning strategy and I doubt very much that it is a view shared by all your members.  The Moorland Association has massive problems of credibility here – Hen Harriers are being killed on grouse moors and the motive for that killing is to protect unnaturally high densities of Red Grouse whose purpose in life, seen by Moorland Association members, is to be shot for fun.  Hen Harriers are killed illegally on grouse moors so that Red Grouse can be killed for fun. It’s an impossible state of affairs to defend which is why all try their best to steer clear of it – which is what Andrew Gilruth has tried to do and what Robert Benson tried to do too.

Another approach is to get the facts very badly wrong.  Well, I say it is an approach but it might be an honest mistake of course. Matt Ridley got the facts wrong in his Spectator article and we see it happening again and again in the media. Any MP who takes briefing from the grouse shooting industry will have to be aware that their words, for which they will be responsible, will be in Hansard for ever. They have a responsibility to be truthful and on our side of the argument we will be doing our best to make sure that MPs are perfectly briefed on this subject but also that any mistruths are publicly exposed afterwards.

There is another approach, which is so rare that it demands recognition even though it may make the person concerned blush – and that is to tell the truth.

Amanda Anderson was quoted in the Sunday Times last week saying:

‘If we let the hen harrier in, we will soon have nothing else. That is why we need this brood management plan’ – Amanda Anderson, Director, Moorland Association

If we let the Hen Harrier in…   Yes, ‘if’…

The fact of the matter is that driven grouse shooting is underpinned by wildlife crime against raptors that are fully protected by law and have been for decades. There are some who regard themselves as untouchable (a phrase well-coined I believe by our big brother blog, Raptor Persecution UK) when it comes to the law. Wildlife crime is wildlife crime and the uplands of England, including our National Parks such as the Yorkshire Dales and Peak District and North York Moors are massive wildlife crime scenes.

Here’s a great Hen Harrier plan – ban driven grouse shooting.





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27 Replies to “Those awkward Hen Harriers”

  1. Too simple I appreciate and I am foolish for being a naive agnostic perhaps?

    1. Upland moor owners receive public subsidies correct?
    2. These payments are for what?
    3. One assumes the answer to (3) above is public benefit?
    4. Each of these moorlands could be assessed for HH holding capacity?
    5. Simple - abolish the blank cheque and pay on performance?

    Sorry, but there really does have to be accountability for these handouts and they will now be directly paid from an accountable westminster parliament?

    PS It's a good job we don't still use typewriter ribbons, I can't keep up with your pace and try to correspond with others elsewhere!

    1. Hi Nimby I suspect you will get short shrift from Mark for suggesting any other workable approach than a total ban on shooting grouse in a particular way.

      1. One obvious problem however would be that moors where grouse shooting is not practiced can also have no hen harriers - in part maybe but not necessarily because of persecution on grouse moors 🙂 There are other factors such as predator control of crows, foxes &c. Your proposals could lead to people controlling predators in order to try and boost HH numbers in order to get subsidies. Organisations like LACS would be ideologically opposed to that.

        Politics works 'best' when we have a simple distinction between the good guys in white hats and the bad guys in black hats. Simply ban the bad guys and all will be well.

      2. giles - I am quite capable of answering comments on my own blog myself if I wish to without your help. I've told you before - stop putting words into my mouth.

        1. I am not putting words into your mouth Mark I am voicing my opinions on what your attitude might be.

          It seems quite obvious that constructive discussions on other possible forms of legislative action apart from banning a particular method of grouse shooting would potentially detract from such a campaign.

  2. FYI An easier link for the podcast:


      Starts at 21 minutes Mark Avery debating with Andrew Gilruth.

  3. I have been to Mull several times and always seen Hen Harriers - along with Golden Eagle, White Tailed Eagle and Short Eared Owl. Ewan Miles who guides on the island made the following comment:

    The Isle of Mull has around 45 breeding female hen harriers and the main factor for this healthy population is that there is no land managed for Red Grouse on the island. This upland game bird is naturally scarce on the isle as western Scotland has a wetter climate and ground condition which doesn’t promote as much heather, a Red Grouse’s main food source. This still doesn’t guarantee the safety of the Harriers as birds can travel long distances outside of the breeding season potentially hundreds of miles from the refuge of Mull’s moors to other areas around the UK, some of the most heavily persecuted regions in Europe.

    How do BASC, the Moorland Association, Andrew Gilruth, Matt Ridley and Beefy respond to this?

    1. Mull is my second home. I've been travelling there for many years, every year, to watch these wonderful raptors along with the other species you mentioned. It is a shining beacon of light in an otherwise dull outlook.

      The complete lack of management is clearly the key and yet, despite a high raptor population there are a whole host of other fantastic species including those the Moorland Association and BASC etc like to claim they are saving.

      The simple truth is nature can exist in perfect harmony without intervention from man. Leaving them to get on with it will always be the best solution and any claims to the contrary by the shooting lobby should be treated with the contempt it deserves.

      Killing animals for fun should have no place in modern society.

