Sunday, August 3, 2014

Is the pendulum finally swinging in the Hen Harrier's favour? 3.8.2014.

Yesterday morning  (before the heavy rain set in) I watched a male Hen Harrier systematically scour the grass moor opposite the house. It was an enthralling sight and one which caused me to ponder long and hard on the current, but long continuing conflict surrounding the species. They are hated by the shooting fraternity, they are persecuted due to their proven predation of Red Grouse, but they are increasingly championed by conservationists,wildlife enthusiasts and critics of the illegality upon which the shooting industry pursues its case.  Certainly the issues surrounding the plight of the species are at an all time high.  Is this a signal that we might , finally, expect some change to the situation?

News this year that three nests had been successful in England is most welcome, but certainly no panacea in the cause of getting the species "back on its feet". The young have yet to face the potential depredations of flying farther afield and facing the widely held prejudices that then put them under pressure. But it's a start! News also that the RSPB intends to fit its own satellite tags to birds is even more welcome given the continuing obfuscation surrounding the results from lost birds associated with the long running DEFRA scheme where birds were similarly tracked. The supposed Hen Harrier Recovery Plan has been both a failure and a farce given the population almost reached a point of permanent extinction within its period of operation. DEFRA has repeatedly refused to release any results from this not inexpensive work funded by the taxpayer on the continuing excuse that the results are to be used for a Ph.D.!!  When has Government policy ever been suspended based on the needs of students I wonder!  More to the point is that it has long been suspected that the results showed that birds lost were closely associated with grouse moors and would be acutely embarrassing therefore for the (Tory dominated ) Government.  Time will tell, but, pessimism aside, the inevitable independent results derived from the RSPB initiative will at least carry the assurance that investigative action will have been taking place in the background !

And so to recent, very recent initiatives in fact!  The creation of Birders Against Wildlife Crime (BAWC) can find details at the Hen Harrier Action Days that will take place on the 10th August in the Peak Park, Forest of Bowland and Northumberland are all signals of both an increasing frustration by conservationists at the lack of progress and a more collective call for action than we have seen in recent times. Whilst the RSPB are endorsing the action days I don't actually see from them a lot of promotion of the detail or intent. Indeed I increasingly begin to wonder if their apparent lack lustre association with public campaigning nowadays is a deliberate intent  based on a more stringent interpretation and adherence to the regulations of the Charity Commissioners. Although this might be disappointing to some there will undoubtedly be endless other initiatives being pursued in the background against which we should provide our unqualified support. Their eventual promotion of an initiative to licence grouse moors is more than welcome, particularly the presentation of a case to each of our current political parties.

With the Government response to the E-petition I organized ( Licencing of upland grouse moors and gamekeepers )  being less than competent the fact remains that, despite misgivings by some, the licencing of grouse moors would be a positive step forward. I don't agree it would eventually result in endless legal proceedings as its advent would be based on Government policy and action with all the usual counter claims and battles arising in the run up to the introduction process. Doubtless there would be battles and opposition aplenty, but following its introduction the only people fearful of its accompanying implications would be those who are brought before the law and convicted based on proven persecution activities.  The shooting industry's response to all this is somewhat similar to that of the Government, focussing on the commercial value of the industry to the rural economy without recognising the underlying reason for the call for such measures, namely their own irresponsible management of wildlife resources and habitats.

Against this background yet another E-petition has emerged organized by friend and colleague, Mark Avery, which calls upon the next Government to ban driven grouse shooting
The signature total (10461 ) for this has already surpassed that achieved by the one I organized (10428 ), and in a short time too, which is perhaps a measure of the increasing awareness of people at large and the frustration they feel as well as the success of promotion activities. SIGN THIS WITHOUT DELAY if you haven't done so already.

Any response from "the other side" has been difficult to find, almost as if they feel it doesn't refer to them and that complete denial will in some perverse way exonerate them from facing the reality. The fact of the matter is that they are on the back foot, have demonstrated a lack of willingness to clean up their own act and are simply hoping that their all too usual display of arrogance will see them through. Far from it in my view! Conservationists have nothing to hide or answer for and will continue to raise questions, call for change, expose any future persecution activities and press Government for action. Eventually the bubble will burst....

And in answer to all this? The shooting lobby contributing to the current Hen Harrier Recovery Plan overseen by DEFRA have advocated removing eggs from harriers nesting in the north (!), incubating and raising the resultant chicks and releasing them in suitable areas in Southern England. Who within their ranks, one might ask, are the hitherto undisclosed supporters of  harriers such that they want to support their future success or is this lobby looking towards conservation bodies, the National Trust etc to play host by running schemes on the southern heath lands they manage.  And, of course, such recruits to the population will fly, be independent and might eventually even find their way on to grouse moors!!  Oh dear, what then, permission to shoot, sir ?  The suggestion smacks of an intention to move the problem into someone else's lap as opposed to any genuine intent to improve the breeding population of Hen Harriers for which, incidentally, the carrying capacity in England is calculated to be over 300.

Despite such desperate diversions I still retain a feeling that, gradually, the tide is turning and that Hen Harriers are receiving the attention they deserve.

But their are five things you need to give attention to help all this on its way,

  • sign the E-petition above
  • attend a Hen Harrier Action Day if you can
  • write to your MP calling for his/her support for change and an end to bird of prey persecution
  • ensure all your friends and family are aware of what's happening
  • use social media to promote the initiatives above.

Many thanks.

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