Recent discussions with various friends in England who are keen on raptors tend to relay the same sense of despondency as far as Hen Harriers are concerned. Whilst birds were noted in certain areas over the winter this has not yet resulted in that wonderful indicator of intent , a skydancing male !! Admittedly this Spring has been very cold, with prey species like Meadow Pipit returning late too, so we may be running behind schedule as it were. Certainly as things stand at the moment it would seem the hills are not alive with the sight of displaying harriers!!!
The undoubted co-operative "clear out" of Hen Harriers in recent times, as evidenced by the loss of sat-tagged birds associated with DEFRA's Hen Harrier Recovery Programme, has secured an outcome long dreamed of by many within the shooting fraternity, namely to rid the uplands of a species towards which their prejudice knows no bounds. Regrettably it would seem one of these avian "Bermuda Triangle " areas is located within my home county and it is most certainly to Yorkshire's shame that activities of this kind have occurred within its boundaries. Some have apparently boasted locally of their contribution to such activities! They should be acutely aware that their role within such a catalogue of failed standards arising from flawed attitudes will serve no ultimate beneficial purpose, indeed the shooting fraternity has been even more isolated within its anachronistic stance as a consequence.
Strange that, following years of outpoured clamour relating to the need to rid the hills of such a scourge, no comments of relief , agreement or even celebration of the current circumstances has come from those whose almost uncontrollable rage was so often expressed in the past. Unsurprising in an obvious context, but utter silence is as tacit an indicator of agreement as are the efforts of a cheerleader. Methinks they protest too little!
But this is not the end I tell myself. I have no doubt that right will eventually triumph as more enlightened attitudes emerge.The recent initiative in Denmark to consider shooting in a completely different context, which might yet see it abandoned, is an indication of how things change and a reminder that pendulums can swing in an opposing direction to that preferred at times!
However, we need to use positively this current period, however more tempting the pursuit of recriminations might be. Personally I am not against shooting, but I am against raptor persecution and will always remain so. This is why I have raised the E-petition relating to the need for regulation of upland grouse moors and gamekeepers. Please sign it if you agree with the sentiments it expresses.
Licencing of upland grouse moors and gamekeepers.
However, we need to secure a timely solution to the problem without it spilling over and creating an all out battle, the lines of which will be in place for decades. The situation is bad enough as it is! Raptor persecution must be stamped out as its continuation will result in the absolute vilification of the shooting fraternity from which other far reaching potential problems or initiatives might arise. Whilst our concerns are, quite rightly, with the English breeding population of Hen Harriers, for which improvements must be gained, we must also be aware that the absolute cessation of grouse shooting, if such was called for, would inject a major dilemma into what is already a fraught situation. That is why I favour walked up, as opposed to driven grouse shooting. We need, therefore, to be careful of the arguments with which we're presented. Upland moors play host to a lot of other wildlife, which would certainly not assume sufficient central priority if shoots were caused to be abandoned. What might be the future of those areas we need to remind ourselves? Every effort needs to be put behind securing a solution, not a costly compromise, but a genuine solution serving the needs of all our natural heritage first and "other interests" second. Endless attempts have occurred already, with no real success, but that should not deter any of us from continuing to try.
There is an immediate issue, however, that must be addressed. We are now within a pivotal period when the odd pair of Hen Harriers might just return to an area and commence to breed. Anyone destroying or disturbing these lone colonists would, if caught, have the book thrown at them and present conservationists with a PR gift! Even a "failed" prosecution would still provide strong headlines and add to polarised argument that has the potential to misfire and isolate the shooting fraternity still further. The benefits to be gained by that community would be minimal and such should be recognised. However, the extension to the period of argument might be immense and affect the future potential for bringing a conclusion to the ongoing issue.
In the event of a breeding attempt conservationists would no doubt pledge endless hours towards ensuring its success. But what sort of real success do we achieve if the possible outcome is for such birds reared to be slaughtered within the confines of a winter roost a couple of months later ? Yes, of course, we need to protect such breeding birds , but we need to reach out for a lasting solution too. Easier said than done, but a positive start is to sign the above petition and offer a willingness to support other initiatives aimed at securing a solution to what is a national disgrace and one that places us in no better a position than those involved in liming activities in Cyprus or in the slaughter of migrating raptors in Sicily. In a conservation context there was never a time when your help was more crucially needed. Blog about it, Tweet about it, promote it on Facebook and twist a few arms in the cause....please!