It's quite a time since I posted anything on the Hen Harrier debate. Why ? In many respects because of a personal feeling of sheer despondency at the depth to which the whole issue has descended. Yesterday was an absolute low spot in the ever downward spiral in the litany of weak responses and explanations being put forward against what is nothing short of a national disgrace. The posting by Martin Harper ( Director of Conservation, RSPB ) yesterday on the current situation in England with regard to Hen Harriers bordered on the apologetic, lacked substance, still smacked of the "we know best, but will reveal details in due course " approach , but above all lacked any sign of real commitment to securing change. I was disappointed, viscerally and uncomfortably !
Let me put one or two things in context. In 1979 in the Forest of Bowland there was 41 nesting female Hen Harriers. This figure had been arrived at by a survey carried out by Kevin Briggs and was closely corroborated by Bill Murphy and Bill Hesketh who had identified 39 nesting birds. The latter are still assisting as volunteers in Bowland today. What a continuous psychological blow to their motivation the current situation must be given there are now no birds present at all !!! Even in the late 1990's pairs were breeding successfully in the area and raising young into double figures each season. As a consequence we had managed to achieve SPA status for the area based on its unique value to conservation So what has changed both here and elsewhere in England during the last ten or fifteen years. Well, of course,we all know the answer !
Simply put, the shooting fraternity has decided among themselves to carry out what might best be described as a process of AVIAN GENOCIDE and to rid the uplands of Hen Harriers once and for all.
Now it's easy to be critical of the RSPB given the current situation , but it must be remembered that it is they, particularly the Investigations Section , for whom I've got the utmost respect, who has catalogued the persecution incidents and brought some of those responsible to justice. In this context the Society is more than aware of what is involved and the real challenge this comprises. And yes, a variety of initiatives has been tried in an attempt at rectifying matters and at no little cost. But, as time has gone on , the situation has not improved and there are no signs that it is going to alter.
It's at this precise point that my patience begins, and continues, to diminish. The current HEN HARRIER ACTION PLAN is clearly not the solution to the problem. Indeed I would go a step further and suggest that at every post-shoot dinner the Plan is toasted with alacrity !! It provides the shooting fraternity with precisely what they have wished for. The harrier population has been "pegged", and is likely to remains so, and the offered solutions are unworkable.
But criticizing action plans is the least productive solution. The grouse moor owners, not all I grant you, have conspired to achieve a situation which is in their best interests, in other words they are in control. We are talking of wealth and influence, power and the Establishment. This is a social battle of sorts and will only be resolved by using different tools to those currently being employed. The RSPB still appear to respect the age old approaches of reasoned debate and discussion in order to achieve progress. It hasn't worked , the whole house of cards in the form of respectable solutions has collapsed, it has failed!! The Society desperately requires to become street wise and to set aside the violins and don the boxing gloves !! What it appears not to appreciate is that this issue might yet be its nemesis. There are far too many people talking of cancelling their membership, of the Society going to the dogs, of it operating below its weight, of it being scared of confrontation. Worst of all is the suggestion that the Society appears to wish this whole issue could be kicked into the long grass !! Now I'm sure that the Society is not receiving lots of letters or E-mails on the subject, mainly because most people are somewhat reticent to take action of that sort. However,if it did but know it, its very credibility is under siege and it would do well to heed the murmurs. I'm also sure that this is NOT what the Society considers to be the case, but importantly, this is the situation as seen and interpreted from the outside. I'll write more on this in the near future, as there is more to be said and much more that the Society needs to answer or respond to.
Despite Martin Harper's righteous indignation when criticisms were leveled at the Society for being cautious and inactive previously, the RSPB needs to step up urgently and be seen to be pursuing something which is seen to be overtly confronting the problem. For example, contesting something in court ( I'll not even mention a possible current contender ) might result in the case being lost, but publicity being gained and, above all else, both sympathy and support being generated anew among the membership. The latter desperately want to see "Their " Society take some form of positive action and not simply be a commentator on the problem.
So, time to put down the violins, dowse the flames and start rebuilding