Published — 14 August, 2020

Protection of birds of prey

Thank you for contacting me regarding the decline in hen harriers, and other birds of prey. The decline of these and other raptors is very worrying. Specifically on hen harriers, the last survey in 2016 found only 4 pairs in England. It is sad because they were once commonly found in upland and lowland Britain though were lost from mainland Britain around 1900. Populations recovered, but the hen harrier has never re-established itself in the English uplands, probably due to persecution.

This issue is important to me, as demonstrated by having taken action previously. I want to see a self-sustaining well dispersed breeding population in England across a range of habitats including a viable population in the Special Protected Areas designated for hen harriers. A hen harrier population coexisting with local business interests and its presence contributing to a thriving rural economy. I know this is the government view and very widely shared across parliament.

To achieve this, the government took the lead on the Hen Harrier Action Plan. This sets out what will be done to increase hen harrier populations in England and includes measures to stop illegal persecution. A copy of the plan is available on GOV.UK.

The Joint Action Plan was published in January 2016 and it remains the best way to restore hen harrier populations. It contains six actions which individually can bring benefits for harriers, but when combined, underpin each other and have the potential to deliver positive results. It includes three measures to stamp out illegality, a trial toolkit comprising two measures for land owners to safely accommodate hen harriers on grouse moors and a measure to reintroduce them to suitable habitat in other parts of England. These six complementary actions are in the Plan, along with the expected benefits from each action, who is going to lead actions and the timescales for them to be achieved. Natural England will report annually on progress on all six actions to the Defra Uplands Stakeholder Forum and also copy this to the UK Tasking and Co-ordinating group for Wildlife Crime.

All wild birds are protected under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981, with strong penalties for committing offences against birds of prey and other wildlife. The Government takes wildlife crime very seriously and has identified raptor persecution as a national wildlife crime priority, focusing on hen harrier, golden eagle, goshawk, peregrine, red kite and white tailed eagle. The Hen Harrier Action Plan includes work with enforcement agencies to tackle incidents of illegal persecution. Any persecution incident has a catastrophic impact on this fragile population.

I will make sure the government is aware of the strength of feeling on this issue, as you request. I have already raised it with Ministers having spoken in the House about enforcement of wildlife crime, specifically against hen harriers, last autumn.

Thank you again for contacting me.