DEFRA’s Joint lack of ‘Action’ A failure to bring the root cause of Hen Harrier killing to an end first.


Stephen Murphy National Hen Harrier Coordinator holding satellite tagged Harrier which after fledging disappeared.

Like many of our followers we were very disappointed after reading the 6 point action plan proposed by DEFRA intended to restore the hen harrier population back to their normal levels in England. A glaring omission made by DEFRA’s proposals in our opinion, was the fact there was no strategy included in the plan designed to stamp out the root cause of hen harrier losses from moorland where red grouse are shot. If something doesn’t work or is broken common sense dictates the first consideration must be to isolate the damage and repair it before any other priority. It is important to remind ourselves the disappearance of the hen harrier from England’s uplands was brought about by the intentional criminal activities of rogue gamekeepers. The law does not provide excuses or appeasement to those criminals who break into our homes or commit other forms of illegal activities, so why is DEFRA bending over backwards to accommodate the criminals who illegally target and kill hen harriers in the first place?

Listed below are submissions submitted to Raptor Politics by just two of our followers, who like ourselves are very disappointed with DEFRA’s conciliatory and feeble proposals, which many of you feel offer no solution to resolving the hen harrier crisis.

Comment 1.

  • Point 1. Monitoring of hen harriers already takes place so nothing new there, except they continue to disappear on a regular basis along with their satellite trackers.
  • Point no 2 Diversionary feeding on grouse moors. It won’t make any difference to keepers they will still kill harriers. Example 2014, Syke & Hope. 2016, 5 male hen harriers missing from moorland in the Forest of Bowland and the northern Pennines
  • Point 3 Analyse monitoring data and build intelligence picture = We already have an intelligent picture, talking whilst more harriers are killed.
  • Point 4 Nest and winter site protection, how does DEFRA propose to do this to ensure it works to the benefit of the hen harrier? It certainly has not worked so far, see point 2.
  • Point 5 Reintroduce harriers to southern England. Any harriers reintroduced will probably come straight back to their homes on northern grouse moors. Why should this have to happen just to appease the shooting industry in the first place?
  • Point 6 Raptor study groups have already told DEFRA and Natural England it’s a waste of time and money if these birds are then shot. Isn’t it like placing the cart before the horse?

I suggest DEFRA, Natural England and the RSPB grow a backbones and confront the illegalities within the shooting industry head on instead of weasel words and complicity about action plans that will never work. Appeasing the shooting industry is doomed to failure just like the failure of Neville Chamberlain proposals he handed to Adolf Hitler and his nazis.

Comment 2

All the government needs to do is make the landowners responsible for illegal raptor persecution on their land. If a tagged hen harrier, for example a male supporting a nesting female goes missing then the landowner on who’s property the hen harrier was last recorded should be prosecuted.

The relevant estate should then be banned from all grouse shooting activities for a significant period – as has happened recently in Scotland I believe. If the hen harrier died of natural causes the liability to provide the proof should be on the landowner – present the bird for analysis. This is why I believe grouse moors should be licensed. Same applies to Peregrines, Goshawks and Short-eared Owls.

5 comments to DEFRA’s Joint lack of ‘Action’ A failure to bring the root cause of Hen Harrier killing to an end first.

  • Alastair Henderson

    I had understood that the RSPB had withdrawn its support for this plan?
    What agreement has been struck which now prompts their participation?
    Wildlife conservation often prompts conflicts which if not tackled can only be disastrous for those species being illegally persecuted.
    Given the participation of the RSPB can we now be assured that the plan will deliver?
    Kind regards

  • ros berrington

    Somehow this plan sounds more than vaguely familiar.I am struggling to find anything new in it.Without vicarious liability and much greater scrutiny of how Grouse moors are managed this is all pretty pointless and it angers me that so much time,energy and money will be wasted whilst Hen Harriers will continue to be killed in the name of driven grouse shooting.

    • Terry Pickford, North West Raptor Protection Group

      Ros we totally agree, these proposals will do nothing to prevent the hen harrier being totally destroyed. But there again what should we expect from this Westminster government?

      We feel it will be significant to discover if male hen harriers away from their nests this year will once again be targeted. Just as important, it will be interesting to see if the RSPB put a strategy in place to ensure any abandoned eggs contained in nests they are protecting are safeguarded this year, placing them into strategically placed incubators! Surely they will not make the same mistake twice?

      • Keith Cowieson


        I made a similar suggestion about contingency planning for this season to Martin Harper last June (see below), and elsewhere, but no reply and nothing seen or heard since…..


        Setting aside all the other major and peripheral issues here, it strikes me that some sort of contingency planning to counter a repetition of this situation is definitely now in order. So far 5 (presumably viable), clutches of HH eggs have been lost this year – perhaps 20 to 30 potential young harriers?

        Therefore, I suggest that next year contingency plans are in place that would allow abandoned clutches (or young) to be collected as soon as it is suspected that the parents have deserted the nest, for whatever reason. An action timeline, adjustable for various temperature/weather conditions, could easily be developed for triggering the contingency plan. The eggs/young could then be placed in pre-positioned incubators/aviaries to allow the brood to be raised before release back into the wild when mature enough. And dummy eggs could be placed in the nest just in case the parents return unexpectedly.

        Central positioning of such resources, and training of volunteers/contracting out of the task to suitably qualified individuals/agencies, should be easy enough to organise over the autumn-winter period and I’m sure NE could be persuaded to issue ‘dormant’ licences to expedite any such process.

        Let’s not allow valuable HH clutches to go to waste in future, after all we know that Proper-Planning-Prevents-Poor-Performance. And this by the way is no criticism of the teams on the ground, simply a suggested response to unexpected developments”.

  • Terry Pickford, North West Raptor Protection Group

    Keith, I am disappointed Martin Harper did not reply to your sound and valid suggestions, he should have done so out of courtesy. However, this does not mean that the RSPB have not been arranging contingency plans along the lines that we have suggested, indeed it would be foolish and irresponsible if the RSPB had not already done so.

    The problem is the RSPB’s lack the expertise and resources when it comes to providing and managing incubators together with any eggs that are collected and placed inside incubators. I concur, this should be handled by an outside professional captive breeding agency in order to avoid any costly and inappropriate mistakes with any eggs removed from their nests. I have serious doubts that any active hen harrier nests found this year would last long enough to hatch their eggs. This raises another potential problem, I believe the RSPB would not be over eager to cooperate with a professional captive breeding establishment, despite the benefits for the hen harrier in doing so. I just hope I am wrong in this belief.

    We must both hope that common sense and logic are placed in front of any politics here.