25 Jul 2016 6:55 AM
The voluntary approach of the Hen Harrier Action Plan has failed, leaving licensing as the only viable option.
I’m generally very patient. My natural preference is to build partnerships and work to make positive change from the inside with those who want to abide by the law and deliver progress.
However, sometimes that approach simply doesn’t work and there can be no clearer example of that right now than hen harriers, where illegal killing of this rare bird remains its most significant threat.
The RSPB played a full part in the production of Defra’s Hen Harrier Action Plan and despitedisagreeing with certain points (notably brood management), welcomed its publication earlier this year. However, at the time, I noted the need for immediate progress to help build trust in the approach.
Unfortunately this has not happened.
In 2015, we were all extremely frustrated by there being just six successful hen harrier nests from 12 attempts in England. 2016 is on course to be much worse, with only three nests at the time of writing, none of which are on grouse moors.
Some will argue that the weather or vole population is to blame, however, early returns from the national hen harrier survey suggest numbers away from intensively managed grouse moors in north and west Scotland have done ok. We remain convinced that the primary reason for the hen harrier‘s continuing scarcity remains illegal killing.
Simply put, hen harriers (and other birds of prey) are illegally killed on some estates because they eat grouse. Crimes are committed to increase the number of grouse that can be shot. This year, there have been a series of depressingly predictable incidents in England and Scotland, the disappearance of the hen harriers ‘Chance’ and ‘Highlander’, the use of pole traps and the hen harrier decoy in the Peak District. And as well as hen harriers, it has also been a really bad year for red kites in North and West Yorkshire with several suspicious deaths. In addition, there are more cases working their way through the legal system.