Hawk and Owl Trust being destroyed from within

hotoAt the Bird Fair I walked past the large stand of the Hawk and Owl Trust many times – there was a small group of volunteers there but I saw no visitors (in contrast to the small BAWC stand which was very, very busy).  Several others commented on the same thing. One claimed to see tumbleweed blowing across the H&OT stand…

How things have changed! Two years ago I joined the H&OT after they had attended the first Hen Harrier Day rally, a few months later I resigned my membership at about the time when the H&OT President (and long-time supporter) Chris Packham also resigned.  Our reason? The H&OT’s sneaky decision to favour what has become known as brood meddling as a solution to the conservation problems of the Hen Harrier. [See these links for more information on this sorry tale; OK Hawk and Owl Trust – where are you?, Defra take note!Poll results: Brood meddling even more unpopular].

I have spent the last three days at the Bird Fair with c25,000 other birders, conservationists and environmentalists. There was a hell of a buzz – and part of that was because of the progress made on the popular e-petition to ban driven grouse shooting as the real action plan for Hen Harriers, Peregrine Falcons, Golden Eagles etc and for a better future for people in our uplands.  As I write these words I have just seen that e-petition pass 116,000 signatures.

Apparently those 116,000 people, including me, are eco-zealots. This is according to the H&OT’s Chair Philip Merricks who was at the Bird Fair on Friday. In fact, he attended a Q&A on the future of grouse shooting late on Friday afternoon – he attended but had turned down the opportunity offered weeks ago to have a place on the panel. As he sat in a full-house of 500 people in the main Events Marquee Philip must surely have turned to the RSPB and Wildlife Trust members sitting all around him and said ‘I see this place is full of eco-zealots and you’re another of them’.

It’s a remarkable state of affairs when the chair of a small conservation organisation, which has done some good work in the past, brings the organisation so low. We only ever hear Mr Merricks speaking about brood meddling for Hen Harriers – never on any other subject. It’s almost as though he sees his sole role as being to get brood meddling agreed and funded at any price – that price might well be the future of the H&OT of which he is the chair.

Mr Merricks can take whatever position he wants on any issue, but it seems that the H&OT is now single mindedly pursuing this policy at the expense of all others. There is money in brood meddling for H&OT but I doubt that is the sole motive for their position.  It feels as though the grouse shooting industry (and what a nice bunch we know them to be  (see John Vidal and Geoege Monbiot on the subject) have somehow turned a small quite well-respected conservation organisation into a mouthpiece for grouse shooting’s ridiculous solution.

But Mr Merricks speaks with forked tongue, I feel. Ahead of their 2015 AGM, less than a year ago, the H&OT had decided that brood meddling would only play a ‘very, very small part’ in Hen Harrier conservation but today Merricks reckons it is the main hope for the bird.  It seems we can’t trust what the H&OT says in public – it tells its members one thing (perhaps to keep them quiet) and then its chair tells the public something quite different. Shoddy, I’d call it.

Merricks also made a commitment that H&OT would withdraw their support from brood meddling if there was evidence of Hen Harrier persecution. He chose his words very carefully, I’m sure, so he could quibble that his ‘immovable proviso and condition’ Number 2 has not yet been broken, but Merricks and the H&OT cannot be in any doubt at all that the Hen Harrier illegal slaughter goes on unabated and perhaps with undiminished enthusiasm by the grouse shooting industry. And if they are in doubt, then at least the eco-zealots running the RSPB have seen that the grouse shooting industry has not changed at all.

What is going on?  There are good people in H&OT – good staff who are mostly perplexed and concerned about where the rest of their trustees have allowed Merricks to take them. It’s time for the trustees to get a grip – or are they all fully behind Merricks’s position and the way that it is completely dominating the public face of H&OT?

I can’t see the H&OT stand at the Bird Fair being any busier next year – unless it is with a queue of members resigning.



111 Replies to “Hawk and Owl Trust being destroyed from within”

  1. Just read the Telegraph article by Merricks, that might as well have been written by a PR agency paid for by the grouse moors. The idea that the under keeper at Mossdale had taken upon himself, spontaneously, to set pole traps is ludicrous. He is getting desperate isn’t he? I suspect we all have dark suspicions re the motivation behind H&OT’s support for saving keepers the bother of running even the very slight risk of being done for killing hen harriers.

  2. Interesting; Phillip Merrick’s Telegraph article, referenced above in para 4, has an option at the end for readers to answer the question “Is grouse shooting a threat to the Hen Harrier?”

    100% – every single one – of the 1100 people who have expressed their opinion to date have said yes it is! Mr Merrick’s piece has clearly not convinced anyone. He’s so irrelevant that the pro shooters (who one imagines read the Telegraph more often than we “eco zealots”) haven’t even bothered to vote “no it doesn’t”. Wow.

      1. You wonder if Telegraph readers were actually presented with objective info re the actual conservation benefits versus disbenefits of driven grouse shooting how many of them would support having grouse moors? The majority of Daily Fail, Telegraph readers can’t be shooters themselves. For all their blatant political influence the grouse shooting estates are on an incredibly shaky foundation.

  3. I cant help but remember when Gerald Ratner torpedoed his own company by slamming his customers as tasteless. Any remaining H&OT members who also support the RSPB, BAWC, Chris Packham and of course you Mark, might want to reflect on what Merricks thinks about them…

    1. Charlie, I am a H&OT and a member/supporter of all above and many more. Including you.
      I have said this before on this blog but it bears repeating.
      Merricks does NOT speak for me. In fact, I happen to know that he doesn’t speak for many members or volunteers.
      I remain a member because of the great work done by the volunteers and the trust in general.
      I have no idea why he is our chair and I desperately wish that weren’t the case. I’m also in no doubt as to what he thinks of the majority of H&OT members!

