Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Well, my euphoria lasted for all of five hours!

Following the announcement earlier today by the Environment Minister, Richard Benyon, I took confidence in our system of democracy, and said so, and also the fact that, with a bit of effort, one could make a difference. I now have to admit that the warm glow lasted little over five hours. I ought to have known better!!

With a "lobby free" afternoon I idly began to surf various sites, explored a wide variety of sources, put a few entries on odd forum sites and even made a respectful reference to Mr Benyon being willing to stand up for wildlife, or something similar.

How wrong could I have been!

The first revelation came from the article within today's Independent newspaper relating to the Walshaw Moor Estate controversy (Upland estate controversy. ), a subject that is being very ably pursued by past colleague, Mark Avery within his Blog, Standing Up For Nature ( see here ). The various FOI requests will hopefully expose the truth behind the climb down by Natural England and the cancellation of intended court proceedings against the Estate accused of damaging a Site of Special Scientific Interest. Given that Natural England, under DEFRA,  is the agency advising Government and , thereby, ultimately responsible to Richard Benyon, the likelihood of him being unaware of a major case they were dealing with is highly unlikely given its potential political implications. His role within the mechanics of this decision is being increasingly enquired about with , as yet , nothing coming forward from his Department.

And then I just wondered! Was the announcement today about Buzzards a hurried climb down in order to draw attention away from the above exposure and attempt to curry favour?. No, surely not, and then I came across the next revelation, which made me feel more strongly that deviating attention away from damaging SSSI's was perhaps becoming more of an imperative than questionable control measures against Buzzards!

I confess I had missed the feature below due, I suspect, to being involved in things to do with Hen Harriers, another subject area Richard Benyon appears lukewarm about! On 20th April George Monbiot, that natural scourge and exposer of environmental stories close participants would doubtless prefer not published, put out a very revealing story on events associated with said Minister's own estate  (Benyon's Inclosure. ). Basically, the Minister responsible for the protection of SSSI's  within our fair and pleasant land has apparently sanctioned the destruction of part of one located on his Estate!  217 acres of ancient woodland will be trashed, sand and gravel  extracted from beneath its former location and the restored area turned over to commercial forestry ( with appropriate grants one hopes! ). In this case the reward is not thirteen pieces of silver/gold,  but £2million!

I almost hope this story isn't true, but I have to confess a Minister advocating the prosecution of others for destroying a site of conservation value whilst, at the same time , apparently doing something similar, is sailing a bit close to the wind, particularly when the collective protection of the nation's war-chest of sites falls under his aegis. It's got to be wrong, surely!! Certainly the continuing reticence towards revealing the Walshaw Estate details would make some sense if judged against the above.  If it's not true, why not come out and reveal all the necessary details associated with both sets of circumstances and clear the air.

Buzzard control proposals withdrawn.

This will probably prove to be the shortest Blog I ever issue. I understand that DEFRA are to withdraw the Buzzard control proposals about which we've all expressed concern. Very much a positive for our democracy!!  They are to be reviewed, so further ideas will come forward in due course.

Whilst the Minister involved,  Richard Benyon,  has come in for criticism, I think we pay testimony that DEFRA, under his "watch", has been willing to stand up on the issue, as it did previously relating to Eagle Owls, and review its position. A day to draw confidence from!

If ever evidence was required to endorse the point I've repeatedly kept making about social divisions emerging on countryside issues, simply take a look at the jaundiced response from the Countryside Alliance on this latest decision.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Should we give the Government a pasting, or a pasty?

For once , I hope this will be seen as a light hearted piece, more as a relief from a day of intense lobbying on my part against the current proposals by DEFRA associated with the control of Buzzards. For those reading this from countries other than the UK, the pasty reference in the title is a consequence of a U-turn today by the UK Government on a tax that would otherwise have been levied on pasties!!!. A much loved fast food item that includes meat, potatoes, onion and other ingredients,......oh, for a fast food outlet on Islay !!  A very confused taxation proposal that, perhaps, is the basis of thinking within other ideas coming forward! When is a pasty hot or cold, that is the question, about which even the Bard may have been confused!

But ,NO, I will try and stick to levity!!  To continue.  Have Cuckoo's a sense of humour ? This morning my "local" Cuckoo called at 0332 hours!  I had actually gone to bed early in order to be up for some "early" survey work , but this was ridiculous. Was this a way the species was getting back at us all because of its name, I ask? Even the amorous , territorial and local Pheasant followed with a respectable appearance at 0402 hours. A day with a disgruntled  beginning. Not an uncommon element in terms of my entry to the daily world I would offer!!

After my return to "base" , and a well deserved rest, I commenced to issue my opinions on the Buzzard control proposals coming forward from DEFRA. I genuinely believe they're misguided and should be reconsidered and something we should be prepared to give the \Government a pasting on  ( pasting , to the uninitiated, is a hammering , a beating , an humiliation ) and, in the current climate I would suggest, the award of a pasty! Not so for Baroness Parminter, who responded to my E-mail within two minutes ( yes,2 minutes , folks ) of my sending it off!   OK, she may have been sitting next to the computer and have time to respond, but I shall most certainly be recommending she is not given the " Award of the Pasty ", but something far more relevant in terms of being in tune with the need for a sensible consideration of matters associated with the issue and the courage to make comments on the Liberal Democrats web site, see this link  ( Protecting Buzzards.).  (Thank you for listening, Baroness Parminter ).

And , finally , for something different!  Not birds, but bees. The "conversation" all fathers avoid!!  Not so in this case. Friends of the Earth are calling on the Government to bring into being a National Bee Action Plan to ensure that the way we farm and plan our towns and cities are all part of an integrated system that support our bee populations, which are under siege. A campaign worth putting weight behind, be it through providing plants in your own garden or campaigning for in support of change. It needs your support.

And now for a pasty!  A product I usually purchase in multiples from a Morrisson Supermarket when on the mainland , and very tasty they are too!

Monday, May 28, 2012

Buzzard excuse by any other name!

We're told that the lobbying by the pheasant shooting "industry" has resulted in DEFRA's  recent proposals to control the Buzzard population in England. The accompanying recreational and commercial processes one suspects are largely confined to participants who are staunch Tory Party supporters. By contrast, pleas issued by a more broad based section of the electorate for direct action to be taken to reduce raptor persecution and, in particular, to improve the parlous state of the English Hen Harrier breeding population, have received only a token recognition. Given that the majority of the persecution is linked to upland shooting estates as evidenced by research results by the same Government department, one is left to assume the subject is largely being ignored.

In the current circumstances I simply do not believe the extent of commercial loss is significant or beyond that acknowledged in the study commissioned by BASC in which 1-2% of released birds were predated upon by Buzzards. The cost of this per 1000 birds is apparently £30.20, a sum that, as an expression of stock losses, would be surprising if  it was omitted, in some form, from the financial accounts of the enterprise concerned or, indeed, its accompanying tax returns!! I stand to be corrected , of course!  Alternatively the figure could be distributed across the calculations for that season upon which the charges are made to clients, a sum that I would guess would hardly be noticed. Even in whisky production the loss from each cask during the period of ageing is attributed to being a "contribution to the angels".

No, folks, at the end of the day this is just an excuse for those with countryside interests to manage things according to their own desires and commercial interests to the detriment of the views and wishes of the wider electorate.

Can we trust them?  I very much doubt it!

With the almost inbred intolerance, prejudice and hatred of raptors amongst this fraternity can they, or their agents, be trusted to differentiate between Buzzard, Goshawk, Long-eared Owl, Tawny Owl, Sparrowhawk or, indeed, anything within the area under their management. This would not be based on mistaken identification, but on the opportunity to control such species being exploited under the guise of convenient misjudgement!  Trusted, I don't believe so!  Who will really police this delegated responsibility for destruction, or are we to rely on the old chestnut of self regulation?  I would go further and suggest that the DEFRA proposals will be viewed as an "open house" invitation to reduce, or even rid areas, of their raptor populations.  If accusations of unjustified criticism arise from this, I would simply point to the steady flow of persecution incidents and poisoning incidents in current times, all in contravention of the law,  and who were the section of Society who were responsible?

In practical terms, why can't pheasant shoot operators be commissioned to install cover to pens to restrict access by potential predators? Is it that the incidence of these depredations are so low as to make it too costly an exercise! I wonder!  Research has shown a series of mitigating measures which might be implemented. Have such been costed, tested or, even, suggested?
Similarly, with the birds destined for captivity, have the operators of such facilities agreed and welcomed this approach? Let's face it, every operator of a pheasant shoot will be claiming they have a problem. Assumption, exaggeration even, and not normally an approach I favour, but I sincerely feel that is how these proposals will be viewed and exploited.

So, in summary, a set of proposals in which I have little confidence as far as their responsible implementation is concerned. I also feel they reflect an arrogant sense of favouritism towards a particular sector and a deliberate disregard for the views of others, a view I shall be communicating to the Minister concerned.

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Confused messages on the Brazilian Amazon.

Oh what a tangled web we weave
When first we practice to deceive.

On the 10th May (see my Blog ) I reported on a Bill being promoted by the powerful farming lobby through the Brazilian Congress that, effectively, would place large areas  of the Amazonian Rainforest at risk. The Brazilian President, Dilma Rouseff, has the power to veto such bills and such a decision was eagerly awaited on the 25th May, the deadline upon which such action rested.

Now all this must be placed against the background of the Rio Summit +20 which will take place shortly and place, for a short time, Brazil in the world environmental spotlight. One might conclude that such circumstances don't connect easily with taking major decisions about a world renowned area upon which all our interests and concerns rest. Well, it seems President Rouseff has skilfully avoided the potential derision that might otherwise have arisen had she raised no objections to the Bill . The time honoured use of what one might cynically judge to be a delaying factor has attempted to appease all factions and kick the problem into the long grass for a while, most importantly, until after the completion of the World Summit process! This was a major opportunity to be seen as a world leader, taking a decision in favour of an international resource, whose personal stature would have improved dramatically as a result of the undoubted plaudits emanating from the Rio Summit.

