Friday, 25 July 2014

Defra led Joint Action Plan for Hen Harriers - what the GWCT thinks

by Andrew Gilruth

Where has this plan come from?

In August 2012 Defra brought the moor owners, gamekeepers and conservation groups together1. The group went on to draft a six-point recovery package last year to get more hen harriers nesting successful in England.

What is in the hen harrier Joint Recovery Plan?

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) Trial the temporary movement of hen harrier young to aviaries (also called ‘brood management’)

Want to read a full copy of it?

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

So who supports the plan?

Most, and this means all sides, are not thrilled with every element. However, as a ‘package’ they appear to balance. Three points focus on crime; three focus on helping hen harriers on the ground. 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.

The Game & Wildlife Conservation Trust (GWCT) encourages the police, Defra, Natural England, moorland owners, sporting tenants, gamekeepers, conservationists and volunteers to push on and deliver more breeding harriers in England.

At the 2014 CLA Game Fair, both Amanda Anderson (Moorland Association, Director) and Lindsay Waddell (National Gamekeepers’ Organisation, Chairman) stood in front of the press and said they were ready. BASC, Countryside Alliance and the CLA have added their support.

Last night Martin Harper (RSPB, Conservation Director) highlighted just a single concern with just one part, of one element, of the whole package.

So are we very nearly there?

Let’s certainly hope so. It appears the one outstanding point relates to when (not if) the trial of the temporary removal of hen harrier young to aviaries (brood management) should begin.
So the sticking point is a measure that would increase the number of hen harriers?

Yes. It appears ironic that whilst we live in an age where, in the words2 of one senior conservation scientist, that has worked for both the GWCT and the RSPB…

“Bird conservation programmes are increasingly focused around captive propagation and release, either for reintroducing species that have become locally extinct or to supplementing dwindling populations.” (Amar et al. 2000)

Indeed, captive propagation (brood management) has been used in France to help boost not only the hen harrier population but also that of the marsh and Montagu’s harrier. So the sticking point appears to be something that is an internationally recognised conservation tool that would help the hen harrier. Is that not exactly what we need?

Can we be certain the brood management of hen harriers will work? No. That is why it is only a trial. We need to establish if brood management works in practice.

Do we need brood management at all? Yes. We need to send a clear signal to the gamekeepers – they should have full confidence that we all want both hen harriers and sustainable grouse moors.

What are the risks of delay?

Defra has everyone agreeing that we need more hen harriers – it would be a shame to let it all unravel now. It feels to me like buying a house. It takes just one detail to collapse everything. Is it worth taking that risk? Who else is, now, going to start finding other small problems?

I feel it is a shame that the Defra-led Joint Recovery Plan was not launched before this year’s breeding season. We are where we are. Will it be launched before the next breeding season?

Why not show Defra your support for seeing the publication of a Joint Recovery Plan for hen harriers that could see them return across our skies?

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 Amar A., Arroyo B.E. & Bretagnolle V. (2000) Post-fledging dependence and dispersal in hacked and wild Montagu's harriers Circus pygargus. Ibis, 142, 21-28


  1. As someone who has had problems with predation I am somewhat sceptical regarding aiding predator breeding sucesses. But, yes, I am thrilled to see kites where I have seen none before. However, I trust the the Game Conservancy's judgement and if it thinks the scheme is feasible then I will go along with it - and I have signed the petition.
    Frank Stevens.

  2. Hi Frank. Thank you for signing the petition, we believe the plan is the best way forward for everyone involved.