Gone, gone, gone…

A brood of five Hen Harrier chicks were ‘brood-meddled’ this year, and all were satellite-tagged so that we could all relish their adventures over the coming years. Trouble is, three of these birds have ceased transmitting signals to their expensive satellite links – just as is normal for Hen Harriers that spend much time on grouse moors at this time of year.

Three down (and presumably out), two to go. You can see why the Moorland Association and NE didn’t bother giving them names can’t you? It would have been a bit embarrassing if the two missing males and single missing female had been named after prominent government and NE folk wouldn’t it? Bye bye Theresa (Villiers), Zac (Goldsmith) and Tony (Juniper)?

It’s time for Zac and Tony (the Chair of NE and the government minister) to put their heads together and find a way out of the mess that their predecessors have landed them before more smelly stuff hits their fans.

Here are some hints:

  1. Nobody ever thought that brood meddling would work: the RSPB opposed it, raptor workers opposed it, ordinary birdwatchers opposed it. Why is that? Because it is a scheme dreamt up by grouse shooting interests (the main source of wildlife crime against Hen Harriers and other protected wildlife in our uplands) that helps grouse moor managers but does nothing to tackle the illegal persecution of raptors. It’s difficult to imagine that the former Chair of NE (Andrew Sells), the former CEO of NE (James Cross) or the former Defra minister who signed off this daft idea (Rory Stewart) ever really believed in this plan but notice that they are not on the spot now that birds are, predictably, going missing. No, Zac and Tony are lefting dealing with this mess.
  2. Nobody thinks that it is working: we’ve had two summers since NE announced that they would licence brood-meddling and one nest has been brood-meddled – hardly the response that government had been hoping for! Grouse shooting interests aren’t the least bit interested in participating in this ‘conservation’ initiative – it’s far easier to bump off Hen Harriers without getting caught. To date, after two months, three of the five brood-meddled Hen Harriers have suffered the same fate (it appears) that has befallen other Hen Harriers – they’ve disappeared ‘mysteriously’ on grouse moors in the grouse shooting season – how could this possibly have been foreseen (see 1 above)? There is enough evidence already to show that there is no great leap forward as a result of this costly and unpopular project – time to pull the plug, Tony and Zac. It ought to be a relief to you, and you’ll look daft if you don’t!
  3. Your chosen partners aren’t playing a straight game: it is a matter of grave doubt whether the Moorland Association are acting in good faith to try to get this daft scheme to work, but if they are, then it seems that those to whom you talk in offices have no control over what happens on the ground. Amanda Anderson has no clout with grouse moor managers including ‘keepers on the moors. It’s a partnership where your chosen partner can’t deliver on their end of the deal. Press releases over the years from the Moorland Association aren’t exactly a model of straight talking and honest description and things this year are worse than ever – see here, here and here.
  4. The court battle continues: both I and the RSPB have been given leave to appeal against the judgment that found that brood-meddling is not unlawful. There is a real chance that this failed initiaitive will also be shown to be unlawful – at some considerable expense to NE. Why bother defending the indefensible? Save yourselves the work, the expense and the embarrassment – jack it in now.
  5. NE can’t afford this type of project (1): as tearful cries from Tony Juniper increase, justifiably, that NE doesn’t have the resources to undertake its statutory duties fully and properly it is shooting yourself in the foot, with a Purdey, to carry on this failed project that is in no way necessary. Why waste staff resources on this hopeless and unpopular project when NE isn’t monitoring SSSI condition properly, isn’t producing reports on the state of protected areas, isn’t carrying out its responsibilities in the planning system by assessing development threats properly etc etc. NE won’t persuade any of us that it needs more money if it is wasting its resources on projects like this and not shouting for money to do the work that only the statutory conservation organisation can do.
  6. NE can’t afford this type of project (2): NE is also frittering away good will by its stance on wildlife crime and badger culls. Quite how much does NE expect that NFU and Moorland Association will fight for its survival and an increase in its budget? The answer is that they won’t, at all, however much NE is nice to them. These interest groups will pocket any gifts and still ask for more. On the other hand, it has been the wildlife and envrionmental NGOs that have always fought for the statutory agencies. Enthusiasm for that fight is waning fast and Tony has not done enough, so far, to show that NE is worth fighting for. Start ditching the dross and concentrating on core work and you will be seen to be doing the job that the taxpayer should expect from you. Know your friends and do your job NE! Brood-meddling is facing in the wrong direction on both counts.


