Sunday, March 3, 2013

Hen Harriers.......the lunacy must stop!

The lunacy that has led to the decimation of the English breeding stock of Hen Harriers, and additional birds from elsewhere besides, must stop!  Clearly the position adopted by various shooting estates and their gamekeepers needs to be brought under control and collective efforts made to get the population back on its feet.

Easily said, I guess, and certainly not straightforward.

It's interesting to look at the problem in an historical context, although without going back too far. In fact , let's start a hundred years ago. The following details are my own "take" on the subject, may not necessarily be in strict chronological order, but are certainly very relevant milestones in my opinion.

In August, 1913 1421.5 brace of Red Grouse, (that's 2843 birds !!), were shot in a single day on Broomhead Moor in the Peak District in South Yorkshire. This is held up to be a record , although I'm not sure it's a tribute to anything little more than blood lust. Of one thing I think we can be pretty certain and that  it is unlikely harriers would have prospered on those moors within those halcyon days of carnage!

With the First World War, followed by the Depression and the Second World War such "diversions" would, undoubtedly, have been affected, if not reduced in some areas. This may even have given raptors a reprieve against persecution! In parallel to all this, I think we have to take into account that a majority of the populace within that period would have been concerned with personal matters and certainly not, collectively, associated with campaigning other than to try and achieve improvements to economic and social  conditions. The one exception , perhaps, was in relation to gaining access to the uplands and the mass trespass demonstrations. The clear conclusion arising from this is that, under normal circumstances, such areas were private and off-limits. In other respects the wealthy were able to " get on with it"  within the countryside and operate to a strategy of their own choosing too!! It must be acknowledged that many estates also provided significant rural employment, so the attitudes of the nation's overall workforce would be forged below the banners of necessary subservience or polarised separation and lack of contact. Hardly surprising that the shooting fraternity enjoyed the benefits of isolation.

By 1954 interest in conservation was growing and the Protection of Birds Act appeared . This repealed the 1902 Act but, in overall terms, still provided an emphasis towards egg collecting and general protection needs, as opposed to persecution as we know it.  Later conversations I had personally with a shooting tenant in the Forest of Bowland suggested they first became aware of Hen Harriers being a regular presence towards the end of the 1950's. By the end of the 1970's that area held around 40 breeding pairs. If persecution activities in the 1980's are to be used as a basis, birds and nests of this species were not being persecuted extensively there in the 1960's and early 1970's compared against, say, the clear control of numbers and the distribution of the Common Buzzard elsewhere in the UK. That situation altered dramatically in the Forest of Bowland in the 1980's when the breeding numbers of harriers was reduced to a single pair at one point!! Research and campaigning by the RSPB on persecution and the limiting of the Common Buzzard's range resulted in the use of poisons being reduced and various substances being banned. Unsurprisingly, this resulted in a fairly quick extension of range and numbers of that species.  The appearance of the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 also brought a significant emphasis on conservation of wildlife, plant species and areas and was a major step forward  given it included details of especial penalties associated with the persecution of Schedule1 bird species, within which many raptor species were included.

This period was undoubtedly a major turning point as far as the attitudes of landowners and the shooting fraternity were concerned and deserves a separate treatment of its own!  Alongside all this featured a number   of raptor introduction schemes ( Red Kites, White-tailed Eagles ), increasing numbers of Common Buzzards and Marsh Harriers and more emphasis on investigations work into persecution incidents, along with its attendant publicity. Good, solid conservation in action!  I'm sure the shooting fraternity saw this totally differently....raptors everywhere doing damage to their "interests", whatever the evidence, which undoubtedly saw an increase against previous times of raptor control regardless of this being against the law. One can imagine a growing feeling, even if in a subconscious context, of those days of independence being under threat!!

Now, it would seem that the attitude of many amongst the shooting fraternity is the same, that of being adamant in their lack of tolerance towards raptors, with the Hen Harrier being the flagship species of their hatred. Good God, man, they eat grouse chicks!!   But, in all this, is there a reflection of something deeper?  A yearning for those bygone days of traditional self-serving, of being beyond reproach and of the exercising of that ultimate privilege, self indulgence and independence to do what one would wish on one's own terms!

I just wonder! My feelings are that they feel increasingly "squeezed", resulting in a number of dummies, in the form of ill-framed media statements and interview responses, being spat out from the collective comfort of the Establishment pram. I think I can even understand their reaction, would you know!  But it's an anachronistic wish. An innocent, but arrogant , view that is redolent of what this minority enjoyed in Victorian times.  Such a platform of subjugation and privilege no longer applies in this modern world. This is the 21st Century and circumstances and attitudes have changed!

The evidence of persecution in recent times, say the last thirty years, shows the unwillingness of a majority within the shooting fraternity to face up to and adopt the sensible strictures of  modern times. Taking account of the attitudes of the wider population is a modern day necessity and the latter's wish to see a healthy and vibrant wildlife heritage is something which must be acknowledged. Any persistent and aberrant influences aimed at reducing this must be addressed, particularly when such actions are against the law anyway. In the current circumstances there appears little alternative but to fight for regulation of an industry which insists on having its head in the sand and which has no one to blame for the outcome but itself. Its constituents clearly still insist on residing outside the boundaries of decent and law abiding behaviour.

