What a mess!


The excellent Raptor Persecution UK revealed yesterday that all five of the brood-meddled Hen Harriers from last year are missing. Maybe one or two will spring back to life but it isn’t looking good. What a mess!

Brood meddling is an idea cooked up by the grouse shooting industry and licensed by Natural England, but opposed by the RSPB and most others closely involved with raptor conservation in the UK. It was agreed by DEFRA in 2016 when Rory Stewart was the relevant minister as part of the government Hen Harrier plan. Because Hen Harriers eat adult Red Grouse and their chicks, and because grouse shooting is a prized hobby for a small group of people where every Red Grouse shot by a gun is worth c£75, this wonderful bird of prey is regarded as a pest. The Hen Harrier is fully protected by law but is routinely killed on grouse moors across northern England and Scotland. The scale of the criminal activity is high and means that the number of Hen Harriers that nest in the UK is way, way below the expected number; it’s around 500 pairs instead of around 2,500 pairs. With most criminal activity, society decides to catch the criminals and bang them up but in this case government let the criminals have their own way and dressed it up as a conservation plan.

The flawed brood meddling plan goes as follows; grouse shooters kill Hen Harriers because they eat Red Grouse but if we could get rid of the Hen Harriers legally we wouldn’t have to kill them so let’s remove them from grouse moors, rear them in captivity and slip them back into the uplands later in the season. You can see how grouse shooters benefit from this; they get rid of a ‘pest’ nesting on their grouse moor without having to break the law. It’s rather difficult to see how Hen Harriers benefit from this as when they are released from captivity they are subject to the same perils of illegal killing as ever. Satellite tagging by Natural England shows that fledged Hen Harriers are subject to massive levels of illegal killing, on grouse moors in northern England and brood meddling doesn’t address this problem.

So instead of being killed at the nest, brood meddling allows Hen Harriers to be kidnapped and then they are released back into peril a few weeks later if they survive the meddling process.

The prize we are all told will come from brood meddling is that an industry that is steeped in illegal activity will put illegality behind it. Well it could work like that, but many of us said that it probably wouldn’t, and so far the evidence is on our side.

Since the government signed up to the grouse shooting industry’s plan the main step forward for Hen Harriers has been the establishment of a small regular breeding population in Northumberland and just over the border in Scotland where massive efforts are made to protect the birds and the birds are wise enough to nest on Forestry Commission land. This is a success for old-fashioned nest protection and nothing to do with brood meddling. Also, last year on those parts of the Forest of Bowland that are not grouse moors, similar protection efforts seem to have protected another small enclave of Hen Harriers. This is nothing to do with brood meddling.

We have not seen a significant rise in Hen Harriers nesting on grouse moors as the industry promised government, and as government says will happen.

Only one Hen Harrier nest has been brood-meddled to date – well, there aren’t many on grouse moors because the birds aren’t allowed to survive still. And now we learn, not through a Natural England report on the project, or a DEFRA press release but from constant probing by Raptor Persecution UK, that all five of the brood-meddled Hen Harriers from last year are missing, presumed dead (but since dodgy tags are being used (another big fail for the project) nobody can be completely sure).

I am personally completely against this brood meddling plan. Indeed, I am so against it that I have taken legal action to try to stop it and that action continues (at a snail’s pace, I’m afraid). But there would be a version of brood meddling that would have got my support and which was suggested when government signed up to the grouse shooting industry’s plan. And that would be to make brood meddling conditional on there being a certain number of Hen Harriers nesting in England, let’s say 50 pairs, but not before. That way there is an incentive for the criminals to be less criminal, and they are all in it together as any rogue estates queer the pitch for everyone else. In this scheme, brood meddling is a concession dependent on good behaviour. And in that case we would be sitting back now, drumming our fingers and saying, ‘No chance, still way under 50 pairs. Clean up your act and we’ll see.’.

Natural England has dug themselves into a hole by licensing this dft idea and by trusting the untrustworthy grouse shooting industry, and I expect they will keep on digging. It will be interesting to see whether they now say anything public about brood meddling. So far, Tony Juniper has supported this daft idea but now the fate of the first brood meddled birds is revealed he needs to rethink.

