Scheme to guard hen harriers in England a waste of cash, says wildlife group

A £900,000 authorities scheme to “meddle” with nests of hen harriers is a waste of cash and rewards those that kill them, a wildlife marketing campaign group has mentioned.

The claims are contained in a report produced by Wild Justice and launched to coincide with the Wonderful Twelfth, the official begin of the grouse capturing season, on Saturday.

Grouse moor gamekeepers have traditionally killed hen harriers illegally as a result of they eat smaller birds, together with grouse.

Because the begin of a authorities brood administration scheme in 2018, 98 hen harriers have been confirmed as missingin suspicious circumstances or are recognized to have been illegally killed within the UK, lots of them on or near English grouse moors.

With a purpose to fight the issue of the birds, that are endangered within the UK, frequently going lacking over moors, Pure England started a scheme which includes taking the eggs or chicks of some hen harriers nesting on grouse moors into captivity, rearing them to fledging age and releasing them again into the wild within the uplands of northern England.

They are saying th apply reduces the density of energetic hen harrier nests on grouse moors and is assumed to cut back predation stress on pink grouse through the breeding season, so there’s much less incentive for harriers to be persecuted.

Nests containing younger have prior to now been stamped on, and moms killed – leaving the chicks to starve. The federal government is working with grouse moor house owners to discourage this behaviour.

A male hen harrier. {Photograph}: Alamy

The Wild Justice report, nonetheless, states that after a five-year trial of hen harrier brood administration, Pure England has not launched information on whether or not total survival charges have modified.

It says: “The important thing query … just isn’t whether or not the very low survival charges of hen harriers have elevated however whether or not they have elevated sufficiently to safe a sustainable and lasting improve within the hen harrier breeding inhabitants.

“This requires some type of a inhabitants mannequin to exist, and be populated with information. NE is way from that place and it’s unclear to us {that a} additional 5 years of brood meddling will present these solutions.”

Wild Justice, which is led by the previous RSPB chief Mark Avery, the raptor skilled Dr Ruth Tingay and the TV presenter Chris Packham, mentioned: “It’s a waste of cash that might be higher spent on different elements of hen harrier conservation or elsewhere in nature conservation – the preliminary estimate for the five-year trial was £875,000.

“It’s a delaying tactic to place off simpler and stringent measures in opposition to criminality – all hen harriers want is the unlawful killing to cease.” It described the scheme as “a reward for previous crimes in opposition to hen harriers”.

The campaigners argue as a substitute that extra stringent measures must be put in place to prosecute those that illegally kill birds of prey.

Pure England argues that its work has been helpful. Hen harrier numbers have elevated in England within the final couple of years, and greater than 100 fledged in 2022, the primary time in over a century that numbers had reached such a degree.

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“We stand by our work to protect hen harriers and remain committed to pushing forward the recovery of this iconic species,” it said. “We will continue to direct resources towards monitoring and conservation management, while also working with partners including the police to tackle persecution.

“We are encouraged by the possibilities demonstrated by the recent increase in nesting hen harrier numbers and the brood management trial has been extended to further understand the impact this has had on their conservation.”

The RSPB, however, disagrees with Natural England’s scheme. It withdrew its support in 2016, and later launched a failed legal challenge against Natural England to try to stop it.

It said at the time of the case: “We’ve made our objections on scientific and ethical grounds to brood management clear for many years. We believe the first step in hen harrier recovery should be the end of illegal persecution, as the evidence is clear that this is the main reason driving the decline of this bird of prey.

“A recently published study of satellite-tagged hen harriers by Natural England revealed that 72% of these birds were either confirmed or considered very likely to have been illegally killed. Furthermore, it found that hen harriers were 10 times more likely to be illegally killed on a grouse moor than anywhere else.”

Wild Justice said in its report: “Whilst a few grouse shooting estates get what they want, the removal of hen harriers through a state-licensed brood meddling project, others stick to the traditional method of criminality. Hen harrier persecution is still rife on grouse moors and no amount of brood meddling rhetoric can cover that up.”

This article was amended on 9 August 2023. An earlier headline described Wild Justice as a charity; it is a not-for-profit company.

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