The rural community is urged to get behind a Government petition asking Defra to publish its long-awaited joint recovery plan for the hen harrier. The plan to save the endangered raptor has been drawn up in consultation with a wide range of interested parties, including the National Gamekeepers Organisation and the RSPB.

The hen harrier, prolific in Europe, is almost extinct south of Scotland and east of Wales. Illegal persecution on English grouse moors is blamed, but there are no hen harriers on nature reserves or in areas where there is no shooting either, and the raptor, which feeds on grouse chicks and young wader birds, is itself a ground-nesting bird subject to natural predation.

The six-point plan involves a more stringent approach to illegal persecution, monitoring of breeding and roosting sites, satellite tracking, diversionary feeding to reduce predation on grouse chicks, possibly reintroducing hen harriers to other parts of England and a brood management trial involving moving chicks from moors to aviaries.‘The logic of chick relocation, or brood management, is that it removes the threat of colonies of hen harriers making grouse moor management uneconomic and gamekeepers redundant,’ points out Barney White-Spunner of the Countryside Alliance.

Amanda Anderson of the Moorland Association says: ‘The plan will deliver more harriers in a sustainable way, give us more knowledge about these birds and tackle wildlife crime. What’s not to like? Sign today!’ Alan Jarrett of the British Association for Shooting and Conservation adds: ‘It’s hard to see how anybody who cares about harriers and the uplands could oppose this plan.’

There is resistance, from the RSPB, which suggests chick relocation may be illegal, and its former conservation director Mark Avery, who is calling for a ban on grouse-shooting and has appealed to Marks & Spencer not to sell grouse in a move unhelpful to the rural economy.

The Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust, which has launched the petition, says: ‘For the sake of the hen harrier, Defra must resist external pressure to meddle with the plan. England’s hen harrier population is too fragile to wait any longer. You have it in your gift to save the English hen harrier and return it across our skies. Do it. Be brave and publish the hen harrier recovery plan today—the clock is ticking.’

To sign the petition, visit:
http://epetitions.direct.gov.uk/petitions/67527