An application for judicial review of a decision by Natural England has been dismissed.
The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB), and scientist and conservation campaigner Dr Avery, applied for judicial review against the decision to grant licence to conduct a trial into the brood management of hen harriers pursuant to the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981.
Hen harriers are protected by the Wild Birds Directive 2009/147/EC. However, hen harriers were being illegally killed and their nests destroyed because they feed grouse chicks to their young – harming the grouse-shooting industry.
Natural England proposed a scheme that would remove hen harrier eggs and chicks from nests, rear them in captivity, and release them away from grouse moors when fledged. It wanted to hold a trial to investigate the effect of brood management on the behaviour of the moorland community, and to investigate whether it could rear hen harriers in captivity and release them to become successful breeding adults in the English uplands.
The RSPB and Avery said the scheme was unlawful because of the disturbance it would cause to hen harriers. They also claimed that Natural England had misapplied the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 by treating the purpose of the licence solely as research and not including the conservation of hen harriers, despite conservation being the ultimate purpose.
The judge concluded that Natural England's interpretation of the 1981 Act was correct and that there was no evidence it was trying to avoid the statutory purpose of conservation of an endangered species. The scheme of care for the hen harriers was adequately secured and it was clear that Natural England's purpose was to further conservation, not to protect the grouse-shooting industry.
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