Defra: Hen Harrier manipulation proposals including brood interference

Hen Harrier

Posted below are the latest details of  the proposed social science study, involving what is being termed by conservation interests as a ‘brood meddling trial’ for the restoration of Hen Harriers into parts of England which will begin next year.

The proposed detail has been submitted by Professor Steve Redpath (Aberdeen Uni & Trustee of the Hawk & Owl Trust) and Dr Freya St John (Kent Uni).

Title: Hen harrier brood management and stakeholder preferences


Dr Freya St. John, Lecturer in Conservation Social Science, Durrell Institute of Conservation & Ecology (DICE), School of Anthropology & Conservation, University of Kent. Professor Steve Redpath, Chair in Conservation Science, Institute of Biological & Environmental Sciences, University of Aberdeen


There is an ongoing conflict between grouse managers and conservation organisations over hen harriers. Harriers have virtually disappeared from England as a breeding bird. DEFRA published its Joint Action Plan to increase the English hen harrier population. One aspect of this plan deals with brood management, whereby an upper limit for hen harrier densities would be set and if densities increased beyond this level, excess broods would be reared in captivity to avoid the period of highest predation on grouse. These birds would then be released at fledging and allowed to re-join the wild population.

The perceived advantage of this approach is that it may give grouse managers the confidence to coexist with breeding hen harriers, in the understanding that harriers will be removed before they reach densities at which they become too damaging for driven grouse shooting. However, we don’t know whether this is the case, so the question we seek to explore is how do grouse managers “feel” about this approach compared to others in the Action Plan and would they be more likely to leave hen harriers to breed on their land if such a scheme was put in place? We can also explore how a brood management scheme changes perceptions by collecting the same data before and after the advent of the scheme.

Proposed study

The proposed study will investigate the prevailing perceptions of English grouse keepers, grouse moor owners and conservationists towards 1) hen harriers and their presence as a breeding bird in the English uplands, 2) preference for alternative hen harrier management strategies in the DEFRA action plan (BMS / feeding / reintroduction / enforcement & do nothing), and 3) relationships between different groups of stakeholders.

Beliefs underlie behavioural decision-making and are influenced by experiences and other developed emotions(Jochum et al. 2014). Recent work by St. John et al. (2015) identified the importance of descriptive and injunctive norms in people’s conservation decision making. Building on such work, this project will also draw on cognitive psychology in order to capture the important role that immediate emotional responses to stimuli, such as conflict species, may have on the decisions that people make. Using a questionnaire, data on respondents’ experiences and perceptions of hen harrier predation, emotional response to hen harriers, and ratings of management options will be measured. Coupled with data on estate characteristics, respondent demographics (e.g. profession, age and years of grouse management experience), this work will allow us to identify characteristics associated with levels of support for different management strategies with a special focus on brood management.

Experiences and perceptions: Open-ended questions will be used to explore respondents’ experiences of hen harriers in general, and specifically on the estate where they are currently based (if appropriate). Further, Likert-style questions will be designed to measure current perceptions of hen harriers and their perceptions of other organisations.

Emotional response: Here we will draw on cognitive psychology, specifically work on dual process models which divide human thought processes into two intertwined systems, one which is fast- acting and automatic in nature, and another which operates at a slower speed and encompasses ‘logical’ thought processes (Evans 2003). It has been argued that the fast-acting emotion-based nature of this first system works as a heuristic or decision making short-cut by providing an initial assessment of a stimulus which the second system should then contradict or reinforce. This suggests that immediate emotional responses to stimuli, such as hen harriers, may dictate the extent to which additional information (e.g. scientific data on hen harrier predation behaviour) is evaluated, and ultimately the final decision made (Slagle et al. 2012). Resolving how respondents’ emotional response to hen harriers, long associated with management-challenges, relates to their decisions to support or oppose management interventions, such as brood management, is crucial to designing effective conservation interventions.

