Why The RSPB Blocks Hen Harriers
The RSPB professes a huge admiration for the hen harrier - a beautiful bird of prey that occasionally is seen soaring in the English uplands. Occasionally, because there are only three nesting pairs. The RSPB has been vocally demanding that action is taken to increase their numbers. Yet what puzzles many is that the RSPB has for decades been blocking government plans to grow their numbers. It may be because the issue has become a vital fundraising tool for the charity. Or it may be an ideological issue. Either way, as a Sunday Times headline put it “the hen harrier’s biggest enemy is the RSPB”.
The deadlock has allowed the RSPB to suck in literally millions in donations and grants - e.g. a £900k EU grant this summer that is paying for it to lobby against the UK government scheme. Its opposition isn’t because the RSPB’s supporters are against the government plan.
The Sunday Times“the hen harrier’s biggest enemy is the RSPB”
A TNS opinion poll in September 2014 showed that while 28% of RSPB supporters strongly agreed with the government scheme only 2% strongly backed the RSPB line of firmly opposing the government scheme. That means that when the RSPB goes to government and claims that it is speaking for 1,000,000 members, there are actually 980,000 who don’t back its point of view.
The Government Plan For Growing Hen Harrier Numbers
To thrive hen harriers need three things: 1. Protection from wildlife crime, 2. protection from foxes and 3. the rich heather-clad uplands which gamekeepers produce.
The government plan to increase hen harrier numbers involves reassuring gamekeepers that if there are too many hen harriers in one place the excess birds can be moved to other parts of the countryside. The government realises that an explosion in hen harrier numbers on any one grouse moor would result in them going out of business.
This wouldn’t simply be a commercial problem. Scientific evidence shows that when grouse moors collapse the heathland disappears and is replaced by sheep farming or conifers. Hen harrier numbers then plunge because not only is there no habitat but there are no gamekeepers to protect their nests from foxes and crows. Other ground nesting birds like curlews, plovers and lapwings suffer.
Finally there is the immense human cost: employment for hundreds of people in rural villages also disappears.