Monday, January 14, 2013

Is the Hen Harrier pendulum beginning to swing?

There's no doubt that this issue will not go away, and neither should it. Other than some self-serving shooting interests the vast majority of people are abhorred by the current situation, particularly that the English Hen Harrier breeding population has been reduced to a single pair, when there is more than enough upland habitat to support 300 pairs. Over the years the doggedness of the RSPB in confronting the issue of raptor persecution is something to be admired. Endless meetings, reports, campaigns, research and educational initiatives have seen no major inroads being made into the problem, and, incidentally, at no little cost. The sheer arrogance of a widely distributed number of shooting estates, if one simply looks at the incidents which have been reported, and their willingness to break the law beggars belief. Last year there was 200 incidents of persecution or destruction reported and 100 incidents of poisoning ( per RSPB ). However, have those responsible gone a step too far in their unrelenting persecution of various raptors, but Hen Harrier in particular?

BASC ( British Association for Shooting and Conservation ) has roundly condemned such persecution and we now have Adrian Blackmore ( Moorland Director, Countryside Alliance ) openly admitting in a radio broadcast that such persecution has been carried out by gamekeepers.  By contrast, it's not that long ago that such responses would have encompassed flat denials relating to who was responsible or,indeed, assertions that some group of  "persons unknown" was causing the problem. That the attitudes of the public are hardening towards such outrage is in no doubt and that ACTION is going to be called for appears likely.  Now such calls for action can very often be precipitous and move in unanticipated, even drastic, directions. Given the occasional calls for shooting to be banned outright or, more specifically, for driven shooting to be banned, it is hardly surprising that some back-peddling is apparent. A recent article in The Scotsman by Alastair Robertson pays some recognition to such calls for change, whereas in times past they would have been dismissed as arrant nonsense. I would suggest such changes might be difficult to bring about and take time , but realistic they most certainly are and to be ignored at peril. It seems to me that no other time to raise a major campaign has been more appropriate than now. Those responsible may not yet be on the back foot , but they have most certainly taken a step too far and are vulnerable!!

That there has been a concerted campaign aimed at eradicating Hen Harriers is in no doubt given the dramatic drop in numbers. I'd even hasten to suggest that, if a survey of Scottish numbers was taken at present then the oft quoted, " Oh, but there are 600 pairs in Scotland ", as much as a palliative as anything, would be seen to be wanting. Sadly there is every likelihood that birds moving southwards for the winter will have been affected as much as those few in England itself.  That deliberate actions at traditional roosting sites has occurred is again  likely to have featured in some sort of general approach. Saddest of all is the fact that such actions are likely to have stemmed from a collective, as opposed to random effort, and attests to the lengths to which those involved are likely to go and the level of clandestine planning involved.  Whilst I have no evidence for all of this, repeated comments from birding friends and colleagues who are active "in the field" are sufficient to point to the strategy undertaken. That a sufficiently significant proportion of the shooting fraternity are willing to operate in this way, against the law, indicates the level to which they consider an outcome can, and should, only be on their terms. Wrong I'm afraid! Whilst the actions will continue to be condemned generally, it is the arrogance employed and the presumption that those who object will, in some way, offer up their subservience that are the very ingredients that will fire up the opposition.

It seems to me that those who would wish to dominate a situation need to do so subtly and without any negative influences being in evidence. With a growing body of incidents, repeated prosecutions and those responsible being undeniably linked to the sport, if not the geographical areas involved, the tide of opposition and demand for change is growing.  It would be ironic to suggest that those involved are as vulnerable as the species they set out to eliminate, but it seems the tide may be turning in their direction!

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