30 Replies to “Gone, gone, gone…”

  1. Re-posting a couple of comments from RPUK.

    The people at NE aren’t daft. They made it clear (in writing) that estates needed to make sure their staff were on their best behaviour. And it appears they might not have been. More importantly, by issuing their spun press release without the knowledge of NE, the Moorland Association have shown they are not a trusted partner. That, in itself, should be enough for NE to pull the plug on this trial – maybe the trial was really to test the conduct of partner organisations. In this respect, I would suggest it has been a resounding success!

    What I’m saying is that NE may have knowingly trapped the MA, giving them the chance to prove that they, and their members, could do brood meddling responsibly and properly and in partnership. And the trial of this has shown that the MA cannot do this. We must remember that this trial was never about improving the conservation status of the Hen Harrier. This trial, translocating a few broods, was never going to result in Hen Harrier population increases. Neither would upscaling it to 10 broods – which might well be illegal as HRA might suggest it will have a significant impact on the SPA donor populations. Put another way, the trial has proven to NE that brood meddling is not a sensible conservation option that NE should pursue. Job done – so NE can now put this daft and expensive option in the bin and get on with backing what is needed to save Hen Harriers which is increasing juvenile and adult survival.

    1. Anon – I look forward to seeing that happen. It requires a rapid public change of position from NE. The idea that NE trapped MA is an interesting one – that Rory Stewart was quite a genius wasn’t he seeing all this coming all those years back…

      But the only thing that NE has done, according to your comment, is tell MA that they have to ensure their members stick to the law. What a cunning trap!

      The foolishness was even assuming that they might be able to ensure compliance with the law after more than 60 years of breaking it.

        1. Anon – we all saw it coming! That’s why the RSPB and many independent commentators opposed brood meddling. Getting into a mess that was predictable and then getting out of it is hardly brilliant strategy – and as yet there is no sign that NE are getting out of it. When/if they do then what happens? What is the statutory agency’s and government’s Plan B? Whatever it might be, it almost certainly didn’t need a flawed Plan A to get to it.

        2. I have been coming to the conclusion that whenever you aren’t sure whether someone is really dumb or a genius, the most obvious answer is the former.

  2. Very well summed up Mark. What more do NE and Defra need to see to prove to themselves that brood meddling is a total farce besides, probably being illegal. On top of all that, surely it is clear to them the vested interested organisations like the Moreland Association and others like them cannot deliver on anything they say and that what they say is nearly all propaganda. Surely, surely, NE and Defra will start to recognise that the only way to deal with these criminal acts perpetrated by some grouse moor owners is to “hit” them very hard both in their pockets with heavy fines and with custodial prison sentences.
    In a way Defra and NE remind me of Sir Issac Newton in reverse. They sit there fully expecting the apple when it come off the tree to sail upwards into the sky and can’t work out why in fact it falls to the ground!!

  3. Three out of a brood of five. And don’t forget that that is probably the rate of illegal killing of young hen harriers right across the country. Then add in the illegal killing of adults. The scale of this slaughter is brought into sharp focus by this experiment – and it may not have finished yet. A very large nail in the coffin of these “guardians of the countryside”.

  4. I have been opposed to BM ever since it was first suggested over a decade ago at a Hen Harrier Dialogue meeting, indeed it is broadly why NERF left the dialogue. It’s purpose was never conservation of Harriers but about conservation of Red Grouse shooting and their prejudice about harriers.
    Of course I am now entirely independent, my views represent nobody but me and some little time ago a colleague suggested BM backed MA and the grouse cabal into a corner of their own making. If it worked it would indeed be because they had reduced the killing and it would result in a few more harriers nesting on grouse moors ( why reportedly many of “them” don’t want it) although in practical terms if Harrier numbers had risen it would become impossible to do,( imagine BM of 5 or 10 broods and finding release sites etc.) If it didn’t work and the killing continued, as has happened ( where’s your resignation HOT?) the MA and pals are backed into a corner of their own making. We always thought they could not deliver their own “constitution” tells us that.
    The problem now is will(now irrelevant) HOT and JPJ have the bottle to resign and are DEFRA/NE not only prepared to kill this ludicrous experiment but to get the necessary big stick out ( metaphorically of course) and get very tough with grouse shooting? I hope so but rather doubt it.