      So, why don’t I just resign? Well, why should I? Just because of one man who’s trying to use the trust to further his own aims? Is that how you fight and win?

      I first knew Sculthorpe moor in Norfolk, as a shed and a few muddy paths. In those days it seemed to be Nigel Middleton and no one else.
      Today, with Nigel’s band of volunteers, it is a reserve that any NGO would be proud of.
      It is also open to all! The less able bodied get the same five star treatment from the volunteers and the same access as the rest of us.
      The huge hide and boardwalks they have built, that other NGOs would pay contractors to build, have to be seen to be believed.

      It’s all very well throwing dolly out of the pram if the whole organisation is going in the opposite direction as you, but when it’s one man and maybe a few misguided trustees?
      I don’t think so. What would that tell the volunteers who work so long and so hard?

      Now, I should say that this is a view from afar. I don’t get to the sites very often and I’m only going on what I saw at the last AGM and from talking to volunteers both at the AGM and indeed, at the Birdfairs. (note plural). But I’m not alone in my views, not by a long way.

      Would Merricks still be there if the members were more vocal? Would he still be there if certain, valuable, names had stayed to fight from within?
      I’ve no way of knowing the answer to that. But be sure, if I knew for certain that that was the case, then I would certainly resign. Until I find that is impossible to get rid of Merricks and/or I find that his is the majority view, I will stay and make my views known from within.

      It would be nice to hear views from any other H&OT members who read this site.
      It would also be nice if supporting the H&OT, didn’t mean to others that we were supporting Merricks.

      Now Charlie, if you fancy a job……

      1. By far the best way to address the H&OT issue is from within – what’s needed is a sufficient number of members to mount a challenge to the current leadership from within the organisations. That means members. So actually I’d urge people to join / re-join (I resigned but intend to re-join) and get cracking on building support for change. It’s a small organisation so action by the membership ought to have significant leverage.

      2. I totally agree with you Paul. Hopefully the membership will vote with their feet at the AGM. I’ve been a Life member since my teens…..now over 45 years and it is sad to see the Trust get so much criticism because they dont seem to be able to guage how the majority of people feel. Double clutching worked for Carl Jones and the Mauritius Kestrel and years ago (when it was legal to do so) I was involved in a large barn owl breeding and release scheme where birds were radio tracked in Buckinghamshire – so in theory the HHRP sounds good. BUT sadly there is still far too much persecution of harriers in the UK for any brood management/meddling to work. There was a local post on facebook yesterday advertising for grouse beaters looking for fit young people to earn £55 a day – many who might not be aware of what goes on – so i stuck my neck out and quoted a recent article on harriers and raptor persecution – partly to see the response – sadly out of about 30 commenting only one gave my comment a like – the rest of the response was disheartingly critical and using that small sample I wouldnt hold out much hope if any harriers were released around here. Without persecution harriers produce fairly large broods and the numbers ought to increase naturally. The HOT really would be better putting their efforts into education and doing as much as they can to stamp out persecution and trying to get more realistic punishments – and I hope the Trust will act to ensure it survives the current criticism,

        1. Caroline, thank you so much for that.
          I remain convinced that ours is the majority view within the trust, but the truth is that most members are too softly spoken. He who shouts loudest…!

          We can ill afford to be at each other throats over the Merricks issue when we are so few. The members I’ve spoken to have all signed the petition.

          It’s all very well lighting the blue touch paper to see the sparks, but if H&OT members are alienated from this fight because they are made to feel unwelcome just because of a bully leader and a few chums, they will stop reading this blog and stop fighting our cause. And yes, I do know that has happened in at least one case.
          People dislike being tarred!

          Hope to see you in October 8 & 9th in Somerset.

          1. unfortunately it is rather unlikely i will get down in October simply due to distance but I will put my views on paper and also speak to David Cobham and Jane Fenton – both of whom I have known for many years and have high regard for. I shall be interested to hear their views. I agree members who feel the hen harrier plan would be a waste of time and resources should voice their opinions. little will change until those enforcing the law set realistic punishments for persecution – more should be done to concentrate on that.

        2. I enjoyed your post very much but have one gripe.
          You mentioned that a HH re-introduction scheme wouldn’t work with the present level of persecution but hinted that otherwise ‘in theory the HHRP sounds good’.
          In theory i don’t think it sounds good at all except as a kind of expensive experiment but why would anyone want to do that?
          In theory with no persecution Hen Harriers would recolonise England extremely quickly and when numbers got high enough in the upland they may then re-colonise the lowlands naturally. There is absolutely no argument for a lowland re-introduction even without persecution.
          It would be a bit like planting saplings around a granny tree.

          1. I agree with you around the reintroduction.If I am correct some years ago the RSPB introduced Harriers on to Langholm moor in the scottish borders. all the pairs died because they put to many on and they wiped out the grouse and starved to death. There was no persecution and no shooting at all on the moor but still they failed to survive.

        3. Hi Caroline. Please don’t equate brood removal with the kind of intensive species recovery work undertaken by Carl Jones – although deploying a similar technique (removing eggs / chicks for captive rearing and release), they have very different ends objectives. The ends objective of Carl’s work is basically to supplement the wild population in situ and this aid population recovery, in situ. The ends objective of Phil’s version of brood removal is to prevent hen harriers from recovering to make way for an intensive land use – driven grouse shooting. They’re not comparable. So I don’t agree that that element of the HHRP is sound even in theory. A sound approach would be to reduce the yield demands of red grouse, and the land use intensity of driven grouse shooting, so that hen harriers can be accommodated in reasonable numbers on land used for lower yielding grouse shooting. Phil sees hen harriers as the problem, and the solution as their removal from driven grouse moors.

