Friday, September 12, 2014

Grouse moor licencing may still be an option to pursue.

A month ago the "Inglorious Twelfth" came and went amidst a welter of publicity surrounding the Hen Harrier Action Days.  Since then the Government's response to Mark Avery's E-petition, which promoted the banning of driven shooting on grouse moors,  has been issued. This response was both as pathetic and obtuse as was the previous one referring to the E-petition I had raised suggesting grouse moors ought to be licensed. This aimed at a provision whereby any departure securing prosecution from operating in an entirely lawful way would then result in the licence to operate being withdrawn by a court . It is now abundantly clear where the present Government's sentiments lie as far as the shooting industry is concerned. In  a variety of ways it now seems likely that imminent attempts to secure even some formal debate on a ban on driven grouse shooting will not succeed.  To that extent any future strategy aimed at altering the "status" of grouse moors needs to reflect that position. Whatever effort is put into bringing about change, it is not going to happen before next May, a mere seven months away.. We must now prepare to aim at achieving such change within the next session of Parliament. A different ruling Party perhaps, and different participants, all hold the potential for change and we have to use that opportunity.

There is, of course, a major weakness in the current Government's position.  Reports of raptor persecution still continue to come forward. While ever that situation continues the opportunity is present to hold the Government to task and point out that the status quo is just not working. Clearly current legislation is insufficiently effective enough to act as a deterrent and other means must be found to address the whole subject matter of raptor persecution, particularly to ensure that the deep seated prejudice against Hen Harriers must be countered.

I've read carefully the RSPB Chairman's statement on Mark Avery's Blog relating to the Society's position on raptor persecution, upland management and Hen Harrier protection and find there is much within it that I find acceptable. Similarly, Stuart Housden's excellent Guest Blog on Martin Harper's site ( see RSPB blog site ) addressed similar points, all of which are welcome after a rather bewildering period of public dormancy by the Society.  It is good to now see a framework of initiatives and policies that they are to  follow.

Whatever is being said elsewhere I don't believe that regulation of grouse moors, via licencing, should be written off completely. It's far too early to do that and to do so would be foolhardy in my view. I honestly believe that, as a first step in bringing about change, it has potential.  I do acknowledge the well made point that time is of the essence and that dramatic action is required, but feel some "intermediate step" now needs to be campaigned for. It's more than clear where Government's sympathies lie and the sort of proposal that would attract a salvo of outright and organized opposition, a political "thin red line" , is not going to succeed at this point !!

When first I considered the licencing issue, and registered the E-petition in early 2013, I viewed it as a single initiative operating within an official regulatory framework following the abysmal failure by the shooting industry to consider any form of self regulation. Indeed their collective silence on the matter might have been taken as tacit approval to the continuing levels of raptor persecution. An imperfect solution? Maybe, but aimed at bringing about a change that would only affect those who sought to break the law.  Suggestions by some that such a system and its application would result progressively in prolonged debate and legal opposition is wrong as far as I'm concerned. The undoubted organized opposition would arise at the parliamentary stages, as it would with any other similar proposals and, in my view, would be considerably less than the entrenched opposition that would result in the face of a call for a complete ban on driven grouse shooting.  I suspect that licencing might be seen by some politicians as assuaging the public's concerns and be far less of a hassle to promote.  Supposing support for licencing emerged, such accreditation would be issued to each operating grouse moor and it would only be in the case of a successful prosecution for raptor persecution that the license would be automatically withdrawn. For those operating within the law there would be no discernible change to current activities!  I believed it to be a "one off" potential solution and , for that matter, deliberately did not seek to include any mention of additional provisions aimed at habitat management or retention of water quality. I've an awful feeling that an attempt to build in too much to a proposal can be its downfall. Keep it simple in its focus, as opposed to it being a catch all !

Now we can all debate the pro's and cons of alternative suggestions until the cows come home. What is the most important aspect is that we all continue to fight together to achieve change, a cessation to raptor persecution and a dramatic improvement in the breeding status and distribution of the Hen Harrier in England. I no longer believe in the potential influence or strength of the E-petition system as far as this collective topic is concerned and feel we need to look to other solutions. Despite the admirable efforts of Charlie Moores, Mark Avery and others the "constituency" of politically active birders and supporters has not grown to immense proportions. That there are more people in sympathy is in no doubt, that there are people who are willing to make known their personal support for such issues publicly is equally without doubt, but the combined total of such support is still low compared to what is needed to secure change.  Doubtless this view this will offend some, which is unfortunate, but we have to face facts. We need , in the run up to the General Election in May, 2015,  to consider alternative initiatives.  Support for the RSPB's call for licencing is a small step everyone can take. Actively calling on Parliamentary candidates for support against raptor persecution, if they get elected, is another straight forward action.  But more is needed , far more!!  I somehow guess that the subject will occupy my thoughts and those of many others as much within the next few months, as has the situation in the past few weeks following the Government's latest partisan response to the E-petition calling for a ban on driven grouse shooting.