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

This important story is being republished here for  a second time because a number of our followers have voiced concerns that DEFRA’s 6 point proposals will do nothing to advance the cause of the Hen Harrier. Importantly, DEFRA have not addressed the root cause behind the loss of Hen Harriers from moorland in northern England where red grouse are shot, i.e., persecution. The second reason we are republishing is to provide our followers an opportunity to read the important comments below. Several individuals have added their comments about possible RSPB proposals/or lack of, suitable contingency plans this season to save deserted eggs found in any abandoned Hen Harrier nests brought about by the disappearance of male Hen Harriers which had been servicing breeding females. Last year 5 male Hen Harriers disappeared, presumed shot, resulting in at least 4 occupied nests containing eggs being abandoned and their eggs allowed to go cold. No one wants to see a repetition of this waste of eggs that could have been saved.


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 unhappy 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 Hen 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 Hen 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?

We suggest DEFRA, Natural England together with 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.

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

  • Adam L

    Excellent letter Terry. Why not send it again saying that you assume that your letter was not seen or was overlooked the first time ? Don’t allow yourself to be ignored. ?

  • Terry Pickford, North West Raptor Protection Group


    Sorry to tell you I did not write the letter to Martin Harper, it was Keith Cowieson. However I agree Keith should resend the letter to Martin, this time recorded delivery. I am sure Keith will see my reply to you here and take up your suggestion.


  • Keith Cowieson

    Terry, Adam,

    This was not a letter sent in the conventional sense, but posted on Martin Harper’s blog in June last year. I did bring it up with other RSPB officials last summer as well, so here’s hoping there is some cunning but confidential plan being cooked up out there.

    What you say Terry about there being ‘institutional’ reluctance to co-operate with professional captive breeding establishments rings true. For example, a couple years ago when involved in chough nest protection in Cornwall, I came across a fresh chough’s egg, laid away from the nest on a cliff slope, by a relatively inexperienced female in her 1st/2nd breeding season – photo sent separately. (Inexperienced choughs are not very good parents and their record in rearing young, successfully, not great).

    I called it in and suggested that I or someone else should collect the egg and take it to a nearby wildlife park that had been involved in attempting to re-introduce the chough to the south-west through a captive breeding and release programme. (Subsequently involved in the successful reintroduction of the chough to Jersey). The idea being that the young bird could then be reintroduced to a successful nest when the chicks were being ringed later in the season. At that stage the Cornish chough population numbered only 5-6 pairs, so I felt that any and every effort to boost numbers would help. The idea was passed up the chain, but a firm instruction not to do so came back down, without further explanation. The egg was left in situ, and not surprisingly disappeared subsequently – the headland in question was also home to herring gull, jackdaw and raven and adjoined farm and scrubland with foxes and no doubt rats and other scavenger populations.

    All that said, the successful reintroduction of the cirl bunting in the county through a brood management scheme involving another local zoo has been successful, so the institutional political will and expertise for such schemes does exist and has been put to good use in the recent past. Similarly, translocations of young white-tailed and golden eagles and red kites from Scotland to Ireland, and Scottish ospreys to Spain, shows what can be done.

  • Terry Pickford, North West Raptor Protection Group

    Keith, Appreciate your update, I feel it is critically important that you now send a formal letter to Martin Harper containing all the points you raised with him last year. I will tell you why I think you must do this as soon as possible. In my view there is a reasonable likelihood those responsible for killing Skye and Hope in 2014, together with the loss of 5 male Hen Harriers last year will do the same again this year if they get a chance. If there are no RSPB contingency plans in place ready to deal with the aftermath of this criminal activity i.e., abandoned clutches of eggs left to go cold following the disappearance of male hen harriers ONCE AGAIN, this would amount to negligence and incompetence at the very least.

    Any eggs rescued from abandoned nests and placed into incubators to hatch could then be hacked into the wild in line with DEFRA’s proposals for the south of England. Let me explain the rationale behind my controversial suggestion. We know the reasons why DEFRA would never sanction the reintroduction of fledged hen harriers on grouse moors in the north of England, these birds would quickly disappear presumed to have been shot. All hen harrier eggs placed into incubators which then hatch must each be fitted with a satellite tag before being hacked into the wild in the south of England. Now the important part; these harriers must ALL be tracked to establish what happens to them after fledging. If any or all the harriers make their way back onto grouse moors in the north of England and survive for more than eighteen months or longer, this may establish DERFA’s plans are worth considering. On the other hand if a majority of harriers released in the south make their way north onto grouse moors then subsequently disappear along with their trackers, this would clearly establish the futility of DEFRA’s proposals for the south of England once and for all.

    One last consideration, at least some of the fledglings hacked in the south of England may not venture north onto grouse moors in the first instance, at least not for a few years. They may cross the channel into France or elsewhere before returning to England. A number may also die naturally or be killed, but at least this would be determined by data obtained from each tracker which would then either prove or disprove the validity of DEFRA’s release proposal.

    What ever happens to breeding hen harriers this year on England’s northern uplands, making the best use of all harriers raised in captivity obtained from rescued eggs is well worth exploring in the way I have suggested, I would hope you would agree?

  • Keith Cowieson

    Makes perfect sense to me, I will re-engage with Martin.

    • Adam L

      I am glad to hear that Keith is going to re-engage with Martin and the RSPB, well done! And well said Terry. I do hope that this year 24 hour protection will be given at and around all nesting sites. Couldn’t the Army be involved in this? they have been used in the past to protect Birds of prey. I personally think that some Harriers that were killed last year in Bowland were probably killed at night and 24 hour protection is essential.

  • ros berrington

    Although I have not been at all happy with the idea of Brood Management,your points Terry have really made me think along the same lines.At least in this way we could have further knowledge of Hen Harrier movements and on whether DEFRA’s plans in any way help the plight of Hen Harriers.Over to the R.S.P.B to put these contingency plans into action before 2O16 breeding season.

    Editor’s Comments. Hi Ros, yes until Terry Pickford’s proposed his idea for the gathering any abandoned eggs, a result of more male hen harriers being lost, we were not in favour of brood management either; however his strategy makes a lot of logical sense. We doubt very much that the RSPB will be caught with their trousers down for a second season. It will as Terry says be important for the RSPB to liaise with a professional captive breeding organisation who are today leading the way in this important field.