Saturday, August 10, 2013

Perhaps a future weapon of choice for Hen Harriers?

There are two Blogs which I read regularly and avidly, both for the same reasons. One is that of Martin Harper ( Director of Conservation, RSPB ), see link here Martin Harper's Blog,  who covers a wide variety of conservation matters he is involved with and, along the way, provides many critical insights and accompanying information.  His latest contribution is a more personal entry entitled " Big Wild Sleep Out" and is hilarious, and I guess something that many people will identify with, particularly after this weekend. Reading it raised my spirits after the less than edifying information that had emerged yesterday when it fell to Martin to reveal  the possible extinction of the Hen Harrier as a breeding species in England in the Press Release issued by the Society, see link here  Hen Harrier on the brink of extinction in England.

The second is that of Mark Avery ( previous Director of Conservation, RSPB, now independent campaigner and writer and a past colleague ) see link here  Mark Avery's Blog  Along the way Mark has lent immense support towards harrier conservation in a variety of respects. He's well equipped to do so, and one can well appreciate why harriers are resented by some, as his own brand of harrying shows no restrictions when it comes to revealing the inadequacies of those threatening or purporting to be associated with conservation.
It is from his Blog last week that the above theme emerges.

Within recent months, if not longer, a battle has raged relating to Catfield Fen and current efforts to renew water abstraction licences, which may affect the area and cause it to dry out. That issue still continues and was the subject of a Blog that Mark Avery put out last week , see link here and the accompanying Comments, Catfield (Abstraction Licences) .  Within those Comments are ones offered by Richard Wilson, who is an independent ecologist based in Leeds, see link here Richard Wilson's Blog .   Essentially there has been some European Case Law issued which might have implications for Hen Harrier conservation in future. The case concerned is being popularly referred to as the Sweetman Case and we may be hearing more of it in the fullness of time. The details are worth ploughing through  and the Comment Richard Wilson has submitted to Mark Avery's Blog sets out in fine detail the arguments that might be marshalled in this respect. In lay terms, put together by someone with no legal background whatsoever (me!), the issue revolves around site integrity. Given many of our grouse moors are designated sites based on their conservation value then the details upon which that designation rests could be viewed as sacrosanct under the  terms and conditions of the Habitats Directive. Under Article 6(3) of that Directive if, subsequently, the management of the site or changes brought about in other ways results in the diminution of its value in conservation terms, compared against those aspects upon which its designation rests, then such could be in breach of the Terms required under the Directive.  In other words if grouse moor owners, directly or via their staff, see fit to remove or deliberately prevent the presence of Hen Harriers on the site following its designation as an area of importance for such species, or refuse to restore the situation back to the original condition, then they would be in breach of the law. I hope all that's correct in a legal context!!  If I also read things correctly there is therefore a requirement for them to "make things right" in this context and restore matters back to their original state if a site is seen to fall below its original level of designated value. Presumably in advance of any legal proceedings they would be served some form of Notice advising such "work" should be undertaken.

Now I'm under no illusions that such provisions, laudable as they might be, can be wrangled over until the cows come home with professional prevarication, via the legal process, figuring prominently in the whole scenario. But is this a "weapon" we might now use and one that can be turned on those who first sought to eradicate this iconic species of our wildlife heritage?  I would sincerely hope so.

All this links with the point I was pursuing with Natural England recently in the Freedom of Information Request I submitted relating to Bowland  ( see 8th July this Blog ). That area, and the North Pennines SPA, have both shown a marked reduction in the raptor species numbers upon which the original designation was based. Is there just a glimmer here that this recent case law might come to the aid of a species on the brink of extinction? I'd like to think so and would urge Natural England in particular to heed the findings and review things accordingly. I'm sure the RSPB will be looking at the details with a certain amount of interest too and would encourage their pursuit of the issues it potentially influences.

And so the saga of an imminent extinction, a drying out Fen, European case law and a potential weapon of hope for the Hen Harrier all come together. Many thanks to all those associated with the story!!

Friday, August 9, 2013

Too little, too late for the Hen Harrier in England.

I'd intended having a relaxing few hours seawatching this morning, but was greeted by the press release from the RSPB relating to the Hen Harrier's likely extinction in England ,  see this link  Hen Harrier on brink of extinction in England.  Reading through the immediate responses I, like many, felt a sense of outrage, a sense of failure , but also an underlying feeling that, if more timely action had been taken, then the situation might have been different.

The RSPB does a good, but less than subtle, job within the Press Release of putting the Government, in the form of DEFRA, "in the frame", ranging from the commitment within the Government's  Biodiversity 2020  report that there should be no extinction of any English wild species at the hand of man  to expressing their eagerness to hear of proposals from DEFRA about how the Hen Harrier can be restored to its rightful place in the English uplands.  No problem with that as it constitutes the usual and predictable political manoeuvring one might expect. However, let's dip below the hypocrisy and cut to the chase!