    1. Not sure what position the Hawk and Owl Trust is now in given that the key cheerleader for hen harrier brood removal, its chair Philip Merricks, has stepped down as chair and vanished from the organisation (along with its vice chair Mike Rogers). Of course Philip had to step down as chair as his term had ended, but did he need to abandon HoT entirely? No accountability

      1. And absolutely no mention of their involvement in BM or indeed Hen Harriers on their website.

  5. There is little doubt now hen harriers are not safe on grouse moors, in fact most of us already knew that fact but never the less the brood meddling strategy still went ahead. If 3 out of the 5 satellite tagged harriers are already missing presumed to have been shot, it’s reasonable to assume most if not all of this years fledged un-tagged harriers have also gone the same way.

    This is a situation brought about by organisations who did not wish to face or accept the realities of what has been allowed to take place on grouse moors for many many decades; these organisations who supported brood meddling should be ashamed. I make no apology for highlighting what should have been undertaken before even contemplating brood meddling, an effort should have been made to address the reasons for hen harrier decline first, the wide scale persecution taking place primarily on grouse moors. If this can not be done there remains only one other option, to stop grouse shooting completely. Let there be no mistake, should this path ever be taken it will be the responsibility of those individuals within the shooting industry that continue to take the law into their own hands.

    1. ‘Let there be no mistake, should this path ever be taken it will be the responsibility of those individuals within the shooting industry that continue to take the law into their own hands.’


      And some of them are starting to realise it.

      ‘If we don’t do something to stop the rise of hyper-commercial shoots and the bad practices they engender, they’ll put paid to a rich part of rural Britain and many of the birds that live there.’

      Patrick Galbraith, editor of Shooting Times.

      1. De omnibus – I’ve seen Patrick’s piece in the Spectator too. Quite good, isn’t it. But he blows hot and cold and I’m waiting for his next paid piece to revert to slagging off Chris Packham (or maybe me!). Once he has a good run of sensible pieces in a row, and in hios own mag too, then, and only then, should we take him a little bit seriously.

        1. Patrick Galbraith, is certainly going down roads no other editor of Shooting Times has
          travelled, in my forty seven years of reading the magazine.
          Sometimes, this does not always sit well with some of the readership, but he persists.
          Other , often long standing contributors, are also beginning to voice their disquiet over
          the issues confronting game shooting.
          In a recent (2nd October ) issue, Matt Cross comes out firmly on the side of a move to Steel shot, for political, as well as ethical reasons, and Alasdair Mitchell ( big mate of Duncan Thomas),has already committed to a lead free season.
          Meanwhile in his weekly article, Gundog handler and Ornithologist,David Tomlinson,
          recounts his visit to the Bird Fair, where he attended Ruth Tingay’s “Wild Justice” talk, he basically agreed with all she had to say ( apart from the necessity of banning driven grouse shooting).
          Interesting times.

    2. Indeed Terry, You and I know that this persecution has been going on since Hen Harriers recolonised grouse moors in England in the late sixties and early seventies. The only thing that changed in that time was the intensity of that persecution which has waxed and occasionally waned with grouse moor value. After Langholm 1 was published in the late nineties it certainly increased and included an increase in Peregrine persecution also. I never understood the activation of BM without a proven reduction in persecution, perhaps it was hoped, as it turns out in vain, that giving the grouse moor owners what they claimed they needed would trigger a change of heart and new law abiding instructions to their keepers.
      That persecution needs to be clearly confronted however difficult and costly that may be. If that fails, and we have not even talked of Peregrine, Goshawk or Short-eared Owl persecution yet all of which a widespread and routine, DGS will need to be banned or severely policed via licence. I have always favoured the former as licencing offers the criminals too many loopholes, they cannot obey the law never mind licence conditions and it is and will be all their own fault.

      1. Paul, you and I have both experienced the consequences of direct persecution of Hen Harrier, Peregrine, Goshawk and Short-eared owl first hand which has been taking place throughout the Forest of Bowland throughout our adult lives.

        What has changed, well the level of persecution is now much worse today than it was all those years ago, and if I may say so the killing of the few raptors that do have the misfortune to appear on grouse moors in Bowland quickly disappear and their nests destroyed. Of course this criminal activity is frustrating, but far more upsetting this activity is undertaken with a measure of impunity very few would understand or believe.

