Tag Archives: Brood Management

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

 

Judgement on the Legality of a Research Trial For Brood Management of Hen Harrier

Last week saw the ruling from Mrs Justice Lang to the judicial review challenge from the RSPB and Dr Mark Avery (the claimants) on the lawfulness of Natural England’s (NE) plan to begin a research trial for the active brood management of Hen Harrier in England.

The full judgement can be found at:-

Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, R (On the Application Of) v Natural England [2019] EWHC 585 (Admin) (15 March 2019)

In summary, despite closely presented legal arguments the challenges from the claimants were rejected and Natural England would appear to be free to initiate the trials if nesting attempts in the coming breeding season allow.  A request has been made already by Mark Avery for permission to appeal the decision and at the time of writing this is being considered.  We await the outcome with interest.

Meanwhile the recent ruling is worthy of examination in some detail.

Members of the Northern England Raptor Forum have considerable experience of Hen Harriers in the field and indeed make significant contributions to their monitoring, protection and conservation.

A brood of Hen Harriers managed by the parent birds.

The ruling and the arguments presented do not change NERF’s unequivocal and resolute objections to any form of brood management at Hen Harrier nests.   Our original objections were set out in https://raptorforum.wordpress.com/public-statements/brood-management

What is documented and agreed without challenge in the ruling is that the main threat to the conservation of Hen Harriers is the unlawful persecution by those associated with the grouse moor industry. Indeed this comes from Natural England’s own published research.

NERF accepts that the purpose of Mrs Justice Lang’s review was necessarily limited to assessing the legality of the process by which Natural England arrived at their decision to grant a brood management trial.  This narrow outlook did not allow the wider picture of persecution to be addressed in any consequential way. Justice Lang herself remarked that it was not the court’s role to adjudicate on matters such as the alternatives of diversionary feeding, criminal sanction, law enforcement, compensation or the licensing of grouse shoots.   The lay person may find it perverse that the legal process and Natural England themselves appear to acknowledge and yet tolerate illegality whilst at the same time NE are investing effort and expense at interfering with the nests of rare breeding birds.  It seems all the more illogical that affected nests may well be on Special Protected Areas (SPA) which are designated in part for the protection and conservation of Hen Harriers.

The declared objectives of the brood management trial are twofold:-

  • To investigate the effect of brood management on the perceptions and behaviour of the moorland community (described as ‘social science’). Assessing whether conflict and persecution will reduce.
  • To test the practicality of brood management in artificially rearing young birds (eggs or young being taken from the nest), releasing them back into the wild and seeing them survive themselves to breed in the wild.

The judgement at least makes clear that this is a trial with the purpose of collecting research evidence. It must be shown to meet its objectives and the ruling does not signify the widespread roll out of brood management.

Meeting the objectives over the planned 5 year trial will be judged by a scientific panel reporting into Natural England.  Assessing the practicality of artificially rearing and releasing young birds will be challenging in itself and NERF would expect rigorous and exacting measures to be applied.  Will the conservation status of Hen Harriers in England be put at risk by interfering with the few nests that we might have?  What success will there be in rearing chicks artificially , how will they fair once released into what has been shown to be an unsafe environment and will they live long enough to breed themselves?   These are all key questions.

The greatest leap of faith, and one at this stage where we have the gravest doubts, is the astounding presumption that the mere existence of brood management trials will “decrease mortality as a consequence of a cessation in illegal persecution”.  This seems to be wishful thinking indeed since unlawful persecution is acknowledged to be the greatest current threat!

NERF wonders how the trial outcome in respect of the first objective, the “social science” bit, will be assessed and reported on with any degree of accountability.  To date the grouse shooting lobby have failed to acknowledge cases of “missing” satellite tagged young birds as being anything other than due to natural causes or tag failure, when all the evidence points to a significant proportion being the victims of illegal persecution.

If, as suggested, attitudes towards nesting or wintering birds might change as a result of a brood management trial then why not deliver that change here and now?  Must we wait another 5 years of trials during which yet more Hen Harriers will meet an untimely end?

We wonder what the projected cost to the public purse will be of not just the trial itself but also the possible subsequent wider evolution of brood management when the principal beneficiary appears to be the economics of the private grouse shooting industry.

 

NERF
20 March 2019