I have been in this job for just over a year. In May 2011, I strapped myself into the rollercoaster and let myself go. It has been quite a ride, but I am still smiling and I hope that I have helped save some wildlife on the way.
There are some things that I do in this job that are a real pleasure - such as this weekend's Council visit to the Midlands. It was great to see the work that we are doing with others in Sherwood Forest (with Sherwood Forest Trust and the Forestry Commission), Cannock Chase (with Cemex), Middleton Lakes (with the local Council) and Langford Lowfields (with Tarmac). Four projects at various stages of development and lots of great potential for connecting to people with wildlife. Oh and we saw a few birds too - 93 species including excellent views of Hobby at both Middleton and Langford, Woodlark at Sherwood and Redstart at Cannock Chase. In the annual competition for predicting the number of bird species we see in the weekend, I predicted 87. Close, but no cigar.
But there are some things that I still find difficult to stomach.
Last week we heard that a goshawk's nest had been destroyed in the Peak District. Yet another crime in an area that has suffered a long series of attacks on birds of prey - the most recent confirmed case being Glen Brown, a gamekeeper convicted of using a caged pigeon to lure birds of prey to a trap. The latest incident means that we are now down to just one active goshawk nest in the entire Derwent Valley. A miserable state of affairs.
We are not alone in condemning this illegal activity.
Adult Goshawk in flight, Mike Langman artwork.
Hazel Earnshaw, of Severn Trent Water, said last week: “We are sickened that this protected species has once again been subject to persecution, despite extensive efforts to protect it. The Goshawk should form a natural part of the ecosystem here in the Upper Derwent Valley. We are working closely with the RSPB to protect these birds and to identify the guilty parties."
Derbyshire Police have launched an investigation of this crime and we are offering a reward of £1000 for information leading to a conviction. The Derbyshire Constabulary is encouraging anyone with any information relating to this incident to contact the Police immediately on 101 or call Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555111.
Our wildlife faces many big, complicated challenges: climate change and habitat destruction being just two.
It is therefore frustrating and deeply depressing that in 2012 we still have to report needless and senseless crimes such as the destruction of a goshawk nest. But we will not stop putting a spotlight on the illegal killing of birds of prey, helping the police enforce the law and advocating tougher wildlife legislation.
And this is why, this week I shall focus on the challenge we face in keeping birds of prey flying. Tomorrow, I turn my attention to hen harriers.
What do you think is the right package of measures to stamp out bird crime?
It would be great to hear your views.
Assuming that, for the time being, we are stuck with the scourge on the natural environment that industrial scale game shooting has become I'd suggest that we have to fall back on:
1. A meaningful vicarious liability provision;
2. A licensing system for all game shoots;
3. Licensing of gamekeepers;
4. Possession of a shotgun certificate being conditional on absence of a criminal record;
5. More use of custodial sentencing rather than fines;
6. A Government committed to proper enforcement of existing wildlife protection legislation.
Well I can dream can't I....?
On the non-judicial side I believe that Hen Harrier habitat requirements need further investigation. Why are they relatively common birds of agricultural land just across the channel?
Destruction of a Goshawk sense clearly makes sense to certain minority "interests". One wonders if there is a need to open a debate on the the continuing legality of minority interests that are demonstrably incompatible with the conservation of biodiversity.
This is not an easy one, if it was an answer would have been found before this. There is the example in Scotland where land owners are to be held liable for any killing of birds of prey on their land. This has a lot of merit and is welcome and should be enacted in England and Wales as well but I am not sure that it will provide a complete answer. As an additional measure or instead of that, I would like to see it made COMPULSORY for all land owners of areas such as grouse moors and where major shooting interests take place, to be required to work with the RSPB to carry out regular surveys of their land for raptor species. They would be required to agree with the RSPB an acceptable level of raptor presence on their land for each raptor species such that the quarry they shoot would not be signficantly depleted. If the surveys showed a particular species was exceeding the agreed limit then the RSPB would carry out a relocation programme accordingly. The cost of this work should be relatively small and should be born by the land owner.
I think it is only by working together, land owners and the RSPB, that this problem will really be solved. But I do think the landowners need a firm prod to work with the RSPB (and other conservation groups) and that is why the law needs to be brought in to ensure this happens.
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