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

 

RSPB Birdcrime Report 2018

The RSPB has today published the annual Birdcrime Report.

87 confirmed incidents of Raptor Persecution. As we well know the number of incidents that are discovered/recorded are just the tip of the iceberg as previous highlighted by the BASC Director of Communications Christopher Graffius in this publication from December 2017.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

2018 was also the year that ‘Analysis of the Natural England’s data from satellite tagged Hen Harriers was published’

 

 

 

 

 

 

As well as the year that NERF Members in the Peak District were involved in a study of the catalogue of Raptor Persecution Incidents recorded in the Dark Peak alongside the disparity between breeding success of both Goshawk and Peregrine Falcon in the Dark Peak compared to the White Peak areas of the Peak District National Park. The report from the study can be read here

Natural England’s answer to the issue of illegal raptor persecution in our uplands was to implement their flawed policy of Hen Harrier brood management on the basis that it is essential for Hen Harrier conservation and will lead to an increase in the English population. That second assertion may be true during the breeding season, but it totally ignores the fact that all of the evidence reveals that persecution is more problematic after the chicks disperse from their breeding grounds and that it affects many more raptor species.

The Head of RSPB Investigations Mark Thomas speaking about the ongoing issues of raptor persecution can be found below

NERF Conference – advance notice

Northern England Raptor Forum Annual Conference

Binks Building, Chester University, CH1 4AR

This year the annual Northern England Raptor Forum Conference is being held on Saturday 23 November 2019, hosted by the Cheshire Raptor Study Group. Once again we have an excellent series of lectures delivered by bird of prey experts.

Subjects include:

  • Birds of Prey and Owls of Cheshire
  • Golden Eagles
  • Red Kites of Shropshire
  • Kestrels
  • Wintering Raptors on the Cheshire and Wirral estuaries

We will also have presentations from Cathleen Thomas, RSPB Hen Harrier Life Project Manager and Police Superintendent Nick Lyall, Chairman of the Police led Raptor Persecution Priority Delivery Group.

This your annual opportunity to learn something new about the birds we love. It is also a great opportunity to get together with old friends and make new ones in the field of bird of prey monitoring.

Delegate booking forms will be available from 1 September.

NERF

12 August 2019

Supporting the work of the RSPB Investigations Team

The RSPB Investigations Team has a reputation second to none in the field of investigating and detecting crimes against birds of prey. For more than two decades this highly qualified specialist team has been assisting Police Wildlife Crime Officers and the National Wildlife Crime Unit by providing expert evidence to the Courts. There is no doubt that without their evidence many of the cases would not have been successfully prosecuted and the relentless persecution of raptors would continue unchallenged.

The Investigations Team is now seeking help from the public to allow them to continue their vital work.

The RSPB has created a moving video, showing the challenges of working on the frontline in the fight against raptor persecution and exposing some shocking statistics. You can watch it here:

Further information can be found at:

www.rspb.org.uk/defend

 

NERF

12 August 2019

Raptor Persecution Awareness Raising Day

Raptor Persecution Awareness Raising Day
Goathland Community Hub, North Yorkshire
10 am – 4 pm on Saturday 10 August 2019
Raptor persecution continues to plague the north of England and none of our birds of prey are immune. The needless slaughter of these iconic species continues unabated and the deaths are frequently associated with commercial game shooting.
To highlight the issue the Northern England Raptor Forum [NERF] is holding a second raptor persecution awareness raising day. The event will be held at the Community Hub in Goathland, North Yorkshire from 1000 to 1600 on Saturday 10 August 2019.
The event is supported by North Yorkshire Police, Operation Owl and the RSPB who will be on hand, together with members of NERF to discuss the issues with both bird of prey enthusiasts and members of the public who are committed to bringing bringing this disgraceful situation to and end.
Goathland is in the heart of the North Yorks Moors. It is the home of the popular TV series ‘Heartbeat’ and on the North York Moors Heritage Steam Railway.

Friends of Red Kites (in the North East of England) join NERF

The North England Raptor Forum is delighted to announce that the Friends of Red Kites in the North East of England (FoRK) have joined as members of the Forum.

