The Hen Harrier Brood Management Plan – what should happen next?

“It’s better to light a candle than curse the darkness”. – Terry Pratchett – Men at Arms.

NERF has been opposed to the Natural England / Defra Hen Harrier Brood Management Plan from the moment it was announced. The plan was terminally flawed from the outset, it placed far too much trust in the claim made by the grouse shooting representatives, that they can deliver their part of the process and end Hen Harrier persecution. To say that such a belief was naive would qualify as one of the all-time understatements in the world of bird of prey protection.

The Brood Management Plan was introduced to placate the grouse moor owners and it is pointless to pretend otherwise. In return we were promised that once grouse moor owners had a ‘safety net’, allowing Hen Harrier chicks to be removed from grouse moors if two or more pairs attempted to breed within a predetermined area, then persecution would end.

2019 saw the implementation of this plan, followed shortly thereafter by the abject failure of the plan within a few short months.

Recent press releases detail the disappearance of three of the five Hen Harrier chicks, satellite tagged as part of the Hen Harrier Brood Management Plan and indicate that police investigations are being undertaken in all three cases.

This is the first year that the Brood Management Plan has been implemented and to date 60% of the chicks have ‘disappeared’, believed to have been illegally killed. However, if we take in to account the fact that the two remaining chicks from the ‘managed’ brood are reported to have migrated to France, then 100% of the brood managed birds that remained on grouse moors in the North of England, the most dangerous area for raptors in the UK, are in all probability dead. And in all probability, likely killed by members of the industry that asked us to trust them not to do so. How ironic!

The fact that these three young Hen Harriers have ‘disappeared’ will not have come as a surprise to anyone, nor will the fact that they all disappeared on grouse moors in the North of England; one in County Durham and two in the Yorkshire Dales National Park. According to Natural England’s own published data 72% of Hen Harrier chicks that were satellite tagged as part of their research ‘disappeared’ in similar circumstances over the last ten years.

These three birds join the list of many other Hen Harriers satellite tagged by Natural England and the RSPB which are now listed as ‘disappeared’ in suspicious circumstances.

At some point Natural England will have to publicly acknowledge that the representatives of the shooting industry (in particular, the Moorland Association) are lobbying groups, not delivery groups. They are unable to either compel or ensure that their members will comply with any of the promises they make. Those of us who have sat around a negotiating table with them for over two decades realised this a long time ago. It would be helpful if this acknowledgment by Natural England came sooner rather than later and an alternative plan, a plan which is fit for purpose, is prepared for implementation before the 2020 breeding season arrives.

It is not only NERF members who believe that the Brood Management Plan should never have been implemented. Mark Avery and the RSPB both independently lodged legal challenges against the legality of the scheme. Whilst both legal challenges initially failed in court, they are now subject to the appeals process. Hopefully these legal challenges will be successful early next year, and the brood management plan can be consigned to the history book of catastrophic failed conservation measures.

Many independent raptor workers and other conservationists across the country have also denounced the scheme and will no doubt continue to do so if the plan is implemented in future years. It is also true that some of the Brood Management Board have expressed doubts about the plan, they should be listened to.

Following information that ‘Rosie’, another Natural England tagged bird, recently came back online, it is likely that there will be cries of foul from the grouse shooting industry claiming that the three ‘disappeared’ missing brood managed birds were also fitted with faulty tags. However, the circumstances of their disappearance, when the three tags ‘stopped no malfunction’, coupled with the fact that years of scientific research reveals that only 6% of satellites fail then any such claim would be misplaced.

What should happen next?

“If you always do what you always did, you will always get what you always got.” – Albert Einstein et al.

There is little point continuing to rehash the events of 2019. Brood management was tried and despite the hard work of the Fieldworkers involved it has failed spectacularly within months. The project licence expires before the 2020 breeding season and NERF is firmly of the opinion that it should not be renewed. Natural England / Defra gave the benefit of the doubt to the grouse shooting industry, the Government tried and failed. It is now time to move on and abandon their Brood Management Plan.

“When the facts change, I change my mind. What do you do, sir?”

This statement, or a version of it, is frequently attributed to the British economist John Maynard Keynes. The statement actually referred to macroeconomics but it is equally applicable to many aspects of daily life and is very relevant in relation to the failed Brood Management Plan.

So what will you do now Natural England? Fail to heed Einstein’s warning and plough on regardless of the facts, or follow Keynes’ philosophy and change direction?

NERF

26 October 2019