        Prior to the water industry being privatised in the 1980’s raptor persecution was as bad on moorland which is now in the ownership of United Utilities. However even today although Hen Harriers are now breeding on three leased shoots on moorland owned by the company, the species remains conspicuous by its absence on several additional UU leased shoots in region. Not all that long ago there were up to 8 occupied Peregrine territories on the UU estate, currently even though the RSPB are now professionally engaged monitoring and protecting raptors on this single estate, recently Peregrine pairs have declined; today we are lucky to see just a single regular breeding pair on the UU’s Bowland estate. Last season a second Peregrine territory containing eggs on the estate located in a remote location was abandoned after the incubating female disappeared from the nest, possibly shot. Significantly there are no longer any breeding Hen Harriers, Peregrines or Goshawks on all the additional privately owned estates in the Forest of Bowland, this situation tells its own sad story.

  6. Excellent points in this blog Mark.

    I wonder how many continental hen harriers are shot or otherwise dispatched on English and Scottish grouse moors?

  7. I made a comment some months ago now that the various agencies associated with Brood Meddling were ‘Grousifying’ Harriers, my comment still stands , reared and protected and then shot on a moor (probably) . Shameful, despicable and totally as predicted.

  8. I was never a fan of brood management but there are some conservation-minded folk at NE who are keen on it and I think there is something in this argument about backing MA into a corner. After all, behind (and occasionally, accidentally, in front of) the scenes MA said that they could not risk letting HHs in because numbers would increase and grouse management would become unsustainable. They argued that in order to protect their members they needed the safety net of brood management. Now, and only now, we can say that even with the safety net in place they are not going to stop their illegal activities. That, I think, gives them a major problem – and helps to explain their rather desperate press-release when the first bird went down. Of course it all depends on what happens next and that ball is very much in the NE/Defra court. But MA can no longer say that all they need is a safety net and everything will be okay.

    1. I am as near to certain as can be that there was no master-plan here.
      There were just too many variables that have got us to the position we are now and anyone smart enough to have figured all this out is in the wrong profession. It would be like predicting every twist and turn of brexit (sorry the b word).
      No one could have predicted that the population threshold would be lowered to nothing.
      No one could have predicted that the distance between pairs would be lowered to unnaturally low distances.
      No one could have known that the RSPB would pull out.
      Did people even know about satellite tagging at the time it was first conceived. Radio-tagging was the new thing not that long ago. Even if the answer is yes could they have known how advanced the data would be by the time the scheme got off the ground. There could have been real time tracking data by now. Who would sign up to a scheme where the actual time and place of the kill were known?
      Satellite-tagged bird could have been wing-tagged to warn game-keepers off to distort the results.
      They could never be certain where the meddled birds were located. If it was on a small moor surrounded by grassland or Forestry Commission land would the same kill rate have happened as it has now.
      They didn’t know at that time the percentage of juveniles which are killed although Brian Etheridge’s study in Scotland gave a damned good idea but what if the juveniles had roamed much further onto safer areas like the west coast of Scotland.
      Yes, we all knew it would be a failure but no one would stake everything on how catastrophic a failure it has been. 3 out of 5 before the leaves are off the trees is staggering.
      I wouldn’t have been surprised if, say 3 out of 5 had survived for a couple of years, they would claim a success. Have any goals ever been set, not as far as i can remember. Hell they could still do so even with 2 out of 5, they seem to be that determined to push for this (just look at the Badger cull).
      This mastermind would have also have had to calculated for political events and known that there wasn’t a change of government or that NE wouldn’t be scrapped altogether. Sorry just riffing here but i hope you get the idea, the future can’t be predicted. All we knew was that driven grouse moors depend on killing Hen Harriers and nothing was going to stop them (Amanda Anderson admitted as much) but we didn’t know it would be so blatantly obvious to everyone by October 2019 primarily because of satellite tagging data.
      I totally agree that the scheme looks like it is unlikely to continue and MA are boxed in but i am convinced it has come about by a series of unforeseen events. Yes we all predicted it would be a failure but who would have imagine that we have the proof within a couple of months.
      I would be very surprised if there aren’t people in NE who are delighted at the position MA are in now but not that someone plotted all this. It has been a political smokescreen from the beginning.

