Thursday, 5 June 2014

Defra about to save hen harriers?

by Andrew Gilruth - @AndrewGilruth

Defra takes the decline in hen harrier populations in England very seriously. I salute the Defra officials who set up a small multi-organisation group, in August 2012, to develop a plan to increase the English hen harrier population. It’s a tough one. The 2011 conservation framework report extends to 81 pages and contains a range of conflicting issues and knowledge gaps – to succeed where others have failed you will also need the support of those working on the ground. How would you do it?

For the hen harrier 2014 could be quite different.

Defra has brought the moor owners, gamekeepers and conservation groups together1 - and united them all - we need more hen harriers – this year. Not only that, they have been working on a hen harrier joint recovery plan. Defra is expected2 to make an announcement soon on whether the plan will go ahead.

The plan's aim is simple…get more hen harriers nesting successfully in England…

This unity is very significant. There has been a history of conflict between grouse shooting interests and hen harriers. That matters because grouse moors provide more than 50% of the most suitable habitat, in England, for breeding hen harriers.

The draft plan is not wild. It’s not reckless. It’s not rushed. To get there it has taken:

- 15 years
- 20 reports
- 3 Governments and
- 6 years of mediated conflict resolution talks

The hen harrier joint recovery plan3 package

1) Law enforcement, prevention and intelligence led by a senior police officer
2) Ongoing monitoring of breeding sites and winter roosts
3) Research of the movement of hen harriers using satellite tracking
4) Diversionary feeding of hen harriers to reduce predation on grouse chicks
5) Engagement study about reintroducing them to other parts of England
6) Brood management trial4 to avoid red grouse and hen harrier population swings5 

Sign the petition asking Defra to publish the Joint Recovery Plan >

Most, and this means all sides, are not thrilled with every element. However as a ‘package’ they appear to balance. It is also interesting that they underpin sustainable conservation which is founded on three principles: economic, social and environmental elements. This simple logic appears to have kept everyone at the table.

Clearly we could all find problems with this package. We could drag this out. We could all press home our personal views. Alternatively we could urge those involved to push on. Keep going and deliver more breeding harriers in England – this year.

Should 2014 be the year of the hen harrier? Should we not encourage the police, Defra, Natural England, moorland owners, sporting tenants, gamekeepers, conservationists and volunteers to get on with it? Is not 2014 the year to sign and implement the joint hen harrier recovery plan?

If Defra officials are able to achieve, where so many others have failed – I feel they deserve to be congratulated by all.

Sign the petition asking Defra to publish the Joint Recovery Plan >

1 In August 2012 Defra officials established the Hen Harrier Sub-Group of the Uplands Stakeholder Forum including representatives from Natural England, the Moorland Association, the National Gamekeepers’ Organisation, the Game & Wildlife Conservation Trust, the National Park Authority and the RSPB.
2  Reported in Keeping the Balance – the official magazine of the National Gamekeepers’ Organisation
3 As discussed in the June 2014 edition of The Field
4 As discussed by Martin Harper (RSPB conservation Director) 16th April 2014 - National Gamekeepers’ Organisation AGM
5 Langholm Moor and the Joint Raptor Study (JRS) challenged scientific thinking on raptor predation

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