      3. Like you Paul, I have remained a member for similar reasons and for the fact that change can only be made from inside. I think an opportunity may have arisen, or at least to let our feelings be known. I have today received my notice of AGM and see that Merricks is up for re-election. We, and others in our situation now have a chance to do something by voting against him. Mark, can you highlight this in a future blog. Even if we don’t win the vote, we can at least poll enough support to make the trustees think seriously about their policy.

  4. Apart from anything else, I can’t see what Phillip is on about as to meddle there have to be broods. 2016 was the test year: would there be any give on the part of Grouse shooting ? We now know the answer is a decisive, cataclysmic no and to all intents that means game over – as far as brood meddling, driven grouse shooting and illegal persecution in the uplands. Shooting had a (slim) chance and its blown it, and has gone back to the 19th C in reducing a species to extinction by direct human persecution. As you say, Mark, it is a real tragedy that HOT has been reduced by Phillip’s irresponsible actions, especially as there will be many who don’t agree with him but are keeping quiet – why ? Well, anyone who knows Phillip will know that he is inclined to be somewhat overbearing in his opinions – in this case the comment on a (long past) American Secretary of State ‘A bull who brings his own China shop with him’ might apply.

  5. There are some key individuals in H&OT who are outstanding. I feel sorry for them as they will be curtailed in public from speaking out against their employer. Alas they are now tainted with that organisation. The H&OT also have this attitude that they are the only ones who know about Peregrines, Barn Owls etc and that couldn’t be further from the truth.

    I know many individuals in conservation who now stay away from H&OT and will not work with them because they consider them to be tainted over Hen Harriers in particular and do not want their work to become tainted or to be considered to be seen to support an organisation with some objectives that they cannot ethically support.

    The RSPB and other organisations really need to cherry-pick those outstanding staff from H&OT, if they can, and use it to bolster them.

    1. Hang on! Please don’t pinch our staff!!
      I refer the Honourable Anon to my earlier reply to Charlie.

  6. Campaigns of this type will attract a wide range of supporters, so maybe Philip Merricks did find someone who is ‘somewhat forthright’ in their opinions, and someone who prefers more ‘direct action’. Given that he too is involved in an organisation within the wildlife sector you would expect him to be aware of this and speak to more than one person to gain a more representative opinion. But maybe that wouldn’t have made such good copy for the Telegraph.

  7. Wow. That article by Merrciks in the Telegraph is truly astonishing.
    He hasn’t learnt anything from the crimes of this year and appears to be more entrenched than ever.
    To me it was clear when he was seen by Henry at the Country Land and Business Association HQ in Belgrade Square where he stood.
    RPUK referred to that meeting as being an accident. Everyone was very kind, i thought, to give Merricks the benefit of the doubt and not to point out a conflict of interests. Personally i was flabbergasted.

  8. This is the problem with the kind of divisive tribalistic binary politics which you’re so keen on.

    1. giles – thank you for, as always, conciliatory comment. I assume that’s all you want to say and that you thought hard about making that comment as you wouldn’t want to be splurging comments all over the place.

    2. It’s an interesting take on a campaign that is, at root, all about how we deal with systemic law-breaking by the rich and powerful (or their agents) to label it as “divisive tribalistic binary politics”. For decades moderate voices have tried to take a reasonable line only to see illegal persecution intensified and astroturf organisations set up with the sole aim to denigrate them unfairly, so it takes considerable chutzpah to label those who oppose driven grouse shooting as indulging in “divisive tribalistic binary politics” when the cap fits far more securely on the proponents of that ‘sport’.

    3. Giles – here’s a suggestion for you – when you’ve a moment, have a butchers at the Youtube clip of Chris Packham speaking at this year’s Hen Harrier Day at Rainham – from memory “we are politely and reasonably requesting change through peaceful and democratic means”. Not divisive and binary at all, and to suggest it is so is just a cheap slur.

  9. From the Telegraph article.
    Merricks writes
    ‘On hearing of this despicable act I visited Mossdale. I learnt that the traps had been set by a young under-keeper who had been dismissed. After talking at length with the head keeper and the estate owner, it seems clear that neither had any knowledge of these criminal acts and both appear contrite for their own stupid lack of training and supervision of others on the estate’

    He really believes that? How on earth could those poles be set up in the middle of an open moor without anyone knowing. If those poles were newly erected surely the estate would have mentioned it in their defence.
    I would love to know how new those poles were and how long those poles had been in the ground and how far from a track they were. If they were far from a track they would have been hard to install without someone knowing.
    I for one don’t believe the estate one iota.

    1. Shows their treatment of their own? As if a junior would act outwith instruction, yeah …. ?

      Quite simply, Vicarious Liability is needed. The criteria for assessment and interpretation should not be voluntary, but consulted widely on not offered up by the ‘usual suspects’.

      Where sites are SAC/SPA/SSSI and in unfavourable condition then we need an NHS able to provide vertebrae replacements for statutory agencies?

  10. Taxi for Mr Merricks!

    ‘Where to, Squire?’

    ‘Moorland Association HQ, & no deviations’

  11. I wonder how many Hawk and Owl Trust members resigned over its stance on hen harrier brood management – for the sake of decorum and for now I am prepared to call it “management” not “meddling” although I don’t object to the latter term. I resigned over this issue (after nearly 40 years worth of membership, I think) following a long but ultimately fruitless discussion with Philip Merricks. It’s a shame as the Hawk and Owl Trust does some very good work, for example with its first-rate educational material on peregrines at Norwich Cathedral. Derek Ratcliffe would have been highly interested in some of the aspects of peregrine behaviour that this and other projects have revealed. Back to hen harriers however, it is not too late for the Hawk and Owl Trust to reverse its stance on brood management (or “meddling”) and to argue against this concept for the foolishness that it represents in relation to red grouse management issues.

