It appears the closer Defra gets to launching its Hen Harrier Recovery Plan, the louder some object. The most vocal objections appear to be coming from those calling for a ban on driven grouse shooting and those that believe more licensing is the solution.
The draft plan is not wild. It’s not reckless. It’s not rushed.
- 16 years
- 20 reports
- 3 governments (are we going to drag this out to 4?)
- 7 years of mediated conflict resolution talks
The Hawk & Owl Trust (the UK’s only charity working solely to conserve all wild birds of prey), appears to have grown impatient and decided to call the bluff of all those delaying Defra’s plan. Their message appears to be:
- Grouse moors: You say you want hen harriers to recover. We will come and help you – but that is conditional on none of you harming a hen harrier.
- Conservationists: As raptor specialists we believe this is a workable plan – so why not support us? Even if you don’t trust the gamekeepers, why not call their bluff?
This part of the Defra plan has its share of detractors, but the Hawk & Owl Trust chairman, Philip Merricks, explains that the six-part plan is an “all or nothing arrangement…interested parties cannot cherry pick which components of the recovery plan they want or don’t want”. I guess this is why they have stepped forward.
Why is brood management important?
On Langholm Moor we have seen how this colonial nesting species concentrate in one area and Philip Merricks sees the “brood management scheme trial is a necessary component” of the Hen Harrier Recovery Plan – if we are going to get this colonial nesting species swiftly and widely established.
The Hawk & Owl Trust’s Scientific Advisory Committee recognise that this form of raptor translocation has been used successfully for other raptor species around the world. Philip says the big advantage of this method is that it is likely that all chicks would be raised to fledging whereas, if left in the nest, it is likely to be a lot less.
How would the Hawk & Owl Trust do it?
Hen harrier chicks would be moved to a heated aviary at about a week old (until they can regulate their body heat). Two weeks later they would be taken up onto moors to become imprinted on their release sites. This is done in pens, with netting at one end and shelter at the other, before being released at the appropriate stage.
What conditions have they set?
Just as the RSPB set conditions (such as harrier numbers must recover before they got involved), the Hawk & Owl Trust have responded with two of their own:
- 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 hen harriers might be) would prevent any gamekeepers from shooting them in the sky.
- Should any Moorland Association, Game & Wildlife Conservation 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.
When the lapwing population crashed, Mark Avery (the RSPB’s conservation director at the time) called for more farmers and landowners to do the “right thing”. Philip, a Kent-based conservationist, rose to the challenge. He is licensed by Natural England to manage a National Nature Reserve as a Natural England Approved Body – so he called the RSPB’s bluff and started counting his birds. Chick mortality is thought to be the main factor in the decline of lapwing…
The results were stunning
Philip certainly knows how to run a nature reserve properly. Elmley is now home to the largest population of breeding lapwings in lowland UK and one of the largest concentrations of raptors in south east England.
We all need to be challenged
Years of research, reports and discussions have yet to benefit the hen harrier. Those seeking to delay Defra publishing its plan should be fearful of having their bluff called by conservationists, like Philip Merricks and the Hawk and Owl Trust – they know how to implement a successful plan.
This time it’s hen harriers, and the Hawk and Owl Trust is calling everyone’s bluff
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