Saturday, June 2, 2012

Is it time we got Hen Harriers back on the agenda?

With the withdrawal of the Buzzard control proposals came an affirmation that civilised protest within our democracy can make a difference. A satisfying and correct outcome in my view, but not something we should celebrate in any partisan fashion, as might happen with other activities. The preferences of the majority were exercised and a decision taken to not to proceed. That process is the real cause to celebrate but, note, such was a withdrawal of the proposals, not an abandonment of the idea! The final outcome will need to be addressed on a different day!!

All this activity has served to deflect attention away from an issue that had demanded equal attention immediately previous to Buzzards hitting the news, namely Hen Harriers, and the fact that their English breeding population was virtually extinct.  If my sources are correct then the single nesting pair, upon which high hopes rested, have failed. The rumour may be incorrect.  Hopefully it is.  But does it matter? Are we not pinning hope on some forlorn sense of tokenism that is unlikely, in the present climate of persecution, to provide any form of solution?. We should be interpreting the fact of our being down to a single pair as being the consequence of unabated, deliberate persecution based on a culture within the shooting fraternity of intolerance toward the species. All of which , in one form or another, has been referred to in reports issued by the RSPB and by Natural England, an agency under DEFRA's aegis  which Richard Benyon is responsible for!   This situation, in my book and in this day and age, is one we should all be soundly ashamed of.  So, what to do, given all such accusations, challenges and evidence has been paraded out before?

Whilst some emphasis has been focussed on the apparent "sympathy" DEFRA exhibits towards the shooting fraternity, doubtless because of the interests of its own Environment Minister, that pressure must now be maintained in the light of the actions arising this week.  The consequences of the persecution of raptors already practised by that fraternity must be called into question within an all time, direct initiative that, unequivocally , demands action. Submitting polite demands for increased funding of a recovery project and pointing to increased persecution statistics will not solve this problem. We've been down that route before! Now is the time for strength on the part of the conservation agencies, the RSPB in particular, given the example shown by the actions of people ( including many RSPB members I'm sure! ) who, this week, registered their opposition to something so clearly wrong. The same opposition can be harnessed again if there is a set of clearly expressed objectives people can get behind. Whilst I have every respect for the RSPB and its staff, both past and present, this is a time when formality must be set aside and a no holds barred, extremely strong position taken up against something equally as wrong as "Benyon's Buzzard proposals". In his latest Blog Martin Harper ( Director, Conservation, RSPB ) deals with extinction and the need, for those gathering at Rio shortly, to be aware of current issues and past lapses. An impassioned plea that I think all of us would agree with to the letter. But we should also be applying the same approach on the Home Front and using the opportunity of utilising currently inflamed passions, coupled with the spirit of Rio+20, to address an imminent extinction episode on our own doorstep and to call for major changes in the operation of upland shooting estates. Everything should come under scrutiny and a system invoked whereby, in the absence of a disciplined approach, even by a minority, their operation should be subject to licencing. Draconian, maybe, but an approach brought on by their own wilful pursuit of self interest and an utter disregard of the wishes and interests of other sectors of society. Given there will be inevitable arguments associated with Richard Benyon's revised Buzzard proposals, let's seize the opportunity to have the whole gamut of abuse, misrepresentation and commercial self interest put under the spotlight and a once and for all solution arrived at and imposed.