    1. 40 years of membership! That is so sad and such a shame.
      Merricks is a bully, nothing more.
      Please refer to my earlier reply to Charlie.

      1. It seems like Merricks was elected Trustee/Chairman at the 2013 AGM although he wasn’t present. May have been asked to stand by Rees-Webbe (of CLA Gamefair ilk). The Trustees are elected for 3 years and can stand for re-election again after 3 years. So by my feeble maths, Merricks will be up for re-election this October at the 2016 AGM although I think Rees- Webbe will have to stand down as he has already been re-elected in 2013. So, if you are a HOT member and against DGS & brood meddling you must make sure P. Merricks is not re-elected and that any trustee replacements are really interested in the welfare of Hawks & Owls and with knowledge to back this up. Can we think of any 2 people who would fit the bill? Or more if more than 2 trustees need election.

        1. This is a great opportunity to really test the attitude of the membership – can one or two people stand for election as Trustees on a ‘sceptical’ ticket – i.e. to challenge the incumbency on brood removal and the general attitude of the board of trustees to the wider conservation community? For an organisation that claims to favour conflict resolution the approach taken by Phillip is anything but constructive. Let’s get one or two people to stand for election, and rally some members to vote in favour of them and hen harrier conservation.

          1. I am a life Member of H&OT. I do not wish to continue to be ashamed of this and I would definitely support the election of suitable trustees. Mr Merrick needs to go. There is no place in a conservation organisation for him!

        2. I know two I’d vote for. Actually a few. Some not members at the moment.
          But they could rejoin like ‘Messi’.
          8th and 9th Oct. Somerset. No other details yet announced.
          Nothing like leaving it late. Probably internal problems.

        3. As a Life member of the HOT I will endeavour to try and vote at the AGM. In principle removing the first clutches of eggs so adults will relay (double clutching) can work as was shown by Carl Jones over 40 years ago when he went out to Mauritius and in effect saved the Mauritius Kestrel from extinction. Unfortunately, as has been mentioned by others, until persecution stops any brood management is likely to be a waste of time. Harriers migrate and any released in safe areas are not very likely to stay there. Phillip Glasier of the Falconry Centre at Newent had the foresight to found the HOT but was voted off the Committee by the membership who didnt want to be closely associated with falconry – so it will be up to the membership to take action. Personally I’d love to see Chris Packham back with the Trust and Mark Avery on the Committee or as Trustees!!!

          1. I know what you are saying Mark – what i was trying to say was that in certain circumstances double clutching and releasing young back to the wild can and has worked- but that any of the HOT plans for anything with regard to hen harriers is simply not going to work firstly due to persecution and secondly the birds wont remain in any safe areas they would be released.

          2. But Caroline – the objective of Phil’s version of brood removal is not the same as Carl’s. Phil’s objective is to prevent hen harrier numbers recovering on driven grouse shoots, in order to facilitate the very intensive land management of driven grouse shooting. Carl’s objective was to increase the populations of critically endangered endemic birds in situ. Phil’s approach will drive the hen harrier population down on grouse moors, Carl’s approach increases bird populations within the areas they choose to nest. It’s important to distinguish between means and ends objectives here. Removing hen harrier eggs / chicks and rearing them in captivity will work – there’s no doubt about that. It will work because the adult hen harriers will be disturbed and will move on, and the reared chicks will be released, somewhere, to an unknown fate.

      2. I agree with Patrick’s last comment that it is not too late for the HOT to reverse their stance on brood management and sincerely hope members who feel this will strongly voice their views at the AGM or in writing. I was sad to see Patrick resign as a matter of principle as he was one of the few members I’ve known and respected for his involvement with raptors for about 40 years! I must admit I am not convinced about just how much actual fieldwork some of those currently involved with the trust have actually done.

  12. I worked for a company that was on the receiving end of animal activism some years ago: bomb threats, pornography sent to company email addresses, demonstrators banging on our car windows as we drove into work. Contrasting that with the reception that Simon Lester got at Bird Fair on Friday, which Philip Merricks must also have seen, make his remarks appear deliberately divisive.

  13. Yes the stand was devoid of visitors and when I stopped by to ask a few questions I was outnumbered by staff / volunteers five to one, but I actually felt sorry for Simon who did his best with my ‘mild’ questions. But, as many of today’s comments reflect, an overbearing Chairman (who some might regards as a coward if he declined an invitation to be a debate panel member) has lost public respect for an organisation he professes to care about, a shame as one now ponders its future – merger with G[WC]T or MA perhaps?

  14. Has the HOT been “taken over” though? The Chairman is Philip Merricks and the Vice Chairman is Colonel Robin Rees-Webbe, ex-Director of the CLA Gamefair and the Honorary Treasurer is an accountant involved in tax planning for farmers (no evidence of any interest in birds of prey that I can find) .
    So are the trustees that are genuinely committed to raptors just being over-ruled? Of course, if they were, wouldn’t they have resigned? Alternately, if they agree with Philip Merrick’s stance, why haven’t any of them spoken out in support?
    Any HOT members reading this have any answers?