In a letter dated long after the fate of these Hen Harriers was known to Natural England and presumably DEFRA too, the Secretary of State, George Eustice, ploughed on regardless with his support for his predecessors’ Hen Harrier plan of which brood meddling is the most contentious and useless part;

The long term plan was published in January 2016 and we believe that it remains the best way to safeguard the hen harrier in England

letter from George Eustice date 2 June 2020

Here are a couple of quotes from a senior police officer working in this area;

I am absolutely shocked and disgusted at the level of raptor persecution that I am coming across

All the shooting investigations we have ongoing at the moment involve gamekeepers on grouse moors

Channel4 News 29 May 2020, Inspector Matt Hagen of North Yorkshire Police
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13 Replies to “What a mess!”

  1. It seems to me that hen harrier brood meddling is like pheasant shooting-rear them, release them, shoot them.

      1. In Tory Britain, survival rates for pheasants are better than for us peasants.

  2. There is little more to say, Mark about covers it. When Brood meddling was first suggested way back in the days when there was still a “Hen Harrier Dialogue” between the shooting cabal, NE, RSPB and raptor workers represented by NERF It was the straw that broke the camels back for NERF when we realised the dark side were serious about this daft idea. It was then explained that if there were just two pairs of Hen Harriers in England but in the same area and a grouse moor they would expect BOTH pairs to be meddled. On that basis NERF left the discussions in disgust.

    In a practical sense one wonders how many broods can be meddled it is quite an intensive process and presumably we the tax payer are paying for it, not the wealthy grouse moor owners.

  3. What a sutprise ! I suspect if you track back to this blog and it’s comments at the time brood meddling was first proposed everyone predicted this was exactly what would happen – instead pf destroyed in the nest, or even before nesting, these birds have somply been released to be illegally killed later. For every English Hen Harrier there appears to be a ‘bad apple’ – notmany of them these days, of course, because there are so few English HH left to kill.

  4. Never ceases to amaze me how we humans continue to use our intelligence to come up with ever new ways to meddle with other other creatures existence!is there no limit to our ingenious methods of torture!

  5. Here are a couple of quotes from a senior police officer working in this area;

    I am absolutely shocked and disgusted at the level of raptor persecution that I am coming across

    All the shooting investigations we have ongoing at the moment involve gamekeepers on grouse moors

    Without actual arrests, not to mention convictions and jail terms, these quotes are meaningless and just more hot air from the gentry-protecting cop class. Get back to me when they actually do arrest someone, one of the lords and ladies who actually matter too and not some flunky who will be compensated for taking the fall.

    1. Given that you don’t know any of the police concerned this just reads as anti police tripe. It is very difficult to get evidence to get one of these criminals in court and if you think it could result in a member of the gentry going to jail you do not understand the law protecting birds it is culprit only takes the fall. I’m sure Inspector Matt Hagan and some of the local cops know who the culprits are but it is called evidence, we are all protected until there is conclusive evidence to convict.

      1. If they can only talk, and can’t arrest the people responsible, then what is the point of their existence. The money for these cops could be better spent elsewhere then. #DefundThePoliceUK

  6. ‘You can see how grouse shooters benefit from this; they get rid of a ‘pest’ nesting on their grouse moor without having to break the law’
    Even in this deliberately simplified sketch there would be an exponential number of birds each year which either need brood ‘meddled’ or killed.
    Same goes for the 50 pair threshold.
    Killing is a part and parcel of either plan.
    The plan depends on and plans for on-going killing.

    1. I suspect that the facilities only exist to Brood Meddle 5 pairs or less. The whole scheme is a sham from start to finish.

  7. The whole thing of brood meddling is being clearly demonstrated as an absolute farce. How could any sensible person really believe that brood meddling would work with criminality endemic in the shooting industry. I suppose one might conclude that there are really no sensible people present in Natural England and Defra. As an alternative one might conclude these two organisations are being forced to implement Tory Party vested interests. Which ever it is, brood meddling is a disgrace to this country and the whole situation needs to be told to the world and the participants and this Government well and truly shamed.

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