Having said all that she did reject twelve (12) articles and introduce thirty two (32)  modifications to text within the Bill although, as yet, the details aren't available. Pretty good you might conclude! Well, perhaps not so good in reality given the changes have all to be placed before Congress again and be voted upon. The President has also to issue decrees on these subjects , but even these are subject to examination by Congress, so the debate goes on. For further details please take a look at the following link (here ).

Whilst this may be uplifting in some respects, there are reasons to be sceptical about the real resolve of the President in terms of conserving the Amazon area. I'm indebted to Guy Kirwan for pointing out the following issues relating to river systems in that area which, for some reason, I'd completely missed seeing previously. Again, more details can be found on this link  (Amazonian dams and reservoirs. ).  The scheme is collectively referred to as the Tapajos Complex with a work programme concentrated on the next five-ten years. Three major dams are proposed on the mainstream Tapajos, with four large dams on the Jamanxim River  and five large dams on the Teles Pires River. Additionally 17 large dams and 63 proposals (yes, read the figures again! ) are proposed for the Juruena River. The intention is to develop the basin into a giant industrial waterway to assist the extraction of agricultural products and to produce hydro-electric power for mining purposes. No analysis of impacts has been carried out on the potential challenges to the indigenous populations present in the area or, indeed, the biodiversity. Strange omissions one might say given the public concerns expressed by the President on other occasions.

However, even further confusing factors emerge in this tangled web of proposals and policies referring to this world renowned area. In January this year the President signed provisions, claimed to be illegal by some, aimed at eliminating over 75,000 hectares from National Parks on five conservation units to make way for two large reservoirs associated with dams on the Tapajos. Necessary strategic planning or convenience politics, but where also does the claimed long held recognition of the Amazon come in?

Saturday, May 26, 2012

The thin end of the wedge?

The latest proposals issued by DEFRA relating to Buzzard control reinforce, yet again, this Government's willingness to "bend the knee" and acquiesce to the demands of its elitist minority of supporters, whilst disregarding the interests and will of the majority of its electors. Despite the argument seemingly finding little recognition, the underlying factors point to this being part of a "Class War" in anything but name. This latest scandalous outrage typifies the now regularly emerging policies aimed at protecting the interests of its own!

Setting aside beneficial tax proposals (!), lets simply take a look at environmental and conservation aspects. We've had a blind eye turned to raptor persecution, a proposed sale of forestry assets, a declared assault on,  or intention to dilute, habitat regulations and now the commercial interests of Pheasant  shoots are being protected. With most of these subjects being associated with the shooting fraternity, let's take a look at whether we ought to invest any responsibility in that faction when it comes to them being given an influence over our natural heritage. In other words, can we trust them?

Let's examine a bit of history associated with the "Buzzard timeline"!  In the early 19th Century Buzzards were present in most of mainland Britain and fairly generally in Ireland. By the second half of that century substantial declines and contractions in range had occurred, coinciding with the rise of the shooting estates. The lowest ebb of the population was in the years before the 1914-18 war. Then, with the reduction in gamekeepers due to military service, there was an immediate effect and the birds returned to areas not occupied for many years. If you take a look at Page 455 of  "The Atlas of Breeding Birds in Britain and Ireland" compiled by J.R.Sharrock  (British Trust for Ornithology, 1976 ), there is a series of maps showing the distribution of Buzzard in 1800, 1865, 1905, and 1954. These are based on work by Moore, 1957 and Tubbs, 1974 and represent both a fascinating and disgusting insight into the extent to which the shooting fraternity has manipulated, quite deliberately, the distribution of a raptor species in its own interests.  Now does the "social strata argument" begin to lock in and make more sense?

Buzzards are catholic feeders ( birds, squirrels, moles, reptiles ) and, of course, Rabbits. The crash in the latter's population in 1955-56 due to myxamatosis had a major  influence on the range extension of the Buzzard, but a greater influence was the use of organo chloride poisons in the late 1950's until they were banned in 1966. Clear evidence of the deliberate intent to manage, for their own means and vested interests, any segment of our wildlife heritage which stood in the way.

Sadly such interventions have remained a continuing feature in the operation of shooting interests. The RSPB analysed 302 proven incidents with Buzzards between the years of 1971-87. Of these 98 birds were shot, 16 trapped and 188 poisoned. Clear evidence again of that faction's intention to have things their way,even given actions were in direct contravention of the law. Readers, nowadays, will be all too familiar with the plethora of incidents reported upon by RSPB , PAW and Raptor Persecution Scotland, besides periodic reports from Government ( even! ) which show no reduction in activity.One questions whether there is a mood to even try if it is thought they can get away with the offence or that any resultant penalties are likely to be paltry in nature.

The current proposals and the Pheasant rearing industry are something I'll return to later as I believe it important, at present, to ensure the issue of "self interest" is fully established.

I suspect these current proposals are also a subtle way of protecting those who, otherwise, might revert to illegal ways of securing their Pheasant poults. With the continuing calls for a Vicarious Liability Clause to be introduced, wherein the employer/owner of an estate is held to be equally responsible for any illegal acts of persecution which occur there, these latest proposals, if adopted, ease the potential pressure set against what, otherwise, might arise. With a VC clause enacted, but no official proposals implemented favouring pheasant rearing interests, it would only be a matter of time before someone acted illegally based on the perceived problems attributed to Buzzards. If a prosecution resulted, who else but the owner/employer would then be involved under the provisions of VC legislation, so adroitly avoided thus far by DEFRA. It rather seems as if a decision has been taken to secure a more legitimate route to securing their commercial interests and dealing with their perceived  "competitor problem".

Sadly the E-petition relating to Vicarious Liability has not received the support it deserves. One wonders whether a more professionally planned and collective approach to its launch would have provided the necessary impetus required in its promotion, contrasted against its singular registration. We'll never know but, in some ways, its tardy emergence will now have closed the door on this particular avenue, although a further opportunity might yet emerge to promote such a need within the forthcoming consultation exercise connected to the review on wildlife regulations undertaken by the Law Commission.

Questions surely arise associated with the current proposals , the origins of the case, the details put forward and who was involved in the discussions. The subject has been under consideration for several months and, therefore, the initial approaches and ideas must have arisen quite a time ago. Overall the implications and intent of these proposals require forensic examination to expose the real story behind their emergence. At present they should be soundly condemned and every action possible taken to discredit the self-serving motives they contain by writing or E-mailing MP's.    Complacency can't be afforded!!

Friday, May 25, 2012

Glorious weather, chilling news!

Is this it, this summer thing, Mum?

An absolutely glorious day. Spent quite a time outside looking at an ever growing body of information and commentary on the proposals relating to Buzzard control. A lot of reaction has already been issued and, undoubtedly, even more will emerge as the wider implications are considered. It's comforting to see that there is a quantity of condemnation directed at the amount of money involved, regardless of the conservation arguments against the proposals. Such is the amount of information to consider it is likely my own comments will appear tomorrow!!

Being outside I kept a running list of bird species seen or heard in the area around the house. The variety of habitat is rather limited in the immediate surroundings with conifer woodland about a kilometre to the east.  I've done this before in Spring and it's interesting to compare the results. Two pulses of arrival activity occurred this Spring as far as migrants were concerned but it appears these are probably now at an end. 

Two species were notable by their total absence. Usually both Goldfinch and Linnet are present or overfly the area. Both have been in lower numbers this Spring , the latter particularly so!  Within the period I watched the behaviour of a Cuckoo with a degree of fascination. Over the period of about 45 minutes it appeared to be actively seeking out a possible host. It sat out on a fence line and progressively moved about two posts at a time along a total section of 60 metres. At intervals it flew around in a tight circle and returned to a perch as if investigating a precise area. Eventually a very agitated Meadow Pipit perched alongside it and made a nuisance of itself such that the Cuckoo then moved off.  A possible close call!!

News from Malcolm Ogilvie that a few days ago a pair of Canada Geese with young had been found on Texa , an island off the south coast of Islay. At least a couple of other pairs are around on Islay at present and a small number of birds have also been around on Jura, a matter I intend investigating shortly. Over the past few Spring periods an increasing, albeit small number of nominate type birds has been obvious , usually passing through, but some hanging on longer than others. This is a species which is evident at various locales on the adjacent mainland and it may well be that a gradual extension in their range is occurring.  Given the burgeoning numbers of Grey lag Geese on Islay, since their initial commencement breeding in the late 1990's, the possibility of yet another, usually successful, immigrant is perhaps a matter for concern!!! 

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Mixed values, firm allegiances!

On the day when the full implications of the proposals issued by DEFRA relating to Buzzards emerged, I chose to ring past colleagues at RSPB HQ and could sense the palpable sense of shock and surprise the initiative had caused !  My own enquiries (still ) related to the Hen Harrier persecution issue and how it might be pursued further given its prominence.  Now it was obvious two major subjects associated with birds of prey were there to be dealt with, responded to and  "kept alive" in a public context.

Additional to this, of course, is the fact that the consultation exercise based on the review by the Law Commission on wildlife legislation arises in a few weeks time. I sense that this will be a major confrontation in itself, but I'm prepared to be surprised!  One imagines that, if the review actually proposes that the Vicarious Liability clause be embraced in legislation, there will be robust opposition arise from the Tory factions of the Coalition given the underlying sentiments expressed in their current policies. One can no longer have any confidence in this Administration's approach to environmental and conservation matters, which I feel is a very real worry. Few governments escape criticism when it comes to environmental matters, but this Administration appears hell bent intent on attacking core elements of  legislation we have taken some comfort from previously, e.g. habitat protection and regulation.. A time is emerging when everyone needs to be willing to register their dis-satisfaction to negative proposals coming forward, as  opposed to grumbling in the background!

