Thursday, February 13, 2014

Hen Harrier data.......and still we're waiting!

The last time I raised this issue was in August, 2013  ( Too little, too late for Hen Harriers in England)!  For that I feel personally shamed, as the issue in itself is crucial to pursuing a solution relating to Hen Harrier persecution.

Now for a quick summary.  Some time ago DEFRA instituted studies in England relating to harrier distribution, its breeding numbers and factors affecting that situation. An officer within Natural England was charged with specific responsibility for the work , which was also to be the basis of that person's doctoral thesis. Birds were fitted with sat tags and the journeys and consequences followed with interest.  Good for them one might think, long overdue and just the sort of raw data which was required to combat the seemingly increasing prejudice being levelled at the species.

Without dwelling too precisely on the timing of what followed, the project finally coincided with what might best be described as a concerted and deliberate assault on wintering harriers with roosts being deliberately targeted over the ensuing couple of winters.  Survey work showed harrier populations to have been decimated with the most telling outcome being the clear reduction of what had previously been a buoyant breeding population in England in the Forest of Bowland.  OK, the "opposition" would doubtless harness a whole suite of explanations about a peak in coincidental natural mortality, poor Spring feeding conditions, other people otherwise unidentified being responsible and a host of other weak and convenient excuses. The truth is the birds were cleared out by a concerted and synchronised strategy aimed at eliminating as many birds as possible!  Difficult to prove, of course, but enter (surely ) the results arising from the DEFRA  research.

Now some time previously Natural England, the Government's advisor, had determined that a significant number of harrier deaths appeared to coincide with not just upland areas , but upland areas actively being managed as grouse moors. Oh dear!  The results were alluded to in official documents and the case for linking the decimation of harriers with those largely responsible for those operations and management tasks appeared to be proven.  Except that DEFRA, under whose aegis Natural England operates, has never released the results of the work. Endless excuses have been put forward and Richard Benyon, MP, in his time as a DEFRA Minister, steadfastly defended that position which appears to obtain still to this day.

Now, reflect a little. Such work was funded , is funded, by public money which surely in itself dictates that we are entitled to learn of the results showing where the persecution hotspots were located. For some hitherto undisclosed reason the results are still held in confidence by the Department.  One could mischievously consider such locations might coincide with the upland landholdings of stalwart Tory chums, with a consequent need to avoid disclosure, which is a thought that is difficult to stifle.  It could be held that, with the results being withheld,  the declared objective of the RSPB of gaining the offence of Vicarious Liability adopted for England is frustrated as the direct connection of persecution events to upland grouse moors would help to underpin the justification of a need for such legislation.  Presumably then the RSPB is pursuing all this with alacrity?  Well, not that is being declared , unless they have been briefed by DEFRA in confidence and the continuing need for a  veil of secrecy accepted.  Uhm!  If such is not the case, why is the situation not being pursued and the continuing lack of disclosure by Government criticised?

RSPB appears to be firmly holding DEFRA to account as the agency from whom action and initiatives are now expected when it comes to saving the Hen Harrier, as outlined in the Blog entry put out today by Martin Harper ( Director of Conservation, RSPB.)   See the link here Tackling wildlife crime abroad....and at home.  It points to the emergency recovery plan for the Hen Harrier being developed by DEFRA  as the means within which progress might be expected. Nothing one might find fault with one might say. But it's all so cosy, even complacent in a way. When is DEFRA going to be taken to task about the above results, what comprises the referred to action plan and what precise measures will be adopted?  Engaging with a process maybe,  but not in a way that really signals an intention to stir things up in the event of nothing moving forward. One might ask what the RSPB intends to do if nothing emerges in time for the upcoming breeding season. Polite foot stamping isn't enough in my view!

I have to acknowledge that, finally, a reference to the E-petition has emerged within the above Blog. Somewhat muted, to the extent one might question the real motive, but at least present if one ignores the eleventh hour  appearance!!

When it comes to the results discussed above, well, watch this space, as it seems, in the absence of what action one might expect from elsewhere, the necessary steps are best pursued independently.