Sunday, March 3, 2013

Hen Harriers.......the lunacy must stop!

The lunacy that has led to the decimation of the English breeding stock of Hen Harriers, and additional birds from elsewhere besides, must stop!  Clearly the position adopted by various shooting estates and their gamekeepers needs to be brought under control and collective efforts made to get the population back on its feet.

Easily said, I guess, and certainly not straightforward.

It's interesting to look at the problem in an historical context, although without going back too far. In fact , let's start a hundred years ago. The following details are my own "take" on the subject, may not necessarily be in strict chronological order, but are certainly very relevant milestones in my opinion.

In August, 1913 1421.5 brace of Red Grouse, (that's 2843 birds !!), were shot in a single day on Broomhead Moor in the Peak District in South Yorkshire. This is held up to be a record , although I'm not sure it's a tribute to anything little more than blood lust. Of one thing I think we can be pretty certain and that  it is unlikely harriers would have prospered on those moors within those halcyon days of carnage!

With the First World War, followed by the Depression and the Second World War such "diversions" would, undoubtedly, have been affected, if not reduced in some areas. This may even have given raptors a reprieve against persecution! In parallel to all this, I think we have to take into account that a majority of the populace within that period would have been concerned with personal matters and certainly not, collectively, associated with campaigning other than to try and achieve improvements to economic and social  conditions. The one exception , perhaps, was in relation to gaining access to the uplands and the mass trespass demonstrations. The clear conclusion arising from this is that, under normal circumstances, such areas were private and off-limits. In other respects the wealthy were able to " get on with it"  within the countryside and operate to a strategy of their own choosing too!! It must be acknowledged that many estates also provided significant rural employment, so the attitudes of the nation's overall workforce would be forged below the banners of necessary subservience or polarised separation and lack of contact. Hardly surprising that the shooting fraternity enjoyed the benefits of isolation.

By 1954 interest in conservation was growing and the Protection of Birds Act appeared . This repealed the 1902 Act but, in overall terms, still provided an emphasis towards egg collecting and general protection needs, as opposed to persecution as we know it.  Later conversations I had personally with a shooting tenant in the Forest of Bowland suggested they first became aware of Hen Harriers being a regular presence towards the end of the 1950's. By the end of the 1970's that area held around 40 breeding pairs. If persecution activities in the 1980's are to be used as a basis, birds and nests of this species were not being persecuted extensively there in the 1960's and early 1970's compared against, say, the clear control of numbers and the distribution of the Common Buzzard elsewhere in the UK. That situation altered dramatically in the Forest of Bowland in the 1980's when the breeding numbers of harriers was reduced to a single pair at one point!! Research and campaigning by the RSPB on persecution and the limiting of the Common Buzzard's range resulted in the use of poisons being reduced and various substances being banned. Unsurprisingly, this resulted in a fairly quick extension of range and numbers of that species.  The appearance of the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 also brought a significant emphasis on conservation of wildlife, plant species and areas and was a major step forward  given it included details of especial penalties associated with the persecution of Schedule1 bird species, within which many raptor species were included.

This period was undoubtedly a major turning point as far as the attitudes of landowners and the shooting fraternity were concerned and deserves a separate treatment of its own!  Alongside all this featured a number   of raptor introduction schemes ( Red Kites, White-tailed Eagles ), increasing numbers of Common Buzzards and Marsh Harriers and more emphasis on investigations work into persecution incidents, along with its attendant publicity. Good, solid conservation in action!  I'm sure the shooting fraternity saw this totally differently....raptors everywhere doing damage to their "interests", whatever the evidence, which undoubtedly saw an increase against previous times of raptor control regardless of this being against the law. One can imagine a growing feeling, even if in a subconscious context, of those days of independence being under threat!!

Now, it would seem that the attitude of many amongst the shooting fraternity is the same, that of being adamant in their lack of tolerance towards raptors, with the Hen Harrier being the flagship species of their hatred. Good God, man, they eat grouse chicks!!   But, in all this, is there a reflection of something deeper?  A yearning for those bygone days of traditional self-serving, of being beyond reproach and of the exercising of that ultimate privilege, self indulgence and independence to do what one would wish on one's own terms!

I just wonder! My feelings are that they feel increasingly "squeezed", resulting in a number of dummies, in the form of ill-framed media statements and interview responses, being spat out from the collective comfort of the Establishment pram. I think I can even understand their reaction, would you know!  But it's an anachronistic wish. An innocent, but arrogant , view that is redolent of what this minority enjoyed in Victorian times.  Such a platform of subjugation and privilege no longer applies in this modern world. This is the 21st Century and circumstances and attitudes have changed!

The evidence of persecution in recent times, say the last thirty years, shows the unwillingness of a majority within the shooting fraternity to face up to and adopt the sensible strictures of  modern times. Taking account of the attitudes of the wider population is a modern day necessity and the latter's wish to see a healthy and vibrant wildlife heritage is something which must be acknowledged. Any persistent and aberrant influences aimed at reducing this must be addressed, particularly when such actions are against the law anyway. In the current circumstances there appears little alternative but to fight for regulation of an industry which insists on having its head in the sand and which has no one to blame for the outcome but itself. Its constituents clearly still insist on residing outside the boundaries of decent and law abiding behaviour.

This is the basis of the logic behind the petition I have laid within the UK Government's formal process. I would urge everyone to both sign it and promote it to others. The necessary link is below.Thank you.

Licensing of grouse moors and gamekeepers