The RSPB is part of a DEFRA group working towards producing an emergency recovery plan aimed at the Hen Harrier in England.  C'mon,chaps, let's stand firm together, not try and shift blame in the face of what inevitably will be a period of negative comments and the like !!  And let's not be pre-emptive either in calling for the plan to be properly resourced by the Government when the Group you are part of haven't yet, at least to my knowledge, published anything.  And as far as the offence of  Vicarious Liability is concerned, let's apply a bit of maturity and nous!  Recognizing that the Society has indeed called for it to be embraced within law, would it not have been sensible to lend support to the independent E-petition raised last year in order to put pressure on the Government.   DEFRA Minister ( Richard Benyon ) had rejected, within Parliament,  a call for its adoption and added that "the progression " of its inclusion within Scottish law would be monitored closely.  That the Scottish Government is still pondering over whether it can pursue the first case of its kind in Scotland hardly bodes well for its welcome embrace within England, even if  the imminent wildlife regulation review supports the idea. The anticipated appearance of the latter seems to be neutralising the RSPB's ability to actively pursue various matters upon which it could assume a prominent public position.  In a slightly altered version of the Peter, Paul and Mary song ( and Joan Baez too )

"Where has the conviction gone, long time passing."

The persecution of harriers is not new. The commitment of RSPB resources to the problem is not new either and, over many, many years it has actually devoted endless amounts of money and hours to tackling the problem. But in my view it took its eye off the ball at the most crucial time and with the current results. Of course it's not directly responsible in the normal sense, but it is culpable and should attempt to learn from the mistaken strategy it pursued. Whilst undoubtedly there will be the usual vacuous comments in certain quarters about how things could have been different, now is the time to stand tall, take the disappointing news on the chin and fight determinedly in what is now the aftermath. And that demands more than issuing a challenge to the shooting fraternity to adhere to the law!!  Matters that should have been pursued with more focus should now provide the backbone of intent. DEFRA should , actively and openly, be pursued to make available the results gathered from sat tagged harriers and the lessons emerging from such should be the basis of a much expanded investigations strategy. I am sure, in the absence of a search for funds previously, if the membership was called upon immediately to contribute to a "fighting fund" for investigations work then the initiative would meet with success.  Never mind waiting for the Law Commission Review, campaign now for Vicarious Liability!! The Tories are not going to alienate the Uncle Huberts of this world  20 months or so from an election by willingly embracing such legislation, they're going to have to be dragged there struggling and screaming!   And for God's sake, as used to be the case, routinely start talking anew to all shooting Estates and commence to try, at least, to create common ground. It happened in the 90's, it wasn't always a comfortable process, but it created opportunities for dialogue and the pursuit of small initiatives. The "reinstatement" of the English breeding population of Hen Harriers is going to be a long haul involving a lot of hard work. Relying on Government policies, advocating change at arm's length, will not work sufficiently. Getting in there at the active end of the process might, at least it will probably earn the RSPB more respect than it now generates amongst those it sees as the opposition.

Whilst I'm still looking round for something to kick ( and I'm afraid you, RSPB, were first in the frame this morning! ) the job of addressing what's needed starts today. Here and now!  So for all those birders who , as yet , have not signed the E-petition aimed at bringing regulation to upland grouse moors, here's your chance

Licencing upland grouse moors and gamekeepers.

And RSPB, given the comments above about Vicarious Liability , I don't believe it would do any harm at all to hedge your bets and advocate support by the Society's membership for the above petition. Time and history is not something we can arrest and exercise best preferences upon. We need to act for the future on as many fronts as are open to us or accept the inevitable failure.  At a time when you are calling for us all to "Make a Home for Nature", then we must do just that , actively, not view the prospect as some passive , academic exercise.  The challenge is to us as well !!

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Tigers are abroad!

How's that for an obvious statement?  And it must be said that the various races in different parts of the world aren't having too good a time of it either. But did you realise the same situation applies in the UK? Oh yes, our tigers are experiencing mixed fortunes as well and the sad thing is you're only likely to encounter them after dark.  Oh dear!

In the manner of old time practice I set my trap in a suitable place at the back of the house and can proudly claim to have caught several in one night!!  It looks as if things are looking good for the "official" UK wide survey on the 8th-10th August, 2013.  So, come on kids and Dads , let's have a bit of adventure on the next few evenings!!  And here's one of them I caught,

Isn't it a beauty?   Yes, it's a moth, whatever did you think otherwise?. Sadly it didn't opt to show its beautiful orange underwing with a dark band across its lower edge.

Now comes the serious bit. Over the 8th-10th August, 2013 Atropus and Butterfly Conservation in conjunction with the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology are encouraging people to trap or look out for Tiger Moths. In reality whatever you catch in that time can be reported on , but the objective this year is to try and get a better insight into our "tiger" populations.  The one seen above, Garden Tiger, is one everyone is worrying about as it appears to be in serious decline.  In southern England and the London area the Jersey Tiger is actually increasing its range and is the species which can be seen during the day. Another, the Ruby Tiger ( what a name! ) is also on the wing during August.

