The Hawk and Owl Trust Position in the Hen Harrier Debate

In response to various blog posts and resulting comments on the Mark Avery Blog site

Philip Merricks, Chairman Hawk and Owl Trust
20 Jan 2015

‘You will be aware that the RSPB formally announced last year that, although they supported a Hen Harrier brood management scheme in principle, they would not support it in practice until forty pairs of Hen Harriers had become established on the moors of Northern England.

This was a good idea as it would have required grouse moor managers to demonstrate that they had stopped persecuting Hen Harriers. But, to get to forty pairs would have taken a long time and as the Hen Harrier is a colonial nesting species, this would have meant that it is likely that in time significant numbers of HHs would have nested on just a few moors and most other moors would have no nests. Which might not have been helpful in getting HHs widely established. And as one MP unhelpfully said at a meeting in the House of Commons, that postponing a brood management scheme trial until forty pairs were established, was similar to a doctor saying to his patient that he wasn’t going to give him any medicine until he was well on the road to recovery.

Hence, the Hawk and Owl Trust Board of Trustees thought long and hard about how real and realistic pressure could be put on grouse moor managers and their gamekeepers to immediately stop persecuting Hen Harriers. The Trustees came up with two immoveable conditions that would need to be agreed to before the Trust would talk to Defra:

1) All Hen Harriers fledged within a brood management scheme trial would be satellite tagged so that their movements could be tracked. And the knowledge that they were tagged (and the fear that other HHs might be) would prevent any gamekeepers from shooting them in the sky.

2) Should any Moorland Association, Game & Wildlife Trust, or National Gamekeepers Organisation member be proved to have illegally interfered with a Hen Harrier nest or to have persecuted a Hen Harrier on their grouse moors, the Hawk & Owl Trust would pull out its expertise from the brood management scheme trial.

It was well understood, appreciated and accepted by Defra and others that these two conditions meant that it would then become in the interests of grouse moor managers to ensure that Hen Harrier persecution would cease – ie that these two conditions would mean that there would be an immediate overriding reason for grouse moor interests to protect Hen Harriers.’


10 Responses to The Hawk and Owl Trust Position in the Hen Harrier Debate

  1. Philip, elsewhere you have insisted that ‘a Hen Harrier brood management scheme trial…is the way forward for the recovery of Hen Harrier populations’. This is patently absurd.

    Let’s be absolutely clear about the purpose of brood management. It is not, as Andrew Gilruth and others would lead us to believe, a necessary conservation intervention. Hen harriers will recover of their own accord if only the persecution ceased. Rather, it is a tool for keeping the hen harrier population from fully recovering.

    Further, allowing shooting interests to reduce the density of hen harriers in order to tackle a perceived conflict with their commercial interests sets an awful precedent. You’ll recall that the government was forced into a u-turn over its plan to ‘trial’ buzzard brood management. Shooting interests would dearly love to be allowed to legally reduce the populations of buzzards, peregrines, sparrowhawks and other birds of prey, each far more abundant than hen harriers. If one allows them to do this to hen harriers, what possible reason could there be to deny them the right to do it to these other, far more common, birds of prey? It would be illogical to allow it in the case of the near-extinct hen harrier, but not the comparatively abundant buzzard, sparrowhawk etc. What argument would the Hawk and Owl Trust present against this wider suppression of bird of prey populations?

    Brood management is not required to address the so-called human-wildlife conflict. Diversionary feeding works very well in reducing red grouse losses to hen harriers.

    Put simply, the very intensive red grouse management undertaken on driven grouse shooting estates is not sustainable – it’s not an appropriate land-use. It leads not only to conflicts with hen harriers and other predators, but also damage to upland habitats, emissions of biomass carbon and, possibly, increased water run-off and downstream flood risk. Where such intensive management takes place on designated moorland (i.e. SPAs, SACs), it is legally suspect. This land use is not fit for the moorlands upon which it takes place.

