Whilst yesterday ( Wednesday ) was intended to be a day of recovery, reflection and "getting sorted", it turned out to be a convoluted nightmare! Rain throughout the morning justified the confinement to home, improved weather thereafter provided a denied opportunity to escape from a potential problem that will lead, in my view, to immense debate and dis-agreement.
In short, an Eagle Owl has been caught on CCTV film attacking a female Hen Harrier on the nest in the Forest of Bowland, Lancashire. Loyal readers of this Blog will already know of my personal involvement with the area and its harrier population before taking early retirement from RSPB some ten years ago. So, a personal attachment and concern!!!
The filming has been "commissioned" by Natural England and RSPB, one imagines to investigate provisioning behaviour at the nest and to "patrol" illegal activities. What has occurred will no doubt delight various factions, be it those who wish to justify the eradication of a supposed non-native species (Eagle Owl)or to identify an excuse that avoids them having to confront the real culprits associated with the administration of private shooting estates, who are really responsible for the demise of Hen Harriers in England. Whilst I have tried to view the film involved the links have failed ( if indeed they ever really provided access anyway). I have been urged by colleagues to see same and reach an opinion ....a view that both intrigues and frustrates as it suggests inconclusivity!! The comments put forward by Dr. Mark Avery ( RSPB ) drawing attention to the film having recorded "just part of the picture" , and that the situation re the status of Eagle Owl still requires to be studied,and a body of solid evidence produced ,is, thankfully, reasoned and reassuring.
Dr Tom Clew ( Chief Scientist, Natural England ) attests that Eagle Owl is a non-native species and a recent arrival in Lancashire. I can assure him records of the species, in Bowland, reach back to 1985 when a bird was seen in Hareden, following which we managed to markedly raise the productivity of Hen Harriers in the area through a lot of hard work and difficult confrontations with landowners out of which came mutual respect and continuing success, at least for a period. In other words, get in there, mix it, and aim for a solution instead of adopting the pussy footing techniques of professional Civil Servants. His assertions that the footage confirms suspicions that the Eagle Owls are impacting on the breeding success of Hen Harriers in Bowland is utter, convenient nonsense and an excuse, at best, to allow Natural England to hide behind that fact and avoid them dealing with the real problem of human persecution. How many pairs of Eagle Owls does he feel are in Bowland for Gods sake? And if the Hen Harrier population enjoyed a major extension on hill ground and elsewhere in England, what does he feel the threat would be from the ( minimal ) population of Eagle Owls in the UK?. Will this realisation now threaten the introduction proposals for harriers proposed for elsewhere in the country?
I feel the current conclusions are hurried and terribly convenient. If I'm wrong I will admit such and pay recognition to alternative opinions and evidence. The fact that the press release suggests a rather hurried emission would pay tribute to the techniques of Government spin doctors! "The Owl was still present a few hours later, and the incubating harrier has not been seen and its nest has now failed". When was that conclusion reached and can we now have an update please?
After spending twenty years involved in fighting for Hen Harriers in Bowland I feel dismayed, disappointed and completely pissed off ( sorry folks for the language, but I've little else to offer ) given the current scenario is being overseen by such a bunch of detached, amateur opponents of the real problem about whose efforts I can probably sadly write the final Act. Where is the real commitment to the birds, for Gods sake?
A bad day in my book!