Why the Hawk & Owl Trust are wrong about Hen Harrier Brood Management

The recent support for a hen harrier brood management scheme by the Hawk & Owl Trust at a time when hen harriers in England are on the verge of extinction brings into serious question the integrity of the Trust. Who would such a proposal at this delicate time advantage? Certainly not the hen harrier because we believe any harriers which then make their way back to moorlands in northern England after being artificially reared would certainly quickly disappear. Throughout the many years the hen harrier debate has been ongoing, the shooting community have made not one single concession which would assist the hen harrier’s return in any reasonable number onto moorland where red grouse are shot. We urge our followers to read the NERF Press Statement published on 21st January this year. These wise words sum up and reflect the feelings of most experienced raptor workers across the country at this time.

hen harrier terry-

Brood management should only be considered when the killing stops, with a minimum of 70 breeding pairs re-established on red grouse moors throughout northern England.

Public Statements

NERF Statement issued 21/1/2015 in response to Hawk and Owl Trust Position on Brood Management of nesting Hen Harrier which can be found Here 

Brood Management for Hen Harriers

-the wrong solution at the wrong time 


The Northern England Raptor Forum is very concerned to learn through the present debate on social media that the Hawk & Owl Trust is considering its involvement in what we view as the premature application of artificial brood management for Hen Harriers breeding on the upland grouse moors of northern England. We urge the Hawk & Owl Trust not to facilitate this wholly inappropriate technique which is contrary to the principles of sound conservation for a scarce and endangered species. The Hawk & Owl Trust’s involvement in such a scheme at this stage would seem to jeopardise their independence and pander to the undue pressures of the shooting lobby.

NERF believes that the primary objective must be to see the population of the Hen Harrier in England reach a viable and sustained recovery by its own accord, with adequate protection against illegal persecution and through the application of acceptable techniques such as supplementary feeding at the nest. As a minimum we would expect to see the upland Special Protection Areas, protected under EU Directives, demonstrably supporting their designated populations of Hen Harrier. Across the whole region we’d expect to have at least 70 breeding pairs, below which published reports show there would be no economic impact on Red Grouse numbers. Only when this threshold is reached should the case for brood management be considered.

Overall we have concerns that brood management, particularly at this stage, is contrary to the guidance on wild bird translocation, holding them in captivity and their release into a safe and suitable habitat as set out in the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) guidance

Paul Irving, Chairman of the Northern England Raptor Forum said, “The population of the Hen Harrier in northern England is under serious threat and the species is at risk of becoming extinct as a breeding species. This is a truly appalling situation. A wide range of protection measures are needed and needed now but brood management, whilst numbers are so low, would represent unacceptable interference and manipulation of these wild and majestic birds simply for the sake of grouse shooting interests.”

25 comments to Why the Hawk & Owl Trust are wrong about Hen Harrier Brood Management

  • Terry Pickford, North West Raptor Protection Group

    No one can argue with the points raised above by NERF. Lets stop the killing first and allow the hen harrier to establish a viable breeding population in northern England before considering other options.

  • Paul Tresto

    Hen Harrier (and Peregrine) should be left alone to recover on our moorlands naturally. In the case of the Hen Harrier hundreds of thousands of pounds of public money have been spent (wasted!) trying to aid the recovery. Unfortunately the illegal persecution continues – two of the tagged UU 2014 young HH are already dead; all indications are that these were shot in the vicinity of grouse moors. Nearly all the HH tagged in recent times have been killed on and around moorland managed for grouse shooting. The grouse moor owners (with exception of United Utilities and a few smaller moors), shooting syndicates and the game keepers clearly do not want HH and Peregrine and will continue to persecute them as long as they keep getting away with it. The only solution is to remove the cause – ban driven grouse shooting in England as soon as possible. Some game keepers may lose their jobs – but they have only themselves (and their employers to blame).

  • Falcoscot

    It’s reasonable to say that persecution is the main issue here but to completely discount nest management as part of a conservation plan, in my opinion, is wrong. We’ve already seen human intervention with the Red Kite and the Osprey, why is the Hen Harrier any different ?

    • nirofo

      “why is the Hen Harrier any different ?”

      Simple answer, it lives on grouse moors !!!

      Editor’s Comment. Nirofo, The correct answer is, it dies on grouse moors!!!

