Monday, October 1, 2012

Hen Harriers.......satellite tracking and transparency

Now, I admit I've possibly an over-healthy interest in matters affecting Hen Harriers but, in my view, still too little appears  to be being done to address the appalling persecution of the species in the UK.

Until 2012 the Forest of Bowland, Lancashire had been the main English breeding stronghold of the species for over forty years. None bred in 2012 and it appears that only one pair did breed successfully elsewhere in England. This signifies that the battle against persecution of the species in England has virtually been lost. Similar depredations occur elsewhere in the UK so the situation, in reality , is much worse. Sadly birds moving south, following a breeding season in Scotland, are likely to be met with an onslaught of prejudice, illegal persecution and intolerance, with roosting birds being deliberately targeted. At the next national survey of harriers I think we can predict the results will be disastrous if the current situation is allowed to continue. At an earlier point in time than that survey I think we can also predict the results for Hen Harrier resulting from the  BTO Atlas Project, when they emerge in 2013, will be less than heartening. Today I've no intention of drawing attention yet again to the activities of that selfish,arrogant sector of our society who are responsible for such persecution.  Instead I'd like to reflect on what we see forthcoming from our conservation organizations and other agencies, both official and voluntary, in terms of pursuing change
and question whether we might expect more.

First of all, let me draw attention to what would assist greatly in identifying where such persecution is concentrated. It's generally accepted that satellite transmitters attached to birds are a tool that, nowadays, will extend our knowledge of bird movements beyond our wildest expectations. If we consider Hen Harriers then this information, and the ability to be absolutely fascinated by following such movements, has been more than adequately provided for by a variety of organizations. Setting aside specific research objectives, or even political ones (!), simply take a look at the plethora of results provided by the following, (Langholm Moors Project,  Highland Foundation for WildlifeHen Harriers in IrelandRaptor Track Project. ). Now one common theme that characterizes these projects and their websites is that the results arising from their tracked birds are openly available for all to scrutinize. Sadly a proportion of these celebrated birds are lost, some naturally,  but some meeting a less than dignified end, the final resting places of all being identified by their conveyed technology.

So why, in the light of this highly developed and most useful technology, has Natural England repeatedly rejected or ignored calls for the specific details of the journeys and losses of birds carry satellite transmitters under the aegis of the Hen Harrier Recovery Project to be made available publicly?  Clearly there are no limits placed on how these results might be represented as the above web sites show. Clearly the details arising from the dead birds  should assist in pinpointing the areas , even the individual landholdings , where the particular individual met its end. Notwithstanding the fact that it has been public money that has funded the project,  what justification might be behind this intransigence and secrecy? One imagines the non-disclosure results from the Tory Government, via its Minister at DEFRA, the Department under which Natural England operates, issuing specific instructions aimed at protecting the private shooting estates that would otherwise be identified and undue attention then being focussed on their "management activities"  Whilst there has been some tacit admittance by DEFRA that there is an association with the loss of these birds and heather moorland habitat they appear to maintain it is difficult to pinpoint precisely the location where a bird met its demise.  This response either smacks of a deliberate cover up or that a review needs to take place of the technology they employ given both the corpses and transmitters from other birds have been recovered in the most austere of circumstances, e.g a Black Stork lost in the mountains of Morocco!  Setting aside that DEFRA and officials within Natural England are obviously willing to subscribe to both a dereliction of duty and neglect if one examines their position against the very conservation project they sought to promote, i.e. the protection and improvement of the English Hen Harrier population,  the situation is actually worse if one then looks at the position of the voluntary sector.

Whilst the RSPB has spent an almost countless sum of money both promoting and pursuing the plight of the Hen Harrier it almost seems now as if they have admitted "enough is enough". Confronting the Establishment on the whole question of raptor persecution  appears to be something they have no stomach for and that the current circumstances will be dealt with under a PR policy, " Unfortunate extinctions we have had to accommodate!".As we are often assured via the statement, " there is much going on in the background" or similar, can we have any confidence in such given the apparent absence of direct initiatives.  If such declarations simply express more hope than intent, then the situation is wholly unacceptable in my view.  The RSPB is the organization many of us look to to fight such battles and capitulation is out of the question.

And what of the political Parties?  The position adopted by DEFRA/Natural England, and outlined above, links with the almost corporate abdication of responsibility  for the natural environment which is being pursued  by the current Government ( The Greenest Government Ever remember ). The Tory position appears to embody  "we know best" and "we'll protect our own"  policies, coupled with a condemnation of any regulation designed to protect our natural heritage. The LibDems are consumed with zero carbon matters and little else, which leaves the Labour Party.

Well,  in the belief that Shadow Ministers might be interested in a topic the  current Government is clearly avoiding I've forwarded on to them various details in the hope that the matter might be investigated, questions raised and action initiated. Similarly I've distributed the information widely in the hope that other people will pick up on the issue, perhaps some readers might elect to write to their MP's on the matter themselves. If such occurs please let me know the outcome and " good luck".

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