Crowdfunded campaign raises £25,000 in just four days
Campaign against plan to remove chicks from their nests and rear them in captivity raises £25,000 in four days.
A controversial plan to remove the chicks of endangered birds from their nests and rear them in captivity could be challenged in the high court after a crowdfunded campaign raised £25,000 in four days.
Wildlife campaigner and author Mark Avery is leading an application for a judicial review of the hen harrier “brood management” plan, in which chicks will be raised in captivity and released into the wild.
Conservationists blame the grouse moor industry for the virtual absence of hen harriers from uplands in England – there were four nests in 2016 – which government scientists calculated would naturally support more than 300 pairs of the bird.
The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs plan, which is licensed by Natural England, the government’s wildlife watchdog, is designed to stop the illegal persecution of the legally protected bird of prey but critics say it instead rewards the owners of grouse moors. Removing the chicks from moorland prevents the parent birds from predating so many of the red grouse which generate a lucrative grouse-shooting business.
“It’s difficult to see how hen harriers benefit from this plan,” said Avery. “They are taken into captivity and released back into the places from which they are taken, where they will be killed in the way that they would have been if they hadn’t been taken into captivity.
“The plan makes life easier for grouse shooters because for the period the chicks are removed the parents aren’t hoovering up grouse. The grouse moor owners benefit and a threatened bird doesn’t benefit at all.
“Licensing this brood management project is certainly daft but we believe it is also illegal because Natural England hasn’t properly considered alternative actions. Natural England has lost the plot and seems to care more for grouse shooters than the wildlife that Natural England should be protecting.”
According to Natural England, the brood management plan will reduce “the perceived conflict between hen harriers and grouse management and lead to a cessation in illegal persecution [of hen harriers]”.
Law firm Leigh Day, which is lodging an application for a judicial review on Monday, argues that Natural England’s licence is unlawful under the EU Birds Directive, and that alternative methods should protect the hen harriers.
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.”
More than 100,000 people signed a petition in 2016 to ban driven grouse shooting because of conflicts with rare birds of prey.
Avery crowdfunded £25,000 for the legal challenge in just four and a half days – without the official support of any mainstream conservation charities.
Avery added: “I’m clearly not alone in opposing this plan. Over 960 people crowdfunded this challenge. That shows how unpopular it is with birdwatchers and conservationists.”
If the application is successful, the judicial review will be held in the high court.
Article originally appeared on The Guardian
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