Natural England misleads minister who misleads parliament?

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.

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?


14 Replies to “Natural England misleads minister who misleads parliament?”

  1. It is a very sad and deplorable situation. I know a number of Natural England personnel who work on reserves and at a coordination level and they are great guys and galls, good at their jobs.. However they are completely let down by deplorable leadership at the top of the organisation.. what a disgrace this whole incident is. For goodness sake all Juniper and Spain have to do is to do what is right, not what this Government and the shooters want. Have the guts to defy the pressures of the Government and the people who like to kill our wildlife for fun for a change and you will lead a much better organisation. However if you do not have the guts, Natural England will slip ever more deeply into more of a complete shambles than it is now.

    1. Unfortunately, like most things, nature pays. If it were not for the lucrative trades of the grouse moor barons and their ways we would certainly have a copious amount of successful breeding pairs of Ringtails. Sadly, Ringtails don’t bring home a minuscule percentage of the bacon that a grouse does, therefore there can only be one outcome. It angers me that laws can be openly flouted when it comes the wealthy landowners of the upper hills.

  2. Dreadful, misuse of information by NE that should and could do better but seems to have been lost to reality due to its association with the Dark side organisations associated with grouse shooting and cattle farming. One might say this is deliberate misinformation, given the current poor relationship between RSPB and NE over Hen Harriers.
    The ministers statement does however give us some more information, which ought to be in the public domain about where Hen Harriers were, I may come back to this later when I have a better grasp of it.
    In the mean time it should be said that the last dregs of reputation of NE for honesty, truth, science and straight talking has been truly and finally flushed down the toilet by DEFRA’s pandering to the grouse cabal’s and the NFU’s unscientific and prejudicial views of Hen Harriers and Badgers. Given the knowledge and hard working dedication of the men and women on the ground, their field staff, this is in truth a tragedy. One might ask how Juniper , Spain and their senior staff sleep at night.

  3. What strikes me is that the PQ’s answer indicates that just over 40% of England’s HHs nested on land where RSPB had control and just under 60% on all the rest of the suitable habitat in England, ie grouse moors, plus other land uses. It would be interesting to know what area of England is covered by grouse shooting moors, what by RSPB, and what by other uses. I’ll bet RSPB controls nothing like 40%. Looks like the PQ actually shows that grouse shooting is a rather poor land use if you are a HH. Why would that be?

  4. The RSPB wrote ‘We have no control of management or access at Bowland’
    Anyone know what happened. They used to have very good relations with UU (and previously North-West Water). Why are they denied access? Or do they mean they have no control of access but that area has Right to Roam so that doesn’t make sense either.

    1. Prasad – I think it means that they work with UU but they don’t have the right or ability to manage the land or tell other people what to do or where to go.

  5. It seems that in their desperation to cover the backsides of the shooting industry NE and the government are becoming more blatent in their, what shall I say, dodgy data releases. I think this is a good thing. That the killers and their captured puppets in NE and the government are panicking at the mainly adverse publicity they are receiving.

  6. Natural England seems to be completely under the control of shooting and agri business interests.

    I recently found three badger setts abandoned on a national nature reserve managed by Natural England with signs of criminal behaviour being the cause of at least one of those abandonments. Consequently I contacted NE. To my amazement I was told that the shooting rights on this national nature reserve managed by Natural England are retained by the adjacent shooting estate. As a result the shooting estate is allowed to let its gamekeepers set snares and traps and shoot unwanted (‘vermin’) animals and birds on Natural England national nature reserve! This is on an open access area were members of the public are allowed and encouraged because it is promoted by its billboards and signs as an important nature reserve in an area of outstanding natural beauty!

    Sadly, there have been reports of raptor persecution, badger related crimes and other wildlife crime offences in the area of this reserve and, I am told, the amount of wildlife is reduced to what would normally be expected for such a rich habitat.

    Natural England – useless, disgraceful, gutless.

    1. “Natural England seems to be completely under the control of shooting and agri business interests.”

      I’d largely agree with that, but would fill out some missing bits in this causal chain.

      The government seems to be completely under the control of shooting and agri business interests and they control Natural England.

  7. We can now use all of the information we have from MA (Yuk),
    (un)Natural England, Northumberland Hen Harrier partnership, RSPB and Rebecca Pow to articulate the Hen Harrier nesting attempts in England 2020 in more detail.
    Northumberland 6 nests produced 18 young.
    North Yorkshire 2 nests, one brood molested (4 young) other probably 6 young.
    Cumbria, Geltsdale 2 nests failed due to suspicious disappearance of breeding male. Elsewhere 4 nests, one brood meddled (4 young).
    Lancashire, Bowland 8 nests, 3 of which failed, one at least due to natural predation.
    However that is still only 22 nests.

  8. The whole thing from the incorrect information provided to the minister by NE to the ‘innocent’ seeming question from a Tory MP in Buckingham has all the hallmarks of some of YFTB’s crasser attempts at smearing the RSPB . Sadly, this government with its pants-on-fire leader has shown itself to have the most casual of relationships with the truth and this latest deception is entirely in keeping with its shabby character. From the point of view of Natural England there would seem to be three possibilities (i) they knowingly gave incorrect information to the Minister (ii) they mistakenly gave incorrect information to the Minister or (iii) they gave the correct information to the Minister who then chose to distort it. If (ii) or (iii) are true then NE’s leadership, if it has any integrity, should publicly correct the error and – I would have thought – should resign in disgust if (iii) is true. If (i) is true and they are as committed to untruth as their political masters then the organisation is truly sunk very low indeed.

    I would suggest that it would be useful for as many people as possible to contact their MP to ask them to contact the Minister and request an explanation for the misleading answer given in her response and an undertaking to correct the Parliamentary record.

  9. It’s desperately sad that those at the top of Natural England don’t challenge this state of affairs and condemn it. Of course they’d immediately lose their jobs and the government would replace them with more compliant people who would carry out their orders more obediently.

    Herein explains the problem, and that is establishment corruption. Of course what Natural England is doing, is what their political masters tell them to do. What their political masters tell Natural England to do, is because of what the titled and wealthy grouse moor owners tell the political puppets to do, because many of them are entitled senior members of the establishment.

    I’m well aware some may not like the rather blunt way I put it, but can anyone seriously say this isn’t true? Are we expected to believe the hierarchy of Natural England are doing this because it’s what they want to do, and they have some sort of choice, where if they wanted they could clamp down on the grouse moor owners, and their political masters would meekly go along with this, without interfering. Remember, this is a government which is willing to break international law to get their own way and sacrifice the lives of tens of thousands of people to please their friends in the city.

    Senior figures in all organizations are paid very high salaries to ensure their obedience, and to ensure they don’t get any ideas about sticking to matters of principle, because they have got a lot to lose is they step out of line.

    If anyone thinks I’m wrong, then please feel free to explain what I’ve got wrong.

    I’ve just given Tony Juniper another hint on Twitter about this, but he always studiously ignores these points. Others claim on his behalf that he is doing what he can behind the scenes to exert influence. Even if that is the case, I don’t see any evidence of this approach bearing any fruit.

  10. I think the NERF statement on the subject probably just about covers the whole sorry tale.

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