With "The Glorious Twelfth" fast approaching it seems like a good time to review why one of our most enigmatic raptors should disappear from the uplands of northern England.
No point. I think we all know, don't we?
No? Here's a good starting point - RSPB's Jeff Knott on BBC yesterday.
Notice his comment near the end of the interview re. gamekeepers highlighting that not ALL gamekeepers kill birds illegally; it's just that most perpetrators of such crimes turn out to be gamekeepers!
Basically I can't understand the shooting culture, whether it's legal wildfowling, or illegal raptor persecution. It pains me to watch gun-toting, camouflage-clad folks using RSPB car parks on the Solway and the Ribble to access nearby saltmarshes to blast birds out of the air. So although upland grouse shooting appears to be for "a select few", my displeasure at these activities is not just a "class issue".
I wouldn't normally give a website condoning such activities the time of day but THIS is worth a look just to see how "the other side" sees it ......
"Extinction of Hen Harriers on grouse moors", I'll agree is poor phraseology by the RSPB but they are definitely extinct as a breeding species in the UK. Yes, the failure of this year's remaining pairs was due to "natural causes", but the fact remains that we're down to such an unsustainable level mainly due to foul play. Yes, it's true that there are no Hen Harriers on "non-grouse moor bits, including their own [the RSPB's] nature reserves". Probably just not enough to go round I'd say .......
I've gleaned all this from RAPTOR PERSECUTION SCOTLAND, a resource I frequently visit for an inside view of the "dark passenger" in the countryside.
It seems like only yesterday when working in Bowland here in Lancashire, formally the English stronghold of breeding Hen Harriers, and watching a pair of the graceful raptors so close overhead as I climbed through a narrow ravine to my survey site. I think there had been several pairs in and around the estate the previous spring. I chanced upon Hen Harriers quite frequently that spring including my first "skydancer". Distant though it was, it was a magnificent experience. That year though, there were fewer pairs than previously in northern England, the start of the sad decline to the present sorry state of affairs.
Frankly I was disappointed in the RSPB's recent "campaign", if you can call sending out a little poster and a "Skydancer" flier that? Better to spend the funds on a prepared letter to your local MP or the environment minister in my opinion, or something to that effect?
Having written e-mails and letters beginning with phrases such as
"I am writing to you in the hope that an issue that I feel very strongly about may be dealt with in a proper way after years of neglect by governing political parties"
And continuing ........
"The persecution of our wild birds is illegal. As illegal and just as abhorrent as any other illegal act in the UK. However it seems to receive little attention in comparison to other offences and certainly there appears to be a disparity in prevention effort and the punishment administered to the perpetrators of wildlife crime compared with other offenders."
Going on a bit perhaps ....?
"The most outstanding example here is the killing of our birds of prey, through trapping poisoning and shooting. The current range of offences and related penalties carry little, if any deterrent value and legal reform is urgently needed to ensure those responsible are held to account and punished in a proper way.
Vicarious liability has been introduced in Scotland and should be in place here in England, just one of many steps needed to prevent the extinction of the Hen Harrier as a breeding species in this country. It is an absolute disgrace that we may lose this graceful raptor as a breeding bird from our uplands simply through neglect by not dealing with the unlawful actions of certain individuals."
But ending with ......
"Some gamekeepers and some landowners of driven grouse shooting estates flout the law, killing any Hen Harrier present on their land. This disgraceful "habit" must be stopped before it is too late. The current sanctions for wildlife crime are insufficient and are not consistent with more severe penalties under other environmental legislation.
Penalties MUST be increased and surely an option to withdraw any license required for game shooting be introduced to encourage the landowners to adhere to what is, after all UK law."
Well, now it is too late.
Social media has been busy on the case, naturally. Alan Tilmouth has suggested we make Monday ("The Glorious Twelfth") HEN HARRIER DAY ......
"Please use #henharrier to tweet on Hen Harrier Day - Monday 12th August, pictures, links, stories, encounters - show everyone what's missing"
Great idea I reckon. Doesn't have to just on twitter (blogs, Facebook, anywhere on the www)
Bird Fair next week. It's not my kind of thing but I am fully supportive of its conservation issues and the way it raises awareness. Spare a thought for one of our birds while browsing the brochures and presentations though.