Whilst I know that I bang on about Hen Harriers and raptor persecution with increasing regularity, I personally believe that the issues should be "kept alive" as much as possible. As I see it, no progress whatsoever is being made on the problem, the same old hackneyed concerns are being trotted out and, clearly, the discussions and efforts being made at trying to secure some progress with the shooting fraternity are failing miserably. Doubtless hopes are being pinned by some on the provisions, currently out for consultation, arising from the recent review on wildlife regulations undertaken by the Law Commission in that they will provide an opportunity for renewed debate and examination of the persecution problem. Such discussions are way down the road and it strikes me that something ought to be happening in the meantime, rather than let what will probably extend to at least eighteen months go by and be accompanied by even more losses.
In advance of the routine criticisms and suggestions, which various conservation organizations will now be working on associated with the above proposals, it would do no harm to indicate in the meantime what is really expected and what will be sought for via hard campaigning. Putting a shot across the bows, so to speak, will do no harm and signal that there has been enough talking and now the chips are down ( bowshot chips....sorry about that!! ). The errant proportion of the shooting fraternity responsible for the indiscriminate persecution of our birds of prey has singularly ignored opportunities to embrace initiatives, such as supplementary feeding, and earn themselves a few "brownie points ". Similarly the responsible element within the ranks of grouse moor owners and managers have singularly failed also to convince their own peer group for circumstances to improve. Faced with such an unequivocal indication by some of the lack of a desire, or intention, to improve, then I feel the whole issue should be taken to the next stage without delay. The conservation organizations should unite in their opposition to such practices, roundly condemn those responsible with even more conviction than ever before and indicate that they are to launch an all out assault on the problem in the face of this almost tangible absence of co-operation. Doubtless there'll be a lot of huff and puff, and ill constructed accusations of arrogance and such like, but the arguments should now become active, not passive, and initiatives aimed at change tabled widely and campaigned for. This is what many members of such organizations provide their financial support for and, at the moment, such required representation, aimed at bird protection, appears to be little more than going through the motions.
Some time ago the RSPB issued ideas about grouse moors being licensed. They were ridiculed and opposed, as one might have anticipated, but they should now be rolled out again and with firmer intention.Within such a system, operating licences would be issued via DeFRA, with the administration of the scheme given to Natural England as the body overseeing the subsidy process associated with SPA/SSSI's. An accompanying "Charter of Operation", particularly where designated areas were part of the landholding, would also be issued, setting out what was required as far as management practice, and containing clear warnings of what the consequences of breaking the wildlife legislation would result in as far as that particular area was concerned. Where there was such a lapse, and a clear and proven breach of the law, then the licence would be revoked and all subsidies cancelled for a period of either three or five years, although the responsibility for habitat quality management within any designated area would remain. In a perfect system, the normal court case dealing with the incident would also include the offence of vicarious liability being laid against the owner or manager. It is so important that this is campaigned for without delay. Additionally, especial penalties should be campaigned for if any such an incident involved Hen Harrier and associated fines increased beyond the levels which are currently applicable.
Now, just a few thoughts about vicarious liability! Of course, landowners don't want it as it exposes their position enormously. For them to plead ignorance is a nonsense! Think about it! If a gamekeeper were given utter independence in terms of running a shoot, and that then failed miserably at the end of the season, words and instructions would be issued without any doubt at all. It follows that, in operating what is a commercial enterprise, and it defies logic to think otherwise, such instructions would be given at the onset to the employee.. Additionally, the spectacle of an owner being asked if he knew of illegal activities going on over his Estate, and him denying the charge, would hardly go down well with the keeper if sanctions were brought against the latter in addition to the fines and costs. Taking the rap for one's employer ( unless a significant pay-off was involved !! ) is sheer stupidity!! Obeying one's employer, only to then be offered up as a sacrifice, would not go down too well either within the newly claimed "profession", however subservient the individual might be!!
So, in addition to licensing grouse moors it would seem sensible to licence the game keepers that practise what they so often tell us is their "profession". They are not being discriminated against as many other jobs require some form of operating licence. A successful prosecution would mean the licence being withdrawn and the means of earning a living withdrawn too, along with the gun licences they hold. And when it comes to the operation of these commercial enterprises, a proportion of which are undoubtedly securing their success through the parallel practice of illegality, it might also behove Her Majesty's Customs and Excise to look more closely at the complete operation. The potential "bonuses", in the form of tips, which one hears finds their way into the hands of the keepers at the end of a days shoot one hopes are declared as such!! Similarly, a good friend of mine, who occasionally acts as a beater, says he's quite amazed at how many people are called Smith, and even Mickey Mouse, when one looks at the signatures on the requisite Estate form of those who receive the daily payment for traipsing across the moor and channelling the birds towards the guns. If push comes to shove, then clearly there are members of this whole community who are not too squeaky clean in a variety of respects and have much to lose as a result. I'm sure George Osborne would welcome such transparency and a concomitant increase in taxes to the Exchequer.
The beauty of such proposals is that they carry no threat whatsoever to the proportion of the fraternity who operate within the law, and do so proudly and efficiently. The time has come for fine words and gestures to be abandoned, and for a concerted strategy to be drawn together and acted upon. Whilst much of the above might be seen to be unreasonable, pie in the sky, offend certain factions and so on, ( and I'm perfectly aware that I'm pulling teeth just for the hell of it ) it would serve to show that conservation organizations have had enough and that they are willing to ACT. With an election not too far away, now is the time to start campaigning for change, to enlist the power of the newly recruited voters, whose youthful passions will respond to something aimed at protecting the country's natural heritage which is currently being deliberately despoiled by a minority. These, coupled with the ever increasing urban dwellers concerned about our countryside, are a numerical force which should not be ignored and need to be addressed directly. We all know what the problems are, and don't need conservation organizations to repeatedly explain such. What we need , and should be willing to provide support for, is representation, concerted action, professionally structured and inserted into the highest level of administration possible, i.e the Government, not with an accompanying request for scrutiny, but with a demand for attention and action!