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
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.
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.
If you are signed up to my monthly newsletter then you will have received my thoughts on George Eustice’s speech this week. If not, you have missed them – unless you sign up to the newsletter this weekend in which case I’ll send you a copy on Sunday or early on Monday. You can sign up to my monthly free newsblast through clicking here.