From time to time on this Blog I have commented on the need for greater concerted action to improve the status of Hen Harriers, particularly since the levels of persecution have brought the English breeding population in 2012 down to a single pair. Unconfirmed sources report that two of the four young reared by that pair last season have since been killed. Clearly this utterly ludicrous situation is one which cannot remain unaddressed.
Whilst I am sure that sincere efforts are being directed towards various solutions by differing organizations, the fact remains that the endless discussions are not leading to any imminent and satisfactory outcome. The species continues to be singled out for wanton persecution resulting in its population being at low ebb due to the relentless pressure.
The last few winters has seen a deliberate targeting of these birds at their roosts, despite adamant claims of innocence from those clearly involved. Research by DEFRA, as part of the Hen Harrier Recovery Programme involving birds being fitted with satellite tags, has seen a significant number of the birds involved simply disappearing, often at known roost sites associated with upland grouse moors. The implications are obvious and yet the veil of silence and hypocritical denials persist. Sadly damning evidence, worthy of impactive news headlines, is being retained by DEFRA and looks likely to remain so in the foreseeable future despite calls for its release.
Running in parallel to all such debate is a series of statements or responses on the subject from the shooting fraternity, usually claiming innocence or that the persecution is the work of persons unknown. Quite frankly, until such time that a genuine and sincere contribution is evident from its ranks, those who do play the game and obey the law unfortunately will be tarred by the same brush as those responsible for the misdemeanours. It is the shooting fraternity's choice and debate about what proportion of people are legitimate constituents of its membership is wasteful and pointless. The "bad apple" point is no longer credible as it is abundantly clear that the present dire circumstances affecting Hen Harriers has been achieved by widespread and concerted action. It is happening within your ranks, you're aware of it, the ridiculous state of affairs continues and, therefore, justifiable action demands to be taken. Blame can also be levelled at the Government, which is showing a marked lack of resolve on the matter despite prosecution statistics showing otherwise and calls for action, not further discussion, arising over time. Whilst conservation organizations are no doubt doing all they can such, in my view, is not prominent enough in terms of securing change in the short term.
So where does that leave us? Clearly the "independent" stance being assumed by the shooting fraternity, as far as their arrogant dismissal of the laws protecting birds of prey, needs to be curtailed and the "industry" brought under regulated scrutiny. Remember we are talking of commercial enterprises! With that in mind I have, today, laid an E-petition within the Government's formal system focussing attention on the need to licence upland grouse shoots, but also to introduce an accreditation or licencing system on all gamekeepers as well.
The details can be examined via the link below and I would hope all UK readers will register their support by registering their signature.
Licencing of upland grouse moors and gamekeepers.
Doubtless some people will claim this is a potentially punitive measure in intent. In fact, besides drawing attention to the general topic of persecution and the need to contain its effects, the main objective of such licencing would be to isolate , gradually, those enterprises and individuals who insist on breaking the law. Raptor persecution in any guise is breaking the law of the land, denying the rightful opportunities of us all to enjoy our wildlife heritage and reducing, by deliberate intent, the biodiversity of the UK.
So, we need to act! Doubtless much more will be said in forthcoming weeks but, in the meantime, please provide your support if you agree with the initiative and, more importantly, pass on the details to family, friends and colleagues. The need to promote this issue is of paramount importance and it is down to us to try and bring about change for the better.