Hen Harrier ‘brood meddling’ slammed by Wild Justice

The campaign group Wild Justice (run by Dr Mark Avery, a former Director of Conservation at the RSPB, Dr Ruth Tingay, who set up and runs the highly-influential Raptor Persecution UK (RPUK) blog, and Chris Packham, the most popular conservationist in the whole of the UK) has just published Meddling on the Moors, a new report on Hen Harrier ‘brood meddling’.



A conservation “sham sanctioned by DEFRA as part of its ludicrous ‘Hen Harrier Action Plan‘” (as Ruth Tingay memorably describes it), brood meddling is a hugely controversial and expensive management trial run by Natural England on behalf of shooting organisations. It involves chicks being taken from the nests of Hen Harriers (one of the most highly-protected species of bird of prey in the UK, our page on this species is here) and moved around the country so that they don’t ‘conflict’ with the profits of grouse shoots.

Rolled out in 2018 and originally designed to run for five years (hence the publication of the report now), Natural England has spent a massive £900,000 of taxpayers’ money to essentially remove the temptation of raptor persecution from gamekeepers. It has failed dismally. Everyone warned them what would happen (indeed the RSPB refused in 2016 to have anything to do with the then-planned scheme). While the government tried to gaslight us all into thinking that keepers would start behaving themselves if they helped them out, RPUK has (and it won’t be a coincidence) just updated their rolling tally of Hen Harriers that “are now known to have either ‘disappeared’ in suspicious circumstances or been found illegally killed, mostly on or close to grouse moors” to a staggering 98!

98 Hen Harriers, most if not all satellite-tagged as part of scientific research studies, ‘disappeared or killed’ since Brood Meddling started…one of those 98, a young male called Free, was not shot or taken by an animal but (as a blog from a Natural England staffer explains) “the post-mortem examination concluded that Free’s leg had been torn off while he was alive, and that the cause of death was the head being twisted and pulled off while the body was held tightly.”

When did this psychopathically cruel crime take place: April 2022, four years into Natural England’s taxpayer-funded bribe to the grouse shooting industry…


Anu. Killed on a grouse moor in the Peak District National Park. Image RSPB


The Report

Over a 40 minute read Wild Justice slices apart the lies of the grouse shooting industry and lays into Natural England for “the standard of scientific enquiry” that is (not) evident in their brood meddling study. The report slams the ‘Lack of a coherent quantitative approach” and the “Lack of Assessment of Competing Hypotheses”. And it plunges the knife into what is supposed to be a rigorous scientific trial with the damning sentence “Information on the protocols and definitions involved in this study have not been provided to us and we question whether they exist”.

And what of the allegations that instead of dealing with rampant wildlife crime, Natural England has given up and chucked money at the problem instead? A stinging Guardian subheading posted yesterday rubs salt into NE’s wounds: “Wild Justice says government initiative to relocate broods away from grouse moors ‘rewards past crimes’ of illegal killing”. Ouch.

If any of this sounds too technical or detailed – or at the moment you don’t know anything about Natural England’s capitulation to the criminals that routinely make Hen Harriers ‘disappear’ from grouse moors – be assured that Meddling on the Moors is extremely readable. The Wild Justice team (and in particular Mark and Ruth) have honed ‘how to explain science’ to a fine art over decades of writing reports like these. They are expert at making complex ideas absolutely clear, and there is nothing in the report that is difficult to understand (much, we can only assume, to the discomfort of Natural England or the grouse moor barons). 

Put it this way, you may not be an expert on ‘brood meddling’ before you start reading, but you’ll be extremely proficient by the time you get to the end!

Having said that, if you don’t have time to read the whole report or just want to check out the sleeve notes before a deep dive, how about this concise paragraph from page six:

Brood meddling is sometimes portrayed as a technique that is frequently used in nature conservation but this is untrue. Yes, chicks are rescued from farmland in a few cases such as where harvesting activities put them in danger but are released once the danger has passed. We can’t think of another situation where the solution for criminal activity is to give the criminals the outcome they seek through a licensed activity. It seems to us to be akin to bribing bank robbers not to rob banks – they get given the money so they don’t have to steal it, but the public loses out anyway.




The ‘Inglorious 12th’

Killing Hen Harriers illegally wouldn’t be a ‘thing’ if the damnable grouse shooting industry hadn’t dug its blood-soaked claws into such huge areas of the uplands where these birds are simply trying to survive and feed their families.

Protect the Wild has just posted three Opinion pieces which lay out our contempt for grouse shooting, and what we think the solution is.