So, if this has caught your interest then simply look at where more information is available and is the site where you can submit your observations.  There is a very serious intent behind all this and your support is required so that we can gain a better idea of the distribution and numbers of this family of moths. Please try and help and I hope you enjoy it all.

Sunday, August 4, 2013

Has the RSPB got things right or........?

I don't know about you but the various comments being made on Blogs and Facebook at present about the RSPB absolutely intrigue me!! Not everyone appears entirely happy with the various changes arising in which the Society is involved.  Martin Harper ( RSPB Director of Conservation ) has even acknowledged a couple of times that there appears to be plenty of  "noise" out there.  I would suggest the score, at least, is something the Society itself has been responsible for and the comments relate to the dissonance involved in some of the less than fluid passages!  So, what is all the fuss about?

Well, first it was the logo change, then the TV advert and now the proposed change to the title of BIRDS magazine, besides the Society's intention to embrace a much wider remit associated with all wildlife. Enough to ruffle the feathers of many well-preened aficionados it would seem.

Clearly many of these changes have been both contemplated and hinted at for some time and I confess to having had a few reservations about them myself, set out on this Blog previously.  It would be easy to conclude that all this change was exclusively a marketing ploy, and I'm sure there are hoped for returns in that context, but, in conservation terms, it surely makes sense?  Nonetheless I do feel the RSPB could do better at selling itself and its envisaged changes to its own membership. Whilst I don't feel the logo change is something to particularly get hot under the collar about, I don't feel it was necessary either. However, perhaps the Society has seen fit to retain its "Royal" association, but with a little less of an emphasis. The letters stand for the same thing, but with a reduced "blatancy" shall we say.

The advert!  Allegedly costing £2million, as a promotional initiative it's therefore extremely costly and a hell of a gamble even for an organization with a generated income as high as the RSPB. Whilst the Society has been losing members in recent times, it's hardly surprising given the current economic situation. Contrasted against all this are the viewing figures of programmes like BBC SpringWatch and BBC AutumnWatch, which suggest there is a lot of people out there who are interested in wildlife. Coupled with all this is the fact that conservation is receiving less and less recognition from Central Government and you have a self-evident opportunity whose potential  it would be irresponsible to ignore. Attempting to attract such newly emergent wildlife enthusiasts into supporting what is openly acknowledged as the UK's most effective conservation body therefore makes sense, very good sense. Not only would this generate increased support for conservation initiatives, but it would indicate to our "Greenest Government Never"  that there was emerging concerns within its electorate that it would do well to take account of.

So, all in all, I can see the time has arrived to move from simply dealing with birds and their habitats to embracing all that comprises our natural heritage. I then read a Blog that Mike Clarke ( Chief Executive, RSPB ) had put out a couple of weeks ago  Saving nature is a marathon, not a sprint.  Use this last Link and scroll down through the entries on Martin Harper's Blog where Mike Clarke was presenting a guest entry. The recent State of Nature report put together by the RSPB and over twenty other conservations in the UK presents a very chilling picture on the current circumstances of our native wildlife. Picking up on these and other available details convinced me that, whatever our collective gut reactions to change might be, something needs to be done and something drastic at that. Logos and adverts aside, what is needed is more, many more, supporters and activists, which is precisely what RSPB seems intent on achieving. Well done!!

But then the Autumn edition of BIRDS magazine arrives and spoils things!! Enter Page 85 and a rather feeble mention of the next vital steps coupled with an announcement that the title of BIRDS magazine will change to Nature's Home.  Surely with this conservation epiphany having occurred, with this decision to pursue an enlightened and bold change being taken, the accompanying PR pitch could have been stronger and included a real rallying call to the current membership in particular. I don't really like the new title, but I do understand and will support the need for change and all that might be involved.  It's the "ingredients"  the RSPB is renowned for, but on this occasion the packaging is poor in my opinion.  Announcing it all in a convincing
and enthusiastic way smacks of celebration and confidence......  and most importantly, firm intent!  This modesty, this civilised attempt at appeal and persuasion, is a sad understatement of what is the most  major change since the Society came into being and what one hopefully proves to be the saving grace of our wildlife heritage.  Undoubtedly the next edition of  Nature's Home will regale us with what is intended and I've every confidence the content will be impressive.  But now is the time to convince and carry forward, not allow three months for the dissonance and noise to grow further due to a drip feeding of information about intentions upon which either nothing should have been said or a full revelation of details provided.

Yes, I'm sure all of us will still be there to take that "vital step", but think about the existing membership a little more. Change can seem a threat to some, and engender unnecessary opposition.  Much could be avoided by more openness on the Society's behalf,  a facet I don't believe it has quite right so far. A hard shout I suppose, but the thing is, we actually believe you're capable of the everything.