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!!


  1. John, have just written this on the Martin Harper blog:

    Martin, you haven't published my last comment distinguishing between the Vicarious Liability initiative and John Squire Armitage's ePetition to licence game keepers.

    The RSPB has also not, as far as I can tell, publicised Mr Armitage's petition on your blog as your colleague Blánaid Denman the RSPB's Skydancer project Engagement Officer states you (the rspb) would in an email exchange with a commentator known as melodious:

    "While e-petitions can be a good way to raise awareness, they very rarely achieve their objective on their own merit. In the first year of the e-petition site being launched, only 10 out of 36,000 petitions reached the 100,000 mark (see here). Experience has shown that printing a link in a high-circulation magazine is unlikely to translate into a similar volume of hits on a website. The RSPB’s own Bird of Prey Campaign generated around 350,000 signatures but only through hard on the ground lobbying and collecting written signatures on specially printed pamphlets at reserves and events over a period of about two years and with significant monetary investment.

    What the e-petition does achieve, regardless of whether or not it’s successful, is a physical representation of public opinion and in that context, even 5,000, 10,000, or 20,000 signatures is still hugely positive. We will gladly draw people’s attention to the petition through appropriate tweets and blogs but I hope you now understand why we won’t be advertising it in Birds."

    Why not? And given the take up of blogs why not simply email your membership many of whom will have email addresses to raise awareness. You (the rspb) seem to saying one thing and doing another!!

    John Armitage calls for people like melodious and myself to "bore people rigid on the subject" and I've taken him literally with much "vacuous comment" on the Mark Avery blog. I won't be giving up any time soon, the Hen Harrier is the new Avocet, IMHO!!

  2. Thanks Phil. I tend to ignore RSPB's lack of commitment on various issues, poor communication and their apparent "we know best but have no intention of telling you what we really stand for" viewpoint. Disappointing, but the reality of their approach nowadays. I suspect much importance is being attached to the forthcoming (when?)review on wildlife legislation by the Law Commission. Such may not provide a panacea for all ills in the run up to a General Election and could be conveniently sidelined by the Coalition and consigned to the long grass. Whilst I doubt the petition will receive the necessary high level of signatures it will nonetheless indicate a depth of feeling about a particular issue. Polite commentary and building houses for hedgehogs is not going to solve the deep seated problem represented by raptor persecution!! Whilst there may be things going on in the background by RSPB it would enhance current attitudes on their standing amongst birders and supporters if they disclosed what such actions constitute. At the end of the day we'll be able to hold our collective heads high by having pursued something that is indicative of commitment and a willingness to act!