The RSPB has pulled out of the Hen Harrier Action Plan a little over six months after it was launched.
Announcing the move on the RSPB’s website, conservation director Martin Harper said that the grouse-shooting community was not doing enough to stop the illegal killing of hen harriers and other raptors.
“My natural preference is to build partnerships and work to make positive change from the inside,” he said. “However, this year there have been a series of depressingly predictable incidents in England and Scotland, the disappearance of the hen harriers ‘Chance’ and ‘Highlander’ and the use of pole traps and the hen harrier decoy in the Peak District.”
Speaking to BBC Wildlife in January when the plan was launched, Harper said the RSPB was interested in whether the plan could raise hen harrier numbers. “I want to see more this year than last year,” he added.
But 2016 has seen the number of nesting pairs in England fall from six last year to three.
Grouse-moor owners said they would continue to work with other partners – which include Defra, Natural England and the Game & Wildlife Conservation Trust – on the six-point plan to raise hen harrier numbers.
Amanda Anderson, director of the Moorland Association – a membership organisation that represents grouse-moor owners in England and Wales – said it was too early to say whether or not the action plan was working. One component of the plan – brood management, whereby gamekeepers are permitted to rear hen harrier chicks in captivity in order to reduce predation of grouse – has yet to be introduced. “You can’t say you have failed your A-level if you haven’t sat the paper,” she said.
Anderson hopes a brood management trial scheme will start in 2017 and added: “We wish to reiterate our total abhorrence of any act of wildlife crime and support of prosecutions.”
The RSPB now says that the only approach that will work is to license grouse moors, so that estates where illegal persecution is proven to have taken place are barred from operating shoots.