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Three weeks ago, we told you how correspondence obtained from Defra and Natural England (NE) under the Freedom of Information Act showed unequivocally that the RSPB, through partner organisations in France and Spain, had actively undermined a Government project to reintroduce hen harriers into Southern England by preventing the supply of chicks from those countries. The RSPB has vehemently denied the claims, saying that the decision for France and Spain not to get involved in the reintroduction scheme was "entirely theirs to make", and that the claims "are simply not true".
Do we therefore take it from this that the RSPB is accusing Defra and NE of lying, as according to NE's Project Manager for the reintroduction programme, the SEO (Spanish Birdlife partner) "were acting on behalf of their friends the RSPB" when they suddenly announced in May 2019 that they were no longer supportive of the project? He went on to add that: "The 11th hour intervention from the SEO had been prompted, and in part worded by the RSPB".
When challenged by NE at the time, the RSPB said that its position remained unchanged: "For the reasons we have rehearsed we do not support the project but nor will we take steps to oppose or brief against it. Therefore, any feed back to the contrary does not represent the position of the organisation. There may have been some miscommunication or misunderstanding". However, from a note provided by Defra, that would appear not to have been the case. "Due to contact by RSPB with conservation groups in France and Spain, NE has been unable to source chicks for the reintroduction. Without chicks the re-introduction cannot go ahead and we can't stop RSPB".
Martin Harper, the RSPB's Director of Conservation, has now claimed that the decision by France and Spain not to get involved with the reintroduction "will presumably have been because hen harrier populations are struggling in many parts of Europe because of agricultural intensification and illegal persecution, on top of the fact that the scheme doesn't meet internationally agreed guidelines". But what exactly are these "internationally agreed guidelines", that the RSPB is now citing for the first time? After all, the RSPB was one of the partners in the Uplands Stakeholder Forum that helped shaped Defra's Hen Harrier Action Plan, with the Southern reintroduction of hen harriers being a component part of that Plan, and one that is underpinned by the approach to species reintroduction published in Defra's 25 year Environment Plan.
Before Defra gave its agreement to the Southern reintroduction, the scheme was also subject to a Habitat Regulations Assessment by NE, a Screening Report by the University of Exeter, an assessment of the guidelines from the International Union for the Conservation of Nature, a Disease Risk Assessment undertaken by the Zoological Society of London, and numerous discussions with partners and stakeholders both at national and local levels. As we know, the RSPB also undertakes bird reintroductions itself, is supportive of other reintroduction programmes around the country, and it defies belief that any "internationally agreed guidelines" could have been overlooked, or only just now come to light.
This whole issue raises some serious questions. The documents that we have seen make it clear that the RSPB derailed the efforts not just of Government, but also many other organisations that are working to improve the conservation status of our hen harriers. The RSPB's claims that these documents are simply untrue, and that it is not guilty of any wrongdoing, means that someone either in Defra, NE or the RSPB is deliberately obscuring the truth.