A Conservation Framwork for Hen Harriers in the United Kingdon- JNCC Report

[singlepic id=84w=450 h=285 float=left]The long awaited hen harrier report commissioned by the JNCC has finally been published. The full details can be found by following the attached link. http://www.jncc.gov.uk/pdf/jncc441.pdf

Persecution was considered to be a particular problem in areas associated with grouse moor management in Scotland, notably in the northeast and central Highlands, the Cairngorms, the western Southern Uplands and the Border Hills. In England, illegal persecution is such a constraint that the hen harrier is threatened with extinction as a breeding species. There is some good news in Wales, Northern Ireland and The Isle of Man, as well as the western and northern Isles of Scotland, where hen harriers are increasing in numbers. 

The bird has been identified as a priority species by the UK Government in terms of combating wildlife crime. The last survey (2004) estimated there to be 633 pairs in Scotland, 11 pairs in England, 43 pairs in Wales and 63 pairs in Northern Ireland. A survey of hen harriers was carried out again in 2010, and once the data are collated an updated version of the framework will be produced. The bird is included on the red list of birds of conservation concern in the UK. In addition, because it is considered vulnerable within Europe, it is included on Annex I of the EU Birds Directive, which means that special conservation measures must be taken to protect the bird and its habitat.

Stuart Housden, Director of RSPB Scotland , said: “This report serves as a wakeup call to the grouse shooting industry, builds on the best and most comprehensive scientific evidence available, and confirms the huge gaps in the distribution of hen harriers that are now apparent to many ornithologists. It reveals the true impact of the systematic and illegal persecution associated with the industry, which is having severe consequences for the species’ fortunes in Scotland, and pushing it close to extinction in England. This is a sombre moment, and a challenge for the industry to put its house in order. The question is are grouse managers prepared to accept the seriousness of the challenge before them and take firm action to stamp out this criminal activity? We sincerely hope so, but more fine words and letters of denial are not the answer; a significant recovery of hen harriers on grouse estates is.”

According to information published on James Marchington’s Blog, shooting, keepering and landowning organisation in Scotland are claiming the JNCC report is out of date and misleading and should therefore be dismissed.

The British Association for Conservation and Shooting (Scotland), the Scottish Countryside Alliance, the Scottish Gamekeepers Association, the Scottish Estates Business Group and the Scottish Rural Property and Business Association have all written to the Minister for Environment setting out their concerns about the report’s findings.

To read the text of the press release issued on behalf of shooting interests follow the attached link to James Marchington’s blog http://jamesmarchington.blogspot.com/

2 comments to A Conservation Framwork for Hen Harriers in the United Kingdon- JNCC Report

  • Mike Groves

    I personally agree that the data used in the Conservation Framework for Hen Harriers is years out of date.

    However what I’d like to point out is that since 2004 the Hen Harrier has virtually been eradicated from most managed grouse moors in Scotland. In my eyes this is called persecution and it must stop!

  • Lazywell

    For a further scientific perspective about this report, it’s worth quoting the response from the Game & Wildlfe Conservation Trust, the independent research and education charity, which also appears on James Marchington’s blog:


    GAME & Wildlife Conservation Trust’s (GWCT) review of the newly released Hen Harrier Framework has highlighted that, while Scotland’s harriers were nationally in favourable conservation status in 2004, distribution in some areas is poor.

    The Trust also identifies that the scientific approach taken in this species framework needs further revision and the conservation approach for this species should be one of conflict resolution.

    GWCT welcomed SNH’s recent offer to review the Joint Nature Conservation Committee (JNCC) Hen Harrier Conservation Framework and although the review secured helpful revisions to the framework, GWCT’s scientists remain concerned about a number of themes.

    The Trust feels that the broader moorland conservation requirements have not been balanced with raptor conservation, as is required in European law. We welcome SNH’s proposal of a prompt review of the framework and want to work with all the organisations involved to achieve a better distributed and resilient hen harrier population in the UK alongside grouse moor management, a valuable economic and conservation land use.

    Areas of concern:
    1. We are pleased to see that on the basis of the criteria selected by SNH and the report’s authors, Scotland’s hen harrier population was nationally in favourable conservation status in 2004. However two of the three criteria used to assess conservation status, at the level of individual Natural Heritage Zones, are flawed. The result is that no matter how high or low the harrier population size surveyed in 2004, application of the criteria would always have found that half the sites failed and half passed each test. This not a robust approach to assessing long term conservation status. It also remains a matter of concern that the framework has been published in the year following a national survey of harriers but without using these data.
    2. The study reveals harriers are not evenly distributed across Scottish regions in relation to suitable habitat. Persecution is the focus for possible explanations of this distribution. Although we acknowledge the effects of persecution in some regions, more could have been done to explain the relative contributions of the many other factors affecting harriers, in particular golden eagle-harrier interactions, food supply and predation by foxes on nesting harriers.
    3. The accuracy of the population estimates could have been improved by not assuming a standard occupancy rate in suitable habitat and using a finer scale habitat map; an earlier report revealed that the extent of land suitable for harriers in Scotland (at the fine scale) may be 26% (rather than 42-50% in the model). At that scale the potential population size may be 931 harriers, well below the published 1467-1790.
    4. The report acknowledges that the complex interactions affecting harriers are already being explored by the UK’s hen harrier grouse management conflict resolution processes. The GWCT feels that this framework should have drawn more on these. Central to sustainable harrier conservation is the balance between maintaining heather moors, healthy food supplies and low fox predation pressure for harriers while allowing red grouse shooting to thrive and deliver these harrier requirements. These issues are recognised in the Langholm Moor Demonstration Project and Environment Council attempts to resolve the real conflict between hen harrier conservation and red grouse management.