I'm in London at present and so my opportunities for direct engagement with "things birds" are a bit limited ! Imagine my surprise on this otherwise mundane Monday morning to learn that the RSPB had withdrawn its support of DEFRA's Hen Harrier Action Plan. WELL DONE !!
Now I'd be the first to acknowledge that I have criticised the RSPB from time to time for what I sincerely felt was an absence of resolve and direct action when it came to harriers. Various entries on this Blog attest to that and I stand by what was said and what I felt was needed at the time. I now have a feeling that things have changed and potentially for the better. In that sense it is essential that even former critics ( me! ) give the RSPB the encouragement it deserves and for the general membership to offer its endorsement and support. The added declaration of the Society firmly advocating the introduction of a licencing system, coupled with its continuing investigations work, nest protection activities and the wide promotion of the persecution problem , are all direct actions to be pursued and reported on independently.
In early 2013 I launched an E-petition calling for the licencing of grouse moors ( and gamekeepers ! ) which expired on the 27th February , 2014 and had, by then, attracted over 10,000 signatures. The RSPB chose not to offer support despite them now embracing the concept of licencing of grouse moors.
I suspect their position was influenced to some degree by the fact that the Law Commission was carrying out a review of wildlife legislation and there were hopes that both licencing and the offence of vicarious liability ( recognized in Scotland ) might be included in recommendations coming forward. They weren't and I contend such expectations were somewhat naive resulting in time being lost.
The search for a solution to the woeful situation which the breeding population of harriers had now reached in England led eventually , following wide discussions with a variety of stakeholders , to the appearance of the DEFRA Hen Harrier Action Plan in early 2016. There were areas of broad agreement, but aspects , particularly with brood management proposals, resulted in either condemnation or uncertainty from many others. This played into the hands of the shooting fraternity who were quite happy to see continuing obfuscation occur. However, continuing persecution, with little meaningful peer pressure emerging from the wider constituents within the industry, showed even the wider elements of the plan to be resulting in no cooperative initiatives or carrying any lasting influence. In terms of delivery it was very much a case of "Return to Sender" ! Such is the same situation currently and certainly plays its part in the reasoning behind the RSPB's withdrawal , full details of which can be read in Martin Harper's Blog (click and read )
Why the RSPB is withdrawing support from the Hen Harrier Action Plan.
This action by the RSPB has drawn a line under events in addition to declaring their own immediate objectives ( which, incidentally, includes encouraging people in Scotland to support the E-petition advocating licencing to apply there. ). It has also isolated the current proponents of the Action Plan and firmly placed their future commitment and actions under the spotlight. Continuing persecution of raptors within the shooting industry will only serve to reinforce the calls elsewhere of there being a complete ban on grouse shooting. Somehow they don't appear to have made this connection or are simply retreating into the comfort of their own complacency.
I have to say that, at my age, I would prefer to see the introduction of a licencing system in the near future as time is running out for both me and Hen Harriers ( I hope relatively so in my own circumstances ! ). An outright ban would take a long time to effect, would promote arguments about land ownership/rights, effects on a commercial activity and so on. There is much that needs to be addressed within the practices of the grouse shooting industry ( habitat management of unique moorland areas, consequences for flood control, ingestion of lead, persecution of part of our natural heritage ). The abolition or major alteration of grouse shooting as an activity will take time, a lot of time. The ultimate situation might see such activities banned but, in the meantime , we need some element of regulation aimed at seeing Hen Harrier populations get back on their feet and the isolation of those who still insist on arrogantly following their own selfish agenda, with utter disregard for the law, being identified. I believe the most prudent step forward is to push strongly for a licencing system, whilst placing the above aspects under increasing scrutiny, with the ultimate result being for the industry/activity to be banned if no lasting, sensible solutions are possible. The extent to which this will be possible given the "new" Tory administration is open to question. Prime Minister, Theresa May's previous avoidance of the chum culture might not now extend to rapping the knuckles of the wealthy landowners or restricting their activities, we'll have to see.
Still way in the future, possibly, but it's still been a hell of a Monday! Again, well done RSPB.