Ratings of management options: Scenario-based questioning will be used to measure respondents’ level of support for different management options (as outlined in DEFRA action plan) and hen harrier population levels including a baseline ‘business as usual’ scenario. For example, to measure levels of support for hen harrier brood management, respondents will be asked to score the following scenario ‘An upper limit of one pair of hen harriers every 10Km2 will be set and if densities increase beyond this level, excess broods will be removed from the estate and reared in captivity away from the moor in aviaries. This will reduce grouse predation by adult hen harriers foraging for their young. Birds raised in captivity will be released at fledging to re-join the wild population’ according to three criteria: intention to support suggested management regime; perceived benefits for grouse management; and perceived benefits for the hen harrier population.

Budget & timeline

This project will last for seven months and includes questionnaire preparation, data collection, data analysis and reporting phases:

hen harrier 1


We will use a combined approach involving meetings initially with DEFRA/NE to develop questionnaire. We will then pilot it, adapt it and circulate online with the help of stakeholder organisations to get the views of land owners, keepers and conservationists. We hope that organisations will chase up their members to ensure a good return rate. Once we have the returns we will also run some follow up interviews with representatives from the organisations to ensure we understand answers given. We seek funding to support 4 months of research assistant time and support of St. John over 7 months. Redpath seeks to cover expenses.


We will produce a report for funders and the hen harrier brood management trial group and submit the work to a peer reviewed open-access journal.

Outline Budget

Hen Harrier 2

6 comments to Defra: Hen Harrier manipulation proposals including brood interference

  • Albert Ross

    Total madness. I can do the same job for nothing.
    1. We know how the gamekeepers will ‘feel’. They will feel that the only good Hen Harrier is a dead one!
    2. enforcement & do nothing, Put the emphasis on ‘enforcement’ and prosecute!
    Don’t be so bloody naive! See 1 above!
    4. Easy. Stop breaking the law or the country will stop your bloody sport!
    Simple answer. Leave the Hen Harriers and other raptors alone OR face total disruption and no driven grouse.

    No budget. Outline or otherwise. Use it to fund bringing perpetrators to justice. Sizeable punitive fines against the estate and the whole scheme becomes self funding.
    You don’t need a bloody “Uni” education to work all that out!
    Do UK taxpayers actually fund these idiots?

    • TerryP

      The government have to look that they are doing something even if it’s a waste of time, and money. At leat one or two scientist will get paid even if it flops as it will.

  • Albert Ross

    It is a proposed study?
    Chuck the proposal out. Refuse to fund it. Simple! Let them find a better way!
    Start the objections now!

  • paul williams

    If they are left alone to breed..they will breed….There is absolutely no need for a scientific study!!!!

  • Alastair Henderson

    As I understand matters everyone is aware of the illegal persecution of BoP in general, however, the problem for both sides is to resolve the conflict posed by continued persecution on the one hand given the difficulties of ‘the burden of proof’ on the other.
    NE in the Technical Assessment of applications to kill Common Buzzards acknowledges that there are many which are killed illegally [but are unable to prove how many except when a gamekeeper is caught out and successfully prosecuted]! The same applies to all species of BoP no doubt.
    The proposed study is an attempt to resolve the conflict. It is too simplistic to say stop all illegal persecution and the problem goes away.
    Gamekeepers are inured to destroying those predators killed legally hence, to them, life is cheap regardless of legality / illegality if they take that risk.

  • Albert Ross

    With great respect that is tackling the problem from the wrong end.
    Burglars are inured to breaking into houses and stealing. Muggers make their living by stealing in the street. But I don’t see the public or the police taking the attitude that people can get away with a certain amount of criminality and it is to ‘be expected’.
    By that argument we should not carry money and leave our house unlocked at night.
    There is NO conflict to resolve! Just criminal activity and there is only one way to stop that! Catch the criminals and prosecute. Zero tolerance!
    Burglars, Muggers, Mobile phone users in cars and those shooting protected species are all criminals.
    I am not inured to seeing the law being broken with impunity!

    Interesting article only this week regarding cruelty on Game rearing farms.
    Game is not ‘livestock’ when it comes to cruelty but it is when it comes to protecting them from predation. Something not quite right there!