Hen harriers – remember the research

In January Defra launched its Hen Harrier Action Plan, which contains six key elements. One of these, brood management, was included after considering the key findings of over 20 years of RSPB/GWCT research. The science is important. Science has informed why brood management is included in the plan – we need a plan that manages our moors for both harriers and driven red grouse shooting. The reason it is not an either-or choice between harriers and grouse became clear during and after the Joint Raptor Study (JRS), undertaken at Langholm Moor in Dumfriesshire.

Male -hen -harrier -wwwlauriecampbellcom

The lose/lose situation has been proven by research

On the grouse moors at Langholm between 1992 and 1997 GWCT scientists monitored the increase of hen harriers from 2 to 20 pairs in six years. Shooting was abandoned because hen harriers ate over a third of all the grouse chicks that hatched, preventing grouse recovery. With no shooting, the local culture, economy and employment suffered and the control of generalist predators ceased. By 2003, 20 harrier nests were back down to two and numbers of breeding grouse and waders had more than halved. Predation was identified as the most likely cause of all these declines, including the harriers. Grouse moor managers felt their worst fears had just been proven – a real lose/lose situation.

Defra wants sustainable moorlands

The Hen Harrier Action Plan published by Defra in January has two success criteria: more hen harriers in England and that “the harrier population coexists with local business interests and its presence contributes to a thriving rural economy”. Given that we know hen harriers can make a grouse moor uneconomic in just a few years, we feel it is entirely sensible the plan includes an already tested raptor conservation tool to help hen harriers and red grouse thrive in the interests of both: brood management.

Brood management – helps prevent lose/lose

Brood management, a successful raptor conservation tool for over 40 years, is in the plan because both the GWCT and RSPB know that once a moor cannot be driven for grouse, it is ferociously hard and expensive to recover it as a fully functioning moorland ecosystem, with social, economic and environmental outputs. Over the last seven years the colossal attempts to recover the grouse moor at Langholm, which have included diversionary feeding up to 12 harrier nests a year, have failed to produce enough grouse to persuade a typical shooting tenant to invest in the sheep management, heather recovery and fox control needed to support harriers, let alone grouse. To avoid multiple lose/lose situations we need to ensure we have mechanisms in place before, not after, moors become uneconomic.

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re: Hen Harrier Brood

at 12:32 on 23/03/2016 by Rob - GWCT

Hi David. Please see the end of our blog here for more on our position regarding brood management: http://www.gwct.org.uk/blogs/news/2016/january/hen-harrier-joint-action-plan-published/

Hen Harrier Brood

at 12:21 on 23/03/2016 by David Stewart

The Hen Harrier is on the verge of extinction, we're down to less than 5 breeding pairs, when research shows there should be around 300. The RSPB say the natural level should be reached before brood management should even be considered. Brood management would give complete control to the amount of Harriers on a grouse moor, and this to myself and many others is totally out of the question. Grouse being bred at an unnaturally high level will always attract Raptors. It would be very difficult to believe that most grouse moor managers would compromise and accept any breeding Harriers on their land, the evidence suggests they want them extinct. All Raptors are protected by law, so it is now evident that grouse moor managers are breaking the law and operating an illegal business. Please get back to me, as I'd like your opinion on this very important issue

Hen Harriers re. Dick Bartlett

at 9:07 on 21/03/2016 by Martin Wood-Weatherill

Dick re. your comment " but why should Hen Harrier fans expect others to sustain their bird ? " Well they don't. They just want to see criminal activity cease.

Hen Harriers - Remember the research

at 14:30 on 16/03/2016 by Ian Whittaker

Remember the research but also remember that this does little more than register the changes in population of various species over time and makes huge assumptions about cause and effect. The Langholm research time and again has failed to properly establish predator/prey population relationships and fails to examine all the factors that impact on such population dynamics to properly understand cause and effect. For example, what is the impact on predator populations and concentrations of unnaturally high numbers of grouse? What is the impact on grouse mortality rates of the same unnaturally high concentrations. What is the impact of additive predation? Does the removal of one predator allow others to do better with even stronger "negative" effects on grouse numbers. What about other birds of prey? The research is a long way from examining, never mind establishing, an optimum balance between the sustainable economics of driven grouse shooting and conservation objectives - the real sustainable win/win situation. Your own Director of Upland Research states "that on some places in more recent years we actually have too many grouse and if so, I’m asking the question, if we have got too many grouse, we’ve got to be very realistic about this, can we reduce the numbers naturally?” That suggests that the status quo of driven grouse moors producing ever-increasing numbers of grouse should be challenged and examined as much as the numbers of hen harriers and other predators that might impact on them. Less really can sometimes be more.

re: Hen Harriers

at 9:16 on 16/03/2016 by Rob - GWCT

Mike, agreed. That is why the brood management part of the plan, which comes into play if a second nest is formed within 10km of an existing nest, involves removing the chicks from the second nest and releasing them back onto other suitable habitat after they have fledged

Hen Harrier Brood Management

at 1:50 on 16/03/2016 by Iain Gibson

How about accepting that now and again the wildlife conservation part of your remit is more important than the game shooting? A noble way to demonstrate this commitment would be to agree that it is wrong to propose to deliberately and radically reduce the population of that magnificent scarce raptor, the hen harrier. If really true that harriers render grouse moors uneconomical, why not just give up grouse shooting? Being an antiquated practice appears to me to be insufficient justification for maintaining such a damaging activity on our moors. Your article appears to deliberately mislead the reader into believing that harriers declined on Langholm by eating themselves out of their prey, the red grouse. This is not the reality. Changes in harrier population are driven primarily by natural fluctuations in field vole populations. They switch to preying upon grouse chicks only when there is a combined shortage of voles and pipits, their preferred prey.

Hen Harriers

at 22:55 on 15/03/2016 by Dick Bartlett

The DEFRA Hen Harrier Action Plan will only succeed if it can draw Harriers away from grouse moors and onto other favorable habitats. To date there is little evidence that any grouse moor owner has signed up to be a recipient of translocated Harriers. Grouse moor owners spend large amounts of cash to support their favored bird, the Red Grouse. Surely those who like Hen Harriers could do the same by providing food rich habitats of voles, Meadow Pits etc which are the Harrier's staple foods, along with control of foxes which easily find their chicks in the smelly Harrier nests. Of course, all of this involves considerable cost but why should Hen Harrier fans expect others to sustain their bird ? Would they expect a livestock farmer to willingly host an array of predators of his lambs, poultry etc ? In May 2015 I asked RSPB how many Hen Harriers were on their large moorland estates and what they were doing to encourage them with their £40m subscription and legacy income. 10 months later I'm still waiting for a response ! Today's moor owners have to co-exist with a range of legally protected predators from raptors to badgers and pine martens. Progressive management systems can legally reduce their impact by adapting habitat design and management to make moors less attractive to predators. This approach has been successfully used on moors managed by British Moorlands Ltd, and others, over the last 15 years.

Hen Harriers

at 16:00 on 15/03/2016 by Mike Groves

Wouldn't it be better for all concerned to adopt a non-lethal quota system? This could potentially save a lot of time, effort and money and allow harriers to breed more naturally with minimal intervention on managed grouse moors?


at 11:35 on 15/03/2016 by Martin Wood-Weatherill

Although I would dispute your take on the plan I find it beyond belief that you and your scientists believe that our grouse moors are currently a " fully functioning moorland ecosystem". Has no one noticed the unnaturally high (possibly record?) population of red grouse?

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