Hen harrier brood management - 7 reasons to be positive


By Andrew Gilruth, GWCT Communications Director

The GWCT suggested that a technique like this might unlock the conflict between hen harriers and driven grouse shooting nearly 20 years ago – we still believe it could. On the other hand, the RSPB feels it is ‘ridiculous’ – but the government has rejected this view and they are going to test it here. It is easy to see why:

  1. As Professor Ian Newton, former RSPB chairman, has pointed out, collecting raptor eggs, hatching them out and returning the fledged chicks to the wild has been used around the world, for five decades - to successfully increase populations. More here.
  2. The RSPB has successfully used brood management to help species like the spoon-billed sandpiper - where the main threat was illegal trapping. More here.
  3. French conservationists have been successfully using it to unlock the conflict between Montagu’s harriers and arable farmers for 20 years. The science behind how it worked is here.
  4. In the UK there is a proven conflict between hen harriers and economic grouse moors. In the words of the RSPB’s former conservation director, Mark Avery, it was “the Joint Raptor Study that showed how wrong we [RSPB] were” to think there was no impact. More here.
  5. A leading raptor scientist, Arjun Amar (formerly RSPB), has said that hen harrier brood management “could well work to provide a conservation success (i.e. more harriers).” More here.
  6. The International Centre for Birds of Prey and the Hawk & Owl Trust are helping with the trial because they feel it might work. More here.
  7. Three years ago, Mike Clarke, RSPB chief executive, said “we’ve not said never to brood management.” The next year Martin Harper, RSPB conservation director, again said “we’ve not said never to brood management.”

The government might be wondering if those opposed to trialling brood management are simply afraid it might work?


GWCT North of England Grouse Seminar - Book your place

The packed programme for the eleventh North of England Grouse Seminar will feature presentations on the role of grouse moor management in helping wader conservation and post-fire vegetation succession on blanket bog, together with latest reports from Langholm Moor. Our guest speaker for this event will be Professor Rob Marrs of Liverpool University and the Heather Trust who will address heather burning issues. Book your place below, but be quick - places are limited.

Following high levels of interest in this event, tickets are limited to those employed on moorland managed for grouse. Others may be admitted at the discretion of the GWCT. Admittance by ticket only. Tickets are not transferable.



Hen Harriers

at 20:26 on 30/01/2018 by Nick Fox

A few points. I'm not quite clear about what happens to the donor nests. Presumably at least one chick will be left to ensure its continued history of success? Harriers have asynchronous hatching and clutch and brood size correlates with food supply. It may well be possible to increase clutch size using supplementary feeding from about one month before the first laying date. When we hatched and reared 53 Red Kites from Welsh nests in the 1980s, we found that our incubator-hatched and aviary-reared fledglings were about the twice the size as the same age siblings left in the donor nests. When we came to put them back they were too big and liable to kill the half-starved wild chick still in the nest. It was clear that Welsh Kites were under severe food stress, limiting their ultimate fledged brood size. So I do not think that the Welsh uplands in their current exhausted state have a sufficient prey base for harriers. Our local moor, that had driven grouse before the war, lost its last grouse 20 years ago. When Kites were introduced to more fertile lowlands of England and Scotland, their brood size increased markedly, but you may find that lowland gamekeepers, especially those fostering grey partridges, will be less than enthusiastic about having harriers. Disturbance will also be significant in the south. I'm surprised diversionary feeding is so expensive. We did a similar project introducing New Zealand falcons into vineyards in Marlborough and we used food platforms that were 50x50cm painted white with a fluorescent orange rim. The birds rapidly associated food with this uniquely coloured food tray. That meant we could move it around at will, up to 15 km from the nest, so that we could encourage falcon activity where we wanted it, and not where we didn't want it. You need a balanced diet for food; lab rats and mice are prohibitively expensive but day old chicks and steel shot woodpigeons cut into chunks are fine, corvids are OK, but less appetising. Keepers should easily be able to stockpile enough for a couple of broods without needing to buy in. I'm also not clear as to the need for a licence. Do people normally need licences for feeding birds at bird tables? We have used satellite tags extensively on peregrines and saker falcons in Asia and found that tags can increase mortality in active hunting raptors, (see Dixon, et al.) You can get great data, but it is not wise to overdo tagging. There are a lot of keen wildlife photographers out there, some of whom would pay significant amounts to use temporary hides viewing harrier nests. This could be a source of revenue, a free monitoring service, and foster good relations between grouse moor owners and protectionist organisations. It is dispiriting that Britain is so anal about wildlife management. The only way to find out if things work is to try them. For goodness sake stop all this endless polarised hand-wringing and, collectively, get on with it!

