The RSPB recently put out the above release dealing with the current status of Hen Harriers in England, which makes depressing reading. May I urge everyone to read it either at the RSPB's site or on the Raptor Politics website, where there are other articles too on the subject.
Such caused me to think deeply about where we are, or need to be, on this matter of raptor persecution. Much vaunted admittedly, but necessary until such time as birders and the general public rise up and declare that it has now to stop. ENOUGH IS ENOUGH!!
We've to have no doubts on the issue....there is no justification for such actions, which arise from prejudice, intolerance, commercial gain and a flagrant breaking of the law. Hen Harrier is included on Schedule 1 of the Wildlife and Countryside Act ( as amended ) and any interference with its status attracts severe penalties, if proven. It's quite clear cut with no exemptions. Now, forget who owns the land, the pedigree of their employees, and so on, the fact of the matter is that such actions are against the law and an errant and arrogant minority are setting themselves above its provisions, not a luxury most responsible people exercise! It has to be said that there are many within the shooting fraternity who feel the situation has gone too far. These illegal actions are the bedrock of the depressed numbers and distribution in England and the virtual absence of the species from parts of Scotland, e.g. Angus, arising as a consequence of the actions of a few who are actively setting themselves above the law. This is why it is so important that the proposed legislation goes through in Scotland whereby landowners can face a fine, or imprisonment, if any of their staff are convicted of killing birds of prey. The official term is "vicarious liability" and Roseanna Cunningham ( Scotland's Environment Minister ) must be congratulated on progressing the matter.
Let's take an honest look at the "tools" available to combat such activities. The voluntary sector, notably RSPB to their credit, have spent endless sums and devoted an immense amount of time to the issue. But it is not producing the required results!
Keeping the issue alive is not an easy task and repeatedly finding a focal point for action is difficult. Extensive political activity is also regulated by Charity Commission regulation, so there are major constraints associated with any campaigning. Government agencies similarly suffer from constraints, given their formal position within the Administration, and unilateral action is difficult. The Police, whatever their commitment, are under immense permanent pressure and the cutting back imminently of services will not help in this regard.
Have things changed in the last ten, twenty, thirty years? Not really and, therefore, these time honoured approaches should be accepted as having failed and new ones adopted. So what might comprise these alternatives?
Doubtless talk of licencing and quotas will, and must, proceed, but I fear the road to adoption will be paved with frustration and I still have little confidence the erring minority will faithfully pledge and maintain support. It seems to me that, rather than endlessly pouring out depressing results about Hen Harrier productivity, we should turn our attention directly on those responsible for the situation and not only of their actions, but the position being adopted by them. Divert the concern relating to Hen Harriers and direct it at those who exhibit a repeated willingness to ignore the law. Whilst many members of the public don't give a damn about Hen Harriers they would bridle at the thought that people were operating an industry based on illegality and setting themselves above the law, and very often people who should know better too! The demographics and attitudes of many people have changed with increasing urbanisation and countryside sports don't automatically enjoy the respect they did in many quarters. I'm buoyed up by the thought that shooting itself could see a backlash of opposition if its arrogant minority fail to change their ways. I'm not against shooting, and feel it far better some form of balance should be struck, rather than the sport and tradition increasingly have to fight off sanction and regulation....but only if the practitioners recognize the right of others to enjoy the components of the countryside they attach value to. To galvanize support for targeted opposition and regulation should not prove difficult, on paper at least. However I'm not convinced many who voice off about these matters ever really get down to doing something about it and so they must carry some responsibility for allowing the status quo to continue and Hen Harriers to slide into gradual local extinction.
An extensive co-ordinated campaign is needed, not just a 210,000 petition from the RSPB, but a joint one from Wildlife Trusts, Ramblers Association, Natural History Societies, BTO members, in fact everyone who's affronted by the current abuse, plus members of the general public approached through Facebook and other facilities.
Fifty letters received by each and every elected member of our respective national and country governments on a given day would be a good start to get the onslaught under way. Other initiatives could follow. Similar efforts have been tried before, of course they have, but there is a need for a fresh beginning and an expression of sincere opposition ( not concern, things need to go up a gear! ) to ensure the subject is never far away from the attention of those who could effect the necessary changes. It's a numbers game, and the expression of what the public feels is right that are the key elements, coupled with comments on confidence and future support (or its withdrawal!) that indicate to government members people are fed up.
In the end, instead of persistently grumbling about things , it's down to us to do something about it or concede the loss. The rhetoric has not changed in thirty years! Then we believed various initiatives, compromises, legislation changes would do the trick. The truth is they haven't and a drastic change in approach is required.