Muddle of brood meddling – round 2
Precious Hen Harriers. Photo: Ian Newton
Last year, Natural England licensed the daft idea of brood meddling of Hen Harriers. I mounted a legal challenge, and so did RSPB, but we lost in court. The judge decided that because this was a trial it was science and because of that it’s OK (that’s my layman’s take on it).
Both the RSPB and I are seeking leave to appeal this judgment because we think it is flawed, but that process takes an age and so Natural England is free to go ahead with their daft idea. A daft idea promoted by grouse moor owners, shooting organisations and Natural England and opposed by the RSPB, many birdwatchers and raptor enthusiasts.
We heard yesterday, and the same time as everybody else in the world (or maybe even later than some), that Natural England regards what they describe as the ‘stringent’ conditions for this trial to go ahead as having been met.
Quite why Natural England has not mounted a 24-hour guard at the nests in question (there would be plenty of volunteers, I’m sure) and informed all neighbouring land owners to behave themselves, is unclear.
I don’t know how many Hen Harrier nests there are in total in England this year, but it could be (and I really don’t know) that these two nests (because there must be at least two!) are the only ones on driven grouse moors. The scientific value of this trial is very dubious to my way of thinking and the conservation value is pretty much zero given that we all know that Hen Harriers fledged in England suffer massive mortality in the first few months of life because they are illegally killed on driven grouse moors. Brood meddling does nothing to reduce that risk – nothing.
So it is disappointing to see the new Chair of Natural England, Tony Juniper, whom I regard as a mate, talking up Natural England’s daft decision.
Here’s what Tony said:
Conservation and protection of the hen harrier is at the heart of what we are doing in licensing this trial of brood management. This decision takes forward but one element in a far broader recovery strategy for the species.
Come off it, Tony! How is it that this daft idea is opposed by the RSPB and the vast majority of raptor workers then? It’s the grouse moor managers, in whose midst lie the criminals who are responsible for illegal persecution of this bird, that support it.
And it’s stretching things a lot to say that this is but one element of a wider strategy. Remind us – what are the steps that NE is taking on the enforcement front? What are the steps that Defra is taking on the legislative front? Why has Defra not even responded to the crushing findings of the recently published paper showing that Hen Harriers face a 10-fold higher risk of death when flying over a driven grouse moor than anywhere else? How will brood meddling solve this problem? The real problem? The problem at the very heart of Hen Harrier conservation?
Natural England is ready to take the next careful step, aware that the licensed activity and the research will rightly come under close scrutiny from the scientists on the advisory group, from ourselves as the licensing authority and by those both supportive of and opposed to this trial.
I wonder who these scientitists are.
We, as an organisation, must pursue all options for an important bird such as the hen harrier, so that our children may enjoy this majestic species in the wild.
All options? Even daft ones?