Regular readers of this blog may remember that in March, we received the disappointing news that we’d lost our legal challenge against Natural England’s decision to grant licenses to trial brood management of hen harriers. We believe the presiding judge Mrs Justice Lang erred and have since applied to the Court of Appeal for permission to appeal. If this is granted, we would expect to return to court before the end of year for our appeal to be heard.

Unfortunately, in the meantime, we’ve been informed that Natural England has started to trial brood management this breeding season.

Part of the Defra Hen Harrier Action Plan, brood management involves removing hen harrier eggs or chicks from driven grouse moors if there are two nests within 10km of each other, with the landowner’s permission. They are then reared in captivity and later released almost certainly at another location. This is due to concerns that hen harriers have a significant impact on the number of red grouse available for shooting.

We’ve made our objections on scientific and ethical grounds to brood management clear for many years. We believe the first step in hen harrier recovery should be the end of illegal persecution as the evidence is clear that this is the main reason driving the decline of this bird of prey. A recently published study of satellite-tagged hen harriers by Natural England revealed that 72% of these birds were either confirmed or considered very likely to have been illegally killed. Furthermore, it found that hen harriers were ten times more likely to be illegally killed on a grouse moor than anywhere else.

We have serious concerns about the legal basis for the trial and still believe that Natural England have not have fully considered “other satisfactory solutions” to an English brood management trial, for example by not fully embracing or effectively rolling out diversionary feeding.

Diversionary feeding is a tried and tested way of reducing grouse predation by hen harriers by up to 100% where food is provided near to the hen harrier’s nest whilst the chicks are being reared, thus reducing the need for predation on other species such as grouse. It also avoids significant disturbance of hen harriers hence being included as part of Defra’s own Hen Harrier Action Plan, which arguably Natural England has failed to effectively roll out.

We hope we will be given another opportunity for our legal challenge against brood management to be heard and that any brood management carried out this year won’t just be the first but it will also be the last.