Blogger: Erica Howe, Communications Manager

We reported on some rather shocking news this week. The hen harrier is the bird most likely to become extinct in England because of human pressure. I’ve only ever seen a hen harrier once; on a visit to RSPB Titchwell Marsh last Christmas. As I stood on the path i was freezing with the bitter wind blowing through my rather unsuitable, not-very-winterproof-coat! My eyes were watery with the cold and i was trying desperately to ignore the darkness that was starting to fall upon me. I spent ages scouring over the reedbeds for barn owls, stubbornly trying to catch a glimpse of my favourite bird.  From the distance a pale, slow figure appeared from behind the silhouted trees. As it glided over the reedbeds trying to get some much-needed food before settling for the night, I realised that this was no barn owl. For no more than five minutes, I was privaledged enough to stand and watch a hen harrier. For those five minutes, the cold evaporated and the wind held its breath. It was a priceless experience.

Now, when i think back to that day at Titchwell, it puts my experience into a whole new light. The chances are, I won’t see another hen harrier in England. Certainly not in such unexpected circumstances.   When i think about the significance of that cold afternoon it makes me so very sad. Wildlife numbers will fluctuate; we live in a fast-changing world and ups and downs will be a way of life. But, to drive a species to extinction is unforgivable.  

Bird crime is mindless criminality, plain and simple. However, It will be a very real contribution to the demise of such a stunning creature. The hen harrier is just one species struggling for survival in a time when we are supposed to be putting our faith in the ‘greenest government ever’. Quite frankly, they are failing miserably.  If the hen harrier disappears from England, we will witness the government breaking its recent commitment to avoid any human-induced extinctions before 2020.

Well George Osbourne should certainly be pleased with himself. In a season of goodwill and peace on earth, he has left a huge black cloud over the future of our environment. His recent attack on the habitat regulations was disappointing to say the least. It certainly won’t do birds like the hen harrier any favours.

I never thought that our environment and the wildlife that lives in it could change so dramatically in my lifetime. There will be birds that my grandchildren may never get to see. There will be habitats that are forever lost to development that my grandchildren may never get to walk amongst. Yes, it makes me very sad, but it also fills me with confidence to think that there is still something we can do about it. Visit to find out how.

Article in EDP on Saturday 17 December.

Photo by Andy Hay (rspb images)

  • Simon,signed relatively early,unfortunately OH could not sign as they would not let her use the same e-mail address which is really unfortunate.

    Agree about the government should do something but they have not had much time compared to previous governments of both party's,I don't think they will anyway but worth us all trying to put pressure on,there are probably two problems 1)they are probably similar people of to put  it simply of similar clique,2)the sentences passed on all criminal activity are very small and wildlife crime probably gets sentences reflecting this.When on holiday on Mull in September we saw what was a family probably of at least 4 Hen Harriers in the distance all female that we were struggling to identify until we got the scope set up then we could see they were either all female or young ones or combination all with ringtail which describes them but really a white rump I would think.Always really nice to see them on Mull and of course do not think any Grouse shooting there.

  • You both have a chance to influence this government to introduce a law of vicarious liability as the Scottish government have already done. Ensuring those who direct such crimes are brought to justice.

  • Thanks for your comment Sooty. I think you have a very valid point.

    There are plenty of people/groups that we could blame for the sad demise of the hen harrier. And, yes you're right, a big part of this problem is the historical persecution of this and many other birds of prey. However, i disaggree that this article is merely a 'political ploy'.  The Government at present have a lot to do with the situation we find ourselves in. They are doing good things to tackle the problem of bird crime, but it's not enough and they are, quite literally, letting people get away with it scott free.  If our present Government start relaxing the legal protection of our countryside then it will have a detrimental impact on all other facets of UK wildlife, including birds of prey.

    The startling figures that show the decline in hen harrier numbers is something that we've inherited, you're right about that. But, someone needs to do something about it. Our Government need to lead by example and make some significant changes or the hen harrier won't be the only bird we lose forever.

  • Well that is in one way a very poor article as to blame this government for possible extinction of He Harrier is stretching things to the extreme.Please blame some estate owners,some gamekeepers for the persecution and previous governments for not having laws and penalties in place to try and combat it but these type of articles are really just political ploys put out to bash the present government and have absolutely no relevance to Hen Harrier extinction.

    Think you do yourself and RSPB a disservice associating yourselves with it.

    Please lets concentrate on the problem if we are talking about H H extinction as it is a big enough problem that is a century old at least and lets not make the confusion worse.

    The green government is a entirely different subject and nothing to do with it.