The complacent reaction of the Government towards the continuing persecution of Hen Harriers by shooting interests and , now, the very obvious compliance with the demands from the same source relating to Buzzards, are both indicators of the position the Tory faction of the Coalition intend to follow. The mind boggling amount of money awarded for research on various proposals to control Buzzards, arrived at by responding to clamour and anecdotal submissions without any  evidence backing them up, is nothing short of scandalous, particularly given the current financial situation !

One is left with the firm conclusion that the Government, via DEFRA, is  intent on protecting and assisting land owners associated with game management come what may, endorses my view that this has now become a distinct political issue with insidious social overtones and weighted in favour of vested interests of an elite minority. The conservation elements linked to these issues pale into insignificance by comparison and, clearly, the wishes of the majority are conveniently being ignored.

None of this is to the Government's credit, and a time will come when they pay the price for ignoring the electorate in such a dismissive fashion. In the meantime, a simple comparison of the budgets awarded Hen Harrier conservation on the one hand ( a staff member and <£16 k in 2012/13 ) and the award of funds to research the containment of the Buzzard population  (£375 k ) sets the Government's attitudes and sympathies in context.  doubtless more needs to be written and presented over the next few days.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Bulletin, it what you will!

A busy few days with a whole variety of things happening. Discussions on Grey lag Geese, Golden eagle monitoring, Black Guillemots, and even a couple of days of unfettered birding  all conspired to eat up the time. And now, with new proposals coming out from DEFRA about Buzzards, yet another subject has become a headline as much as Hen Harrier persecution. Back to the writing desk it would seem!

Amongst all this too, news that Great White Egret has bred in England for the first time at Shapwick Heath National Nature Reserve. I'm a bit confused by the reportage though! Reference that  news emerged a month ago that they might be nesting is a bit strange given they were obviously displaying as far back as 10th March when Matthew and I visited the site.  Perhaps they changed location a wee bit or held off settling down?  It's also the excuse to plan a further visit to the site sometime, which is superb.Whatever, it's certainly good news and yet another Continental  "white bird" to join the breeding list. Given they can be quite site loyal this might also be the "bridgehead" from which they expand into other areas, particularly as the number of birds around in recent years has also grown.

Friday, May 18, 2012

We need a rethink, and rapidly!!

I've had another day musing! This is not fitting at all well with my usual birding activities and I suspect the bubble will burst very shortly and lobbying activities will be relegated for a day or more. At the same time I confess the problem and relevance of raptor persecution still trundles on, indeed it has a much longer history than the Eurozone crisis!!  Such a history is much , much longer than should be acceptable, indeed the whole scenario is a joke and should be treated with a much greater significance than simply being the killing of birds of prey.

This is a major political problem!  Given our natural, emotional reserve in the UK, such "departures" are too often tolerated and, along with too many other aspects, are accepted as being a part of a necessary norm. Why I ask?  Look, folks, I am not preaching radical political change, I'm 70 for God's sake, I'm well past being a "Red under the Bed" or whatever the expression was,  but there is need for this hypocrisy and arrogance to end.  There is a need for the fulcrum of this argument to alter, and radically at that!

Currently the  respectable and justified argument against raptor persecution is surrounded by references to the laws of the land ( Wildlife and Countryside Act, 1981, as amended ), the unwarranted activities of some and the disgraceful continuation of such activities in this , the 21st Millenium. We, after all, are held up as a nation which defends and upholds democracy, civilised behaviour, equality and a whole panoply of behaviour that sets a standard for others to follow. Well, I'm sure all societies face its detractors, but when it comes to wildlife conservation we appear to have a well defined minority who are intent on ignoring, ARROGANTLY, the requirements of UK law and the responsibility which this demands from us all.

So, what is needed?  The conservation bodies need to exhibit much more steel and fire in their respective bellies. This is not a debate within a student's forum, it's real , it has a necessary aim of enshrining regulation and discipline within our Society which ensures our wildlife heritage is protected and maintained and not subjected to the negative influences of those who deliberately ignore the obligations. And it therefore demands the exercise of political action as varied as might be the potential obstacles placed in the way of its progress.

Now this is the radical bit , folks!  I don't believe we are dealing with a conservation problem any more , but a social one.  This is ,sadly, too redolent of the class war than is comfortable to contemplate. In summary, the wealthy, land owning class are repeatedly ignoring the law of the land to pursue an agenda of its own desires! An agenda that subscribes to the pursuance of commercial gain when it come to the operation of grouse moors and the eradication of any component that lends itself to the reduction of that enterprise. Commercial criminality in any other respect! But condemned by those who both frame and uphold the legislation of the land?  You must be joking! When have any meaningful words of action and condemnation on this subject emerged from the Government?  Send me the evidence if you're convinced by the hypocrisy.

What is needed?  The battle needs to be taken on to a different field of examination than is normally the case. The conservation organisations need to appraise the situation anew , although I'm not sure how far they can pursue some elements due to the constraints of the law governing charitable institutions. All revolves around the willingness to change direction and consider the problem from the aspect of social behaviour. This is a situation wherein a wealthy, but insignificant numerical proportion of our population, pays scant heed to the wishes of the real majority, sets themselves above the law and, basically, dictate that their aberrant behaviour should be accepted without recrimination or even question. And such is being supported by their political associates within the Tory Party with the demands of the majority being conveniently ignored. Supporting their own and ignoring the electorate!

That is wrong, very wrong and one doesn't need to be an anarchist to recognise and endorse the fact!!  But this is where the confrontation now needs to concentrate, as debating the moralistic and legal integrity of our existing laws is a wasted exercise. Sufficient evidence exists already, based on the various successful prosecutions,  to show that the restrictions and requirements of the law are being held in contempt. So what to do?   The situation flies in the face of the Government's Big Society proposals as this over confident, arrogant minority of their supporters appear hell bent intent on ignoring such requirements, exercising intolerance , offering any co-operative contribution and, basically, being decent members of our Society. This is where the battle now needs to be directed. Retribution will have been earned in a couple of years time unless some real effort to effect change is evident. Mr Cameron and colleagues, future actions will show whether you, yourselves, really care!

Thursday, May 17, 2012

A shameful disgrace!

In recent replies given to various questions raised by Fiona O'Donnell (MP) in Westminster relating to bird of prey persecution and the current demise of the Hen Harrier, Richard Benyon ( DEFRA Minister) ) advised that, since 2002, 119 Hen Harriers have been fitted with radio transmitters or satellite tags. Their movements  within this period have been the focus of a research study, the results from which will ultimately be examined for the award of a PhD to the worker concerned. A difficult task completed in difficult circumstances.

Given the results allowed Natural England to publish a report in late 2008 containing some very firm conclusions, one questions why , now, we are advised the results are being analysed. I suggest it is only those data collected in subsequent years which are now being examined and that nothing should prevent the availability of details on which a Government report, with conclusions, has already been published. Following the yet to be completed PhD thesis, the Minister's comments bordered on obfuscation when dealing with the possible publication of peer reviewed papers presenting the results. Not an encouraging response when associated with a process aimed at contributing to " the body of knowledge".  I would gently remind the Minister that one of the elements we treasure, and can be proud of in this democracy, is the open availability of information , at least in theory!  Based, admittedly on information from informal sources, it appears likely that, of the 199 harriers to which devices were attached, only one is still providing results. One can only speculate on the circumstances contributing to the loss of the other data sources and their hosts at various intervals in recent years.

Of pertinent interest on Mark Avery's Blog ( Standing up for Nature   link here  ) is a submission from a Mr Philip Curtis ) who worked on the Hen Harrier Recovery Project between 2002-08. He resigned in disgust at the lack of commitment to the project, the dilution of results and the avoidance of damning details in the reports and a deliberate decision not to include a map showing the locations where persecution was strongly suspected or proven.  To those responsible I would simply remind them that Natural England is the Government's advisor on wildlife matters, supposedly impartial and not funded by the taxpayer to commence presenting results, or to have its report results presented in a politically acceptable fashion. As can be seen, the truth will out!

In the light of the imminent likelihood of the Hen Harrier becoming extinct as a breeding species in England, is it not now a priority for this data to be released and is it not a matter upon which the Minister should intervene? Such would identify the precise areas where persecution has been rife and confirm the conclusions presented in the Natural England report and publicised in December, 2008.

All in all, a catalogue of conflicting outpourings that are a shameful disgrace and do little, until rectified, of the claim of the current Coalition as  being the Greenest Government Ever!

A period of necessary reflection!

For most of yesterday I spent my time musing!  Not quite as edifying a sight as Rodin's, " The Thinker", and unlikely to result in such  anatomical perfection given the number of cups of tea I consumed. But now that the initial round of press releases, Blogs, approaches to MP's and such like will inevitably reduce as other subjects demand attention, it's essential that a clear view emerges on what now is required.

The approaches to DEFRA and Natural England made by the RSPB will doubtless result in discussions on what might comprise a recovery plan for Hen Harriers in England. However, I'm not persuaded this will result in much real action at all, not as a consequence of the RSPB reducing its efforts, but simply because I am not convinced the Tory part of the Coalition Government are prepared to properly consider the problem. Recent answers from Richard Benyon  ( DEFRA Minister )  to questions raised by Fiona O'Donnell, MP resulted in a stonewalling performance redolent of a Geoff Boycott innings. One learns that , in 2012-13, the princely sum of £15 k plus a staff member is being allocated to the Upland Hen Harrier Recovery Project. Is that the value they are prepared to put on this iconic member of our avian community?  May I draw attention to the feature ( on this Blog ) I put out on the 3rd May relating to DEFRA's Darwin Initiative and the vast sums of money involved. Whilst I am not advocating this should cease, I would simply draw attention to the comparative relevance, or lack of it, afforded this current topic.

