Now is the time to save Hen Harrier

Hen Harrier has nearly been lost as a breeding bird in England; now is the time to protect the species, before it's too late. Photo by Isle of Man Government (commons.wikimedia.org).
Hen Harrier has nearly been lost as a breeding bird in England; now is the time to protect the species, before it's too late. Photo by Isle of Man Government (commons.wikimedia.org).

The RSPB on Thursday 14 November strongly urged DEFRA to publish the workable elements of the Hen Harrier Action Plan, which the society believes could bring about the recovery of one of England’s most beleaguered raptors.

However, the society also highlighted its rejection of one part of the six-point plan, known as brood management. The charity believes that immediate removal of chicks from the wild and rearing them in aviaries is unacceptable and legally ambiguous.

Martin Harper, Conservation Director for the RSPB, said: “Hen Harrier is one of our most iconic birds of prey, but it is currently in danger of being lost from England and it needs urgent action to save it. DEFRA has worked hard with the shooting industry and conservation groups to produce a Hen Harrier Action Plan, and we believe that the workable parts of this plan must be published and implemented now to help save this bird of prey. We think the more contentious elements, for which there a plethora of unanswered questions, should go for public consultation, while the rest of the plan fulfills its purpose of protecting harriers.”

The RSPB believes that brood management is a distraction, taking emphasis and resources away from tackling illegal killing. The society has no confidence that released birds will be allowed to fly free from harm. It is a sad reality that illegal killing of birds of prey continues, often linked by those with an interest in shooting.

The evidence is real and compelling – gamekeepers continue to be convicted for the illegal persecution of birds of prey and there is a strong association between raptor persecution and grouse moor management. The RSPB will have no part of a project that could put a species at risk.

Martin Harper added: “We recognise that brood management has become a totemic issue for the shooting community, and that some have chosen to use strong-arm tactics against the RSPB. We reject the industry’s claim that only by removing chicks from nests will gamekeepers and shooting estates accept the plan. Aggressive and intransigent campaigning by the shooting sector is threatening to derail the plan, consign Hen Harriers to further years of persecution and ride roughshod across attempts to work with progressive voices in the industry.

“Ministers are accountable for preventing the human-induced extinction of species, and the illegal persecution of Hen Harrier is the main reason for this bird’s desperate plight. It surely makes sense to publish elements of the plan which has agreement. We’re urging the government to recognise the urgency of this situation and implement a plan to save the harrier, so that the species can once again be a regular feature of the skies above our moors.”

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Written by: Birdwatch news team