Friday, April 5, 2013

Technology, data, bird protection and Hen Harriers

Last evening I watched a BBC2 Horizon programme entitled The Age of Big Data. Now I'm no IT specialist, or number cruncher, so I suppose it's easy to be sceptical about initiatives that seem so embedded in possibility as opposed to actuality. BUT.....!   My attention was drawn, in particular, to the policing approaches being taken in Los Angeles and my thoughts strayed towards what might be adopted in the cause of Hen Harrier protection.

Now, as we all know, DEFRA has operated its ill-fated Hen Harrier Recovery Programme with no success whatsoever. However, rather than be negative and dismissive of the project, let's simply accept that it didn't work in the way intended or produce the results hoped for. Whilst I accept the current intransigence by that Government Department at making available the results of the tagging programme are irritating at best, at least I would hope their current position includes a willingness to review the weaknesses arising from the programme and to embrace more positive initiatives. Whilst it is claimed incidents have been reported to the Police, no prosecution of any individuals who might have been responsible for the persecution of tagged birds has arisen. In that context the project has been an abysmal failure and at no little cost. As far as the tax payer is concerned the Value For Money concept has been either thrown out of the window or swept under the carpet!!

However, imagine for a moment that, instead of the transmitter messages being accessed or downloaded by a researcher, the same data had been permanently streamed to a central police unit. The cessation of any locational data could have triggered an immediate message to the local Police Force concerned ( based on the GPS element ) and immediate investigations implemented ( far more quickly than a single departmental researcher covering the whole of England could manage!! ). You might say that it acted as a burglar alarm, but in reverse!! Such an approach might take a bit of "battling through" the inevitable bureaucracy, but surely such ideas might hold some promise of results contrasted against what one assumes is precious little at the moment. If we are to be serious about ridding the UK of raptor persecution then some "out of the box" thinking needs to be undertaken and the inevitable caution, obfuscation and leaning towards compromise by Civil Servants and their Masters set aside. The current exercise has cost a lot of money and yet little apparent concern is in evidence about the inefficacy of the whole concept. I'm neither in favour of my money being squandered or that funds are similarly squandered in the cause of conservation when more positive results might emerge. Is it not time the Department and the Minister responsible, Richard Benyon, made a clean breast of the facts surrounding the project and injected some transparency into the whole subject area? We're aware that there is some form of  "Working Group" in place but what is intended in the face of the English breeding population of Hen Harriers having been decimated.  I, amongst many, would like to know!

When considering such issues, I'm minded of a Malaysian proverb!

Where there's a will, there are thousands of ruses,
Where there is none, a thousand excuses.

It would be easy to imagine such a mantra being the basis of the beginning of any Cabinet or Departmental meeting  ( Education would, of course, recite it in Latin at Michael Gove's insistence ).  Naughty, but true ?
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