Chris Packham and the ‘hen harrier 300’

When Chris Packham criticises grouseshooting, the BBC reports what he says. In the absence of balance, we expose three fibs the anti grouseshooters like to trot out.

There should be 300 hen harrier pairs in England
This comes from a JNCC report (February 2011 PDF, 1.6mb) that says there should be 2,514–2,653 pairs in the whole of the UK, with ‘potential national population estimates’ calculated for England at 323–340 pairs. “This is based on analysis that was done that looked at the amount of available habitat,” says Andrew Gilruth of the GWCT. “That’s fine, but that is the maximum number. A more sensible number for us as conservationists is ‘favourable conservation status’. If you look at the same data, and you look at the number of birds required to have a sustainable population, in England it is 61 pairs.”

Chris Packham: ‘There should be 300 hen harrier pairs in England’

Brood management is bad for hen harrier conservation
Brood management and captive breeding programmes have been used over the last 50 years for birds including Californian condors, bearded vultures and the Mauritius kestrel. The UK government backs brood management as part of its five-year hen harrier plan. “There is a feeling that everything should just be left to get on with it,” says Charlie Heap, managing director of the National Birds of Prey Centre. “Obviously with what I do I’m hands on. I believe humans can do great harm, we also have within our power to put things right. My feeling is if we can put things right and give nature a hand, if we can get properly involved with conservation and not just let nature get on with it, that’s a good thing.”

Diversionary feeding doesn’t stop hen harriers killing grouse
Of course it doesn’t. But along with other measures, is helps keep hen harriers fed, and therefore grouse protected. “There’s going to be hen harriers here [on the moor he manages] every year. There probably will be, in a couple of years time, on every moor,” says gamekeeper Morgan Brown in our film. “They can live here – they can get along. Diversionary feeding is the way forward.”

Hen harrier over an English grousemoor

Many people both inside and outside the world of shooting can’t understand why the RSPB is so opposed to the conservation of hen harriers as carried out by gamekeepers. “I see both sides,” says Charlie Heap. “I get quite frustrated when it all ends up with ‘pistols at dawn’ instead of saying we’re all heading for the same destination and we’re all on roughly the same route. I’m completely aware that there’s some fantastic conservation work done by gamekeepers. I would like to think gamekeepers would look at birds of prey and say, ‘It would be kind of good to have those here’. If they eat a few chicks or pheasants it’s just natural wastage.”

For the organisations we spoke to, visit:

Read about how well hen harriers are doing in 2020 here

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