News that, over the Bank Holiday weekend, no sightings of Hen Harrier have arisen from the Forest of Bowland, Lancashire, their former English stronghold, suggests the species during this season may now have been lost as a breeding bird. Whether or not this also means the species might have been lost totally in England appears increasingly likely. This is an absolute travesty about which no public comment from appropriate authorities has yet been made, but whose reactions and intended remedies will be intensely anticipated.
The extent to which this will be seen as a victory by those responsible for the species' demise will forever be a subjective assessment as, clearly, to celebrate the situation is to declare guilt by association or , at least, publicly countenance the laws of the land being broken. Undoubtedly there will be some within the game management fraternity who will see the situation as an incentive to try and reduce the population level still further regardless of its geographical origin. Such would appear to be the major weakness contained within the proceedings being presided over by the Environment Council and the proposal to initiate a captive breeding/release programme. Do participants in that debate seriously feel that, if any of the released individuals eventually transgress on to managed uplands they will be treated with tolerance? What a potential waste of money and effort! I don't condemn the sincerity associated with the desire to improve the situation, but until the law is accepted and adhered to, any such a proposal will meet with failure. The law needs to be applied robustly and the Government soundly condemn those whose intent it is to deplete our natural heritage. From now on it should be routine practice, if anyone is found guilty of an offence against Hen Harriers , for the penalty to be raised significantly, not just as a consequence of them contravening the provisions within the Wildlife and Countryside Act, 1981 ( as amended ), but for undermining the potential of a key species, illegally reduced previously, that might now contribute to its reinstatement.
Sadly , at a time when a concerted front needs to be pursued and apparent, there are those who would continue to pursue the personalised blame game. Whilst I have no reservations about criticising, positively, apparent weaknesses within given approaches and policies by constituent bodies, the incessant personalised condemnation, largely built on assumptions and inaccuracy, is wasteful and misleading. An expectation of then being considered an equal participant in a failed partnership beggars belief. As an example,the recent publicity on the Web, given to what anyone would easily discern as a piece of mischievous fiction relating to the Eagle Owls and raptors in Bowland, is contrived controversy at its best. At its worst it is sheer dysfunctional delusion aimed at promoting self-serving positioning, and will have achieved nothing now it has backfired. But what a waste!
There is no place, in an atmosphere of increasing pressure against conservation, for diversionary actions aimed at self-promotion and the personal castigation of others. We will only win through by a strong and
concerted effort so that, numerically, we are seen to be a collectively strong voice for action that can set differences aside and act in a mature and informed fashion. Sadly some are incapable, or unwilling to so do and, in my book, should simply be ignored. All I would point to is what has been achieved by an obviously concerted action against harriers to prove what can be achieved!!
One wonders whether the extent to which this lack of cohesion, coupled with complacency amongst many followers of our hobby, is the main component in the failure of the Vicarious Liability E-petition? As at 1800 hours today it stands at 8937 signatures! This pathetic level of signatures is being blamed by some on the RSPB, whose assembled membership could obviously have made a significant numerical difference. However, I wonder whether the timing, intention , wording of the petition and promotion strategy was ever communicated to RSPB last November when the petition was raised, never mind discussed with them beforehand? Such an omission could be blamed as being a major part of the abject failure of the initiative, so let's get things in perspective. I hope I'm wrong, but offer the suggestion as an example of something about which , increasingly, we need to confer and co-operate to a greater extent than ever previously!
On another front, the anticipated results from the review of our wildlife legislation commissioned by DEFRA is due quite soon. Whether it will include elements that will address raptor persecution is anybody's guess, it might even consider the subject of vicarious liability and suggest the initiative taken by the Scottish Parliament is followed. Who knows?.
Clearly we are on the cusp of change in a variety of respects. Looking ahead already to the future, it is imperative everyone works towards common objectives, whatever the problems of the past. The challenge of reversing the current situation with harriers should not be underestimated, and certainly not in exchange for pursuing self-inflated agendas. There can only be one objective........that of ensuring the retention of the English harrier breeding population. The birds come first in my book; I'm not interested in bruised egos or any assumed shortcomings of others. In my view, to not be a part of a collective effort aimed at improvement is to be a contributor to its potential failure.