Thursday, January 10, 2013

Where are we to with Hen Harriers?

Since the depressing news that only one pair of Hen Harriers had successfully bred in England in 2012 and that the sat-tagged Hen Harrier nicknamed "Bowland Betty" had been shot in the Yorkshire Dales little else of significance appears to have emerged.

The withdrawal of the RSPB from the Environment Council's discussions on potential solutions addressing raptor persecution, and Hen Harriers in particular, came as no surprise given the debate had dragged on endlessly. Whether or not the "Working Group" now convened by DEFRA will result in anything new remains to be seen. Certainly the somewhat tarnished image of the Ministry, when it comes to its public contributions on matters relating to raptor persecution, can be improved upon. However, we must remind ourselves that the monitoring of sat-tagged harriers under its aegis still goes on with the results now promised for release in 2014. Such provides an opportunity for few good questions in advance of the General Election in 2015!!

I re-read recently the emotive remarks put out by Jude Lane ( RSPB ) following the demise of Bowland Betty, remarks that I can very easily identify with. Whilst I have no doubts on the dismay felt last year by current RSPB staff I was transported back to the situation in Bowland in the early-mid 1980's when an endless succession of mindless persecution incidents occurred in the area. In 1985 seven nesting attempts produced one young only! That was the lowest point in the whole of the period  ( 1979-99 ) in which I had an association with the area. But look at the statistics for that period and later. Between 1988 and 2005 247 young were produced, proving it is possible to turn things around.  But also be aware that the early 1980's to 2005 saw 244 nests monitored with many of these being destroyed or the adult birds "disappearing", so it wasn't all plain sailing by any means ( read the summary on this Blog dated 1st May,2012 entitled  " Hen Harriers in Bowland.....a lament". )

However, forget for a moment the waste involved and simply dwell on two long ago some of those incidents occurred and , therefore, that the situation has changed little throughout. Certainly the success we achieved from the late eighties improved things enormously, but the problem of interference and persecution has never abated. Indeed , it would seem in recent times a more concerted effort has been made to deliberately destroy both harriers and other raptors.

Is there any room for optimism one might ask?  Well one chink of light certainly appeared in the Shooting Times edition of 19th December with a letter from BASC soundly condemning harrier persecution. An initiative, now in the public domain, from within the shooting fraternity itself, which is a start. OK, much remains to be done but it is a start. Whilst the "half empty glass" brigade will doubtless moan, shout "hypocrisy"  and generally remain  as inactive as ever, this problem has existed for a very long time and will not go away overnight despite their protestations.  Again, as a further small token of evidence, an item on the Scottish Regional news today reported on the search for more young gamekeepers, alluded to the poor reputation of the industry at present, but drew attention to better  "academic" training and emphasis on the current day requirements of the law. Progress made slowly?

As I've said on many occasions before the continuing ability of a proportion of grouse moor owners and others within the shooting fraternity to conveniently ignore the law is deliberate, arrogant in the extreme and one towards which, unfortunately, the Establishment appears content to turn a blind eye. All such needs to be roundly condemned and our energies directed towards achieving control measures gained through legislation. In the absence of co-operation  then it seems the intransigent constituents of the shooting fraternity, whatever their social status, must be prepared to suffer the consequences.

The extent to which the RSPB, as the most obvious conservation organization to "front-up" yet another campaign, is obviously a decision which must be left to the organization itself. Perhaps the task of confronting the Establishment is a step farther and a time commitment that it would wish to defer given its involvements with the problem on a wide variety of fronts already. Clearly new and sustained action is required set against the commitments by several bodies pursued previously. I'm certainly no longer content with the situation and, along with others, continue to kick around an array of options which could be followed. If nothing else the subject and problem must be kept under the noses of the general public, MP's and others and all relevant public Ministries and full support given to the efforts of our conservation agencies. Beyond that, and certainly the continuing content of discussions with colleagues is, " What else can be done".

Watch this space, indeed, sign up as a "Follower" to the Blog as more is likely to emerge in the not too distant future!!

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