Dave Slater, Natural England's Director for Wildlife Licensing & Enforcement Cases, clarifying Natural England’s position on raptor persecution and recent media coverage.
I have previously blogged on this page about the renewal of the licence for the Hen Harrier brood management trial as part of the Government’s Hen Harrier Recovery Action Plan. Natural England undertake a range of activities as part of our work to deliver the Action Plan. Since I published said blog we have received a lot of feedback. Many respected colleagues in the environmental sector have raised concerns around the trial and Natural England’s willingness to work with land managers which they perceive as being implicated in illegal persecution.
I wanted to use this blog to explain our approach more clearly, our stance on persecution and also to correct some inaccuracies which have appeared recently in the media and social media.
Natural England is in no doubt that illegal persecution is the reason that Hen Harriers are such a rare breeding bird in England despite the apparent availability of suitable breeding habitat. Our research has proven the link between the disappearance of Hen Harriers and land managed for Grouse shooting.
It is though important to note that not everyone involved in the management of land for Grouse is implicated in this persecution. We work very closely with a number of upland estates and we gather a lot of our intelligence on nest and roost sites from gamekeepers. It is our firm belief that we should work positively with those estates who want to work with us, while at the same time take a hard line where there is strong evidence of persecution. I have recently expanded my enforcement team and will be looking to work with the police and the RSPB in any prosecution where the evidence supports action.
Tackling persecution is vital for Hen Harrier recovery, but the action plan identifies a range of action that is needed to secure lasting success. As we recently announced we were pleased to see the best breeding season in recent history this year but also aware that the reality is that most birds do not survive to adulthood, primarily due to persecution.
Natural England carries out extensive monitoring of populations and individual birds though our satellite tracking programme. Any bird which is thought to or has stopped transmitting is reported to the police and Natural England staff assist the police in undertaking searches
We carry out nest and winter roost protection, make available diversionary feeding licences and provide advice to those looking to make use of it. We are exploring a hen harrier reintroduction programme for southern England.
Despite all this work, lasting success will only be achieved through close partnership and coordination, including between NE, the Police, National Parks, land managers and the RSPB. It is true that these partners will disagree on some elements of the programme, and we welcome that debate. However, where inaccurate information is published we do feel it’s important to correct these.
In conclusion, we know that many will not change their minds on some elements of the Action Plan. We at Natural England do feel that working with responsible land managers is part of the solution for lasting recovery. I hope all the partners can agree that we must work together positively and step up our collective efforts to tackle the scourge of Hen Harrier persecution.