Earlier in the week, my colleague Jude Lane posted a blog about the shooting of a hen harrier 74843; we knew her as Bowland Betty. I promised to return to the subject to let you know what we are doing, what else needs to be done to make sure Betty’s death marks a turning point in the fortunes of her species and what you can do to help.

The killing of any bird of prey is just wrong and we here at the RSPB, the Government and society as a whole, must step up for hen harriers and other species threatened by illegal activity, and stamp it out. Government, society and the RSPB have vital roles in stopping the assult on hen harriers which is on the verge of driving them out of England, for a second time - I’d like to set out exactly what I think they are.

The RSPB will continue to work to see a recovery in hen harrier numbers and range. We’ve done a lot in the past, particularly in the Bowland Fells (in partnership with United Utilities), but this has not been enough to halt the decline. We will therefore do more. We don’t know what the 2013 breeding season will bring, but in England it is clear that every hen harrier nest will be incredibly significant. We will do all we can to protect nests, wherever they turn up. That is unlikely to be enough. We need to protect hen harriers away from their breeding grounds, and we have ideas as to how to do this. I’ll share when I can.

We will continue to seek solutions to the harrier’s plight in the corridors of power. Central to the fight against illegal persecution is effective legal protection for wildlife (I’ve covered this previously here).  We recently submitted our response to the Law Commission’s review of wildlife law in England and Wales. This review will determine how the species we value are protected, conserved and exploited for decades to come. It must also ensure that those responsible for wildlife crime – like the person who killed Betty – are held to account and properly punished. And it must address the question of how best to regulate the practice of shooting, given the clear association between bird of prey persecution and land managed for driven grouse shooting. Take a look at the challenge from my colleague, Dave Hoccom, to the Law Commission here, or read our full response to the consultation here.

As you will see, we strongly support the introduction of vicarious liability, as we did in Scotland. This isn’t a magic bullet to solving persecution, but it would mean that those responsible for land where persecution can be proven to have taken place could be held accountable for the actions of employees.

We know that a large number of RSPB supporters responded to this consultation. If you were one of those people, thank you – you have shown the Law Commission that there is strong support for the law to work harder for our wildlife. I will keep you updated as to the Commission’s recommendations for reform as they emerge in the spring - and we may need to call on you to ensure that they are carried through to meaningful action.

It is not just about what the RSPB can do – we need the UK Government and its agencies to step up for hen harriers too. In due course, we need government to act on the recommendations of both the Environmental Audit Committee and the Law Commission, and ensure wildlife laws are improved. In the meantime, Government needs to produce an emergency recovery plan for hen harriers, and find the resources to implement it. It must also reform the policing of wildlife crime. As Jude said in her blog earlier this week, securing the future of the National Wildlife Crime Unit (NWCU) is a vital first step. Newly-elected Police & Crime Commissioners (P&CCs) in persecution hotspots must ensure that new policing plans recognise the importance of tackling wildlife crime and direct police resources accordingly. And in the week that Government launches its consultation into the future of Natural England (see our response to yesteday's announcement here), we need a strong, independent champion for the natural environment that acts for nature and upholds the law.

And then there is society as a whole, including everyone who reads this blog. Hen harriers need you too. Many of you have already helped campaign for better legal protection. You can also support this action by our friends at WWF to help secure the future of the NWCU by contacting your MP. You can find out about local arrangements for highlighting the importance of tackling wildlife crime in new policing plans by contacting the office of your new P&CC. Finally, if you feel motivated to support our work to conserve hen harriers and other birds of prey, please donate to our bird of prey appeal.

Helping hen harriers recover in England and those parts of Scotland from which they are missing will not be easy. Nothing worth fighting for ever is. The RSPB is not giving up on hen harriers – quite the opposite – and I hope that you will support us in our work. Betty’s death must lead to strong action by this Government to consign illegal persecution to the history books, once and for all.

  • Martin, You know my thoughts on VL and therefore the RSPB's perceived minimal support of the petition doesn't disappoint me.   I am therefore somewhere between Tony and Redkite but share both their opinion in support of the RSPB in this.  It would be nice to see (or I should say hear) dialogue between Grouse Moor owners and the rest but, l while I support Redkite's feeling's on that, one side has to bend a bit and it is difficult to work out how.

  • Mark I am very encouraged by your words after being disappointed about RSPB's somewhat insipid support of the online VL petition for England and Wales.  The Walshaw Moor action by RSPB is also excellent so I have made a donation to the BoP Appeal.

    All power to your elbow.

    I shall be most interested to discover your ideas on how to protect Hen Harriers away from their breeding grounds.

    I notice that Mark Avery is also well into his stride over the problem on our English "Red Grouse Shooting" moors and how (possibly) to deal with it.

  • Great blog Martin. It is good to know the RSPB's approach which seems bang on to me. Of course the Hen Harrier is perhaps in the most dire situation but we must not forget these persecution issues are just as applicable to other birds of prey such as golden eagles, peregrine falcons and so on. Much as I would like the Government to decide to take a really heavy hand to stop the beastly illegal persecution in its tracks, I fear life will not be like that. Even if the law is considerably strengthened there will need to be,  at some stage, a sort of dialogue between conservationists and grouse moor owners with a view to hammering out a sort of understanding between the two parties. Such a dialogue could be facilitated by the Government. The aim should be to reach a reasonable agreement with the majority of reasonably minded grouse moor owners. Any rogue agents can then be more easily identified when they are in the minority. This is probably not a strategy that conservationists will like but I think such a strategy has to be a realistic and practical one. Other measures such as reintroduction with the aim of widening the breeding ranges into areas of less persecution I think are worth considering as part of an overall recovery plan which I am sure is needed.