Illegal killing of hen harriers prevents RSPB supporting their introduction into England

Hen harrier

There is a difference of opinion with respect to the introduction of the hen harrier into England. This hawk-like species was wiped out in Victorian Britain by gamekeepers protecting grouse moors. It has recovered in certain places but not fully in England. There were only 10 fledglings in 2017 in England.

Hen harrier

Hen harrier. Photo in public domain.

The Department for Environment Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) in conjunction with Countryside Alliance and Natural England want to reintroduce the hen harrier into England. RSPB’s director of conservation, Martin Harper, said, “It would be wrong for us to support the reintroduction scheme until the main reason for harrier declines – illegal killing – stops”.

Defra accuse the RSPB of interfering in their attempts to import hen harrier chicks into England from France and Spain. Defra believe that the hen harrier reintroduction scheme is being resisted by the RSPB over a “brood management” scheme in which nests would be moved off grouse moors. Comment: judging by the statement of Martin Harper this appears to be an incorrect assessment or perhaps it is another reason.

The Spanish Birdlife partnership emailed an envoy of Natural England to say that they were unsupportive of the project. The email appears to confirm that the RSPB had orchestrated a late intervention and that the interference by them continues. The RSPB deny intervening and say that there may have been a misunderstanding. The eleventh hour intervention from the Spanish Birdlife partnership apparently used words commonly used by the RSPB which, Simon Lee, the project manager for the reintroduction, clearly indicates that the RSPB is getting in the way of the project.

Comment: the hen harrier is still under threat in the UK from the management and owners of sport hunting businesses which currently prevents them living on the island in numbers. The government should intervene by forcing law enforcement to do their job if it is genuinely concerned about conservation and environmental issues. There is a natural ambivalence in a Tory government about conservation because they are supportive of business. Conservation of nature often gets in the way of business. It makes businesses more expensive to run. And the kind of person involved in sport hunting normally has a disregard for conservation despite what they say to the press.

Hen Harrier

The hen harrier is a bird of prey and the most intensively persecuted in the UK. They attack grouse which is why gamekeepers shoot hen harriers to protect their businesses. The hen harrier’s behaviour in attacking grouse threatens its survival in some parts of the UK. Male hen harriers are pale grey in colour while females and immature birds are brown with a white rump and a long, ringed tail. When flying their wings are held in a shallow V shape. They glide low in search of food which normally consists of small birds and mammals i.e meadow pipit’s and voles. Their length is 44-52 cm and a their wingspan is 100-120 cm. Males weigh between 300-400 g and females weigh between 400-600 g. In 2010 there were 617 pairs and 29 pairs on the Isle of Man.