We all know where the problem lies and what the remedy is that would bring a relatively quick resurgence in the Hen Harrier's fortunes.  It isn't money, it isn't research studies, plans, policies or performance reviews either. Tolerance and a change in attitude by the responsible faction within our Society would soon solve the problem, and without any cost to the public purse. One also imagines the solution might even lie within a process of "social osmosis" in the hallowed residences associated with the landed estates upon which this persecution appears to be centred, as identified within Natural England's Report issued previously. The odd cautionary remark, including the potential for losing support in an electoral context, might be something the Minister should consider.   Mr Benyon, please stop protecting your own or suffer the consequences!

I also spent time putting  a series of initial thoughts together on what might comprise changes within our current legislation or, indeed, new elements of it, that would be directed towards those who persist in carrying out raptor persecution. At some point in time these will be made available to appropriate interests. The issue will not go away as far as conservationists are concerned.  Persistent attention being drawn to the inadequate relevance awarded  the subject will serve the Tory cause badly. Now is the time to face up the the causes, the effects and the necessary remedies or suffer the inevitable consequences in terms of loss of popularity on yet another subject area.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

The fight back for harriers begins!

With admirable synchronisation the RSPB has today taken up a prominent stance against raptor persecution, particularly Hen Harriers following the feature in The Times by Simon Barnes on Saturday. With various Blog entries, coupled with a major press release, a platform has now been created upon which a serious debate can ensue. If such is also coupled with a concerted marshalling of membership and public opinion to bring significant pressure to bear on a Government which, hitherto, has ignored the problem, there is an opportunity to put impetus behind an issue which is both a concern and a national disgrace.. In the next few days it will be possible to sift through all the reactions and ideas which come forward and present a summarised commentary , which I'll endeavour to do.

RSPB has called upon DEFRA and Natural England to initiate a fully funded Recovery Plan to assist the recovery of the Hen Harrier in England, besides an appeal that shooting interests should adhere to the requirements of the law. Whilst I agree wholeheartedly with the need and approach, I suspect there will be the usual excuses trotted out about the need for austerity measures and little will emerge other than a series of platitudes. It is precisely because of this potential reaction that we all now need to " muster behind the clarion call" and lend the weight of our collective criticisms and demands to what is proposed.

Additional to this will be the difficulty of sustaining such a campaign, but, again, this is where we can all help and in a variety of ways. For those on the periphery of involvement, it is certainly worthwhile reading the official Press Release put out by Grahame Madge (RSPB ) and the Blog entry put out by Martin Harper ( Director of Conservation, RSPB ) on the subject. We all need to arrive at a balanced view on where we stand, and what we can do, so that we are better equipped to help. This is not a problem that will be resolved overnight and all of us need to determine the opportunities within which we can assist.........letters to our Elected Representatives, the way we vote, communication of the problem to others. Retiring and becoming an eco-warrior is not a sin, believe me, and letter writing is much less dangerous than climbing trees anyway!!  It will all help in the end.

And talking of "the end", we have to treat this as the beginning of the end, but appreciate the process may be elongated. Undoubtedly there will be some for which anything other than an overnight solution will be unsatisfactory and provide an opportunity for criticism. Such likely jaundiced, ill considered views should simply be ignored in my book as arising from a disaffected minority with no real influence and no capacity to offer courtesy or the recognition of the efforts of others. The seeking of self aggrandisement makes a poor companion to humility!  In this context, given previous criticisms,  I would point to the clear call today from Martin Harper addressed to all readers of his Blog, be they members of the RSPB or not, to sign the Vicarious Liability petition!!!

This is a day on which we should all pledge unconditional support to what is proposed, to keep ourselves abreast of developments and to act when called upon.. This is a "one stop show" ( is that the right expression? ), but something that must succeed. It is an opportunity to seek out a solution to a problem, in tandem with other interests, and an exercise which must succeed if we are to maintain our wildlife heritage.

One feels the spirit of Didsbury is alive and well  (  for those to whom this means nothing, simply look at RSPB's humble beginnings! ).

Opposite ends of the spectrum!

A few days ago Operation Turtle Dove was launched by Conservation Grade, Pensthorpe Conservation Trust, Natural England and the RSPB aimed at halting the decline of the Turtle Dove in England.
Such has been this decline ( 91% since the 1970's ) that I sometimes wonder whether I will see the species again in the UK given my base up here in Western Scotland and infrequent visits to Southern England!

It seems likely that the crash is linked to it changing its foraging habits and research is now testing various seed food mixtures which can be presented as options within the agri-environmental options within forthcoming schemes. However, such is the parlous state of the English population at the moment that it has been considered necessary to carry out research and provide advice hand in hand in order to try and reverse this desperate situation.

The Turtle Dove is a summer migrant, of course, spending most of  "its year" in West Africa, migrating to and from Northern Europe via the Mediterranean Basin. Sadly, agricultural production in West Africa has fluctuated, which has put further pressure on the species and lowered its survival rate. And then there's the thorny problem of the species being a "traditional target" for the hunters around the Mediterranean, a negative input into this complex picture which is hardly a help overall.

A petition is now being raised by Avaaz aimed at halting the annual slaughter of birds in Malta, which can be reached via this link
Stop Spring Hunting in Malta.

It's imperative this is stopped. The problem has been going on for years, with Malta's administration paying scant heed to calls for constraint. Now is the opportunity to make an impact.

Monday, May 14, 2012

From local, national to worldwide!!

Around 0500 hours this morning a pair of Grey-lag Geese flew past the house calling ( I was in bed ). They've done the same over the past few days, undoubtedly going towards more open feeding grounds on farmland near the coast. An hour or so later they flew back towards what I suspect is now their breeding location tucked away in an area of greater cover to the east. A simple case of a cycle of activity that would be easy to miss, but that directs attention to aspects of birding we so often ignore or miss.

A little later I flogged around my local area in a somewhat robust wind and dodging odd showers. It wasn't an intention to connect with anything especial ( although there was a Killdeer last year nearby!! ), but simply to interact with what constitutes the "local birdlife" at different times of year. Some might dismiss, even ridicule, the effort involved , but it actually puts you in touch with what is happening with such natural cycles and gives a very rewarding insight into wildlife patterns. It's not the sort of birding I could slavishly pursue each and every day, without recourse to visits elsewhere, but it can provide some very important data too if such visits are then submitted into the BirdTrack system or the Breeding Bird Survey, both of which are administered  by the British Trust for Ornithology. Worth doing in any event.  I was quite buoyed up this morning by seeing a Grasshopper Warbler singing away in precisely the same bush as in the past three years. The same bird, it would be nice to think so given the too often bad news stories of declining populations, depleted migrants and so on?

Over the weekend I watched the Queens Speech, which I'd recorded.   OK, sad so and so you might say, but I'm genuinely interested in what might affect our environment and fortunes of our wildlife. As it was there was no, none, zilch, mention of wildlife, or much about the environment other than the Green Investment Bank.  Wildlife can't defend itself, it requires our help and it may yet mean that we, the birding community, not celebrated as the most active constituent political body let it be said, but it might be necessary!

On a similar note the reaction towards the Brazilian forestry issue and the threat to the Amazonian jungle is gaining in impetus as 1.5 million people have, apparently , already communicated their objection to the proposals to the Brazilian President. She has until the 25th May to veto the proposals or invite international criticism and condemnation of the countries' Bill. See the entry on this Blog dated 10th May and ensure you sign the petition!!! Please!!

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Natural anybody there?

At a time when we appear to be facing a very real crisis as far as England's breeding population of Hen Harrier is concerned, where is  Natural England?

Conspicuous by their silence would be a charitable assessment in my view, given not even an acknowledgement of the situation has emerged from the organisation that is supposed to preside over wildlife matters given their position as the Government's advisor within  DEFRA.!! Heads below the parapet might even be the order of the day. Given their (prophetic?) report issued in late 2008 on persecution of Hen Harriers, would it not be logical for them to be echoing the conclusions presented in that report, namely that there was a clear connection with managed grouse moors and the loss of Hen Harriers and that there is a need to initiate robust change! .Perhaps this resonates a bit too close to be comfortable with the land owning Tory element within the Coalition, and particularly given the latter's claim to be the Greenest Government ever!!  After all, it wouldn't do for one's advisers to be drawing attention to details that detract from the main message!

However, one would think that, with the imminent demise of the English Hen Harrier breeding population becoming an ever increasing reality, there would surely be some comment forthcoming from the Government's adviser?  Well, as far as I can establish there has been........nothing!!!  Their Web site currently centres attention in May on

  • the quest to find the Landscape Photographer of the Year
  • the Turtle Dove  conservation initiative
  • International Dawn Chorus Day
  • Visit a National Nature Reserve
Errm! Interesting, but no mention of harriers, although the Turtle Dove initiative is tremendous!

Perhaps some other pressing issues are occupying the thoughts and collective mind of the organisation? Hopefully we'll be pleasantly surprised, although I somehow doubt it ( sadly ).

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Relaxing birding!

After a week largely crouched behind a laptop I decided yesterday that today would not be impaired by admin., lobbying , research or preparation of anything! So, looking at the weather forecast and taking account of the reports arising from the "skua watches" on the Solway Firth I was out shortly after dawn ( quite early here it has to be said! ) and positioned in one of my sea watching vantage points.

The sea was choppy given a light westerly wind , but visibility even across to Northern Ireland was variable but good. The "backing light" from a rising sun added value to the exercise and, all round, circumstances were well poised to deliver! Well, it has to be said, things weren't frenetic, but the few hours I was there were rewarding and more than therapeutic. I eventually followed the outing with a rather late, but full cooked breakfast and watched the Spanish Grand Prix qualifying rounds, followed by the Giro D'Italia whilst I again crouched behind this machine!!  All solid man stuff, well.most of it!!

