This week DEFRA that bastion of science and environmental excellence released its Action Plan for Hen Harriers in England.
In essence it boils down to an agreement with the grouse shooting lobby that they will stop killing all the Hen Harriers on English moors if they allow a minimum number of Hen Harriers to breed but that all others are forced to breed elsewhere.
It was reported favourably in the Guardian but I prefer Mark Avery’s analysis. The other website I consult when I need to know what is really going on with raptors is Raptor Persecution Scotland.
Essentially there are only two new parts of this Action Plan, all the other four elements are already happening or are so weak as to be worthless. What it boils down to is a plan for a plan with no real Action in sight.
The two new elements are brood management (managed brood persecution) and re-introduction of continental birds to the English lowlands. A third element diversionary feeding of Hen Harriers is virtually ignored even though it has been proven to drastically reduce the predation of Red Grouse and is the obvious solution for allowing the continued existence of driven grouse shooting. Strangely enough the grouse shooting lobby don’t want to use it. It would mean a real commitment to allowing Hen Harriers on grouse moors and so guess what, it is an optional part of the plan.
I have already covered my views on the lowland re-introduction scheme in a previous blog.
The Action Plan is very sparse and to me contradictory on the details of the so called ‘trial’ managed brood persecution scheme. It is so vague I have had to read it several times to try to understand it and with the help of other sources I think I understand at least their interpretation of the Plan
The DEFRA press release has part 6 of the plan as ‘Scope out feasibility for trialling brood management.’ The details in the Action Plan itself seems to point to it being much more than a feasibility study rather ”A trial scheme … would be open to driven grouse moors that had brood numbers in excess of the modelled densities and would run for a minimum of 5 years. An agreed threshold, based on independently derived, objective criteria, and agreed by main stakeholders, would be set for contiguous groups of estates. When harrier numbers within estates increased above the density determined by Elston et al, their eggs or broods could be moved to a rearing facility away from managed moorland.”
The coloured sentences above are very unclear, at least to me. The black sentences seems to be incongruous with the brown. From other people’s interpretation, I gather although I am far from convinced, it means that when an agreed number of Hen Harriers are breeding on a ‘contiguous group of estates’ (whatever that means) only then will managed brood persecution take place and then only when above the densities on a given estate are beyond the levels given in Elston et al.
What ‘contiguous group of estates’ means is anyone guess. Why isn’t it nation wide?
Elston et al. really give no clear indication of a density threshold although they do conclude ‘High Densities of harriers (above 0.1 nests km2) are clearly identified as a problem for grouse management… Yet at harrier densities of 0.025 km2 or less, impacts are predicted to be relatively low.’ The latter would give 70 pairs on English grouse moors and the paper goes on to say
‘Even the lowest hen harrier density considered here, 0.0125 km2 would be equivalent to 35 pairs of harriers breeding in England’.
My guide on reaching this interpretation is Raptor Persecution Scotland which seems sure that managed brood persecution will never happen until there are 70 pairs of breeding Hen harriers on English grouse moors and Martin Harper the Conservation Director of the RSPB in a comment on Raptor Persecution Scotland writes that the RSPB won’t support managed brood persecution unless ‘legal, scientific and conservation concerns have been adequately addressed.’
In the Action Plan paragraph above I’m worried about the use of ‘main stakeholders’. It doesn’t say ‘all stakeholders’. The stakeholders sub-group consists of DEFRA, Game & Wildlife Conservation Trust, Moorland Association, National Gamekeepers Organisation, National Parks UK, Natural England and the RSPB. The recent and in some cases permanent track-record in conservation of all those organizations, apart from the RSPB, ranges from very poor to criminal. Can they just ignore the RSPB?
I am also worried about the word ‘trial’ as in DEFRA’s badger ‘trial’.
You might want to solve the whole problem once and for all and sign the petition to ban driven grouse shooting but only one week to go.