This is the basis of the logic behind the petition I have laid within the UK Government's formal process. I would urge everyone to both sign it and promote it to others. The necessary link is below.Thank you.

Licensing of grouse moors and gamekeepers


  1. This comment may take some reading, but as a shooter I feel I must bring up the statement in the second to last paragraph, which for some reason the comments box won’t let me use quotation marks on, about what you describe as the unwillingness of a majority within the shooting fraternity to face up to and adopt the sensible strictures of modern times.
    The statement is misleading at best and, frankly, a downright lie at worst. Far from being a majority, the gamekeepers who kill raptors are actually in the minority, and have been for a long time. Most gamekeepers have never been involved with illegal activities.

    It is in the interest of shooters to maintain a good reputation to maintain public support, and most shooters recognise this, and anyone who stands in the way of that and drags the reputation of shooters and gamekeepers through the mud will not be tolerated by most. There is already a strong anti-persecution culture in shooting, and gamekeepers who break the law are shunned by the profession.

    BASC and the NGO both have policies of expelling members who break the law. What's more, both these organisations and their members work to combat wildlife crime, including raptor persecution.
    I vaguely recall a shooting times article a few years ago by a gamekeeper who had a breeding population of golden eagles on his shoot to rival those on RSPB reserves, and I seem to remember that he brought this point up in a discussion with the RSPB, but I could be wrong on that last part. Letters to shooting magazines from gamekeepers with strong raptor populations on their shoots who want advice on non-lethal deterrents are fairly regular as well. There are also many letters and articles in shooting magazines condemning raptor persecution, such as from Alasdair Mitchell in Shooting Times to name just one.

    There are a minority of people within the gamekeeping community who break the law, but please, condemn the people who actually take part in illegal activities, not the overwhelming majority of gamekeepers who don't.

  2. Thank you Mr Fowler for your comments and you are always most welcome to submit such. Whilst I don't deny there are some gamekeepers who uphold the requirements of the law, the distribution of offences and the frequency with which they arise suggest to me that such activities are widespread and certainly not diminishing. Such statistics can be seen within the RSPB's BirdCrime Reports and make sober reading. By contrast the letters and articles you mention are utterly laudable, and I am not being patronising in any way, as they are needed. But the problem is not going away and the decimation of Hen Harriers in the last two or three years is a consequence of these efforts. Despite the welcome condemnation from within their own peer group the activities of your claimed minority are not isolated or reducing and I'm afraid tarnish the efforts of those who accept the law and work within it. I doubt whether we'd agree on the proportion of people who are/are not involved in illegal activities, but I acknowledge the individuals who are not attracted by such approaches and who remain within the law. Impressions are very damning and take a long time to go away, but I'm afraid the repeated incidents occurring do little to reduce those feelings. Your willingness to provide comments is also a positive action and I hope you will do so again. It may well be that the majority of shooters you refer to could achieve more by exerting pressure on those who "let the side down" beyond simply shunning them. In a way cleaning up the industry from the inside would bring about, in one fell swoop, a wholly different attitude towards all those involved, which I'm afraid, collectively, is at low ebb amongst many at present and why there is such general condemnation.
    Thank you again for your comments.

  3. Sorry about the delay in replying.

    You say that "whilst I don't deny there are some gamekeepers who uphold the requirements of the law, the distribution of offences and the frequency with which they arise suggest to me that such activities are widespread and certainly not diminishing. Such statistics can be seen within the RSPB's BirdCrime Reports and make sober reading".

    According to the RSPB's birdcrime report 2011, there were 202 incidents of BOP persecution in 2011. I'm not denying that persecution is a problem, but 202 incidents out of 5000-6000 gamekeepers is about 4%. This figure may be slightly higher due to unreported cases, but the fact that the keepers who kill raptors are the minority is certain. Some cases may go unreported, but the number of incidents could quadruple and still only account for a minority of gamekeepers.

    Shooting organisations and their members already work with the police, and I have heard of incidents where incidents were gamekeepers were reported by other gamekeepers. Look at the case of Kyle Burden a few years ago, he was reported by two other gamekeepers working on the same estate. I don't think I'm able to post comments in this comments box, but look at the post titled "Burden of proof" by Mark Thomas in the invesitgations part of the RSPB blog.
    I agree that more needs to be done to tackle the issue, but smearing gamekeepers by saying that the raptor killing keepers are the majority is not going to tackle anything.

  4. Grouse could be farmed and released if you really want to see summatt fall outta the sky in a myriad of blood and feathers.
    If its the epicure part of you that wants to eat grouse, for the sake of simply the taste, you could have it without digging pellets out of it surely.
    If its Gamesmanship or marksmanship, surely it matters not what the target is...?
    Shoot at a bloody stick, a clay pigeon....a target.
    Its simple bloodlust, you can't have it any other way.
    Nature had a balance long before we invented the gun,
    The only reason for killing a living thing is for food, through necessity, To actually glory in it, enjoy it, is simply something I will never understand...and I'm not a vegetarian...