Hen harrier brood management

at 20:45 on 24/01/2018 by Mike Groves

Hopefully this scheme will at long last help neutralise some of the ''fear factor'' created by the original Langholm Study carried out in the late 90's? We need the majority of English grouse moors/owners to support this very sensible compromise and move forward building corridors of communication and partnership along the way? I however believe that failure to do so may prove suicidal?

Brood Management

at 22:39 on 23/01/2018 by David Stewart

Do you seriously think this will work? so what do you think will happen to the young Harriers when they get released?, well the general opinion is they'll eventually go back to their natural habitat (a heather moorland) and get shot, It seems the shooting fraternity are hoping they'll breed elsewhere e.g. farmland, as they do in France. There is only one positive solution to this, and that's to leave them alone in the first place. Do you think I'm wrong? I would love to hear your opinion regarding this this very important matter, please let me know. Regards

Hen Harrier Brood Management

at 21:31 on 23/01/2018 by Dick Bartlett. British Moorlands Ltd

Brood management should succeed provided the excess Harrier chicks are relocated to areas away from grouse moors where their needs can be met ie adequate prey and protection from predators such as foxes. Harrier fans will have to show the same commitment to their chosen bird as the grouse managers to theirs without pirating the fruits of the moor managers' hard work. Hen Harriers live all over the Northern Hemisphere and so do not depend on grouse as prey but they are attracted to where prey is abundant and bad design of habitat and management allow it to be easily caught. The raptor/grouse conflict has run for too long because it suited too many vested interests and it has been used to increase membership and funding to "Save our grouse shooting" or "Save our rare birds of prey". In fact there are many completely legal ways of restricting raptor predation of grouse through careful application of science to moorland management. In 2009 British Moorlands reported on 7 years successful experience of this which is still ongoing. At no time have any of the main shooting or conservation organisations checked or evaluated the results and most of the grouse industry is still stuck with its head in the sand of the 20th century. History is full of examples of trades and industries which died out through failure to innovate fast enough as times changed. Will grouse shooting be one of them ?

Hen Harriers

at 17:26 on 23/01/2018 by Ross McMahon

I am and remain vexed as to the. RSPB reluctance yet again to take advantage of the significant superior knowledge that is there to be called upon. There continued persecution of keepers and the shooting community verbally by way of Avery and Packham is unexceptionable. Not reported but stats obtained regarding the factual situation appertaining to released Harriers over the past years are staggering. Of the 47 birds released 4 are still alive, 6 carcasses have been found. Of these 5 died of natural causes, one had been shot but with an air rifle and shooting was not the cause of death. The remaining 37 have transmitters which only send a signal for 10 hrs then take 48 hrs to re-charge, hence the RSPB don’t factually know where these birds have vanished and hence how they can repeatedly announce they have been lost in suspicious circumstances is at best tenuous. Using the stats from there own small sample group of the lost 37 some 32 will be dead by natural causes and the remaining 5 they have no factual data as to how where or why. The constant accusations from the RSPB is at best poor science at worst fund raising propaganda intended to be a self serving funding grab to fit a picture they want to present not the factual situation

Countryside Crime - Raptor Persecution 2018

at 16:28 on 23/01/2018 by Mike Grace

Raptor persecution by criminal moorkeeper(s) contributes to the politicised objections to our shooting heritage. Any moorkeeper, be they employee or employer, must stamp out criminal raptor killing this season 2018. Bird watchers are thrilled to see plovers, curlew, etc thriving, but it is tinged with sadness when any raptor that flies into the area is probably only sighted the once. We need shooting to carry on and moorlands be conserved into the future. Preferably not with 'antis' being handed ammunition to ban us. Recent rises of all shooting related values encourage individual monetary rewards, but at what cost?

Flawed business plan?

at 15:48 on 23/01/2018 by Mike Rae

Perhaps the driven Grouse industry should operate within the law as all business should. The shooting industry as whole is being laid open to attack and ridicule as a result of illegal killing of raptors to protect grouse shooting that is being run on a fundamentally flawed business plan.

hen harriers extinction

at 12:25 on 23/01/2018 by john kelley

get parties actively working together now - not when it’s too late and thy’ve gone! Let future generations appreciate such an enigmatic raptor... john kelley

Hen Harrier Brood Management

at 9:12 on 22/01/2018 by Bryan Benn

Andrew, it is so very sad those 20 years have slipped past. Time for talking and inaction has ended. Positive steps forward must be tested, regardless of those who ridicule that, and regardless of those who may well be thinking on the lines you have hinted at, "those opposed to trialling brood management are simply afraid it might work?" The sooner the days of raptor politics can be left behind, the sooner Hen Harriers will benefit. They have been the only losers from 20 years of inaction.

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