Given the near eradication of the species as a breeding bird in England and the intensity of the management of our uplands we cannot accept the status quo.
There was good news earlier this month. We were able to report on three hen harrier nests in Northern England. I hope that this is the start of a long road to the recovery of this species.
But, even to guarantee the nesting success of these birds, we have to mount a 24 hour nest watch to protect them.
And then we wait. We wait to see if they can survive - once they leave the nest, we can't do much more than monitor their progress and hope for the best.
These 'protected' birds are not safe
It is ridiculous that in 21st century England, we have to run a round-the-clock surveillance programme. But we can have no confidence that they are safe on their nest or that they can fly free from persecution.
Driven grouse moors are the most intensive form of game management and the trend from some has been to increase the shootable surplus of birds.
Activities include burning on peat or non-peat soils, and putting out medicated grit - both of which legal. But there are still those that practise illegal predator control. And for some grouse moor owners, hen harriers are their least loved bird.
Reform is urgently needed
The RSPB is 125 years old this year. It spent much of its first 50 years campaigning for law reform to prevent the wanton destruction of wild birds. Today, we think more reform is urgently needed.
We need and expect the grouse shooting community to change: the industry must demonstrate they can operate in harmony with birds of prey and help to restore the environmental quality of our hills.
So, today, we have written to the Moorland Assocaition, which represents the moorland owners of England, explaining why we believe it is time to regulate the industry.
We shall also be writing to the major political parties to urge them to introduce a robust licensing system to govern driven grouse moor management after the election.
We also attach great importance to working positively with progressive voices in shooting and our Skydancer programme is just one example of this.
We are delighted that Skydancer is one of the good causes that has been nominated for a National Lottery Award (for which the public can vote) in recognition of the approach we are taking with our partners.
The UK's remarkably lax hunting and conservation laws
Yet, no other country in Europe has such lax laws governing hunting with no control on quotas or intensity of management. Illegal killing of birds of prey, including peregrine falcons and goshawks, continues, and our upland environment remains in a parlous state.
This was the context for our formal complaint to the European Commission to protect Walshaw Moor, part of the South Pennines Moor SAC, SPA and SSSI.
We took this unprecedented step to stop inappropriate burning on degraded blanket bog, which is preventing it from being restored, as required under EU law. We wouldn't have to take this action if our uplands were being managed properly.
If birds of prey populations were flourishing and if our uplands were in better condition, perhaps there would be no need for a licensing system to guarantee standards.
But that is not the case in England, which is why we need a licensing system to govern grouse moor management to deliver environmental outcomes.
This would complement other proposals such as the introduction of an offence of vicarious liability for illegal killing of birds of prey (to match the system in place in Scotland), and greater efforts to restore our peatlands.
The public will not stomach the continued destruction of our natural heritage
As our chief executive wrote to Amanda Anderson, director of the Moorland Association,
"There is evidence that birds of prey continue to be persecuted,impacting on their populations, and many important sites for wildlife are being damaged or destroyed by intensive management activities such as inappropriate burning. Intensification is increasing and it is clear that many in the industry are moving further away from common ground with conservation interests.
"This has to stop.
"This is why we have today called on political parties to introduce, after the next election, a robust licensing system to govern grouse moor management to deliver environmental outcomes.
"We believe that this law-abiding, environmentally sustainable grouse shoots would have nothing to fear from new regulation and would benefit from improved public confidence in the sustainability of their sport. But the public will not stomach the continued destruction of our natural heritage and it is clear that grouse shooting must change.
"I call on you to support the introduction of a modern regulatory regime for driven grouse shooting in England to help protect our amazing upland wildlife, restore our internationally important peatlands, and return the magnificent hen harrier to its rightful place in the sky above."
Unite to protect this extraordinary bird!
We will be supporting the day offering ways for people to get involved and we will be emailing our supporters with more information about how they can support Hen Harrier Day during July. We want people to unite to call for the end of persecution of this extraordinary bird.
And we will continue to urge DEFRA to develop the promised robust action plan that will drive hen harrier recovery. We expect leadership from a government that has committed to preventing extinction from human causes. But, the grouse shooting community needs to change.
If you would like to support our campaign for restoring the uplands and saving birds of prey, you can do three things ...
- Please take part on hen harrier day by attending an event or show your support through social media.
- Vote for our Skydancer project in this year's National Lottery Awards (see here)
- Donate to our appeal which will be launched in the next couple of weeks. This appeal will help us to match EU LIFE+ funding, allowing us to purchase satellite tags to keep track of our hen harriers, survey them on their breeding and wintering grounds, collect new evidence to bring criminals to justice, and raise public awareness of the plight of this amazing species.
We shall provide updates on how you can help our campaign in due course. We shall continue to focus on the state of nature and call for action to reduce the impact of any land use. It is our job to do whatever nature needs.
Martin Harper is Conservation Director at RSPB.
This article was originally published on Martin Harper's blog on the RSPB website.