Friday, April 7, 2017

Where are we really going with Hen Harriers ?

It's quite a time since I offered up any views on the Hen Harrier issue. In the interim I've followed various initiatives which have been proposed, attended odd events and talks and discussed the issue with many friends and colleagues.  We could all be excused though, for thinking that the current situation is worse than a stalemate. The actions so far have largely  failed, despite immense efforts put into them by certain individuals. The translocation proposals, put forward under the aegis of the DEFRA working party, are so nonsensical as to warrant no consideration in my view.  In the meantime, the factions within the shooting community, which caused the decimation of the harrier population, continue with their utterly illegal actions with no apparent intention to desist. Indeed, with the number of reports on the persecution of other species of birds of prey, the actions appear to be increasing. All such is coupled with calls for licences to cull Common Buzzards in the cause of commercialism.  Against this we have calls from the RSPB for the shooting industry to clean up its act, crowdfunding of satellite tags resting upon an undertaking to publicise full details of any which are lost due to apparent persecution and a continuing reiteration of the need to ban grouse shooting.  So what next ?

For my part I still believe that a properly regulated licencing system could work and comprise a solution in the shorter term. In that sense I still adhere to the fundamental construct I put forward in the E-petition I launched some years ago.  I confess to having serious doubts about the applicability of an outright ban on grouse shooting,  not because I don't believe the industry deserves such an outcome given its current operational reliance on illegality and the environmental havoc arising from its management activities , but on two separate counts. Gaining a ban and closing down shoots is likely to take decades and what are the land use plans for the upland areas thereafter? In the former scenario, breeding harriers in Britain are likely to become a thing of legend unless we're very careful and , in the latter, solutions thus far have been rather airy and non-specific based on pipe dreams and preference. Hopes that either conservation agencies or the Government of the day would take such areas in hand is unrealistic and I suspect the time that would elapse in dealing with the various legal issues the Establishment ( owners ) would bring to bear is an issue in itself.

So who should take the lead and what might be the building blocks of progress?  Whilst I have the utmost regard for the RSPB I'm afraid, on this particular issue, I find its position vacillating and weak.  The recent article by Martin Harper ( RSPB Conservation Director ) raises the many problems associated with modern day upland management and of the renewed pressure being brought to bear on raptors. Sadly there is no declared resolve on what RSPB, as our premier bird conservation organization, intends itself to do. Instead a call on the shooting industry to improve its own act and bring about change is suggested coupled with the suggestion that a licensing system would "build trust" within the current situation. Additionally there is an expressed hope that " a maturation of political thinking and sustained public pressure " will bring about change.

Whilst I don't disagree with the general sentiments expressed,  the absence of any declaration of resolve or recognition of the need for someone to grasp the baton NOW, show leadership and attempt, at the very least , to move things forward, is disappointing. It seems everybody else is somehow seen as being able to be involved and responsible whilst RSPB sits on the by-lines.  What happened to the Society's declared support on Vicarious Liability ?  And how will a Licensing System be secured  and under whose initiative ?
On this subject, even acknowledging the many years of frustration and involvement the Society has endured with its attempts to change things , the RSPB is now failing in its mission if this seemingly back-seat approach aptly describes its position.  

There may be good reasons why the Society isn't organizing an outright campaign ( contract conditions associated with the large grant it received from the EU or pressure exerted by the Charity Commission relating to political activities for instance ). Surely the membership deserves to know ?  Then tell us , please, so that we can lend weight and independent support to a programme designed to get Vicarious Liability enshrined in law and to see a proposed Licensing System moving forward.  The (honest) alternative is to explain that the RSPB no longer believes it can effect any new changes to the situation beyond supporting positive initiatives by other agencies  ( I'd expect your annual income figure to be affected by such a declaration (!), but it does seem to be the position you're prepared to occupy at present ).

C'mon, RSPB. Bone up!

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