Hen Harriers

Hen harriers are nesting in the hills, and the persecution and the brood meddling go on. Here are three items of news, although the first of them is an ongoing item of non-news that may soon be of itself newsworthy.

1. Brood meddling legal challenge

Hen Harrier chicks. Photo: Gordon Yates

The story so far;

2018 – Natural England issue licences to take hen harrier chicks from grouse moors in England and release them back into the wild. I mount a legal challenge to this, and so does the RSPB. Our judicial review hearing took place over two days in December.

2019 – after a third day of hearing (January), Justice Lang ruled that brood meddling is legal as carried out at the moment because it is a scientific trial. Both I and RSPB decided to appeal this judgment and were given leave to appeal.

2020 – in March our appeals begin to be heard but one of three Appeal Court judges is taken ill and the appeal is abandoned and has to be rescheduled.

2021 – my and the RSPB’s appeal is heard before three Appeal Court judges in January. It’s now late May …

It’s fun to speculate that the nearly four-month gap between hearing and judgment is because the three judges are having a very long discussion about the legal merits of the case, but that is mere speculation. If the judges rule against both my challenge and that of the RSPB then it won’t really make much difference, but if either or both of our appeals is upheld then brood meddling should have stopped after the 2019 breeding season. I’d most like it, obviously, if we win, but I’d quite like to know the result soon, either way.

2. News from the hills

It’s a cold, wet, uninspiring spring here in east Northants (now North Northants) but up in the hills Hen Harriers have settled down to nest, and numbers are good in the Forest of Bowland. Will it be the year when the unlucky Duke of Westminster has a pair of Hen Harriers again, or will the unlucky Bleasdale Estate get one? I would place a small bet on Bowland being the site of brood meddling activity this year but it won’t, I believe, be on the United Utilities land that usually has most of the nesting Hen Harriers (because the land owners don’t approve and it isn’t classed as a grouse moor anyway) so that doesn’t leave many potential locations. If there are decent numbers of Hen Harriers nesting, and if they aren’t on the Duke of Westminster’s large Abbeystead Estate then it will look a bit odd, certainly surprisingly unlucky. I await the news with interest.

Five Hen Harriers. Photo: Ian Newton

3. And still the birds go missing…

There’s a line in one of my favourite Bob Dylan songs, from my favourite Bob Dylan album, that goes ‘The only person on the scene, missing, was the Jack of Hearts’ and that is the role of the Hen Harrier in so much of the British uplands. Now a symbolic and totemic bird, much talked about but little seen due to ongoing illegal persecution on grouse moors. Even George Eustice mentioned it in his speech this week.

This week we learned that two male Hen Harriers have gone missing from nests on the RSPB nature reserve of Geltsdale in Cumbria. Natural England, in their excellent 2008 report of ‘A Future for Hen Harriers in England?‘ drew attention to this being a common cause of Hen Harrier nesting failure, particularly on grouse moors, and one that was almost certainly due to illegal human persecution of the birds when foraging away from the nests. Male Hen Harriers provision the female bird, and the chicks once they hatch, by the spectacular food passes shown at the top and tail of this post. When the males are killed the nests almost always fail.

“It is highly unlikely that the harriers have died of natural causes”

PC Samantha O’Key, Wildlife, Rural and Environmental Crime Co-ordinator for Cumbria police

The killing goes on.

Hen Harrier food pass – male above to femal below. Photo: Gordon Yates.

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3 Replies to “Hen Harriers”

  1. One hopes and trusts you will hear the result of the appeal before the end of the BM trial. although I suspect that if NE win the case it will go on for much longer than the original trial period. It is of course to find out whether this “safety net” stops persecution, well in and around the area of BM in North Yorkshire in 2019, certainly two and almost certainly three other nests were persecuted and allegedly surrounding estates are totally opposed to having any birds at all. So its not working at all in most cases.
    I love Bowland but those moors there without Hen Harriers ( or Peregrines and Short -eared Owls) aren’t just “unlucky” they seem missing their souls and beating hearts. My bet is that neither Abbeystead or Bleasdale will have harriers this year or any year in the near future for the same reasons there are none on the grouse moors adjacent to Geltsdale. Some people who should know much better are just criminal bastards and/or employ such folk. A ban on DGS is the only real answer.

  2. “It’s fun to speculate that the nearly four-month gap between hearing and judgment is because the three judges are having a very long discussion about the legal merits of the case, but …”

    They are far more likely to be out shooting with a couple of chaps, or supporting the chaps out shooting, and having a chap’s chaps chat about how simply spiffing shooting and country life is, and how to get one in the eye for the filthy animal rights mob, pip-pip what dontcherknow.

    Maybe I’m just cynical, but the upper classes and the judicial classes is a venn diagram that is pretty damn close to being a circle. Even the ones that aren’t part of the club still have ties to it, and have had to kiss its arse to get the judgeship at some point. That is why it is always so damn hard to get justice in this foul old country.

  3. Great stuff Mark and the RSPB. We all have everything crossed for a positive appeal. What an absolute farce brood meddling is. What the “hell” do Defra expect to achieve in the long run with ridiculous exercise. As I said in my other comment today Defra’s words are meaningless. Hopefully the Scottish Government will now march forward in Scotland with the licensing of driven grouse shooting which will sooner or later, sooner I hope, clamp down on all the atrocities perpetrated by those people with guns.
    The more Defra and this Westminster Government can be shown up as being the die hard supporters, which they are, of those that like to kill our wildlife for fun, the better.

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