    In my view, the way forward is for Defra to put the brood management component of the Hen Harrier Plan in the public domain – with supporting evidence to demonstrate why it is necessary – and allow a period of public consultation. The Hawk and Owl Trust must demand this at least, and should not proceed with its involvement until the results of consultation are known.

    Further, the legality of any brood management on or affecting SPAs should be demonstrated through a Habitats Regulations Assessment (HRA). Again, the Hawk and Owl Trust should not proceed until the results of this assessment are known and consulted upon. As a reputable nature conservation organisation, the Hawk and Owl Trust must know that it would be unlawful to proceed until such an HRA has been completed and has demonstrated that any broad management would not adversely affect any SPAs.

    Or is the Hawk and Owl Trust saying that the comparatively small shooting community is a very special case indeed, that UK wildlife laws should be suspended to allow them to suppress the hen harrier population so they can pursue their intensive driven grouse shooting? What other minority sectors should be given special dispensation to ignore hard-earned wildlife laws?

  2. There is already an “immediate overriding reason for grouse moor interests to protect Hen Harriers” – they’re required to by law.

    Ceding to their demands for brood management is tantamount to saying ‘yeah, we can see why you persecute hen harriers and you have a point, but if we start playing by your rules can you leave us some, please?’.

    The pressure that it building on the driven grouse shooting industry has been hard won and a long time coming, and I believe it does great damage to dilute the message that is finally beginning to be heard:

    We will not tolerate this anymore!

  3. I would much prefer to remain a Hawk and Owl Trust member of many years standing but fear that I will not be able to do so. See my comment today on Mark Avery’s blog. The Trust needs to change its tune by abandoning any support (implicit or explicit and even if of very limited extent)for a hen harrier brood management scheme – and do so very quickly.

  4. Brood Management cannot reduce the density of harriers – this is not the same as licensed control of buzzards. This is clearly a very controversial subject and it is a brave step by the Hawk & Owl Trust. I would much rather have them around the table steering this in the right direction.

  5. The Northern England Raptor Forum is very concerned to learn through the present debate on social media that the Hawk & Owl Trust is considering its involvement in what we view as the premature application of artificial brood management for Hen Harriers breeding on the upland grouse moors of northern England. We urge the Hawk & Owl Trust not to facilitate this wholly inappropriate technique which is contrary to the principles of sound conservation for a scarce and endangered species. The Hawk & Owl Trust’s involvement in such a scheme at this stage would seem to jeopardise their independence and pander to the undue pressures of the shooting lobby.

    NERF believes that the primary objective must be to see the population of the Hen Harrier in England reach a viable and sustained recovery by its own accord, with adequate protection against illegal persecution and through the application of acceptable techniques such as supplementary feeding at the nest. As a minimum we would expect to see the upland Special Protection Areas, protected under EU Directives, demonstrably supporting their designated populations of Hen Harrier. Across the whole region we’d expect to have at least 70 breeding pairs, below which published reports show there would be no economic impact on Red Grouse numbers. Only when this threshold is reached should the case for brood management be considered.

    Overall we have concerns that brood management, particularly at this stage, is contrary to the guidance on wild bird translocation, holding them in captivity and their release into a safe and suitable habitat as set out in the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) guidance

    The full NERF statement can be read at

  6. I am very disappointed in your position on Hen Harriers. Steve J puts the arguments very eloquently above. The shooting lobby is clearly in the wrong here and I see know reason why it should be appeased in this feeble way!

  7. I’d urge people not to resign their membership of the Hawk and Owl Trust quite yet – but consider doing so if they fail to provide a full and updated account of their position quickly, which addresses comments already made here and elsewhere.

    In particular, the Trust should ensure that full details of the ‘brood meddling’ scheme they are promoting are published for public consultation. Given that they have been thinking about this ‘for some time’, they can presumably set out the ecological case and affirm the legality of what they have in mind. Such a reputable organisation wouldn’t come up with an ill-conceived, half-baked proposal, after all.

  8. The silence from the Hawk and Owl disTrust is deafening, I have not cancelled my membersship just yet but the way things are going regarding the silence from the ‘Trust’ it won’t be long