A couple of weeks ago, I wrote about the disappointing news that we had lost our legal challenge of Natural England’s decision to issue licences to trial the so-called brood management scheme for hen harriers. I said then that we would take time to assess the judgement before determining next steps.

As a charity, we need to weigh up the pros and cons of any course of action and make sure that we are using our funds – generously given by our members – in a way that reflects our charitable objectives.  This takes time and can be frustrating for some, but it does mean that we consider the full ramifications of such decisions. 

The last step in the process for the RSPB to take any legal action rests with our governing Council of Trustees. Our Council met yesterday to consider our options and I’m pleased to say that, like me, they felt that there are strong grounds to appeal this judgement.

We believe that Mrs Justice Lang, who heard our challenge, erred in her judgement (which you can read here). 

We still believe that NE’s approach failed to fully consider “other satisfactory solutions” to an English brood management trial for example by not fully embracing diversionary feeding.  This is a tried and tested way of reducing grouse predation by hen harriers by up to 100%, avoids significant disturbance and is a requirement of the Defra’s Hen Harrier Action Plan, which arguably NE has failed to effectively roll out.

We also believe that NE failed to provide adequate detail about the objectives and timeline for any trial and failed to acknowledge the adverse consequences of the action on the Special Protection Areas from where the chicks could be taken.

So, what happens now?

Well, as you know legal processes can take time.  We now apply to the Court of Appeal for permission to appeal the judgement, and then, if that permission is granted, we would expect to return to court before the end of year for our appeal to be heard.

We shall continue to work closely with Mark Avery and his lawyers to complement their appeal. Although heard together in the High Court, the cases did start separately and covered different grounds, so we need to both apply for permission to appeal separately but expect (if permission is granted) for the cases to be heard together.

Any legal process can seem incredibly technocratic, but throughout this legal challenge, our minds remain focused on the conservation needs of this iconic species and, in particular, we need to think carefully about this year’s breeding season.

We want to win our legal case because brood management is fundamentally flawed.  It is about fitting nature around business rather than the other way around.

My message to Defra and to Natural England is to ditch the idea of brood management and focus the money and energy on measures which are known to work. 

One last thing…

The new context to this case is the publication last week of the study analysing hen harrier movements and their deaths or suspicious disappearances. The evidence revealed that 72% of tagged hen harriers were either confirmed as illegally killed or disappeared in circumstances in which illegal killing is the only plausible explanation.  The standout headline was the likelihood of an individual hen harrier dying, or disappearing, was ten times higher within areas predominantly covered by grouse moor, compared to areas with no grouse moors. 

We need to think again about the way our hills our managed. 

Driven grouse shooting cannot continue as it is – it’s why some call for a ban and it’s why we advocate the introduction of a licensing system for driven grouse shooting.

It’s time for change.

Images courtesy of Mark Thomas (female hen harrier) and Andy Hay (male hen harrier): rspb-images.com

  • Whatever the outcome, just because its legal doesn't mean its right.

  • Given that the Chicks will be returned to the same areas from which they are taken, what do you expect the "adverse consequences of the action on the Special Protection Areas" to be?

  • Given that the chicks will be returned to the same areas they are taken from what "adverse consequences of the action on the Special Protection Areas" do you expect?

  • Whilst I hesitate to agree that you have good grounds for appealing, the extra cost of this appeal is likely well worth it, for the publicity value alone. Natural England have been mismanaging their statutory duty, despite the possibility that they have been doing so in some cases legally, for so long that it has become commonplace and expected.