UK Hen Harrier survey results – what they say (3) – Defra

By Policy Exchange [CC BY 2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons
Defra is the government department responsible for wildlife and their new Secretary of State, Michael Gove, wants to know the answer to this question ‘If we want the UK’s approach to environmental protection and enhancement to be seen as the best in the world, what does that mean and what does it look like at a local, national and global level?‘.

Defra’s response to the results of the UK Hen Harrier survey which showed (as we already knew) that Hen Harrier numbers in England are close to zero and numbers are falling elsewhere in the UK too, was as follows: ‘We take the protection of wildlife extremely seriously and have robust measures in place to protect all wild birds, including the hen harrier. Anyone who kills or injures a wild bird is committing an offence and could face jail if convicted.’.

Well, that’s the type of robotic and misleading non-statement that is the reason why Defra has very few friends in wildlife conservation. It’s a May-like response to the issue.

Defra doesn’t take wildlife conservation the least bit seriously and that is exemplified by their lack of interest in wildlife crime.

Does Defra take the protection of wildlife very seriously? Not according to my reading of NGO end of year assessments of Defra’s achievements in the last two years (2016, 2015) and not according to my own review of their lack of achievement. Defra’s 25-year plan for wildlife may take that long to emerge. Remember that the Conservative manifesto was, according to me at least, the worst of all the main political parties at the last general election (slightly worse than UKIP’s!). Defra has a much stronger reputation for killing wildlife (Badgers, Buzzard licenses) than for saving it.

Does Defra take the protection of Hen Harriers very seriously?  Hell no! Under successive Conservative ministers things have got worse, no action has been taken and the impression has been given that Defra ministers are far closer to the wildlife criminals who kill Hen Harriers than to wildlife conservationists. Harsh? I think not. Richard Benyon, GWCT trustee and grouse moor owner, refused to consider vicarious liability for wildlife crime for England and did nothing to address the killing of Hen Harriers. Rory Stewart produced a Defra Hen Harrier plan that was a plan for grouse moor managers to be able to ‘deal’ with Hen Harriers rather than a way of dealing with wildlife crime. And Therese Coffey could not bring herself to announce a single measure to improve the plight of the Hen Harrier, and hardly a word even to acknowledge it, in her summing up of the government’s position n the Westminster Hall debate. In the last seven years not a single Defra minister has done a single thing which realistically addresses wildlife crime. So does Defra take the protection of Hen Harriers seriously? Hell no! And does it have ‘robust measures’ in place to protect Hen Harriers? Hell no!  That’s why there were only four pairs in 2016.

Gove’s problem: Michael Gove might be enough of a savvy politician (for he is, at his best certainly that – despite many lapses of judgement along the way) to realise that his department’s dire performance before he arrived is one of the reasons (clearly not the biggest) for the poor showing of the Conservative party in the general election.  Support for fox-hunting was a vote loser. Broken promises on an ivory ban was a vote loser. Kept promises on badger culls are a massive vote loser. And the perception that Defra is run for the benefit of the landed and not the many is definitely a vote loser because it goes to the matter not of competence (which can be solved by doing better) but of attitude.

The Conservative party has made a huge mistake in getting itself into the position of being the nasty-to-wildlife party whose most vociferous supporters are those people who are nastiest to wildlife.  This is not Mr Gove’s fault, but it is his problem now. there are lots of things the new Secretary of State could do to make things better, for wildlife and for this party’s chances in the next general election.  Taking a new direction on raptor crime would be a good place to start, because although it is not the most important issue in his portfolio it is one which would do some good for wildlife and at the same time do some good for the perception of the nasty-to-wildlife party.



13 Replies to “UK Hen Harrier survey results – what they say (3) – Defra”

  1. Maybe its time to nationalise our national parks – where’s the brightest spot in the Cairngorms NP ? The Western edge managed by RSPB and the Forestry Commission. Where are England’s poor surviving Hen Harriers ? High up In Kielder Forest Park. The Forestry Commission manages the heathland of the New Forest for less per hectare than current agricultural subsidy levels. In the meantime, couldn’t the National Trust re-join the conservation club by not re-letting its moorland shooting in the Peak District ? It needs the reputation far more than it needs the money.