  15. Based upon my own long experience (42 years) with at least two generations of moorland gamekeepers who have worked in the Forest of Bowland, I find Phillip Merrick’s views somewhat difficult to understand, just where is this man coming from? Surely if he takes into account the complete disappearance of Hen Harriers from Red Grouse moorland throughout England, and the loss of both the Peregrine and Hen Harrier from the Forest of Bowland this year, if these facts do not open Phillip Merrick’s eyes to the reality of the situation nothing ever will.

    Merrick should understand DEFRA’s logic behind their proposal to reintroduce Hen Harriers into southern England in the first place; their presence on red grouse moors in northern England would not be welcomed by estates, and any birds that were reintroduced would certainly be shot as quickly as they arrived.

    DEFRA’s non Action Plan suits the Shooting estates very well, keeping the Hen Harriers away from our grouse moors. There is another problem I see with any proposal to release Hen Harriers into southern England, many of these birds are very likely to find their own way back onto grouse moors in northern England. When they do they would quickly disappear just in the same way that both Sky and Hope did in 2014 followed in 2015 by the disappearance of the 5 male Hen Harrier from Bowland and Geltsdale. The sooner we all understand the politics at play here the better, grouse moor estates and their gamekeepers will never voluntarily welcome the Hen Harrier onto their grouse moors.

    What ever our government decide in the end to do to resolve this very complex situation, they should do it sooner rather than later. If they don’t do anything allowing the current scale of killing of ‘protected’ raptors to continue, then not only will the Hen Harrier become extinct on grouse moors, the Peregrine will surely follow.

    1. Well of course the birds released in the deep south would be fitted with sat tags…so we could follow their progress and learn something new…… like when they fly north, they vanish when the fly over grouse moors…………..och, we know that already! No need for that pointless experiment.

  16. I do not know Mr Merrick’s background but the whole Telegraph article smacks of being given a going over by some PR guru.
    Some examples.
    Conflating all heather moors with grouse moors.
    That pipits and plovers are charismatic species, unlike golden eagles,buzzards, hares,foxes and stoats.
    Stripping Chris and Mark of their christian names or titles when referring to them in a similar way that mains stream news refers to Assad and Chavez.
    Managing to talk to the only eco-activist protester who was once a hunt saboteur, what out of 499 others he could have talked to he chooses this person?
    As has been noted elsewhere “the one rotten apple story” with regards to the young under keeper at Mossdale. He must have acted alone surely?
    People may spot others but these stood out for me. The one thing he probably had no say in was the headline as the editor usually decides these so it is the Torygraph calling e petition signers eco-zealots. Interesting case of psychological projection I would say as it seems to me that the grouse shooters are the zealots and also the ones trying to wreck saving the hen harrier.

  17. If you lie down with dogs, you’ll get up with fleas.

    I struggle to imagine how they could have believed this would end any other way. In fact the only reason for joining in with the moor owners, for a conservation charity, would be to make a dramatic storm off when the grouse moor owners screwed up. It is either willful blindness on an epic scale or they’ve been nobbled.

  18. Sadly, I couldn’t get there on Friday to attend the debate. I made it yesterday, however, and noticed the dearth of visitors to the H&OT stand. In fact, the very sight of it seemed to actively repel people! This was very similar to the effect, some years ago of the now, thankfully absent G&”W”CT display. I considered, briefly, going over to have my say, but thought better of it. Perhaps the most notable sight was collaborator-in-chief P. Merricks, sat there with a face like a smacked a**e, woefully surveying the fruits of his betrayal!

  19. It may have reached the point where his continued behaviour could be challenged by those who care about the H&OT on the grounds that it is hampering the charity in fulfilling it’s charitable objectives.
    The grossly distorted impression he is giving of what the charity does overall, and the bad effect on their reputation & hence finances, could certainly be argued in favour of that.
    Do the other trustees support him? Even if they do, someone could argue that they aren’t fulfilling the original purpose the organisation was established for, and so are in breach of charity law. And quite right too – all those who built it up over the years, & donated, shouldn’t see the work destroyed by some wrong ‘un on the inside.

  20. So where will the “lucky” Hen harrier juveniles be released once they have been raised by HOT? Perhaps as part of an introduction program in the “Southern Lowlands”? Perhaps on a privately owned nature reserve in Kent with extensive wet grassland?
    I wonder of there is such a place, with a well meaning, conservation minded landowner who has experience of working with Hen Harriers? I am sure that people wanting to see Hen Harriers would pay to visit such a place if such a place exists. I wonder if HOT know of anywhere they think would be suitable?

    1. My guess is that the brood removal ‘experiment’, and also the hen harrier lowland ‘re-introduction’ will be coordinated by the International Centre for Birds of Prey, who’s director, Jemima Parry-Jones, is I gather closely involved with H&OT in the Defra harrier ‘plan’. I’d guess the ‘re-introduction’ will take place on / around Dartmoor initially – the SongBird Survival CEO is very much lobbying to get harriers down in Devon (when he’s not busy vilifying sparrow hawks for killing all the song birds). I’m not sure where they’ll dump harriers taken through brood abduction.

    2. I dont think it will matter much where any harriers are released as they migrate. when I worked at the BTO I was brought an injured harrier that had been rung in the spring on Orkney (a safe place) and was picked up in the autumn in Kettering, Northants. Being aware of the persecution that goes on that bird did remarkable well to cover such a large distance!

  21. I can’t work out if Phillip Merricks is delusional, unintelligent or motivated by sectional interests. He certainly doesn’t appear to place much weight on ecological understanding, conservation, or even the interests of the HOT. I can only hope for his sake that he receives enough invitations to shooting parties, dinners etc, to make it all seem worthwhile. I very much hope the HOT rank and file can find a way to tip him overboard – they’re a good crowd for the most part.

