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.


  1. Tony Warburton MBEMay 8, 2012 at 10:56 PM

    Well said John. You are so right about everything.

  2. Thanks Tony. I don't mind people getting it wrong, but the distortion, muddled thinking and untruths are not something I'm prepared to ignore any longer. You can guess which site I'm referring to!

  3. It is somewhat ironic that the final cause of the loss ( hopefully temporary) of harriers is an accident of nature, a lack of voles.
    That is not to excuse the appalling levels of persecution the species has and continues to suffer at the hands of grouse moor managers, who appear little better than professional wildlife criminals. That said we do indeed need to present a united front, with that in mind I am particularly appalled at the dross, supposition, pure fantasy and vindictive finger pointing coming from a certain site concerning eagle owls, where it has gone from "truth" to conjecture to blaming RSPB, NE,UU and local volunteer stalwarts. Whoever is responsible it is none of the above who are caught in a web of foundless accusation by those whom NE, RSPB,UU, NERF and many independent raptor workers have cast aside because of past stupidities. May be the finger pointers should look closer to home and let the rest of us work together without such confounding obfuscation, in the hope that things can be made better, much better for all of England's upland raptors and owls.

  4. Thanks, Paul. I have to confess that I'm sceptical about any attributed cause to the OVERALL reduction being anything other than persecution. But I'm more than prepared to be educated!
    As for the other matter, realisation will eventually dawn on them that there is a limit to peoples' tolerance and that they will remain cast aside to wallow in the conspiracy theories which appear to give them so much solace in their isolation. An ability to deal with facts, the truth and to apply a mature and knowledgeable interpretation to events, taking into account what may be opposite viewpoints, would assist. At the moment even Aesop would be impressed by the suppositions and fertile connections. Blogs can be a vehicle for opinion but, if you move into reportage of events, the cardinal rule is to check your sources , not invent them!

    1. The current population level of harriers in England is yes entirely down to persecution, but the fact that the half dozen or so birds which briefly returned to Bowland this spring have not stayed is down to a lack of voles. I suppose a tiny geographically restricted population was always going to be at risk from such happenstance events but the key is as you rightly point out the levels of persecution. Its the grouse moor managers that should be blamed not the voles!

    2. Tony Warburton MBEMay 11, 2012 at 10:46 PM

      Hi Paul, I am puzzled. The Bills tell me there is no shortage of voles in the Bowland uplands this year (which makes me envious as my area of S/W Cumbria and the Grounds of the Gisburn hotel (Stirk House) we (the World Owl Trust) are working with are virtually devoid of Field Voles at the moment (saturated fields until the beginning of May being the reason). Can you confirm that some areas of Bowland have experienced a 'crash'? If so, where? Let me assure you there is no ulterior motive in my question. I am current'y revising our Poyser monograph on the Barn Owl so am desperate for news of this sort. Please note anyone else who has information on vole populations this 'spring' (ha!).

    3. Hi Tony,
      I had a conversation with Mick Demain who reported a lack of voles and hence a lack of SE Owls and Harriers in Bowland. I know Pete Wilson has an annual trapping grid to assess this and whilst I've not spoken to Pete for a while I suspect this may be the source of Mick's comments. Whilst I have the utmost admiration for bill and Bill mammal experts they are not.

  5. Hen harriers had been, relatively speaking, safe in Bowland in comparison to other upland areas of northern England. Their recent downturn in Bowland coincided with a new team of gamekeepers being employed on a local shooting estate; keepers that even their peers said had a terrible reputation. A proportion of the reduced number of harriers that did settle the next year had numerous broken and missing flight feathers. Numbers have continued to decline and now there are none. Whilst clearly prey availability can affect settling density, as it always has done, it cannot explain complete absence - has there even been a single sighting of an adult male this spring?

    Glad to see not everyone is taken in by the conspiracy theories on the other site. Comments are removed and posts are not accepted that would have exposed some of their lies long ago - some of which have been really quite serious. A shame as it tarnishes the genuine records of persecution.

    1. Hi Aye Aye,
      I believe two male shave been seenthis spring but neither apparently stopped and nor were they anywhere near the estate you mention. You may be right but ?I thought that harriers settled on the basis of prey density and specifically voles and pipits so it could just be the kind of accident that has caused the lack of birds, but the it could also be that the birds cannot find each other so in desperation leave looking for birds elsewhere. Grouse estates have agreat deal to answer for but yet there seems little will to pursue them for their persecution and the increasingly intensive management including burning regimes. Not in the best of moods as I found a poisoned or at least assumed poisoned Kite today whilst out doing a Ring Ouzel tetrad, but these people really are taking the p--s.

      Mood not helped by the latest utter lies on the web site we all dislike so much, notably in comments by people we might think of culprits themselves.

  6. Hi folks. I made a few enquiries on the vole subject myself. Certainly the claims need clarifying by RSPB, which I'd welcome them doing on this site if they wish. Some trapping has been done, but I understand it was probably confined to the "base" of the Langden Valley only, in a single habitat type, and I don't believe the results have been published. Not terribly representative if that's the source of the comments. It's important this is done before it starts being used as an excuse for the collapse of the population this season. If it's true, then the matter needs evaluating properly and the facts made available.