Natural England is expected soon to bow to the almost inevitable and drop any plans for brood meddling of Hen Harriers in 2020.
All Natural England fieldwork is suspended at the moment in line with government instructions on non-essential travel. Natural England is re-allocating staff resources to priority areas in an attempt to ensure that staff absences do not affect core work such as responding to the planning system. Even Natural England would be hard-pressed to describe this wrong-headed project as essential, and if Natural England fieldwork on this and other projects is not happening it is difficult to see how travel by others associated with this project can be encouraged by Natural England. Even with some relaxation of travel restrictions Natural England would find it very hard to defend a decision to press ahead with this worthless project at this time. We’ve already had two years, in theory, of brood meddling during which just one Hen Harrier nest has been brought forward for manipulation – another blank year won’t harm an already hopeless ‘study’.
In addition, even the shooting industry is coming to accept that the prospects for the shooting season are distinctly doubtful – see this incredibly confused account in the Daily Telegraph. Since broodmeddling of Hen Harriers is supposed to be an experiment investigating criminal behaviour on grouse moors by those involved in grouse shooting (will the criminals see the light if they are allowed to get some of what they want from meddling with Hen Harrier eggs or chicks rather than having to commit crimes?) then these exceptional circumstances over the reduced likelihood of shooting make the already-flawed study even less valuable.
A couple of other points: it’s interesting that the Telegraph‘s confused and confusing story contains the suggestion that high-rollers don’t want to be seen shooting because of the bad publicity it might cause, and I notice that Natural England is shifting staff on to licensing duties (Wild Justice may have something to say about that later today).[registration_form]