  22. Being a southerner I know little about grouse moors, seeing harriers mainly in the winter period. Despite all the recent rhetoric I realise I actually know little about brood management so I thought I would seek an answer.

    “For the first time the focus is on removing the motivation for killing hen harriers. Gamekeepers will now have the opportunity, when harriers become too numerous on their moors, to call us to collect the eggs for artificial rearing and dispersal to other sites.”

    That sounds a reasonable comment for HOT to make. It clearly is intended as a keeper prompted response, but what does that actually mean, what is too numerous and how will it work.

    GWCT knows how it will work and it is set out clearly on their website.

    “Should a harrier build a nest within 10km of another, the harrier chicks in the second nest would be temporarily removed to reduce pressure on the grouse population. Any harrier chicks temporarily removed to aviaries would be released back to suitable habitat once fledged.”

    So, one nest in circles of 10km radius is acceptable. That is 20km between nests. My schoolboy maths tells me that a 10km circle is just over 300 square kilometres (thank goodness for Mr. Pi). 300 square kms is 30,000 hectares.

    One hen harrier pair per 30,000 hectares.

    So how big is a grouse moor. BASC have the answer.

    “Grouse moors cover 1,500,000 hectares in the UK……. Moors vary in size from 200 hectares to nearly 10,000 hectares with an average of 2,000 hectares.”

    Accepting the grouse moors are not always contiguous to each other, “too numerous” means that with an average size of 2,000 hectares, only 1 in 15 grouse moors would hold a pair of hen harriers.

    I didn’t fully understand it before but think I do now. No wonder that the RSPB has pulled out of this one.

    1. That is the maths. In the field there are no Hen Harriers to be next to.

      Merricks talks like a politician. I am suspicious that because Merricks is still banging on about this he isn’t that bothered about the necessity of there being a population recovery on the grouse moors before the brood persecution starts, which was a condition the RSPB were adamant on.
      Now the RSPB have backed out i wouldn’t be at all surprised if Merricks and DEFRA intend to do it without any neighbouring nests. But first he would have to find a landowner with an nest and which was willing. Presumably it would have to be in England, i don’t think SNH would be that keen to get involved.
      I seem to remember another HOT spokesperson coming onto this blog and telling us all off for daring to presume that brood persecution and lowland re-introduction were a top issue for Hen Harriers.
      Seems we have been proven correct.

  23. Might as well spell out the alternative scenario;
    all the ‘conservation types’ have either already left the organisation, or will be doing so over the next few days, Philip Merricks has made sure of that. It then continues filling up with pro-driven grouse shooting supporters, but because of it’s name and past work it keeps a seat at the table as a ‘conservation organisation’. Quite a tidy job really. Sculthorpe Moor is closed to public for ‘private function’ today; always fun to speculate what they might be up to.
    PS. Management? Meddling? Nah, call it straight; theft.

      1. Absolutely – brood removal has no ‘credibility’ without H&OT and International Centre for Birds of Prey support. So the best way forward would be to change H&OT policy, through action by the current and future membership.

    1. My thoughts exactly – he would have been following orders, not going off and doing his own ‘illegal’ thing.

      Higher (much higher) fines and ‘vicarious liability’ is needed and needs to be used far more often.

  24. How does brood meddling fit with the H&OT’s charitable objects one wonders? And does pushing it almost single handedly reflect well on the H&OT’s governance? Would the Charity Commission be interested?

    Speaking of which, what happened with your complaints to the Charity Commission about G(W)CT Mark?

    1. Follow the money WwI, otherwise CC ain’t interested. Then again friends in the right places?

  25. I had a good look at the H&OT stand too, very quiet and to be honest a bit sad. As you say some good work which is now being undone by a chair who refuses to listen to its members as well as good sense and science. Cambs, Beds and Northants WT ought to take a look as they could go the same way. As well as having a chair who thinks that ‘various people’ making their voices heard are ‘activists types’ who will never get what they want, they also have at least one trustee, that I know personally, who is very ‘noisy’, definitely a man in tweed and regularly seen tootling off for a spot of driven grouse shooting. Interestingly he assured me that he didn’t shoot grouse when Hen Harriers were breeding…..wow such a relief! I just keep sending him the e petition and suggesting he read Inglorious.

  26. It’s damn strange how Mr Merricks managed to sniff out the one ‘bad apple’ amongst hundreds at the HH Day but his chums at Mossdale couldn’t find one that was right under their noses and who they were supposed to be supervising …..

  27. Mark, it must be me then.

    I now know how you must have felt at the start of all this.
    Lonely ain’t it?

    I still think H&OT volunteers and members are worth their weight in gold.
    Perhaps they just want a quite life. It takes a lot to stand up to a bully, especially when that bully has willing helpers on hand.

    Don’t suppose I could borrow Henry for the AGM could I?

  28. Can we have a guest blog from one of the other Hawk & Owl Trust trustees, please Mark?
    Someone other than Col Robin Rees-Webbe or David Missen. Why are they so quiet?
    Is it only Philip Merricks who can speak for the organisation? Do all the trustees agree with the stance put forward by Philip? Or should I say Merricks? Or is there any room for an alternative view in HOT? Can the membership change the membership of the board?
    When do Mr Merricks and Col. Rees-Webbe come up for re-election?
    Too many questions, I know, but when a small one-time conservation organisation gets an article in an important, widely-read but partisan to DGS newspaper and puts forward such mis-information then surely it’s time to ask questions?

  29. I’ve just had a look at the Songbird Survival fb page – well I never they have posted the Telegraph article by Mr Merricks!! I wonder how happy H&OT members feel about that, their chair getting the thumbs up from an organisation that doesn’t seem to like raptors much, hitting the bottom of the barrel aren’t we?