FoRK are a well-established, membership-based, community organisation which was formed by volunteers in 2009 to encourage an active interest in the conservation of the Red Kite population in Gateshead’s Lower Derwent Valley and to continue to monitor their health & welfare.

It is the successor to the funded Northern Kites Project which was responsible for the re-introduction of 94 young red kites in the core area between 2004 and 2009.  [In 2006 red kites began to breed in the region for the first time after an absence of over 170 years.

In addition to FoRK’s considerable experience in monitoring and protecting Red Kites, the group channel their efforts into public engagement and education initiatives which raises awareness of the threats still apparent to Red Kites.   The species’ efforts to expand further into Northumberland, Durham and, indeed, Cumbria are also monitored by FoRK.

See www.friendsofredkites.org.uk for further details.

Coincident with this announcement we are also pleased to welcome the Yorkshire Kites Group which now formally joins NERF in an ‘Advisor’ capacity.   See www.yorkshirekites.net for further details.

NERF has enjoyed cooperation with both groups over many years but these changes represent an important advance.  Many of the issues faced with Red Kite conservation are shared by other raptors across our region and we look forward to seeing the benefits of exchanging information and expertise through our closer association with these two respected organisations.

NERF
1st  July ‘19

Hen Harrier Brood Management

In a few months time the outcome of the 2019 Hen Harrier breeding season will be announced. Some people will claim that it has been a good year and others will trumpet the outcome as a great year for Hen Harriers in England. Neither of these claims will be true, nor will they accurately reflect the fact that whatever the actual number of fledglings is this year, the population will remain perilously low for years to come despite the fact that there is sufficient space for c 300 pairs in the northern uplands.

If brood management goes ahead as planned 2019 will not be remembered as a good year for the English Hen Harrier population. It will be remembered, by leading conservation groups, including NERF, and Raptor Workers across the country as the year that Natural England (the English Statutory Nature Conservation Organisation) betrayed Hen Harriers to placate the grouse shooting industry. An industry that is, according to Natural England’s own data, largely responsible for the unexplained demise of 72% of Hen Harriers satellite tagged by their own staff. With that knowledge it is not unreasonable to assume that a similar percentage of un-tagged birds ‘disappeared’ under identical circumstances over the same period. It is also clear from press releases issued by RSPB that many of the birds satellite tagged as part of their Hen Harrier Life Project have also suffered the same fate on land managed for grouse shooting.

Natural England’s answer to those facts is the implementation of their flawed policy of Hen Harrier brood management on the basis that it is essential for Hen Harrier conservation and will lead to an increase in the English population. That second assertion may be true during the breeding season but it totally ignores the fact that all of the evidence reveals that persecution is more problematic after the chicks disperse from their breeding grounds. Brood management will do nothing to prevent persecution despite claims to the contrary. Anyone who believes that the entire grouse shooting industry will wholeheartedly welcome an increase in the Hen Harrier population is at best delusional. There are members of the industry who won’t even tolerate the small number of birds that already reside in, or transit through, the uplands at the present time let alone an increased number.

Following the confirmation that brood management has taken place this year, NERF fully expects an announcement in due course from Natural England stating how many eggs, or chicks were taken in to the scheme .What the hatching rates were from each clutch.  What the fledging rates were and confirmation that the birds were released back onto the moors from which they were removed. The project calls for all of the chicks to be satellite tagged prior to release back to the wild, in the interest of transparency NERF expects to read a prompt press release when the birds either die naturally or ‘disappear’ in circumstances that suggest persecution was the probable cause. The press release should include the location of the last known fix from the satellite tag.

Natural England has the legal right to undertake brood management, because they licensed themselves to do it. However, there is no right way to do the wrong thing and there is, in NERF’s opinion no justification for pursuing the brood management of Hen Harriers. We often hear the Police say that they cannot arrest their way out of the Hen Harrier persecution problem and in part that may be true. However, it is also true that Government policy should not be influenced by individuals or organisations that rely on criminality for their industry to prosper.

Additionally we need to know how much of the significant cost of brood management is being borne, not by the industry which has created the problem through illegal persecution, but by the British taxpayer.

Despite the hype that we can expect at the end of the breeding season, 2019 will not be a good year for Hen Harriers in England.

 

 

 

 

 

 

NERF

June 2019