The journey to and from the site produced  a very dark Cuckoo in flight, singing Sedge Warblers, Common Whitethroat, Grasshopper Warbler ( near to the house and in the same bush as previously! ), several Northern Wheatears, and my local Swallow appears to have a mate. At this time of year it can be slightly difficult separating what  are local birds, those on feeding movements and true migrants, so full attention is a must.  Local  Fulmar, Shag, Common and Herring Gulls have now been joined by Arctic Terns, whose calls filled the air and languorous flights were something to marvel at. Within the first hour several "tinkling" calls of Whimbrel were heard as birds arrived , and then continued, although none were seen and were presumably at height. Good numbers of Gannets were around or plying back and forth, as were auks, essentially all Razorbills, and a few Manx Shearwater. Almost 200 Kittiwake passed north, presumably to their breeding cliffs on Colonsay or farther afield. And a single Great Skua was seen, not as you might expect winging its way north in a determined fashion, but skirting around the islets offshore, undoubtedly attracted by the commotion of the feeding Gannets, gulls and terns. Not a bad few hours by any means.

The Greenest Government ever?

In a fortnight when we have seen the complete rejection of the current approaches taken by the coalition Government, as expressed through the results of the Local Elections for both Parties, coupled with other diversions related to relationships with the media, the BSkyB bid and Ministerial conduct, I'm sorry to have to draw attention to yet another "negative" element.

On 7th June, 2011 DEFRA launched the Natural Environment White Paper, "The Natural Choice", the mechanism by which the Government of the day introduces its policy proposals, aimed at change and improvement, which are then framed in legislation.

Well previous to that stage the proposals are examined by a Select Committee within Parliament, via the submission of oral evidence from elected representatives who occupy key positions within the administration linked to the content of the policies concerned. In this case the Select Committee would be the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee. In her introductory remarks at the initial meeting the Chair of that Committee, Miss Anne McIntosh, said that this was the first White Paper addressing environmental matters in over twenty years and that " the Government says it wants to be the first generation to leave the national environment in a better state than it inherited"

She went on to say, " Our enquiry will ask how well the Government's proposals are likely to protect the environment for future generations, make the economy more sustainable or improve quality of life and well being".

Well, I'm duty bound to say that, even BEFORE the formal appearance of these proposals our Greenest Government appears to have failed , and miserably!!  Whilst I realise I've been banging on about the English breeding population of Hen Harriers in past days, ( nobody else appears to be and I make no apology for attempting to gain some attention to the current problem ), I feel this sudden association by our Government with environmental matters is an absolute travesty, and little more than an excuse to introduce "relaxed" conditions favouring economic development. I'm also duty bound to say I feel it's our Chancellors view of what the environment constitutes!!   In one meeting of the Select Committee, the emphasis placed by Oliver Letwin, MP  ( Cabinet Office ) on how best to appraise the needs of the Habitat and Wild Birds Directive when it came to economic development is hardly salutary. One assumes that , with all this concern about environmental quality, they do intend having something living and thriving within it!  Well, folks, it rather looks as if the National Capital Committee might already need to amend any schedule it keeps of especial, constituent members  of our national, wildlife heritage as it appears they've already lost one vital component.

Despite research results from Natural England,( the Government's wildlife and conservation advisor), widely promoted in their subsequent report in December,2008, the threats posed to Hen Harriers from persecution have apparently been ignored since that date, such that it now seems the English harrier breeding population is probably now extinct, or very close to it. Now I appreciate the current Coalition didn't come into being until May 2010, but one assumes such priority advice is handed on within the Department concerned!  Such a warning and stark realisation appears to have been utterly ignored by a Government pledged to making our environment better, such that now, another year later, we have a crisis in evidence!!  Not exactly something to fill one with confidence in terms of the resolve and efficacy surrounding the process!! Now I'm not going to test your collective patience by summarising the details I've put out recently on my Blog ( see entries on the 1st, 8th and 11th  which I urge you, please , to read if you haven't done so already! ). When it comes to quality of life and well being referred to by Miss McKintosh, I would simply say,

  • after spending twenty years of my life attempting to keep this species afloat against persecution, I don't feel any confidence in the REAL commitment and INTENTIONS behind this current process based on the evidence already available,
  • I wonder the extent to which the membership (> 1 million ) of the RSPB will welcome the shoddy attitude exhibited towards the demise of this species under the current Government's "watch".
  • why should a minority exercise their own interpretation of the law of the land in order to maximise their commercial interests and remove an asset appreciated by a majority of countryside visitors and birdwatchers ( not an inconsiderable number of people nowadays ).
  • if offences were levelled as regularly towards our artistic and cultural heritage, all hell would let loose. Why is the Government so intransigent when it comes to wildlife?  Trite responses will be ignored!!
I personally feel let down.  Reference to the Minutes of the last meeting of the Select Committee read like a scipt from an episode of  " Yes, Minister". There is virtually no mention of wildlife , other than in the obscure perambulations of Oliver Letwin, MP, when referring to the interpretation needed when taking on board the requirements of the Habitats Directive!!  I sincerely wonder, somewhat despondently, where we go from here in this world?

Friday, May 11, 2012

Endorsement of Natural England's harrier research.

On 22nd December, 2008 Natural England put out a press release entitled  "Persecution is prime cause of Hen Harrier disappearance"  with a sub heading "Grouse moors linked to persistent nesting failure in Natural England study".

Within the press release the statement,  "Hen Harrier in England continue to be persecuted and their recovery hangs in the balance.......".   How prophetic!!  The statistics presented partially overlap with those I presented on this Blog on the  1st May, 2012, as the period was 2002-2008.  Within that time 127 Hen Harrier breeding attempts were recorded, with over two thirds being in the Forest of Bowland. Despite the underlying despondent theme it was nonetheless encouraging that so many nesting attempts were occurring elsewhere in England. The latter situation would now appear to be a thing of the past.

The report upon which the press release was based, "A Future for the Hen Harrier in England ?", provides compelling evidence of the illegal persecution of the species in England and presents a very sombre picture indeed. In his remarks the then Chair of Natural England, Sir Martin Doughty said, " The Hen Harrier has unfortunately become the emblem of man's callous disregard for the spectacular and majestic wildlife that we have in England".  Sadly, Sir Martin, a man for whom I had the highest regard, has since died and I sincerely wonder what he would have made of the current situation.

Given that Natural England is the Government of the day's adviser, one really wonders what regard or action, if any, was taken of its published report?  No wide ranging initiatives appeared to arise in the aftermath of this damning report and one wonders if it was simply shelved and the evidence of persistent persecution tolerated. Two major points arise in my mind. The law of the land was persistently being broken and an iconic species, awarded especial protection under the Wildlife and Countryside Act, 1981 ( as amended ), was having its breeding population decimated. Population monitoring was continued, but no direct action on those responsible was advocated. Whilst I accept Natural England's role is advisory and, thereby, passive to a large extent, one does question why some form of pressure didn't arise via other agencies, e.g increased Police attention to the matter, Government condemnation or even  "intervention by instruction".

We are now in the era of the Greenest Government ever ( that's what the man said! ). Sadly I suspect the remark more relates to sustainable energy than anything to do with our natural heritage, particularly given the Chancellor of the Exchequer's comments on the subject, but we'll pass on that for the moment.

Within the research, results from satellite tagged birds showed several to have suddenly disappeared in the vicinity of known roosts. So young birds produced in Bowland, as the English stronghold of the species around which so much obvious importance revolves, then set forth from that breeding area and were tracked on their journey, only to disappear in a "black hole" , the Bahama Death Triangle of areas to the east. The words, "compelling evidence", were used in the report, but what actions to minimise such desecration resulted from such stark conclusions. Well, none, actually,  that I can establish or trace through enquiries. So complacency or incompetence, take your pick!

Now that the warnings and advice ( clearly ignored ) have become such a stark reality, one wonders what our "Greenest Government ever " will make of the situation and how they might justify the imminent extinction of an iconic raptor species on their watch!  One hears of rumours of an increasing clamour for licenses to be made available to land managers to "control" Buzzards, yet another raptor species against which they would wish to exercise prejudice . One wonders whether such a request is based on any scientific study which has even identified a potential conflict in interests and evaluates whether such action would address the requirements of need. I more suspect it represents an initiative that game management interests are pursuing in order to clear our countryside of a component they claim to be a supposed threat to their commercial undertakings. With an increasing number of people finding solace and relaxation by visiting the countryside and watching wildlife, one questions what right such a group have to "play God" and attempt to initiate management exclusively in their own interests. Additionally, given the apparent recklessness and utter disregard for the law of the land exhibited by this same group of people, who have overseen the decimation of the English breeding population of harriers, one seriously questions whether such a responsibility, even if needed, could ever be invested in such people exhibiting a total absence of tolerance.

At the moment, with commentary increasing about the situation associated with the Hen Harrier in England, I'm amazed no comments are forthcoming from any of the national "senior" agencies associated with  conservation and our wildlife heritage, be they formal or voluntary. Certainly they are awaited! Also, may I  urge Natural England to hasten on the publication of the results arising from the research undertaken under the Hen Harrier Recovery Project so that these locational data can be taken  fully into account when the necessary strategy to improve the current situation is drawn together.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

The Brazilian rainforest......a need to act, now!

A decision has just been made by the Brazilian Congress to approve a Forestry Bill that will open the doors to loggers and farmers to increasingly decimate, utterly, sections of the Amazonian rainforest.