    1. Les, I am a member. (Think that’s clear now). I don’t feel happy at all. In fact I feel a tad miffed!
      I can only suggest you go back to the beginning and re-read every comment.

      Songbirds and Hen harriers?
      Bloody amazing how these creatures ever survived together before we came on the scene!

      1. I’m not aware how my comments suggested HOT members would be happy with Merricks being supported by Songbird Survival, they intended to express the opposite – sympathy and frustration for them re their ‘chair’. Think you need to take your anger out on him.

        1. “I wonder how H@OT members feel about that…”

          And I will be taking it out on him.
          But thank you.

          1. Paul – I don’t know how I missed seeing you at Rainham and at the Bird Fair. I hope I didn’t look straight through you – I would have liked a chat.

  30. I’ve had a bit of a conversation with Keith Cowieson (Director of Songbird Survival) recently, Les, thanks to the patience of Martin Harper on his blog. He is, of course, far too modest to claim to be anything other than a humble RSPB volunteer, especially when commenting on raptors (and because, clearly, his position as director of an organisation of anti-raptor propagandists has little bearing on the matter). Among his favorite topics are brood theft, winning the Cold War single handedly (take my word for it, trudging through his comments may not be to every taste), and insisting that everyone should be polite to him, in the most impolite manner of course.

    1. YFTB infuriates me, but I find there is something actually very, very creepy about Songbird Survival that genuinely scares me a bit, I’m not kidding it gives me the eeby geebies. I wonder if the ‘people’ in their videos are actually members of the living dead, it would make sense. One of their pet ‘researchers’ tried to convince viewers that the predation issue was being swept under the carpet, the work he had done showed that sparrows began declining at the same time sparrowhawks started moving into gardens approx thirty years ago – funny I thought they’d been doing that for decades upon decades. So much for objective research, is there such a thing as retrospective goalpost moving? I will have a look at the interchange you mention Jim, but I think I’ll wait till it’s broad daylight.

  31. A couple of things spring to mind on this one, brood management was the hair that broke the camel’s back for NERF in the Environment Council process on harriers. As I suspect was the intention and we have not been party to the DEFRA negotiations despite representing the majority of raptor workers in the north of England. The DEFRA plan, despite incorporating four things that RSPB and we were already involved in that will continue, is not fit for purpose. During the above process data was gathered which showed that in most case for every 5000 acres of grouse moor there could be 2 pairs of harriers without any discernible difference to the grouse bag. What Gunning for Wildlife and the Moorland Abusers want is a density 30 times lower with pairs no closer than 10km. Brood Meddling is not acceptable, but at this density it is a complete abuse of the science and panders to the prejudice of moor managers. Yet Merricks supports BM presumably at this density, he clearly has no understanding of either the science or morality of this.
    He did say that if persecution continued HOT would bale out of its commitment to trial BM. It has Philip, even a blind man can see that. The under keepers I’ve met would all do nothing , certainly nothing significant without expressed instruction from the head keeper. The whole thing stinks and that stink will drag HOT into oblivion.
    The birds that are brood meddled will be supposedly be released on or near the moor they came from. The southern introduction is something entirely separate and is most likely to use birds sourced in France.
    If you are reading this Mr Merricks you have become a lackey for wildlife criminals and are destroying all of the reputation HOT once had.

    An Eco zealot and proud to be !

  32. My concern is that Mark’s public spat with the H&OT plays into the hands of the shooting fraternity.

    Divided we fall, etc etc.

    Slagging off its chairman is liable to prove counter-productive and alienate some of its members – people whose support will be important in the weeks to come.

    The risk is that ill-feling will fan out to the detriment of the welfare of other birds of prey such as red kites (as has already happened on the Harewood Estate where there has been a complete volte-face in the attitude such as these magnificent birds of prey are no longer encouraged).

    Diplomacy as well as rational argument will be required if we are to win cross-party support from MPs.

    1. Jim wright – thank you for your first comment on this blog.

      errr… are you paying attention? Merricks slagged off 116,000+ people in the Telegraph today. But never mind, say I started it if you like.

      1. Perhaps we can urge Mr Wright to have a quiet word with Mr Merrick’s then? All sorted right?

  33. Well, this is going to make the “Raptors, Uplands & Peatlands” meeting in Sheffield on the 9th September even more interesting!

  34. Thankfully I am not a follower of twitter – what a waste of good time! It was suggested that I take look at this blog. What a load of cobblers. Jim Clarke obviously hasn’t got a clue about the hugely successful Hawk and Owl Trust reserve at Sculthorpe Moor and consequently no idea what he’s talking about. Allow me to enlighten you. For the last year they have been running a ‘Sponsor a Board’ scheme. It now means the whole reserve has access for everyone including those in wheelchairs and buggies – wonderful! The reserve was closed to the public today as I and around 150 others who have sponsored a board accepted the kind invitation for the grand opening. A truly wonderful day. If anyone from Sculthorpe read this – a very big thank you.
    What a pity you guys can’t do something constructive rather than attempting to discredit those who are.

    1. Mr Happy – thank you for your comment. I notice you are so proud of the H&OT that you post anonymously – a bit fishy you’d have to (anonymously) admit. Are you Philip Merricks in disguise?

      I think we would all stand in admiration of your chair, Mr Merricks, for his ability to discredit the H&OT. By the way, you didn’t say whether you whole-heartedly agree with him on brood-meddling.

      But once again, welcome to this blog and thank you for your comment.

