Thank you to all the constituents who have bee contacting me about the plight of the hen harrier.
These iconic birds of prey are intensively persecuted and are in danger of extinction in England. I am very concerned that the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) has outlined there was a fall of 18% in the UK population of hen harriers between 2004 and 2010, followed by a further fall of 13% between 2010 and 2016.
I understand there are many factors behind the falling hen harrier population, and I know groups such as the RSPB and Wild Justice are concerned about human-induced pressures like habitat loss and illegal persecution.
The RSPB has highlighted that during the coronavirus pandemic lockdown, cases of birds of prey including hen harriers being poisoned, shot or trapped and killed have risen sharply – noting a particular link with driven grouse shooting in its investigations.
Many people are concerned about the impact that grouse shooting has on protected birds of prey, such as the hen harrier. I share these concerns and I believe we need a new approach to protecting and restoring numbers of these iconic species – with a review into how grouse moors operate and proper licensing in place. I also believe we must improve enforcement and prosecution rates for the illegal persecution of birds of prey.
Driven grouse shooting also has a huge impact on our natural habitat. Rotational burning of moorlands by gamekeepers contributes to climate breakdown and I am concerned that land management used in driven grouse shooting can result in soil degradation, as well as problems with flooding and water quality in surrounding areas.
The Government indicated in October last year that it was developing a legislative response to the burning of fragile peat ecosystems and would bring plans to Parliament in due course. The Government has no plans to ban driven grouse shooting. I will follow any developments in relation to this closely.
My Labour colleagues and I will continue to support efforts to protect hen harriers, including by pressing the Government to implement a review into grouse moors operation and a proper licensing system as a matter of urgency.