For a number of years the breeding population of hen harrier has been on the brink – even failing to breed in England in 2013.
The RSPB had been part of an Environment Council-led process to resolve the conflict between hen harrier conservation and grouse moor management. It was clear that, while providing a forum for increased understanding between different groups, this had not resulted in the necessary action: a different approach was therefore needed. In May 2012 (see here) we wrote to Defra and Natural England to urge them to lead and fund a comprehensive conservation plan for hen harriers, endorsed by stakeholders, including landowning and shooting organisations. Later on that year I published a blog by my colleague, Jude Lane, about the death of a hen harrier known as Bowland Betty. It was an emotional report from someone working on the front line of hen harrier conservation and even prompted a call to Jude from the then Environment Minister, Richard Benyon. That phone call and subsequent conversations with Defra officials gave us the belief that they recognised the seriousness of the issue. And it’s one of the reasons why we stuck with the difficult debate on the Action Plan. Today, after challenging and lengthy negotiations, this plan is published. You can read it here.
Image courtesy of Guy Shorrock
I welcome this plan - not because it is perfect, it isn’t - but because it reflects real potential for progress on one of the most deep-rooted conflicts in conservation.
The plan has two main objectives: "The hen harrier has a self-sustaining and well dispersed breeding population in England across a range of habitats including a viable population present in the Special Protected Areas designated for hen harrier; and the harrier population coexists with local business interests and its presence contributes to a thriving rural economy".
We shall play our part in making it a success, of course focussing on tackling the primary reason for the hen harrier's adverse conservation status - illegal persecution. Our ultimate goal is to secure recovery for hen harriers, while recognising that this is only one aspect of a wider range of impacts of current land management practices in our uplands.
Last year we provided a home for over 60 pairs of hen harriers throughout the UK and invested in the EU match-funded Hen Harrier LIFE Project, which combines satellite tagging, on-the-ground monitoring, nest protection, investigations work, awareness-raising, and working with volunteer raptor field workers, landowners and local communities to protect hen harriers across northern England and southern & eastern Scotland.
Image courtesy of Dom Greves
There are still lots of hurdles to overcome, especially regarding the long-term funding of monitoring and enforcement programmes, but also regarding the detail of proposed lowland reintroduction, its fit with IUCN guidelines, and the legal basis and thresholds for any trial brood management scheme. As set out in a blog by our chief exec last year, we think there are significant legal, ethical and practical questions to answer, but we’ve not said never to brood management.
The public profile of the plight of the hen harrier has rightly grown over recent years and there will understandably be a lot of interest on the detail of this plan. The detail matters, but we also need everyone to work together to implement the plan – its success will ultimately be judged by whether more hen harriers breed in England. The RSPB is committed to working in partnerships to deliver the changes needed to restore the health of our uplands and we hope many others will share these aims and be willing to work together to secure a better future for them.
What do you think of the Hen Harrier Action Plan?
It would be great to hear your views.
Welcome is hardly a term I would use in respect of this plan. But clearly as there is no end in sight to illegal persecution, something has to be done. I have previously argued that its time has come - nothing else has happened to improve the lot of the hen harrier (or other birds of prey) on and around most grouse moors. But the plan must be used as a serious test of the shooting community's oft quoted conservation credentials and the claim that it is the only way way to increase hen harrier numbers. The latter seems to infer some degree of control over persecution - what else will affect hen harrier numbers significantly, especially as grouse moors are described as havens for wildlife because of predator control. So, this breeding season we can expect a significant increase in nesting attempts and breeding success in Northern England as all parties work together to implement the plan. And certainly some serious questions have to be asked about the terms and objectives of any brood management. There must be a signficant increase in hen harrier numbers first and translocation to lowland sites cannot be used as a proxy for success in terms of numbers.
And I have signed the ban driven grouse shooting petition. Not because I am an anti-shooting, vegan, animal rights, out of touch with rural life, economic dimwit townie (I am none of these!) but because I see the ever-increasing intensification of land management that drives driven grouse shooting as economically and environmentally unsustainable. But it is legal and I am a law-abiding citizen so I will stick to supporting the case for change to a land use that is economically and environmentally friendlier.I hope that implementation of this plan also encourages that debate as well for the long term well-being of our hen harriers, wider bio-diversity and the rural economy.
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