    • Circus maxima

      Brood management would be part of an appeasement plan..it has nothing to do with a conservation plan. If it is tried and the criminals stick to their word then there may be a few more harriers….but our moorland habitats will continue to be impoverished wastelands. Then will come the call for brood management for falcons, then short-eared owls…..
      The harrier has a tremendous capacity to make a come back, no interference needed, it just needs to be left alone.

      Editor’s Comment. Very wise words indeed, lets just hope the H&OT listen and take on board what you have stated. The problem with brood management it offers no guarantees that once any chicks produced have fledged back onto red grouse moors they will be left in peace. There is also very little doubt that the majority of estates will NOT support the return of any harriers on to their property. There is absolutely no point in propagating any hen harrier when we know they are likely to be killed anyway. Stop the killing must be a first step.

  • nirofo

    Rather than HOT and others falling over themselves in the rush to appease the shooting fraternity with ridiculous non workable projects like brood management of virtually non existent Hen Harriers, it would make more sense to push for a stop to all grouse shooting until a viable self sufficient number of harriers have re-established themselves on the moorlands. Obviously this would mean that the gamekeepers would have to restrain themselves from committing illegal Raptor persecution wouldn’t it, would they do it, I doubt it. Would the shooting estate owners bend over backwards to the same extent as we have been doing in their attempts to appease us, we all know the answer to that one !!!

  • John Miles

    With exception of United Utilities – Where are the Eagle Owls now!!!
    The kill what they want.

  • Falcoscot

    Dont think its realistic to expect we’re ever going to see hundreds of thousands of acres of moorland left for the sole use of wildlife, it’s never going to happen. Stop grouse shooting and a lot of these areas will end up under commercial forestry or wind turbines and destruction of habitat is far worse than an keeper can do.
    The Courts making examples of people who persecute raptors, like we’ve just seen, will make a difference and if the shooting industry can see they aren’t going to wipe certain raptor species out because there are people who are prepared to go to the effort to put them back, that will have an effect too.
    I find it hard to understand the anti HOTand their proposal as I’ve been reading on here for the last couple of years or so that the Hen Harrier is virtually extinct in England. If any group of birds is suitable for nest management it’s raptors, 80% of raptors perish in their first winter, there is a huge surplus that could be used to offset those taken out of the population illegally. The Red Kite, Osprey, Goshawk, White Tailed Sea Eagle, Little Owl, none of these species would be seen in the numbers they are today without direct input from human beings.There is a a big difference between conservation and protection !

    • nirofo

      You said it yourself, the Hen Harrier is virtually extinct in England, the cause is obvious, Raptor persecution on an industrial scale at the hands of the shooting estates and their gamekeepers. It’s a no brainer that before brood management can even be considered the illegal killing of Hen Harriers has to stop and the birds have to be allowed to breed naturally in order to produce any young.

  • paul williams

    Broods should be managed by the parent birds…End of… Tim Melling blames the Eagle Owls for killing Hen Harriers!!!

    Editor’s Comment.Tim Melling may claim the Eagle Owls have killed hen harriers, but where is the definitive proof? We have seen no evidence of this.

    • nirofo

      I think we all know the main cause of Hen harrier (and Eagle Owl) deaths is gamekeepers. Let’s put it this way, if the Harriers were allowed to breed normally the odd one taken by Eagle Owls would make little difference. In any case the lack of either species on grouse moors makes it irrelevant.

  • Falcoscot

    I’m part of a group of people who used to have the finger pointed at them for raptor persecution so I know what it takes to turn it around. Grouse shooting will never be banned neither should it as the alternative land use is even more a threat to wildlife.
    The more Hen Harriers in the air and the more that are illegally killed the more the wrong doers are exposing themselves to prosecution. My feeling is that you kill one we will put ten back, you kill ten we’ll put one hundred back and eventually the criminals will all either have served or be serving jail sentences.
    Talk is cheap, action takes a lot of energy and hard work.

    • nirofo

      “Grouse shooting will never be banned neither should it as the alternative land use is even more a threat to wildlife.”

      Red Grouse shooting IS the biggest threat to wildlife and the environment on the moorlands and uplands, it’s worse now than it ever was. Show me a commercial grouse moor that has any Goshawks, Peregrines, Hen Harriers, Short-eared Owls etc, successfully breeding on or around it on a regular basis. Show me a commercial grouse moor that hasn’t disturbed the water table by drainage, put in many new access roads, burned the heather constantly. Without grouse shooting the moorlands could eventually be brought back to life and made to support many forms of wildlife again, unfortunately while it’s in an unnatural monocultured wilderness state man made for the overpopulated Red Grouse at the expense of all other species it will never happen.