      1. There was one group who could have been considered to have had a pretty cunning plan and that was the RSPB.
        I have thought that the Licensing of Driven Grouse Shooting is quite a cunning way of banning DGS, if the conclusions of Langholm are correct. DGS shooting at the intensive levels demanded today, in order to increase the land value, are impossible without illegality. But it would require first catching the criminals (and in effect their bosses) and/or having a very low threshold of proof and very high penalties.
        As soon as i heard someone from the RSPB mentioning some measly punishment (seem to remember it was a 6 month loss of licence) i realised there was no cunning plan at all just more liberal compromises and postponement of the inevitable.
        If the RSPB had any sort of plan it would involve all raptors and would include the lowlands.

  9. Why does Natural England exist? Because its predecessor, English Nature, often fought for English nature in defiance of government diktat. Natural England is supine because it is designed to be, no matter who they put at its head.
    Certainly EN were not perfect but they were prepared to say what they thought was right or wrong – putting the heat squarely back where it was deserved: MAFF / DEFRA / Government.

    1. Simon – indeed. And why did EN exist? Because its predecessor NCC often fought for nature in defiance of government. Seems like it is down hill all the way, but on that downhill run some chairs of those bodies have dug in their heels, notably Martin Doughty and Barbara Young.

  10. The mysterious disappearance of 3 out of these 5 tagged Hen Harriers is obviously a short-term disaster but, arguably, it has the benefit in the long-term that it will give apologists for DGS nowhere to hide. The problem is that in the long-term we may well have precious few Hen Harriers left in England and rather fewer north of the border. Unfortunately, until politicians demonstrate that they take the evidence seriously by acting on it little will change. I see no evidence of this happening soon. Even if they do then the woeful disaster that is the law on fox hunting reminds us that powerful interests will try to subvert legislation and make it unfit for purpose.

  11. Its totally pointless trying to cooperate with these estates and their lickspittle partners(MA). As for NE they are just a shopfront for the politicians.

  12. BM was never going to work and this has been demonstrated fully. 3 out of 5 in just a few weeks? I’m no tecky geek but is it possible to hack into the satellite tags and track where the birds are? Were MA given the ability to track them as they were involved in the projest? Mr Juniper, Mr Lyall, can you enlighten me please?

    1. How’s this for a scenario?

      Nobel House, 17 Smith Square, London, 2015
      Rory: Hi, I’m Rory. Can one of you please explain this brood meddling proposal to me. I’m new to this nature conservation malarkey, but I can do sums and, by my reckoning, adding a few more Hen Harriers every year is not going to make any difference to their population if there are loads being illegally killed.
      Defra advisors: Your sums are quite right, sir. It won’t make a hapeth of difference to their population, sir.
      Rory: Then why on earth are you asking me to give the go ahead for it?
      Defra advisors: Because the rich billionaire landowners who fund the Conservative Party want it to happen, sir.
      Rory: Oh, I see. I guess you better crack on with it then.

      The next day at NE HQ…
      Defra advisors: I’m afraid Rory says you have to crack on with this brood meddling malarkey because that’s what the rich billionaire landowners want.
      NE management: Fuck! Thought he would probably say that. I guess we better tell the troops they have to crack on with it then.

      The next day at NE HQ…
      NE management: I’m afraid Rory says you have to crack on with this brood meddling malarkey because that’s what the rich billionaire landowners want.
      NE troops: Fuck! Thought you were going to say that. I guess we better crack on with it then. We’re going to get ourselves into a right fucking shitstorm with RSPB and Mark Avery over this, but we better do as we’re told. At least it’ll all be over in a couple of years when the released satellite tagged birds are shot, the Moorland Association have been exposed as the frauds they are and we can get onto Plan B – addressing illegal shooting – and monitoring SSSI condition properly and not pissing taxpayers money down the drain.

      1. Anon – thanks for that – made me smile. Of course, in a decent organisation someone would have said ‘F*** that! We’re not here to work for billionaires whether or not they are friends of the minister. We have statutory duties that come first, and certainly come before ministerial whims and madnessses. Let’s draft a note to Defra making it clear that money and staff time spent on brood meddling will detract directly from our ability to carry out our statutory duties, may in any case be unlawful, is likely to lead to expensive legal challenges and we regard it as flawed, but that if Defra and the minister instruct us to do this , in writing, we’ll keep their instruction on record. We are, of course, here to serve.’.

    2. Chris – if that were feasible then I think we would ahve seen tohe opposite of what we have seen – the brood meddled Hen Harriers would have lived for ever as they would have lived charmed lives on English grouse moors!

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