All was calm and still for my trip to the Forest of Bowland of Friday. The sky was blue, the heather showing off its purple best while northern wheatear refused to start their migration and peacock butterflies enjoyed the late summer sun.
It was hard to reconcile this serene landscape with the turmoil and conflict that had surrounded the moor earlier this summer. A plume of smoke on the horizon (from a moor burn) was the only sign of the root cause of the conflict. Hen harriers and driven grouse moors are uneasy bedfellows, yet it was at Bowland on United Utilities land, in concert with the local shoot, that the RSPB team of volunteers and paid staff tried to provide sufficient 24/7 protection for hen harriers to nest and fledge their young.
Reams of column inches have been written about this summer’s breeding season and at times the commentary on social media has been hostile, disingenuous and divisive. All this evoked by attempts to recover England’s most threatened breeding bird.
The facts (shown below in the table published by Defra) speak for themselves: in Bowland, internationally important for its bird of prey population and designated a Special Protection Area under the EU Birds Directive, there were six nests, four missing males and just one chick fledged.
The SPA target for Bowland is 13 pairs.
Its clear we have a long way to go to end the conflict and deliver what the law requires. But, the team working in Bowland have bucket loads of dedication and determination. Lesser mortals would be forgiven for running away from such a contested landscape, yet our team are already planning how to deliver better results next year.
Those of you interested to find out more about our work to recover the Hen Harrier population should come to this Saturday’s AGM in London where they will be able to hear my colleague, Jeff Knott, outline our experience and plans for the future. A sneak preview of his talk is given here.
If you are unable to attend, please do keep an eye out on our Skydancer blog for updates on our Hen Harrier work.
Fate of Hen Harrier nests from the 2015 breeding season in England
Nest monitored by
Local raptor workers
I wonder what proportion of the signatories to Mark Avery's blog are RSPB members. Pretty significant I would guess. I know many dedicated volunteers who have signed the petition, perhaps in the hope that going for broke might achieve some form of licensing but many convinced that a total ban on driven grouse shooting is now the only option (walked-up shooting would remain). Perhaps a hand show at the AGM would give some idea of the numbers of supporters. I suspect that many staff members have also signed the petition, a straw poll at Sandy would be interesting!
Were the shooting industry's response to calls to clean up its act even a grudging acceptance that they may be unable to deal with the rogue element then licensing might be the answer. But the killings of 5 male hen harriers (let's not play their game and by calling them 'disappearances') just shows their utter contempt for conservation when it interferes with the objectives of their 'sport'. Compromise is not in their lexicon so an outright ban is the only answer.
I'm afraid I do feel events are outstripping the RSPB position. What happened this spring as opposition to Hen harrier persecution grew was simply cynical: were there any desire for a compromise, that was the moment for the Grouse industry to make its play. It did exactly the opposite and then went on to do its best to undermine RSPB and others with the sort of claims that belong on Fox news in the US, not here. Even were licensing to come in now there is firstly the risk (as with so many agri-environment schemes) that it is carefully set at a level which does not achieve its aims, and secondly even if it isn't the example of Walshaw Moor surely shows how a Government really on the side of Grouse shooting can easily undermine any system through neutering it's enforcement arm. Personally, I'm on your side to the extent that I would far rather go for compromise but this spring has hardened my attitude - it takes two to tango, and Noone should enter into negotiations from a position of appeasement, which is where the grouse shooters actions have left this debate.
I fully understand that the RSPB does not support the call for a ban, and supports the idea of licensing grouse moors. Many people, myself included, who have signed Mark's petition would be more than happy to get licensing, and really just want the criminality to stop. As this is more likely if the petition reaches 100,000 signatures, I believe supporters of the RSPB should also support the petition. We just want the killing of hen harriers, and other raptors, to stop.
Thanks for the this Alex. The short answer to your question re Mark's petition is that we don't support calls for a ban, we are calling for licensing of driven grouse shooting to deliver better environmental outcomes.
As we have written previously, while we do of course share the anger about the ongoing persecution of birds of prey and have deep concerns about the state of our uplands, we do not consider a call for a ban on grouse shooting to be the right step. This is not because we are constrained by our Charter or our charitable objects, but rather because we think the next rational step from self-regulation is regulation. We also think that the introduction of a licensing system is a proportionate measure in the absence of self-regulation by the shooting industry. Arguably, any legally compliant business would also benefit from such a system as it would prevent unfair competition from those that cause environmental damage as they seek to increase the shootable surplus of grouse.
There appears to be cross-party support for licensing in Scotland and we have developed principles for how licensing would operate. We continue to share these with others that are keen to see positive change. One this is for certain, the status quo is not tolerable. You can read more about our position here www.rspb.org.uk/.../principles-for-licensing-driven-grouse-shooting.aspx
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