The last couple of weeks has seen a plethora of information, exposure, accusations and denials associated with the now well aired subject of raptor persecution. It has to be said that Scottish Government initiatives are leading the way in many respects contrasted against its southern counterpart.
Looking at what has emerged, in chronological order, the first item of interest, and commented on by BBC News, was a map, commissioned by the Scottish Government, that showed the "hotspots" where confirmed cases of poisoning of birds of prey had occurred. This was based on official data gathered by the Scottish Agricultural Service (SASA ) for the period 2004-2008 and drew firm attention to places like Midlothian, the Borders, the Highlands and South Lanarkshire being the main areas where incidents had occurred. The Environment Minister, Michael Russell, described the depiction of such incidents as "appalling".
Quickly following this was the story by Rob Edwards in the Sunday Herald of 16th January, 2011, entitled "The Killing fields " and based on a leaked report, "A conservation framework for the Hen Harrier in the UK". The full text can be read by following the reference below:
A further article emerged the day after largely based on the same information. And again,
Now I don't propose to cherry pick main aspects from any of those items, but would encourage everyone to consult them. The point is aptly made by the various scientific authors that there is suitable habitat in Scotland capable of holding between 872-1157 pairs of Hen Harriers, but which are not present, that such areas appear, generally, to be maintained for grouse shooting and that there is a close coincidence between those general geographical "locations" and those outlined on the map referred to above. That there is obviously a concerted effort amongst certain private estates to follow a policy of non-tolerance of birds of prey is clearly a conclusion one must inevitably arrive at if set alongside reported incidents of persecution of which, regrettably, far too few result in successful prosecution.
Very shortly a further report is to appear that alleges 50 Golden Eagles per year are killed illegally, a figure much higher than previously thought. Given the current deliberations of the Scottish Government's Rural Affairs and Environment Committee in connection with the Wildlife and Natural Environment ( Scotland) Bill, all these revelations are timely, even if the "Harrier Report", due for publication on 16th December but delayed after landowner opposition based on their claim that they had only been given eight days in which to comment, has not yet emerged officially. Scottish Natural Heritage, who commissioned the report, have since admitted that they had mishandled the consultation procedures!! How many consultation exercises are they engaged in during any one year!!!
Whether these dreadful statistics will assist in the progression of the "vicarious liability" clause, about which I've posted previously, is difficult to say. Certainly this is a time to keep the subject alive and to confront the indignant protestations of the landowning fraternity. A comment made by Lord Johnstone ( Annandale Estate ) made me howl with laughter...." The proposed new offence of vicarious liability...risks alienating the very people capable of resolving the issue". Sorry, Lord Johnstone, the cavalry's arriving much too late given the habit's been in place since Victorian times and there's been endless indications previously relating to the problem.
Will all this cause any cessation of entrenched habits? I doubt it, and certainly not overnight but, gradually, a head of steam will build up whereby the increasingly vocal urban population, and their willingness to pronounce on countryside matters, will see the matter entirely differently. The possibility of them calling into question the legitimacy of pastimes whose operation runs parallel with illegality could be a powerful weapon in the demise of the countryside sports enthusiasts. Licences to operate shoots, "awarded" to estates with a proven record of responsible management, might be the best end of the whole process and a potential threat that lends weight to Lord Johnstone's belated lament that they should perhaps be prepared to clean up the activities of their peer group after all. However, such self regulation needs to emerge imminently and to be adhered to.
Recent questions raised about the absence of responses to the revelations made by Rob Edwards are not surprising in my view. I suspect discussions on damage limitation will be taking place now, and for a time yet. As a report, it could hardly be welcomed by the sporting lobby, nor could it be refuted and trivialised given evidence coming forward relating to actual incidents.
I think we can expect a collective response emerging at some point that reflects the reactions of those against whom the general thrust of the conclusions in the various reports is directed. Such is most certainly likely to emerge when the report is officially released by SNH or immediately previous to the Stage 3 debates on the WANE Bill. It might actually mean the alleged recalcitrant minority have been contacted , which would signify some success in itself. Whether sufficient self discipline might then emerge in future times to make persecution a thing of the past is unlikely. And that is why it must stop, and be made to stop, given it is exercised by a privileged minority who are cocking a snoot at the law and those of us who accept such in everyday life, without option and who draw enjoyment from seeing birds of prey within our landscapes.