    1. Roderick, interesting point but what are the hen harrier numbers like on Dartmoor itself where there is no shooting and nationalised? No keepers and a complete imbalance of wildlife, just an over population of red deer. As ever, balance is needed and that involves management. Someone has to pay for that…

  2. Question regarding the survey: how has it been explained that Scotland currently has 27% of its potential, and has fallen 9% since 2010, with driven grouse shooting suspected of being a significant contributor, yet Wales, with no driven grouse shooting only has 14% of its potential and numbers having fallen by an appalling 39% since 2010. Anyone like to square that circle for me please?

    1. Elsa – thank you for your comment – it’s a good one.

      A couple of points first. 1, Scotland has large areas of suitable habitat which is not managed for grouse shooting as well as large areas of habitat which are managed for grouse shooting: the HH almost exclusively nests on the former rather than the latter. 2, Driven grouse shooting isn’t suspected of being ‘a significant contributor’, it is known to be the main contributor. See Inglorious Chapter 1 for more info and references, pp27-31 would be a good place to look – but it’s all worth reading.

      Wales was recolonised by HH only in the late 1950s and they were slow to increase in numbers but, as the table shows, they’ve been increasing steadily in recent decades until this latest quite sharp drop (last year). Maybe its all those foxes in Wales that limit the rate of increase – but the foxes don’t seem to be able to wipe out HH from huge areas whereas that’s what grouse moors do in eastern Scotland. As I wrote in this post, I’m told that Wales has lots of HH this year so perhaps the recovery is continuing. We’ll see.

      Wales has been between 11% and 23% of its potential since 1988/89 and has been increasing; Scotland has been between 26% and 37% of its potential and looks as though it might well be on the slide.

  3. The whole Tory agenda is anti-wildlife. You get Tories (my brother) saying that we have to have austerity, which means fewer police, which meanst hey have to prioritise which crimes they deal with, and wildlfie is at the bottom of the pile.

    The CPS has been stripped of staff and claim overwork and, again, prioritising everything else above wildlife crime.

    Finally, you have the judiciary: primarily from a privileged background, more likely to be a hunter or shooter and certainly unsympathetic to the aims of the conservation bodies. Just look at how few times costs have been awarded against hunts, even when they have been found guilty in private prosecutions brought by the RSPCA, by the sitting judge. It often ends up that it has cost the RSPCA hundreds of times more to win their case than it costs the defendant to lose it.

    1. Simon, when I was the Derbyshire Police and Crime Commissioner in Derbyshire, wildlife crime formed an important part of my Police and Crime Plan. During that period Derbyshire trained 32 police officers to deal with wildlife crime alongside their other duties. The chief constable put structures in place to organise an effective response across the county for when it was needed. Wildlife crime clearly was not our top priority and nor could it ever be. This is the same for all forces, but because it is not your top priority does not mean it should be ignored!! I am pleased to say that when I retired last year my deputy Hardyal Dhindsa was successfully elected as my successor and he has continued the same wildlife crime policy. PCCs are a democratic position and they should listen to what their electorate are saying to them, so lobby your local PCC who has responsibility for setting the local policing policies and demand that wildlife crime is included in his/her police and crime plan if it isn’t already!

        1. I’ve just checked the Lancashire Police and Crime Plan and wildlife crime isn’t mentioned. Lancashire covers the Bowland Fells (Dunsop Bridge), whose symbol is the HH, they appear on the tourist brown signs when you enter the area. I’m going to ask the PCC to include wildlife crime when he next reviews the Plan. The review is annual and with him being a Labour man he might even show some interest!

  4. Actually, I suspect there’s a more likely explanation – the return of the Hen Harrier to mainland Britain was undoubtedly as a result of gamekeepers going to war in 1914, many not returning and the turmoil in land ownership in the 1920s. But the second important factor that emerged was the huge post 1919 afforestation programme – young forests had two key attributes – no keepering and no grazing – and therefore lots of voles & safe places to nest. But young, newly planted forests have run out after planting stopped in the 1980s and HH don’t come back to clearfells. Other recent declines could be associated – especially Redpoll and Whinchat.

  5. We take the protection of wildlife extremely seriously and have robust measures in place to protect all wild birds, including the hen harrier. Anyone who kills or injures a wild bird is committing an offence and could face jail if convicted.’

    Well those “robust” measures just aren’t “robust” enough given the continued decline in the population, clearly in breach of the EU Birds Directive.

    This word “robust should be replaced with “lacklustre.”

  6. Has anyone considered encouraging Hen Harriers to become vegetarian? They would certainly attract less attention from trigger-happy gamekeepers if their only food was cabbage. Just a thought.

    1. Des – =great idea, and slightly more likely to happen than asking gamekeepers to go vegetarian.

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