There's an expression used in the North of England ( "Aye, well, it looks like its muck or nettles". ) that arises when an implacable situation is faced and no easy solution is likely. None of the choices are terribly attractive and it's either a question of leaping into the muck heap or the nettle bed! Strange therapies these Northerners go in for!
It rather seems to me that this is the situation we've now reached when considering what might be done when it comes to solving the current raptor persecution problem. Productive dialogue, aimed at some form of improvement, now appears to be in "lock down mode" with the shooting fraternity and conservationists being at utter loggerheads. We've now even got the former openly advocating the RSPB should be ignored in any such process due to their intransigence and bullying tactics ( or even truth telling perhaps? ). Such is the advice coming from Roy Green ( formerly , or currently, of Buccleugh Estates ) in an article in the current issue of the Shooting Times, followed closely also by claims from the Scottish Gamekeepers Association that it is they and their management of the countryside who are keeping the rural economy afloat in these times of recession. Minions doing the Masters job, the contents of which articles being little better than self delusion.
As we all know upland and lowland shoots are largely commercial entities. Evidence associated with court cases and from other official sources show that activities on some of these estates result in numbers of our raptors being persecuted. Such activities are against the law, often occur on areas which are also designated to protect key wildlife species and for which owners can receive Government subsidies, i.e. tax payers money, in order to maintain appropriate land management with that objective in mind ( not to improve the habitat to maximise Red Grouse production and its concomitant financial returns, ere the while removing the key raptor species! ). Accompanying this at present are increased outpourings of prejudice against all raptor species, calls for controls and so on. Clearly the landowning fraternity, along with , now, their self promoting serfs, appear intent on exercising what they see as "their rights" in "their interests", if necessary in direct contravention of the law and without exhibiting any sense of public, or even national, responsibility. It has to be said that,coupled with some of the attitude trends portrayed by some senior members of the current majority interest in our Government there appears to be more than a faint flush of nostalgia for the halcyon days of the Victorian era and not necessarily associated with shooting matters either!
Surely it's not just me that suspect's this barely disguised trend? The rapid and clearly orchestrated demise of the English Hen Harrier population, both in winter and as a breeding species, backed up by research and statements from one of the Government's own departments ( DeFRA ) , pays testimony to the fact that there is an ever emergent, brash intention to "play the game in any way we choose". In the light of all this, and with the English breeding Hen Harrier population being all but extinct, what signs do we see from from the RSPB or Natural England to indicate that this deplorable situation is going to be addressed with anything resembling spirit, fire or firm resolve?
Well, actually, nothing that is terribly apparent, not even a bit of heated indignation!!
When will the penny drop that this problem is not going to be resolved by cosy policy discussions with Government agencies when such antipathy exists towards the subject from the latter's political masters? When will the penny drop that some evidence of some firm action is needed, not passive commentary appearing on Blogs and elsewhere? And when will the penny drop that, amongst others, the RSPB membership is looking for some major public stance to be taken?
One has to ask what options are open for action? Further discussions would now seem to be a waste of time if the views expressed in the Shooting Times are to be acknowledged. Doubtless these will echo around many a noble drawing room as the "mini-conventions" in the aftermath of today ( 12th August ) gather and mutually firm up their resolve. And so the "muck or nettles" scenario arises! Is the RSPB going to capitulate and set back raptor conservation by an unimaginable margin or is it to create a "Thin Red Line" of opposition the likes of which has not emerged since the good ladies of Didsbury, Manchester dug in their collective heels over a hundred years ago and said " No" to the plume trade that was threatening a variety of iconic species. Such capitulation would automatically award an opportunity to the land owning fraternity to repeatedly pick and choose the balance of our natural heritage in the future, albeit one best suited to their commercial interests be it in shooting, farming or woodland management and such like. A great store of anticipation appears to be being extended to the forthcoming results from the Law Commission's review of wildlife legislation requested by DeFRA. Given the current aggressive climate of opinion being adopted by the shooting fraternity, a less than enthusiastic Chancellor for anything "environmental" ( from whom any funding would need support) , an admission by the appropriate Minister ( Richard Benyon ) that he would monitor closely the progression of the Vicarious Liability legislation adopted in Scotland can we really believe there is likely to be some automatic adoption of ground breaking revisions? Such is going to be the battle ground upon which the future of our raptor communities rests unless we are very careful indeed. The RSPB needs to take the whole matter "to the country" and, if necessary, put its very history on the line in an attempt to draw a halt to these increasing trends in persecution. Yes it means taking on the Establishment, becoming unpopular, even diminishing its position in an advisory context, but can the alternative scenario be contemplated? I think not!
Muck or nettles I'm afraid.