On this occasion , there is a one stop process which can arrest this catastrophe. The Bill requires the approval of the President! She can, if she so wishes, veto the Bill and ensure its rejection. Thankfully, there may well be circumstances which might assist this process. They are unashamedly political in content, but justified in outcome!

In a few weeks President Dilma will host a world summit meeting on the environment. It would surely be illogical and ill-advised to front such an important gathering after having just sanctioned the destruction of what, environmentally, is viewed as a  "Wonder of the World" as opposed to being seen as a convenient and easily available economic resource. Thankfully, it is alledged 79% of Brazilians feel the proposals within the Bill are wrong but, clearly, elected representatives are ignoring this body of opinion.

Now, I admit I lobby, actively, on a variety of wildlife and environment issues and can ,quite rightly, be accused of having an "already converted " view. I fully accept that and declare my support for the current petition, but please take a look at the reportage below in order to gain a balanced view.

Over the period 2004-2011 Brazil has seen a 78% decline in its deforestation rate due to monitoring,  world opinion, strong enforcement and a world acclaimed forestry law. Much of this is now being ignored, indeed, it virtually endorses the devastation of the rainforest by loggers in previous times.Always remember this area "produces" 20% of our world's oxygen, as well as helping to regulate the effects of climate change.

As ever in this modern world, dirty politics are at play. Dilma was assisted in getting elected by the agricultural lobby, which is now wanting the Brazilian rainforest to be opened up for economic exploitation. Admittedly Brazil has many people existing in poverty, but studies have shown cutting down forests will not benefit a majority of people. As is so usual,  pressure focussed on commercial gain is the underlying impetus behind this initiative.

The focus of this Bill is wrong, ill advised and will contribute little to Brazil's problems.It needs to be halted!! In this context, would you agree to a family heirloom being destroyed?  Of course not, then may I urge that you don't stand by an allow a  "World Heirloom" to be desecrated!

Please sign the petition below and halt this madness!!  Time is of the essence.

I have! You must...surely!

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

The final curtain?

News that, over the Bank Holiday weekend, no sightings of Hen Harrier have arisen from the Forest of Bowland, Lancashire, their former English stronghold, suggests the species during this season may now have been lost as a breeding bird. Whether or not this also means the species might have been lost totally in England  appears increasingly likely. This is an absolute travesty about which no public comment from appropriate authorities has yet been made, but whose reactions and intended remedies will be intensely anticipated.

The extent to which this will be seen as a victory by those responsible for the species' demise will forever be a subjective assessment as, clearly, to celebrate the situation is to declare guilt by association or , at least, publicly countenance the laws of the land being broken. Undoubtedly there will be some within the game management fraternity who will see the situation as an incentive to try and reduce the population level still further regardless of its geographical origin. Such would appear to be the major weakness contained within the proceedings being presided over by the Environment Council and the proposal to initiate a captive breeding/release programme. Do participants in that debate seriously feel that, if any of the released individuals eventually transgress on to managed uplands they will be treated with tolerance? What a potential waste of money and effort! I don't condemn the sincerity associated with the desire to improve the situation, but until the law is accepted and adhered to, any such a proposal will meet with failure. The law needs to be applied robustly and the Government soundly condemn those whose intent it is to deplete our natural heritage. From now on it should be routine practice, if anyone is found guilty of an offence against Hen Harriers , for the penalty to be raised significantly, not just as a consequence of them contravening the provisions within the Wildlife and Countryside Act, 1981 ( as amended ), but for undermining the potential of a key species, illegally reduced previously, that might now contribute to its reinstatement.

Sadly , at a time when a concerted front needs to be pursued and apparent, there are those who would continue to pursue the personalised blame game. Whilst I have no reservations about criticising, positively, apparent weaknesses within given approaches and policies by constituent bodies, the incessant personalised condemnation, largely built on assumptions and inaccuracy, is wasteful and misleading. An expectation of then being considered an equal participant in a failed partnership beggars belief. As an example,the recent publicity on the Web, given to what anyone would easily discern as a piece of mischievous fiction relating to the Eagle Owls and raptors in Bowland, is contrived controversy at its best. At its worst it is sheer dysfunctional delusion aimed at promoting  self-serving positioning, and will have achieved nothing now it has backfired. But what a waste!

There is no place, in an atmosphere of increasing pressure against conservation, for diversionary actions aimed at self-promotion and the personal castigation of others. We will only win through by a strong and
concerted effort so that, numerically, we are seen to be a collectively strong voice for action that can set differences aside and act in a mature and informed fashion. Sadly some are incapable, or unwilling to so do and, in my book, should simply be ignored. All I would point to is what has been achieved by an obviously concerted action against harriers to prove what can be achieved!!

One wonders whether the extent to which this lack of cohesion, coupled with complacency amongst many followers of our hobby, is the main component in the failure of the Vicarious Liability E-petition? As at 1800 hours today it stands at 8937 signatures!   This pathetic level of signatures is being blamed by some  on the RSPB, whose assembled membership could obviously have made a significant numerical difference.   However, I wonder whether the timing, intention , wording of the petition and promotion strategy was ever communicated to RSPB last November when the petition was raised, never mind discussed with them beforehand? Such an omission could be blamed as being a  major part of the abject failure of the initiative, so let's get things in perspective.  I hope I'm wrong, but offer the suggestion as an example of something about which , increasingly, we need to confer and co-operate to a greater extent than ever previously!

On another front, the anticipated results from the review of our wildlife legislation commissioned by DEFRA is due quite soon. Whether it will include elements that will address raptor persecution is anybody's guess, it might even consider the subject of vicarious liability and suggest the initiative taken by the Scottish Parliament is followed. Who knows?.

Clearly we are on the cusp of change in a variety of respects. Looking ahead already to the future, it is imperative everyone works towards common objectives, whatever the problems of the past. The challenge of reversing the current situation with harriers should not be underestimated, and certainly not in exchange for pursuing self-inflated agendas. There can only be one objective........that of ensuring the retention of the English harrier breeding population. The birds come first in my book;   I'm not interested in bruised egos or any assumed shortcomings of others. In my view, to not be a part of a collective effort aimed at improvement is to be a contributor to its potential failure.

Return to reality! 7.5.2012.

Whilst I'll not bore you with the details, some as yet undiscovered fault on the freezer had caused the contents to virtually thaw through during my absence and remain like that for a few days. Windows open time and not a cause for celebration and a real appetite depressant too it must be said!
To accompany all that the weather was miserable with rain showers and a continuing brisk wind which provided a welcome cleansing "flush" through the back door!!

At least one of the local Swallows has returned and the resident Pied Wagtails are clearly nesting in the log pile, as they've attempted to do in each of the last four years. I can't recollect they've ever been successful and blame one or another of the two feral cats that stalk the local landscape. On the grass moor opposite the sentinel presence of both GBBG and Herring Gulls is a salutary reminder of the part they play as seasonal predators of both Lapwing and Curlew chicks from the nearby nesting pairs. At what is a time when many of our birds are yet to arrive, some of our residents have almost finished their annual contribution to the process already with some , of course, completing a further cycle in the breeding round in the weeks ahead.

Transit day! 6.5.2012.

Another early start saw me at Scotch Corner by 0830 hours after a fairly traffic free journey up the A1. A breakfast sandwich enjoyed in the company of a Blackcap in full song only metres away was quite uplifting, particularly as the weather was in good form too. I always think the journey over the A66 is quite inspiring as you progress westwards and then begin to descend down into Cumbria . Another stop previous to the Scottish Border held yet a further Blackcap, suggesting that, at least, they appeared to be here and widespread.

Eating up the miles my next break was on top of the Rest and Be Thankful Pass where, you might have guessed, the weather had changed and it was sleeting. Nothing serious, but enough to be a reminder that the weather has not yet totally settled down!! The rest of the journey was uneventful and, once across to Islay, was positively delightful. The last of a full sun and a clear sky  accompanied me down the Rinns, where a flock of Whimbrel on the shore was a reminder this was the key time for their passage northwards. Later a male Short-eared Owl  leapt from a roadside post and swept around with the waters of Loch Indaal as its backcloth. Two really enjoyable wildlife experiences after a day, necessarily, where birds had been a bit thin on the ground!!

Wetland Tour 5.5.2012.

Another early start in fine but cold weather! A call to Edderthorpe Flash showed the water level to be extremely high and, as a consequence, less on offer than might be the normal case!  Moving on to Winteresett Reservoir conditions were better in that a welcome sun bathed everywhere in improved light but the cutting wind took away any effects of warmth! Hirundines hung low over the water or exploited the sheltered conditions behind lines of trees hunting out what one suspects were limited food supplies.

Lots of Chiffchaff and Blackcap around , but only a single Garden Warbler and Sedge Warbler sang from otherwise favourite areas.  Later a single Lesser Whitethroat gave its distinctive rattle from a tangled hedgerow nearby to where a feeding area was still attracting good numbers of Tree Sparrow and a single male Yellowhammer. It's fascinating to see how time has seen a site change in some respects, hardly at all in others. The amount of tree and shrub cover has extended or thickened enormously and undoubtedly attracted more breeding birds than previously. From 1960 to the late 1970's/early 1980's it was my favoured birding site, probably still is in terms of memories!. Created long ago as a balancing reservoir for the nearby canal system, it's now exclusively given over to recreational use, but with its wildlife value being high on the agenda too. The nearby Anglers Lake, developed after the cessation of opencast mining, has more of a focus on wildlife conservation and these two areas provide an absolute plethora of first class birding sightings. Since the early 1970's when we created the Wintersett Ringing Group  the concept has been kept alive,  primarily by Peter Smith,  friend and colleague, rumoured only ever to be at home during the hours of darkness!!

