What a glorious feeling

I’m happy again

Well for now at least.

The 10 August 2014 was a very special day. It was Hen Harrier day - where over 500 ordinary men, women and children came out in the torrential rain to show their support for the plight of this spectacular yet beleaguered bird. People, some having travelled huge distances just to be there, who were all singing the same tune. 

A soggy crowd in the Derwent Valley, Derbyshire show their support for the hen harrier

Whilst H is for hen harrier, unfortunately in my job, H is usually for hunted, hounded, harried and heartache. I have lost count of the number of reports I have dealt with of hen harriers ‘mysteriously’ disappearing from their breeding sites on upland grouse moors. I have heard a toe curling account from a gamekeeper recounting to me in confidence how he and his colleagues shot around 30 hen harriers in a single year on just one estate. And perhaps, most poignantly, I have been there by myself in the early hours of a spring morning on a remote grouse moor watching as a female hen harrier was gunned down. Having pulled the pitiful corpse from where it had been hidden in the heather it was incredibly frustrating not to be able to get the necessary evidence to get the perpetrator to court.

However, on the 10 August 2014 in the Derwent Valley in the Peak District National park, the home of many a raptor tragedy itself, H definitely stood for hope. Hope that normal everyday people could raise their voice and show their anger and frustration at the outrage we continue to suffer in our uplands. Hope that perhaps the government might now start to realise the shooting community is unable or unwilling to self police and look to bring in new regulation. Hope that one day this beautiful bird, and indeed many other raptors, will start to assume their rightful place in our environment.

The message is clear!

Hope is a wonderful thing, and while we have a very along way to go, today was a time to celebrate. The torrential downpour, the aftermath of Hurricane Bertha, did nothing to dampen the mood. Placards and banners were out in full force. My favourite was one from a hardened and passionate raptor study group worker who has endured the bitter battle against harriers and other raptors in the Forest of Bowland for many decades. It simply stated ‘Pleasure killers –There is no right way to do wrong’.

The people speak

Chris Packham and Mark Avery celebrating the moment

Mark Avery has played a leading role in this initiative supported by RSPB, Birders Against Wildlife Crime (BAWC) and many others. He spoke to enforce why we were all there and to thank everyone for such a fantastic show of support, albeit a rather soggy one. Chris Packham spoke eloquently and passionately about the dire situation for the hen harrier, comparing the killing of this bird to the destruction of a national treasure. Chris’ closing rally was ‘We will win’. Well, we have to – don’t we!

Findlay Wilde speaks to the masses

For me, perhaps stealing the show, it was a young Findlay Wilde outlining to the crowd why he built his fantastic model male hen harrier which graced the field below the dam. It is inspiring young people like this who we need to look to. It is people like these who need to help forge a generation which will simply not accept what has been deemed acceptable in our uplands for such a long time. Long after I am gone, we will need the likes of Findlay and many others to continue the fight for our precious wildlife heritage.

The amazing male hen harrier model made by Findlay and his brother

Hurricane Bertha did nothing to dampen spirits

So whilst the force of Hurricane Bertha slows ebbs away, hopefully there will be a new storm brewing. Hopefully one which will howl across our countryside blowing away what is both criminal and simply unacceptable in a modern day society. Whilst I am no Gene Kelly, I did at least have a bit of spring in my step as I splashed my way through the puddles back to the car park.

Hope is indeed a wonderful thing.