      The selfish grouse shooting fraternity will eventually bring their own outdated blood sport to an end themselves, basically their steady destruction of the moorland environment and it’s wildlife and their unwillingness to allow anything other than Red Grouse to thrive on the moors will be their undoing, it may take a while but it will happen.

  • Tony Phillips

    I cannot help but agree with Falcoscot when he says the banning of grouse shooting would be a threat to wildlife. It must be obvious to everyone that without the grouse moors waging war on foxes, stoats, weasels, owls, corvids, mountain hares and sundry raptors, it would be disastrous for wildlife. And who on earth would set fire to the moors and build hill tracks and force feed drugs to grouse? How nature has ever managed without gamekeepers is totally beyond me. National heroes the lot of them.

    • nirofo

      And now you see why the quickest way to destroy the moorlands and it’s wildlife is to support commercial Red Grouse shooting !!!

  • Tony Phillips

    More seriously have I read the NERF statement correctly? NERF would consider brood management when hen harriers reach 70 breeding pairs in upland SPAs? Is this not appeasement also?

    • nirofo

      How can it be classed as appeasement, it would take a bloody miracle to reach 70 breeding pairs in upland SPA’s if the shooting estates have anything to do with it.

  • paul williams

    Leave the Hen Harriers alone..No need for brood management. Gamekeeper persecution needs to be addressed first and foremost.

  • Falcoscot

    Just take a trip up to Caithness and have a look at Camster moor if you want to see a future without grouse shooting.

    • nirofo

      Camster moor was very heavily planted with conifers in the great 80’s tax evasion rush even though there were several SSSI’s and 5000+ years old archaeological burial mounds, (Camster Cairns) in the area. It was also an area which had at least 2 inland Arctic Skua nesting colonies, these now have windfarms on them. The area was never a commercial Red Grouse shooting area, it was made up of mainly flow bog with some good areas of heather. Yes, Hen Harriers did breed there, they still do !!!

  • Falcoscot

    OR Dallas moor in Moray, 8000 acres of Commercial forestry with wind turbines and more to come, great habitat for raptors eh !

  • paul williams

    World Hen Harrier trust..Yes, World ( owl) trust???.No…. I don’t think so…Above your station boys.

  • Tony Phillips

    Nirofo. Quite agree, a bloody miracle indeed. But that’s not really an answer to my question about NERF and their apparent willingness to accept brood management is it?
    Falcoscot. You are just trundling out the same old tired arguments to justify grouse shooting and to promote the myth that the shooting fraternity are the guardians of our wildlife and natural heritage. I doubt very much if the world will be covered by conifers and wind turbines if grouse shooting ended today. All we hear from grouse shooters is poor science,twisted statistics and scare-mongering of what would be without them.

  • Falcoscot

    Tony, Habitat destruction is the main threat to raptors, commercial forestry and wind turbines. Have you seen Camster and Dallas moor Tony, have you read the Scottish Governments policy on forestry planning and renewable energy, if you haven’t I would suggest you do and then see how that compares with grouse shooting and it’s land use.
    We need to protect raptors and stop their persecution but a ban on grouse shooting isn’t going to happen, focusing on that does nothing to solve the problems faced by the Hen Harrier today, increasing the population through nest management might.

  • nirofo

    Falcoscot you seem to be consistently missing the point, whether that’s by design or because of your unwillingness to accept that grouse moors are very bad for Raptors and the environment is debatable. Before you can even consider brood management there have to be broods to manage, the shooting estates will never allow that to happen. Even if a few estates did allow a few Hen Harriers to be “brood managed”, as soon as the young were able to leave for pastures new, (AKA other grouse moors) they would be blasted out of the sky and the whole sorry routine would have to be restarted again, you know that’s a fact! The grouse shooting estates have had years to get their act sorted and put a stop to their criminal activities, they’ve done absolutely nothing so far and don’t even look like doing so. Appeasement has become the norm in dealing with virtually all the shooting estates, where has that got us, a big fat zilch? Raptor persecution is now carried out at will without any recourse to the wildlife protection or hazardous substances laws, still the police will do nothing to stop it and the shooting estates know it.