I'd intended having a relaxing few hours seawatching this morning, but was greeted by the press release from the RSPB relating to the Hen Harrier's likely extinction in England , see this link Hen Harrier on brink of extinction in England. Reading through the immediate responses I, like many, felt a sense of outrage, a sense of failure , but also an underlying feeling that, if more timely action had been taken, then the situation might have been different.
The RSPB does a good, but less than subtle, job within the Press Release of putting the Government, in the form of DEFRA, "in the frame", ranging from the commitment within the Government's Biodiversity 2020 report that there should be no extinction of any English wild species at the hand of man to expressing their eagerness to hear of proposals from DEFRA about how the Hen Harrier can be restored to its rightful place in the English uplands. No problem with that as it constitutes the usual and predictable political manoeuvring one might expect. However, let's dip below the hypocrisy and cut to the chase!
The RSPB is part of a DEFRA group working towards producing an emergency recovery plan aimed at the Hen Harrier in England. C'mon,chaps, let's stand firm together, not try and shift blame in the face of what inevitably will be a period of negative comments and the like !! And let's not be pre-emptive either in calling for the plan to be properly resourced by the Government when the Group you are part of haven't yet, at least to my knowledge, published anything. And as far as the offence of Vicarious Liability is concerned, let's apply a bit of maturity and nous! Recognizing that the Society has indeed called for it to be embraced within law, would it not have been sensible to lend support to the independent E-petition raised last year in order to put pressure on the Government. DEFRA Minister ( Richard Benyon ) had rejected, within Parliament, a call for its adoption and added that "the progression " of its inclusion within Scottish law would be monitored closely. That the Scottish Government is still pondering over whether it can pursue the first case of its kind in Scotland hardly bodes well for its welcome embrace within England, even if the imminent wildlife regulation review supports the idea. The anticipated appearance of the latter seems to be neutralising the RSPB's ability to actively pursue various matters upon which it could assume a prominent public position. In a slightly altered version of the Peter, Paul and Mary song ( and Joan Baez too )
"Where has the conviction gone, long time passing."
The persecution of harriers is not new. The commitment of RSPB resources to the problem is not new either and, over many, many years it has actually devoted endless amounts of money and hours to tackling the problem. But in my view it took its eye off the ball at the most crucial time and with the current results. Of course it's not directly responsible in the normal sense, but it is culpable and should attempt to learn from the mistaken strategy it pursued. Whilst undoubtedly there will be the usual vacuous comments in certain quarters about how things could have been different, now is the time to stand tall, take the disappointing news on the chin and fight determinedly in what is now the aftermath. And that demands more than issuing a challenge to the shooting fraternity to adhere to the law!! Matters that should have been pursued with more focus should now provide the backbone of intent. DEFRA should , actively and openly, be pursued to make available the results gathered from sat tagged harriers and the lessons emerging from such should be the basis of a much expanded investigations strategy. I am sure, in the absence of a search for funds previously, if the membership was called upon immediately to contribute to a "fighting fund" for investigations work then the initiative would meet with success. Never mind waiting for the Law Commission Review, campaign now for Vicarious Liability!! The Tories are not going to alienate the Uncle Huberts of this world 20 months or so from an election by willingly embracing such legislation, they're going to have to be dragged there struggling and screaming! And for God's sake, as used to be the case, routinely start talking anew to all shooting Estates and commence to try, at least, to create common ground. It happened in the 90's, it wasn't always a comfortable process, but it created opportunities for dialogue and the pursuit of small initiatives. The "reinstatement" of the English breeding population of Hen Harriers is going to be a long haul involving a lot of hard work. Relying on Government policies, advocating change at arm's length, will not work sufficiently. Getting in there at the active end of the process might, at least it will probably earn the RSPB more respect than it now generates amongst those it sees as the opposition.
Whilst I'm still looking round for something to kick ( and I'm afraid you, RSPB, were first in the frame this morning! ) the job of addressing what's needed starts today. Here and now! So for all those birders who , as yet , have not signed the E-petition aimed at bringing regulation to upland grouse moors, here's your chance
Licencing upland grouse moors and gamekeepers.
And RSPB, given the comments above about Vicarious Liability , I don't believe it would do any harm at all to hedge your bets and advocate support by the Society's membership for the above petition. Time and history is not something we can arrest and exercise best preferences upon. We need to act for the future on as many fronts as are open to us or accept the inevitable failure. At a time when you are calling for us all to "Make a Home for Nature", then we must do just that , actively, not view the prospect as some passive , academic exercise. The challenge is to us as well !!