On 22nd December, 2008 Natural England put out a press release entitled "Persecution is prime cause of Hen Harrier disappearance" with a sub heading "Grouse moors linked to persistent nesting failure in Natural England study".
Within the press release the statement, "Hen Harrier in England continue to be persecuted and their recovery hangs in the balance.......". How prophetic!! The statistics presented partially overlap with those I presented on this Blog on the 1st May, 2012, as the period was 2002-2008. Within that time 127 Hen Harrier breeding attempts were recorded, with over two thirds being in the Forest of Bowland. Despite the underlying despondent theme it was nonetheless encouraging that so many nesting attempts were occurring elsewhere in England. The latter situation would now appear to be a thing of the past.
The report upon which the press release was based, "A Future for the Hen Harrier in England ?", provides compelling evidence of the illegal persecution of the species in England and presents a very sombre picture indeed. In his remarks the then Chair of Natural England, Sir Martin Doughty said, " The Hen Harrier has unfortunately become the emblem of man's callous disregard for the spectacular and majestic wildlife that we have in England". Sadly, Sir Martin, a man for whom I had the highest regard, has since died and I sincerely wonder what he would have made of the current situation.
Given that Natural England is the Government of the day's adviser, one really wonders what regard or action, if any, was taken of its published report? No wide ranging initiatives appeared to arise in the aftermath of this damning report and one wonders if it was simply shelved and the evidence of persistent persecution tolerated. Two major points arise in my mind. The law of the land was persistently being broken and an iconic species, awarded especial protection under the Wildlife and Countryside Act, 1981 ( as amended ), was having its breeding population decimated. Population monitoring was continued, but no direct action on those responsible was advocated. Whilst I accept Natural England's role is advisory and, thereby, passive to a large extent, one does question why some form of pressure didn't arise via other agencies, e.g increased Police attention to the matter, Government condemnation or even "intervention by instruction".
We are now in the era of the Greenest Government ever ( that's what the man said! ). Sadly I suspect the remark more relates to sustainable energy than anything to do with our natural heritage, particularly given the Chancellor of the Exchequer's comments on the subject, but we'll pass on that for the moment.
Within the research, results from satellite tagged birds showed several to have suddenly disappeared in the vicinity of known roosts. So young birds produced in Bowland, as the English stronghold of the species around which so much obvious importance revolves, then set forth from that breeding area and were tracked on their journey, only to disappear in a "black hole" , the Bahama Death Triangle of areas to the east. The words, "compelling evidence", were used in the report, but what actions to minimise such desecration resulted from such stark conclusions. Well, none, actually, that I can establish or trace through enquiries. So complacency or incompetence, take your pick!
Now that the warnings and advice ( clearly ignored ) have become such a stark reality, one wonders what our "Greenest Government ever " will make of the situation and how they might justify the imminent extinction of an iconic raptor species on their watch! One hears of rumours of an increasing clamour for licenses to be made available to land managers to "control" Buzzards, yet another raptor species against which they would wish to exercise prejudice . One wonders whether such a request is based on any scientific study which has even identified a potential conflict in interests and evaluates whether such action would address the requirements of need. I more suspect it represents an initiative that game management interests are pursuing in order to clear our countryside of a component they claim to be a supposed threat to their commercial undertakings. With an increasing number of people finding solace and relaxation by visiting the countryside and watching wildlife, one questions what right such a group have to "play God" and attempt to initiate management exclusively in their own interests. Additionally, given the apparent recklessness and utter disregard for the law of the land exhibited by this same group of people, who have overseen the decimation of the English breeding population of harriers, one seriously questions whether such a responsibility, even if needed, could ever be invested in such people exhibiting a total absence of tolerance.
At the moment, with commentary increasing about the situation associated with the Hen Harrier in England, I'm amazed no comments are forthcoming from any of the national "senior" agencies associated with conservation and our wildlife heritage, be they formal or voluntary. Certainly they are awaited! Also, may I urge Natural England to hasten on the publication of the results arising from the research undertaken under the Hen Harrier Recovery Project so that these locational data can be taken fully into account when the necessary strategy to improve the current situation is drawn together.