A great place, which even provided a good bird on this occasion too in the form of a Blue-headed Wagtail. It had been there a couple of days and , along with a single nominate "flavissima", that was an absolute belter and showed up as a bright yellow "blob" at  a fair distance, gave some good views. Incoming Common Tern   and Redshank showed migration to be in evidence ( we missed a Hobby by five minutes !) and a good chat to PS made the morning all the more worthwhile.

On to the Old Moor RSPB Reserve, where we discovered it was colder in most of the hides than outside due to the channelling effect of the cold wind through the viewing apertures, we had good views of a resplendent male Garganey,  heard  a couple of Reed Warbler chattering away, had absolutely mind boggling views of a singing Lesser Whitethroat and took in the wide variety of many other species present. Moving on to Wombwell Ings and Broomhill we enjoyed further views of the many birds which the area has on offer and which can provide a very full day of good birding at any time of year.

Moorland Fringe meeting! 4.5.2012

An early start to visit Padley Gorge just over the "border" in Derbyshire, a wonderful wooded gorge set amidst dramatic open moorland and descending down into Hathersage. Compared to a visit last year when the sun was pouring down, today was rather more sombre and exceedingly cold.  Whilst slightly earlier, in calendar terms, the contrast was immense with fewer birds in evidence and song somewhat subdued to say the least.

Nuthatches were everywhere and kept the show alive, but apart from a showing from Chaffinch, Treecreeper and a few titmice, it was hard work until we finally pinned down one, and then two, Pied Flycatcher. Very restive  within what we assumed were their recently selected territories, they moved around giving short bursts of song from a variety of  perches. One bonus was that the trees aren't yet fully in leaf and so we had exceptionally good views of the birds. With very little else discovered we moved out on to the open moor and had great views of a Dipper along the stream which eventually tumbles through the gorge, before deciding to try elsewhere.

A necessary visit to the Hathersage Bakery was a welcoming experience with scores of  "9" being awarded the respective breakfast sandwiches. Always best to go local!

On to exploring one of the gritstone edges which, initially, looked as if it was devoid of birds. Curlew, Meadow Pipit and a couple of Wheatears seemed to be all that was on offer until we approached the outcrop from a  different angle. Suddenly up popped a resplendent male Ring Ousel and began singing , probably one of the best views I've ever had of the species. After being perfectly confiding for a short while, it moved farther along the gritstone boulders and sang from a perch overlooking the whole valley. A quintessential, first class, moorland image! 

On to the Redmires area where, other than several displaying Common Sandpipers along the shores of the very full reservoir, and hearing a lone Golden Plover giving out its plaintive call from nearby moorland, bird activity was at a low ebb. Moving down valley a little to Wyming Brook, the temperature did actually rise somewhat given the shelter along the well wooded water course, but not enough to entice more than a few birds into song. Certainly summer migrants were in short supply and the continuing effect of the north east winds appears to be being maintained in holding back the arrival of many birds.
Conceding defeat, we returned and spent time talking about the comparative ways in which spring migration can proceed,  following on from Matthew's recent experience in New York and daily visits to Central Park where the progress of northerly moving migrants changed on a daily basis!

Thursday, May 3, 2012

DeFRA's Darwin Initiative.

Now I'm not a person given to indulging in sour grapes, but I do bridle very quickly and violently when I sense a real injustice is apparent. Sadly I sense I've identified one!

Since 1992 DeFRA has presided over the Darwin Initiative and funds around £88 million have been disbursed to 150 countries to underpin 762 projects. That is a record that, sincerely, I feel we should be very pleased about and take a sense of pride in there being such mechanisms  in place. Recently has come the announcement that £300,000  will be made available to Iraq for conservation management, resources and educational initiatives to be formulated in Kurdistan, an area containing wildlife and habitats that has seen little investment in the last 30 years due to war and the ravages of an oppressive regime. Again, I have no problems with that at all and am actually pleased such action has been instigated at this early stage alongside attempts to improve a variety of aspects within Iraq now taking place. Putting right something that was clearly wrong or ignored can again provide a feeling of justified satisfaction.

I'm minded of action of a different type too. On occasions, via our representatives in the European parliament the UK has striven to bring attention to the ridiculous situation in places like Cyprus, Italy and Malta where an annual, mindless slaughter of birds takes place. Indeed condemnation of such activities around the Mediterranean Basin appears to have been a feature focussed on by various campaigning initiatives in past years. Justified action demanding improvement and change that again we can take pride in.

So how come our high principled Government and its appropriate Department can stand by and countenance our own "oppressive regime", in the form of upland landowners decimating our bird of prey populations , and not raise a finger, utter a word of condemnation, invoke stronger penalties nor fund conservation action aimed at rectifying the situation. A clear case of  HYPOCRISY IN ACTION and the pursuance of policies of convenience and choice! We have no right to outwardly criticise countries around the Mediterranean while similar activities, set firm against the laws of the land, are taking place here in the UK.   "Greenest Government Ever".......what a joke and what a travesty when set against the otherwise positive support being offered elsewhere.

One asks what has happened to the DeFRA Hen Harrier Recovery Programme implemented through its official agent, Natural England.  Tokenism of the worst kind in that one begins to suspect the programme was never laced with real intent in the first place. Playing conservation on the world stage and buying in a solid reputation is one thing, totally neglecting equally worthwhile candidates at home begins to provide a real interpretation of where the true sentiments of the Government lie.

English Black Grouse resurgence !

Before leaving Islay I was discussing with Malcolm Ogilvie the rather sad circumstances surrounding Black Grouse on both Islay and Jura. Reports from various local people suggest that, in the 1980's,  Black Grouse was both widespread and relatively plentiful on the islands. That now stands in stark contrast to the current situation where the species might still be present, but is most certainly in very low numbers and in danger of being lost completely.
At the risk of being labelled an "avian Jonah" such discussions resonate with my previous experience of having seen the species undergo similar drastic, and then more gradual, final reductions in both the Peak District and in the Forest of Bowland. In both areas the sad sight of a forlorn single male lekking alone over a couple of seasons, with no other birds being seen throughout the period despite searching, is not particularly edifying. Indeed the recent past history of the Black Grouse genearally has been a cause for concern. In past times the species was relatively common and was even found in suitable habitats in southern and eastern England. In 1970 there was an estimated 25,000 lekking males, but this total had reduced to around 5000 when a further survey was completed in 2005.
The current population is centred on the adjoining areas of Cumbria, Northumberland, County Durham and North Yorkshire. The last two breeding seasons have seen a successful recovery by an overall population that had suffered the effects of the previous very bad winter. Indeed, such has been that success that it has provided the very means that might now see Black Grouse returned to some of their former haunts!

Male Black Grouse are stick at home types that apparently are highly unlikely to move more than half a mile from where they were born. Young females,by contrast, are much more likely to move up to four miles to seek out new and favourable areas in which to breed. These intensive studies of the species by the Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust in recent times might just have identified key elements upon which positive conservation actions can now be based. In the major traditional strongholds for the species the past two seasons has seen a welcome surplus of male birds being produced. Fifteen of these were captured and transferred AT NIGHT into an area where birds were present previously, but which had been abandoned in recent times. Not only did the translocated birds settle down , prosper, and commence to lek but they've attracted female birds too. I think a popular summary would be , BINGO, A RESULT!!!  The birds will continue to be monitored and only future years will determine how matters evolve.  After so much research in the past on habitat requirements and management techniques that have only had a mixed success, this innovative approach may yet provide the simple, fundamental ingredient that was so desperately needed.

Well done, GWCT!!

Tuesday, May 1, 2012


Apologies , folks. The list of figures in the table were in perfect alignment at the point of publication. They're in perfect alignment if I try and use the "edit" option, but the final product looks a little less pristine!  Sorry.

Hen Harriers in Bowland.........a lament!

Recent days have brought the news that there has been virtually no Hen Harriers seen in the Forest of Bowland, Lancashire this Spring and no evidence, as yet, of any pairs taking up territory. Given the breeding population of the area had reduced in 2011 to only four pairs, rearing eleven young,, the fear of imminent extinction in this final English stronghold of the species clearly moves closer.

Doubtless the reduced numbers of  birds is a stark consequence of the unabated persecution elsewhere of the species by game management interests, which is so regularly reported on, but upon which no sustained action is currently evident from interested organizations. Sadly, current RSPB PR outpourings about Bowland are very "cosy" and avoid the issue of a regional and NATIONAL population being reduced even further or possibly reaching local extinction. Doubtless there will be those who will celebrate these circumstances whilst others, like me, feel the situation to be potentially disastrous and demanding of the strongest retaliatory stance possible from both conservation organisations and Government alike.

Over the past few years the English breeding population of the Hen Harrier has been eroded away until only the Bowland nucleus remained in 2011. Much has been said in the past about contributing circumstances, e.g. low Spring food availability for adults or poor weather, with such statements being given equal prominence to those dealing with raptor persecution that is the real culprit associated with the declining fortunes of this species.

With over thirty years now having elapsed since that fateful day when I was given the responsibility to oversee the RSPB's regional association with the Forest of Bowland I look back today and feel even more despairing than I did then !!  Up to 1999, when I took early retirement, the species had done reasonably well and continued to do so until recently when it became apparent that deliberately focussed persecution away from the Bowland area was beginning to seriously undermine the numbers of birds involved.

Immediately previous to the RSPB's involvement in 1981, the wilful destruction of young at six Hen Harrier nests was widely reported in the Press. The incident sparked off an outcry and was the instigation of an RSPB seasonal  presence in Bowland for several years, assisted by the North West Water Authority, which eventually extended into the year round presence, now assisted by United Utilities, which continues to this day. As many will know, the Forest of Bowland comprises several private estates plus over 25,000 acres of land previously held by the North West Water Authority, which is now administered by the private water utility company, United Utilities. In 1981 the NWWA had a series of tenanted shooting leases associated with its land so, in essence, there was little difference in terms of the management approach compared to the remaining private estates in Bowland in that all areas were keepered.