    2. Mr Happy, I do hope your sense of humour matches your name. Mine, clearly, has escaped you, though, I fully admit, I am entirely to blame for using such an obviously ambiguous phrase as ‘always fun to speculate’. And you are entirely correct; I am unaware of any recent developments at Sculthorpe as I lasted visited the reserve in 2014. Subsequently, the ambitions of Mr Merricks have rather dented my appetite for contributing to the charity’s coffers. That, I believe, is something of a shame, but that is the situation we find ourselves in. I sincerely hope that this proves temporary.

      1. Will someone remind me of the legality of this proposal in so far as Natural England will licence the theft …. ooops translocation of eggs/young? If Defra are funding the proposed meddling then will it be open tender process?

        Perhaps I’m a skeptic but it looks like a stitch up to fund the fringe groups supported by the grousers? Surely Ms Leadsom will want to ensure open transparent process?

        1. Regarding your tender point, Nimby, I’ve often wondered if the reason the International Centre for Birds of Prey converted to a charity in 2014/15 was to get around Defra rules regarding tendering for public financing……..but as a charity at least we can ask for full financial disclosure. Their audited accounts should reveal any public payments.

        2. I wonder if, judging by the mortality rates they are likely to face in the UK as soon as they (inevitably) start to wander, any EU government would really be prepared to contribute Hen Harriers to any proposed ‘reintroduction’ scheme in this country.

      2. Jim, that is so sad. If you give up on all that you know is good about H&OT because of him and a few others, then you are letting the bullies win.
        That really does not sound like you.
        Merricks will be loving this. Has he really got that much power?

        He can be voted off, but after this lot, there may not be enough members left to do so.

        I’m going to bed. Hopefully we’ll be back to normal tomorrow and reading your thoughts on today’s signatures.

        1. I know, Paul. If a serious opposition starts forming among the members to oust Merricks, and get the Trust back on track, I’ll readily reconsider my position. At the moment, however, there seem very few voices trying to save the situation (or at least shouting loud enough for me to hear, yours, of course being a very notable exception), and I can’t stomach the idea of financing Merricks in anyway, or appear to show any faith in his leadership by doing so.

  35. I’ve been a member of the Hawk and Owl Trust for ten years. It was the first wildlife organisation I volunteered for, and the experience I gained led to my present full time involvement in various conservation projects. I am still assimilating the information I have read here and elsewhere, so I don’t want to comment directly on the debate, but I would like to say this: Last night I watched a barn owl in the valley behind my house; it’s something I have waited to see for 25 years. If it wasn’t for the work of the Hawk and Owl Trust it almost certainly wouldn’t be breeding there.

    1. Hi Gill

      Rest assured we’re all aware of the amazing work the H&OT staff and volunteers do – that’s why we’ve been so shocked by recent events since Phil took on the chairman role.

      I really hope you remain a member of H&OT, and that you continue to research the issue of upland driven grouse moor management with an open mind. Can I urge you to read the paperback edition of Mark’s book if you’ve not already done so? If you come to agree that driven grouse moor management is problematic, and that the removal of hen harriers broods (and thus displacement of hen harriers trying to nest by disturbing them) is not the way forward, then I’d urge you to work to change H&OT’s stance – as a member.

      What Phil is proposing, on behalf of H&OT, is that those parts of the uplands used by a very small number of people to pursue driven grouse shooting should be largely cleared of hen harriers and other birds of prey. Removing hen harriers is only the visible part of a very big problem – peregrines, sparrowhawks, etc are also being illegally killed. Phil turns a blind eye to this, and by proposing to remove hen harriers he is facilitating a land use which also requires the removal of other birds of prey. There’s no point only removing hen harriers: illegal killing of other protected wildlife will just go on and on too.

      Should we write-off the uplands as a habitat for birds of prey like hen harriers?

      Imagine H&OT proposed to remove barn owls around you. You delight in having them in your valley, you protect and nurture them – but along comes the H&OT to remove them. Of course this wouldn’t happen to barn owls but it will likely now happen widely to buzzards. Phil claimed that H&OT will draw the line at hen harriers – he’s happy for hen harriers to be removed, but not other birds of prey. Yet in recent months Natural England has issued a licence to allow a single pheasant shoot owner to kill ten buzzards. I think that by claiming it’s acceptable to remove hen harriers, Phil may have opened the door to widespread licensed buzzard killing. If you happen to have a pheasant shoot near you, and buzzards, then beware.

      I’d urge you to challenge Phil and the other H&OT trustees. For brood removal to work, the H&OT and International Centre for Birds of Prey will have to carry on removing harrier broods in perpetuity, and huge cost (if you suddenly stopped removing harrier broods, harriers would become ‘over-abundant’ and we’d see a return to illegal killing). The funds to pay for hen harrier removal will climb as (if) the number of harriers attempting to nest increase. Where will these funds come from? Probably Defra – i.e. the UK nature conservation budget. Escalating costs simply facilitate a damaging upland land use will draw funds away from other wildlife conservation projects. I can’t see how these escalating costs will be met for more than a few years. So, to my mind, even if hen harrier brood removal were deemed acceptable, it’s unaffordable. And I’d rather see those funds spent on reducing persecution rather than reducing hen harriers.

      Anyway, Gill, we’re kind of relying on people like you to find a way through this for H&OT – you have an open mind, you love the organisation and its mission, you’re a paid up committed member. Please investigate further and come to a considered view, and then take action. In my view, H&OT needs new leadership, so it can re-focus back on raptor conservation, and move away from raptor removal.

  36. Oh dear, another nail in the coffin of the Hawk and Owl disTrust, shame as there are some people with a lifelong passion for birds of prey working for them and this idiot Merricks is undoing all the good work done by the ‘foot soldiers’

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