Yesterday I joined the crowds for the sixth Hen Harrier day event at Carsington Water in Derbyshire, organised by Wild Justice with help from Severn Trent Water. It's thought that around 1500 people were there at any one time - the largest number for a Hen Harrier Day event ever. It was a brilliant day, the weather held and the crowd enjoyed a terrific selection of great speakers. More details here.
It hardly seems five minutes since the first Hen Harrier Day event in 2014. I was one of the ‘#Sodden570’ who gathered in Derbyshire to celebrate hen harriers on the tail end of hurricane Bertha. But as before, the recent bad weather did nothing to put us off, resulting in an inspiring show of force which should send a clear signal: hen harriers are being killed, and this has to stop.
Around 1500 people attended Hen Harrier Day 2019 at Carsington Water, arranged by Wild Justice.
It was a great venue, very family friendly, and supported by a range of organisations with stands from RSPB, Derbyshire Wildlife Trust, Extinction Rebellion, Derbyshire Police Rural Crime Team and more.
Wildlife campaigner Dr Mark Avery, one of the Directors of Wild Justice along with Dr Ruth Tingay and Chris Packham, chaired the event. TV presenter and former colleague Iolo Williams set the ball rolling in his usual effusive style. He made his feeling very clear about the continued persecution of hen harriers. As a rugby enthusiast he also had a playful dig prior to the pending match at Twickenham – just how did that go Iolo?
Warm-up act Iolo Williams takes the stage (don't mention the rugby)
Other presenters included Ruth Tingay, outlining how her blog Raptor Persecution UK came about and the work being done to expose raptor persecution plus the increasing environmental problems being linked to land managed for driven grouse shooting. Gill Lewis, acclaimed author of several nature books for children, spoke about how people can be inspired and make a difference.
Crowd enjoying the speakers
The passionate presentation by Ian Thomson, Head of RSPB Investigations Scotland, received thunderous applause. Speaking of thunder, the sound system did well to cope with a powerful speech by conservationist Dominic Dyer about wider problems in the countryside and how the general public can take action. It was great to see Superintendent Nick Lyall of Bedfordshire Police, and chair of the Raptor Persecution Priority Delivery Group, speak at this event and outline his determination to bring the raptor killers to justice. Nick had also attended two hen harrier day events with me the previous day at the RSPB Saltholme reserve and Goathland in the north-east.
Superintendent Nick Lyall (with his impressive set of raptor pin badges) on the stage at Hen Harrier Day 2019
Chris Packham concluded the event and was his usual brilliant self.
Now back in 2014, it was probably young wildlife campaigner Finlay Wilde who left the biggest impression. Finlay and his family were in attendance as usual. And once again it was the younger generation who rather stole the show. Derbyshire Wildlife Trust has done some educational work and asked schoolchildren to write something about the perils facing hen harriers. Some of these fantastic poems and stories has been put together in this beautiful ‘Sky Dancer’ booklet (available from DWT for just £2).
The beautiful booklet of childrens' poems & stories - available from Derbyshire Wildlife Trust
Four of the budding authors and poets came up on stage one by one to meet Chris Packham and read out their own work. You could have heard a pin drop!
The three Wild Justice directors (Ruth Tingay, Mark Avery & Chris Packham) ending Hen Harrier Day 2019
Another significant event yesterday was the government announcement of the English Hen Harrier breeding season - with 47 chicks produced from 12 successful nests. Despite the enthusiasm of the government and some people within the shooting industry for this year's breeding figures, the fact remains there seems to be no end to persecution in sight; as spelled out in a recent scientific paper showing that 72% of 58 hen harriers satellite-tagged by Natural England were either killed, or likely to have been killed, on or near grouse moors between 2007-2017. This year we are aware of two breeding attempts on driven grouse moors in North Yorkshire that have probably failed due to persecution and the recent discovery of hen harrier 'River', found shot on a grouse moor, shows these problems are not going away. Persecution aside, there are a whole range of serious environmental issues associated with land intensively managed for driven grouse shooting that need to be addressed, in particular the concerns about the loss of carbon contributing to the climate emergency.
For me what's most encouraging is that, in the last five years, there has been a huge public mobilisation of concern for the hen harrier and its wider environment. How the government respond to that concern will be crucial for the future of this bird and many other raptors. It will be interesting to see where we are in another five years.
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