The war of words over Hen Harriers reached a new low this week with Natural England feeding a minister, Rebecca Pow, inaccurate information which she passed on to Parliament, if the RSPB is to be believed – and I am sure they are to be believed.
In yesterday’s statement from RSPB which laid out the the details of an incident at a Hen Harrier nest at Whernside in the Yorkshire Dales, on the Yorkshire/Cumbria border, other details emerged too.
The RSPB revealed that at their Geltsdale nature reserve in Cumbria two Hen Harrier nests failed this summer which were being provisioned by a single male. Bumping off the males when he is away from the nest is now a favoured method of causing nest failure for those who wish to cause nest failure of Hen Harriers. Its big advantage from the perpetrator’s point of view is that you don’t have to visit the nest, which may be being monitored by wardens or volunteers and which may have surveillance cameras set up in its vicinity.
Readers of this blog may recall, because some of you have minds that are razor-sharp, that back in 2015 five male Hen Harriers disappeared from Hen Harrier nests in Bowland (four of them) and Geltsdale (see here). Natural England’s Rob Cooke said something quite sensible about this at that time (but that time was before the publication of the DEFRA/shooting industry Hen Harrier Inaction Plan when Natural England’s grip on the reality of Hen Harrier conservation started to slip, slide away). If you pick up your faded and tattered (through use) copy of Inglorious you’ll find an account of attempted and actual Hen Harrier shooting on the borders of the RSPB nature reserve at Geltsdale on pages 38-40.
Geltsdale is a large RSPB nature reserve on the border of Northumberland and Cumbria and it has occasional pairs of Hen Harrier. Its problem, and the Hen Harriers’ problem, is that Hen Harriers tend to nest on one edge of the nature reserve next to several adjacent grouse moors over which the Geltsdale birds spend time hunting.
But the RSPB is involved in Hen Harrier monitoring, nest-guarding and sometimes diversionary feeding on other sites and on land not owned or controlled by RSPB. This includes being one of several partners involved in the successful Northumberland nesting Hen Harriers that have done so well over several years and remain a bright and shining light in the England Hen Harrier scene at present. The RSPB also has a long history of working with United Utilities on its water catchment in the Forest of Bowland AONB in Lancashire.
Yesterday’s RSPB statement about Bowland was interesting:
The RSPB also monitors hen harrier nests on United Utilities land in Bowland, Lancashire. We have no control of management or access at Bowland, which is managed for water and game interests. Here, three nests failed, two nests with eggs and one with chicks. With reduced monitoring due to COVID-19, we can’t be certain what happened to the nests that failed with eggs, but evidence close to the third nest points to the chicks being predated, despite private predator control in the area.https://community.rspb.org.uk/ourwork/b/investigations/posts/through-rspb-binoculars-our-summary-of-the-2020-hen-harrier-season-in-england
The Forest of Bowland has been described as an RSPB reserve by people who don’t know what they are talking about but it certainly isn’t. And people who should know what they are talking about, the Moorland Association, often describe the UU land in Bowland as a grouse moor which is a classification that straddles the truth but is not wholly contained within it. United Utilities own land in Bowland because it is part of an important water catchment for them and some of the land has some grouse shooting on it – but you couldn’t call it a grouse moor first and foremost. Indeed in the days when we trusted Natural England, their report A Future for Hen Harriers in England? was at pains to distinguish between the land in Bowland managed as grouse moors and that managed by UU: here’s one example:
We have already seen that the upland nesting attempts were very unevenly distributed, with a surprisingly large number in the Bowland Fells. Interestingly, the attempts within this area were also very unevenly distributed. Over three quarters (78.31%) of the nesting attempts here were on an area of land owned and managed by a water company, United Utilities. The remainder were widely spread in the area but all were on land managed as driven grouse shoots.A Future for Hen Harriers in England?
And we know that UU do not own over three quarters of the land in Bowland, in fact they are only the second largest landowner – but the Duke of Westminster seems remarkably unsuccessful in getting Hen Harriers to nest on his driven grouse moor these days (see here). So, although the RSPB is involved with United Utilities in monitoring and helping Hen Harriers in Bowland it doesn’t own or control land there, although some major grouse moor owners do. And so the line in the RSPB blog ‘We have no control of management or access at Bowland, which is managed for water and game interests‘ seems perfectly true but maybe slightly superfluous.
Superfluous until you see this from Wednesday…
It was a slightly strange question for a new Conservative MP for the former Speaker’s seat of Buckingham to ask but I’m sure some shooting organisation asked him to ask it with the best of intentions. But the information provided by Natural England (apparently) was false, and so the answer given by the Minister was false. Unless the RSPB is lying. I don’t believe the RSPB is lying. In fact I imagine that this appearing in the Parliamentary record was one of the things that motivated the RSPB’s blog to be so strong.
Marian Spain and Tony Juniper – you are running a shambolic organisation which has lost the trust of this taxpayer and citizen completely as far as your dealings with Hen Harriers are concerned, almost completely as far as your dealings with Badgers are concerned and to a large extent as far as anything else is concerned.
Why are you letting Natural England’s reputation be shot to pieces?