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Hen Harrier

Lawyers begin legal case to protect Hen Harriers over government decision to grant 'brood management' licence

Wildlife campaigners challenge the government over decision to grant a licence for the 'brood management' of the protected Hen Harrier bird of prey

Posted on 05 March 2018

Campaigners are challenging the legality of Natural England‘s controversial decision to grant a licence for the ‘brood management’ of a protected bird of prey, the Hen Harrier.

Brood management involves removing young harriers from nests, rearing them in captivity and then releasing them back into the wild. Natural England, the government’s adviser for the natural environment in England, claims this will reduce "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 nested in England (and none of them on grouse moors).

Law firm Leigh Day, who represent conservation expert Dr Mark Avery, sent a pre-action protocol letter to Natural England legal services on 28 February 2018 arguing that Natural England’s decision to grant a licence is unlawful as there are alternative sensible and effective actions available and it flies 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.

They also claim the decision to grant the licence was procedurally unfair because it involved no public consultation and interested stakeholders were unable to explain the alternatives available and/or test the scientific basis for the trial.

Tessa Gregory, from Leigh Day, said:

"Our client believes that the decision to grant this licence is unlawful as it is in breach of EU law - it takes criminal activity as its starting point and looks to ease the path for those who break the law, often for profit, for the purpose of shooting Red Grouse."

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, the threat to Hen Harriers remains severe.

The CrowdJustice campaign raised the £25,000 target in just four and a half days. Over 900 members of the public have contributed money.

Mark Avery said:

"Michael Gove’s Department of the Environment must get a grip of the ecological damage caused by grouse shooting, and should start by enforcing the law that should protect these marvellous birds.

"DEFRA is soft on wildlife crime and soft on the causes of wildlife crime.

"Natural England is failing the public by allowing this daft scheme to go ahead. We have now met our fundraising target and the response of 900+ people shows how strongly wildlife lovers feel about this issue. We are looking for #justice4henharriers."