Reading through a variety of reported incidents on raptor persecution, and meeting up a couple of nights ago with two friends who made a critical contribution to Hen Harrier protection in the 1980's and 1990's, has caused me to reflect further on the situation we currently find ourselves in as far as raptors are concerned.
I know I bang on about raptor persecution! My contributions to various web sites and my own Blog have probably provided little that was absolutely new, or brought about change, other than keeping up a consistent condemnation of those responsible, but I suddenly feel optimistic.
It stems from the fact that the subject is remaining alive, gaining continuing media support and exposure and that the "defensive remonstrations" from the shooting fraternity are doing little other than make them look foolish. Surely they can do better?
First amongst equals is Alex Hogg, Chairman of the Scottish Gamekeepers Association. I actually have some sympathy with his position, but not his views. How can somebody maintain that "its unfair to accuse gamekeepers of wildlife crime"! when it has been reported by the BBC, when it recently reported on the successful prosecution, on seven charges , of a keeper in Derbyshire, England, that he was the 100th gamekeeper to be convicted of crimes against birds of prey. In the light of such disclosure it's approaching the time when Nero might usefully hand over his fiddle to the SGA!
Would it not be better to acknowledge there is an unwilling minority of gamekeepers who are prepared to continue, deliberately and illegally, to persecute birds of prey. Forging an active "partnership of principles" between the SGA and the conservation lobby, however loose, would lend credibility to their position and publicly affirm that organization's wish to see persecution end ( otherwise do they ? ). To skirt around the subject, and attempt to deny obvious connections, when keepers employed within the shooting industry are being successfully prosecuted, is naive in the extreme. The public will undoubtedly absorb such ambiguity and come to a view that all shooting enterprises are "iffy". Is that really what the SGA and legitimate shooting enterprises want? I doubt it!
Town dwelling residents increasingly feel that they can legitimately offer opinion on the countryside from which they gain a recreational "return", either at weekends on when on holiday. It's not too much of a quantum leap for the great British public to then turn its opposition towards institutions and management practices which they find unacceptable in terms of their effects on the natural heritage. The next step is an outright condemnation of shooting. Remember foxhunting ......
That is not an outcome to consider and encourage, as the recent statements of Natural England on the value of our uplands outline,in terms of the unique aspects of the habitat and the biodiversity it supports. Much valued habitat is maintained by upland and lowland estates in all parts of the UK and it is difficult to determine who would maintain and manage such areas in the absence of shooting interests. However, rather than feeling comfortable with the implications of the previous observations, it is important to eliminate the elements of estate practices which the public find unacceptable in order to avoid the possibility of outright opposition and condemnation emanating from their interest.
I often conclude the shooting lobby is a victim of its own arrogance which, potentially, could be its undoing. Stop being blinkered, for Heaven's sake, take stock of the elements present upon a much wider canvas or, otherwise, pay the price. General opinion is not (yet) against shooting
per se, but against actions which arise from within its management practices, i.e. raptor persecution and persistent assertions from within the industry that it's nothing to do with them. Some positive and transparent attempt to clean up such practices and put things right, as opposed to continually appearing to be in denial, would assist enormously. At present, even an unconnected bystander would interpret the stance as being somewhat vacuous.
Having said all that I have little confidence that the protestations and denials will alter, a situation which actually does provide me with optimism.