It's essential to mention these details as , at that time, the work involved was much more extensive and intensive compared to the more restricted area upon which the operation rests today. Shooting tenants and their keepers, five major private estates, agents and their keepers, the Nature Conservancy Council, Forestry Commission, Police, the County Council and the Water Authority itself, voluntary surveyors and endless others , provided a rich panoply of vested interests and opinions to address as well as trying to move the RSPB's own objectives forward. Primarily the latter was to better establish the populations of the various  bird of prey species and to effect as much protection as possible. In 1981 there were 17 nests of Hen Harriers and, thankfully, a buoyant presence also of Peregrine, Merlin, Short-eared Owl and Goshawk, besides other conservation challenges associated with species like Black Grouse. An examination of the figures provided below will show the annual successful breeding attempts by Hen Harrier to fluctuate significantly. It must be emphasised that these attempts were also accompanied by others , the birds from which either failed under strange circumstances or disappeared!! Such figures are available, make for depressing reading and will be reported on separately in due course.  

Those years were hard, particularly for the contract workers and voluntary surveyors, whose hours on the hill far exceeded what would now be recommended by EU legislation!  Wildlife activity is a dawn to dusk reality, as are activities adopted to constrain it and, therefore, vigilance and the presence needed to match these demanding parameters was excessive, most of which fell outside of "office hours". Things weren't always smooth with owners and tenants either: fall-outs occurred, accusations were made, incidents were referred to the police and formal action pursued. However, despite all this, there was a strange mutual respect between parties with differing views, grudging at times, but gradually some improvement occurred. The relentless hours on the hill, the polite referral of matters about which we had concerns, eventually showed that our passion and commitment stemmed, not from some "popular belief", but was seminal and pursued what we felt ought to be a better situation. I'm sure we were deemed a nuisance, or worse, but I believe that owners , agents and keepers eventually began to respect the sheer commitment and determination that was displayed and that this led to a wider understanding of what we stood for. Habits died hard, but  some improvement did occur and more effective liaision took place, which helped things move forward.

My reason for setting all this out is that , in my opinion, with the current Hen Harrier breeding population in England being down to only FOUR successful pairs in 2011, there is a desperate need to reassess the policies being pursued by the various agencies in Bowland at the present time, as well as addressing anew the general matter of persecution of raptors in England as a whole.. Recognizing the amount of work required across a variety of fronts I feel strongly that the current emphasis adopted by the RSPB in Bowland is not fit for purpose, given its focus on a single geographical area with no apparent liaison in place with other Estates. As far as Natural England is concerned, as the agent of the Government in these matters, the question of raptor persecution appears to be a subject they prefer to ignore and, therefore, the issue largely gets swept under the carpet. The imminent reality of this situation is that, without urgent action across several fronts, and not just in Bowland, the species will become extinct as a breeding species in England.

This is not the first time that such a situation has been faced in Bowland.. In 1985, despite seven nesting attempts, only one youngster was raised, followed by five attempts in both 1986 and 1987 from which only five and four youngsters survived!  The table below shows the known nesting attempts in each of the years 1981-2005 and the corresponding number of young reared. Since that period the situation recently has deteriorated rapidly  resulting in the 2011 outcome.


     1981    17 nests,  42 young          1990    15 nests,  26 young          2000    7 nests,   6 young
         82    15           52                         91    18           22                        01     see below
         83      2             7                         92    15             9                        02    6           10
         84      9             4                         93    10           12                        03   13          12
         85      7             1                         94      7           12                        04   10          25        
         86      5             5                         95      9             9                        05   15          23
         87      5             4                         96      7           19
         88      5           15                         97    14           13  
         89    14           20                         98      8           22
                                                             99    11           24  

Note;  In 2001 the outbreak of Foot and Mouth disease restricted access arrangements.

It is no use deluding ourselves as far as the main controlling factor is concerned. Human persecution of the species occurs and deliberately attempts to exterminate or limit the numbers of the birds due to the conflicts arising from its presence and its  predation on Red Grouse stocks, which allegedly challenges the viability of shoots. Further details on such matters will be dealt with in due course.
The objective of this current plea is to highlight the need for an immediate, wider and more flexible approach by all agencies involved to avert the demise of the species but also to set those efforts on a better footing for the future

The table below shows the distribution , by Estate, of the successful breeding pairs of Hen Harriers in Bowland in the period 1981-2005. Recent assertions that birds have never bred on certain estates is arrant nonsense and little more than a PR ploy by those wishing to better assist their positioning.


                         NWWA/United Utilities          153
                         Bleasdale Estate                       37 
                         Abbeystead Estate                   34 
                         Clapham  Estate                       15

Wide coverage of Bowland in the past ensured estates could be advised of what was present on their land and what the "outcome expectation" might be.  A game of bluff or it what you will, but it resulted in a far wider distribution of harriers than at present and assisted greatly when the case for Special Protection Area  ( SPA ) status was being pursued under EU legislation. Whilst endless hectares of suitable breeding habitat still exists within the SPA boundary in Bowland , much of the area carries no harriers. Are questions ever asked why and the case brought into the public domain? Is evidence collected and utilised on the presence of strongly displaying birds in Spring which then disappear or worse?  Sadly, the position adopted by Natural England is to passively accept the situation and, until specific evidence of persecution is collected, to treat all such birds as transient!  Naive, convenient, or both? Who deliberately leaves evidence of their misdemeanour's?  And, in the meantime, the "grey suits" nod sagely over the results from the latest monitoring exercise and work collectively towards some trite justification to underpin the deterioration!

In parallel, the RSPB's operation , jointly funded by United Utilities, centre's on the latter's landholding. The company is obviously at one with being able to demonstrate its "green credentials" by declaiming they are playing host to this remnant population. However, I suspect they attract criticism too for such involvements, so praise for their overt support for such a priority conservation input is well deserved.  But what of Clapham Estate, Bleasdale Estate and other areas? Are they ever looked at,  as the past presence of breeding harriers contributed greatly to the overall success?  Unfortunately, the Duchy of Lancaster landholding, whilst attracting the presence of harriers over the years, has only seen a single successful breeding attempt ( in 2010 ). Sadly , I suspect a " conservation foot has rarely trodden the sod" of many of these areas in over ten years and, therefore, the potential for greater access and wider influence has been lost.

In recent times the Abbeystead Estate, owned by the Duke of Westminster, which now incorporates the former Mallowdale Estate, has been the main focus of the research studies of Natural England related to harriers as part of the Hen Harrier Recovery Programme, whose current status appears a little obscure at best. The results from this not inexpensive outlay by Government, for which they are to be congratulated, are eagerly awaited, but one suspects the intended emphasis on dispersal studies will perhaps act as a guiding star to what then happened to the unfortunate individuals providing the data returns!  Given the current situation one would have thought it behove the Government to hasten on the publication of such results given they will have an actual , or implied, link to the areas  from which many of our harriers appear not to return!!

Is it surprising that circumstances have deteriorated? Is it surprising that data is skewed at best, inadequate in its worst extreme? And is it surprising that hitherto stalwart supporters start to question the motives and efficacy of organisations about whom they had the greatest confidence previously.  Has the situation gone a step too far this time in that hard fought for successes of the past have now been allowed to lapse? Can it be recovered?  Probably, but only if sufficient resources and firm management emerges.

One questions why, when the SPA designation case noted the numbers of harriers breeding throughout the area why, in subsequent years, those responsible didn't vigorously pursue the obvious reduction in numbers and range and the reasons involved.  I suspect it's the difference between really being on top of the job or not!!  Confrontation is not an enjoyable process , but a willingness to pursue a justified case that eventually secures credibility and respect can generate small successes that then gain momentum. Such efforts often fall outside the 9am-5pm mentality and the reliance on "management manual solutions"  seemingly so favoured nowadays. In today's culture  I sometimes weaken and have very little confidence that this conservation battle will be won. As to the war, the battle lines seem not even formed, nor the force expressed apart from periodic statements of condemnation, although the focus of the case seems to be at an all time low ebb at present.

So what is required?  Education schemes, public viewing projects, talks, walks and the more enjoyable elements of a campaign are all essential contributory features to success. But they are long term "deliverers" when the current situation demands something more immediate and robust. Much has been tried before, but an immediate, renewed, hard and sustained assault on persecution by RSPB, via a national campaign, with a particular critical emphasis on Government's lack of recognition of the problem, should be constructed on the back of the current situation. In Bowland, a greater and wider visible presence on the ground, including liaison  work by senior staff, an unceasing and hard hitting exposure of all incidents coupled with a never ending reportage on the overall problem should commence immediately. Most importantly the deployment of a "resident" investigation team in the area of Northern England that is known to be at the forefront of where dispersing birds are persecuted is required. The imminent appointment of an Investigations Officer based in Newcastle is a good start , but not enough.  It's time to up the game now that the odds are high and to indicate that enough really is enough!! Yes, there'll be protests at financial reallocations, but what has been a failed priority of the past must now be "the" priority until success is secured regardless of management tensions.

The years of 1985-87 were a nightmare I prefer to forget, but eventually success was earned.  Let's hope that 2012 will still prove to be much better than those past occasions and will be viewed as a turning point in what will continue to be a battle for some time until the culture of greed, criminality and harm by some turns into more civilized behaviour. However, that does mean increased commitment and resolve from conservation organizations and a much better display of action against persecution by the Government to better reflect what currently is little more than a vacuous claim of being the "Greenest Government" ever. Since the acknowledgement by RSPB some months ago of the English harrier population being under serious threat I've seen no "Thin Red Line" declarations or actions.  Hopefully some collective and immediate plan of action will arise that will ensure a more secure future faces our raptor species, particularly Hen Harriers, than at present.

John S. Armitage.