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The time to save the hen harrier is now

Last modified: 13 November 2014

Hen harrier adult female in flight, hunting, Loch Gruinart

The hen harrier should be a regular sight above English moorlands

Image: Andy Hay

The RSPB is today urging Defra to publish the workable elements of the Hen Harrier Action Plan, which we believe could bring about the recovery of one of England’s most beleaguered birds of prey.

However, we're also highlighting our rejection of one point of the six-point plan, known as brood management, as we believe that immediate removal of chicks from the wild and rearing them in aviaries is unacceptable and legally ambiguous. As our position on this issue has been widely mis-represented, the RSPB's view is set out in our position statement.

Unanswered questions

Martin Harper is the RSPB’s Conservation Director. He said: “The 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 fulfils its purpose of protecting harriers.”

We believe that brood management is a distraction, taking emphasis and resources away from tackling illegal killing. Martin Harper firmly added: “Brood management is worth considering once the hen harrier has returned to the hills and moors of England.  But to do it early could see young birds released to their deaths.

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. We will have no part of a project that could put a species at risk.

Strong-arm tactics

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 the 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 Government to recognise the urgency of this situation and implement a plan to save the harrier, so that hen harriers can once again be a regular feature of the skies above our moors.”

Bird guide


RSPB position on the hen harrier action plan (233Kb)
We have consistently supported the development of an effective Hen Harrier Action Plan that will lead to the recovery of the hen harrier population across suitable habitat in England.

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