  4. I've been involved in hen harriers for a very long time and ever since I saw my first "skydancer" in June '71 its been one of my favourite birds. They of course as grouse moor birds failed. It was 22 years before a pair were successful in the area, but two pairs failed in that same year and they failed the following year. It was 2002 when birds were next successful, on the same moor as 1993. Between then and now there have been 15 attempts in the same area with just five successes, one of which was supplimentarily fed and the male promptly disappeared. All of the failures bore the hallmarks of persecution with in the main adults disappearing, often after first developing "Malta moult"
    Yet it doesn't end there the eastern part of the Yorkshire Dales NP and the Nidderdale AONB happen to be an area favoured by wintering birds from elsewhere in England and south Scotland. Some of those birds used to be radio tagged and more recently satellite tagged. Many of those birds have died in their first winter in our area. Natural you say, but when they die there is neither a body, a tag or signs of predation. Does the fox, badger, peregrine or even eagle owls that are allegedly predating them, immediately disable and eat the tag and hide all other signs of the predatory act? Much more likely they are shot and the tag immediately destroyed and all evidence buried or removed.
    Remember Bowland Betty a bird they shot and killed but she flew off before dying and they couldn't find her to destroy the evidence.
    Then there is the peregrine hardly a successful nest anywhere in England on a grouse moor for over twenty years. Yet half our upland peregrine sites are on those very grouse moors.
    Both magnificent birds protected for over 60 years yet routinely killed to protect a "sport," you couldn't make up!
    Yes those awkward harriers often described as the harrier problem. No they are not the problem, what is the problem is the complete disregard for the law that much of grouse shooting has. They've had umpteen chances to self regulate and solve this, now its just time it was all gone.
    Finally think how many hen harriers and peregrines must have died over the years to keep this so called sport in grouse surplus, probably THOUSANDS.

  5. I thought that you and Bob came across as very reasonable, Gilruth was vague and evasive... Thomas's frenzied enthusiasm for shooting must have added another thousand or so to the petition..... which I don't remember being mentioned?

    I have to say I thought the warning that "some people might find the following upsetting" balanced against Thomas beaming, kill, kill, kill mode, was excellent.

  6. Hi Mark,

    Is it true or false that driven grouse shooting can be practiced in a sustainable way? I'd be interested in your view.

    You've raised an estate in the past that practices driven grouse shooting for being sustainable so I assume you think it can. But I wouldn't want to misrepresent your views.

    1. giles - it might be possible but it isn't obvious is it? Take me to half a dozen why don't you? Or just name the very best shining examples.

      You mean 'praised' don't you. Please try to check your spelling as well as your thoughts before sending your comments.

        1. giles - I don't. but it is not my job to correct your errors, particularly when you don't take a very friendly stance on this blog. You check your comments - don't expect me to.

          1. I'm sorry if you feel I'm not being friendly - I thought I was - I certainly mean to be

      1. and you know I meant 'praised' because I posted afterwards asking you to kindly correct but instead you choose to try and make me look stupid because of a mild disability.

        1. giles - no. It is your job to check your comments for spelling, grammar and sense. Try harder at all three. You have a habit of posting a comment, then another, then another, then a correction, then another. Just take a deep breath and try to get it right. And if you want me to correct your errors then try being nice.

          1. I am being nice Mark.. I did check my post as I was typing it - you need to under stand what dyslexia involves. You look at a word and it looks right (or wrong) but it isn't.

      2. I suggest you go back you your blog post where you held up an estate in Scotland which had some driven grouse shooting but which you also said was managed sustainably. Do you not remember that one? I'll have a hunt for it if you want.

        1. giles - Glen Tanar. That's one. What is your next one? There are 450+ grouse moors in the UK. I'll go back and look too, but I'll guess that I said that the mix of management seemed sustainable and I guess I pointed out that driven grouse shooting was a very small part of that estate's total enterprise. I haven't looked but I will.

          1. It might have been that one - so yes - without meaning to put words into your mouth, it does seem that you do accept that it does seem that DGS can be operated both in a sustainable manner and an unsustainable manner.

            Now if we can also get to the point of accepting that other forms of land use/ grouse shooting &c &c can also be unsustainable - maybe we could consider whether it might or might not be a good idea for the law to require the uplands to be managed sustainably no matter for what reason.

            Any law that did that would of course make unsustainable grouse moor management illegal so not sure (without meaning to put words .. &c &c) why you would not object to it as an alternative idea.

          2. I have to apologise if I am confused but my impression was that you were claiming that driven grouse shooting was incompatible with sustainable management and therefore there was no practical alternative to a ban.

            However it's clear from this discussion that you are either not saying that or if you are you are being disingenuous because you don't really think it.

            I can see why a less intellectually honest person that you might want to make this into a black and white issue when it clearly isn't

    2. It's interesting isn't it that the supposed "guardians of the countryside" (estates/farmers) are the ones who have the least biodiversity on their land!!

  7. I believe grouse moors can be sustainably managed up to a point.It depends on balancing investment with expectation.I would like to see the National Trust properties in the Peak District managed like this once the present incumbent has left.I began my career in game keeping by beating on these moors for the said incumbent,before moving on to other things. An experiment of this sort which would be different to Langholm in many respects, and possibly more typical of other moors,would be of greater benefit than the ' rewilding' currently being called for in some quarters.
    There has been 'rewilding' going on in parts of the peak for a number of years and basically it is crap .


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