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Conservationist takes legal action to prevent the captive breeding of Hen Harrier chicks

Dr Mark Avery has launched a formal legal challenge over government plans to introduce the 'brood management' of the protected Hen Harrier bird of prey

Posted on 16 April 2018

A leading conservationist has begun formal legal proceedings to stop controversial government plans to grant licences for the ‘brood management’ of a protected bird of prey, the Hen Harrier.

Dr Mark Avery, who is represented by the law firm Leigh Day, has today submitted a claim to the High Court for a judicial review of the decision by Natural England, the government’s adviser for the natural environment in England, to grant brood management licences for the breeding of Hen Harriers.

Brood management involves removing eggs and/or young harriers from nests, rearing them in captivity and then releasing them back into the wild. Natural England wants to trial Brood Management to see whether it will lessen "the perceived conflict between Hen Harriers and grouse management and lead to a cessation in illegal persecution [of Hen Harriers]."

The latest population survey by the RSPB in 2016 recorded only 545 breeding pairs of Hen Harrier in the UK, a 14% decline since the previous survey in 2010, and only four of these pairs nested in England (and none of them on grouse moors).

In February, Law firm Leigh Day, who are acting on behalf of Dr Mark Avery, sent a pre-action protocol letter to Natural England legal services arguing that Natural England’s decision to grant a licence was unlawful as there were alternative sensible and effective actions available and the current brood management proposals fly in the face of the EU Birds Directive, which aims to protect all of the 500 wild bird species naturally occurring in the European Union.

Solicitor Tessa Gregory, from Leigh Day, said:

"Natural England have refused to change their plans regarding the licensing of brood management of Hen Harriers, so our client is now seeking a judicial review of the decision to run this inherently risky and unnecessary trial.

The law protecting this endangered bird of prey is clear: actions such as disturbing its nests and taking eggs can only be undertaken if there are no alternative satisfactory solutions. Our client argues there are many alternatives that could have been considered, including taking better steps to enforce criminal law to prevent wildlife crime and trialling the licensing of grouse shooting. Natural England did not consider those alternatives and instead have chosen a path which seeks to appease the criminal community who persecute the Hen Harrier whilst doing nothing to protect the bird itself."

Campaigners argue that brood management will place the precarious English population of Hen Harriers at further significant risk and fails to address the main issue of wildlife crime on grouse moors. They claim that unless and until illegal persecution is tackled head on, the threat to Hen Harriers remains severe.

A crowdjustice campaign, started by Dr Avery to support his legal claim, raised over £25,000 in just four and a half days, with 900 members of the public contributing to the cause and helping to popularise the hashtag #Justice4HenHarriers on social media.

Dr Mark Avery said:

"Licensing this brood management project is certainly daft but we believe it is also illegal because Natural England hasn’t properly considered alternative actions.

"Natural England seems to care more for grouse shooters than the wildlife that Natural England should be protecting."