Guest blog by Paul Morton – Lush Campaigns, to celebrate raising £100,000 for satellite tagging of hen harriers over the coming years.
It’s always good to start off a story with a bit of nostalgia, especially when one of your favourite birds is involved. Baz Luhrmann (remember him? No? Sunscreen? oh never mind) famously philosophised that nostalgia is a form of advice that you drag up from the past and distribute to unsuspecting victims. Well, I’m glad that an experience I had when I was 10 years old enabled me to advise 33 year old me to take note and remember that wildlife, nature and particularly male hen harriers are beautiful….never to be forgotten (or lost).
You see, I live on the edge of Poole Harbour, a stones throw away from RSPB Arne Nature Reserve, a great place for winter birds of prey, then and now. 10 year old me was sat in the Shipstal Hide with my mum, watching avocets, curlew and redshank, when a gentleman with a scope sat next to me shouted out 'HEN HARRIER!'. Now, one of my favourite hobbies was reading my Collins Field Guide over and over and I had a mental note in my head of all birds I was expecting to see in Poole Harbour during my life time and hen harrier certainly wasn’t on that list (neither was great northern diver, ring ouzel or red kite to be perfectly honest with you)! Slightly puzzled, I asked if I could take a look and what I saw I’ll never forget. A male hen harrier quartering along the spartina fringes of Gold Point, a finger of land that points out into the harbour. Star struck and speechless I watched it for what seemed like hours but must have only been seconds before it carried on over the marsh and behind the woodland never to be seen again. I felt like I had won in life already and nothing could better this experience….ever!
Fast-forward 15 years and I somehow managed to wangle a job at RSPB Arne nature reserve as an Information Officer, a job that required me to educate and enthuse people about the reserves wildlife...and enthuse I did. I was at Arne for two years and loved my time there, saw some amazing things and met some incredible people. Yet, without doubt, my highlight at Arne would be bunking off 20 minutes early (sorry Lynne) during the winter, and going to watch hen harriers before they went into roost. A spectacle that still needs me to pick my jaw up off the ground after the birds have gone to bed. Anyone that knows me will know I can get a little over excited and distracted when it comes to birds and wildlife and get so pent up with excitement, adrenaline and anxiety - often all at the same time! Luckily I’ve learnt to channel these emotions by campaigning for change and action.
Fast-forward another four years and I’m sat with the Lush campaigns team (which is where I spend a percentage of my work time) and we’re discussing campaign ideas. For some people (including me prior to working for them) it may come as a surprise just how strong Lush are as a campaigning organisation, fighting hard for human rights, animal welfare and environmental injustice. When it was announced in 2014 that only four pairs of hen harrier had successfully bred in England we felt compelled to get involved to try and help promote the issue to our customers. A campaign was set up through all our UK Lush shops, where we provided a website for people to get all the info they needed about this illegal activity, as well as a politely worded postcard for people to sign….destination Buckingham Palace. Over the course of the month more than 20,000 Lush customers signed postcards and added their voice to our plea for the illegal killing to stop. This was ‘high street conservation’ at its very best and we even got to take a trip up to Buckingham Palace to hand over the signed postcards. Surprisingly they didn’t open the main front gates for us and welcome us through with a horned fan fair, rather they let us in through the small side gate along Buckingham Palace Road, you know…the entrance where they deliver the fish. Still, our and the public's message was clear and we all kept our fingers crossed and our breath held.
One year on and what had changed? Well, not a lot to be honest. There was a slight rise in Hen Harrier breeding success from four to six pairs, but at the same time five adult males had ‘disappeared’ from active nests during the breeding season and it seemed we were back to square one. It also seemed the obvious approach was to work with and help the RSPB with their Hen Harrier Life+ project by raising enough money to try and satellite tag as many Hen Harrier chicks as possible over the coming years.
OVER TO THE GENERAL PUBLIC… In July 2015 (and with less than a week's notice), the Lush manufacturing team designed and built a prototype bath bomb in the shape of a male hen harrier against a setting sun, which looked and smelt incredible. Admittedly, the prototype was about the size of a dinner plate, so after a quick re-design and tweak, our product was ready and we were now almost ready to throw the challenge over to the public to start raising money for hen harrier conservation. There was one small problem, we didn’t have a name for our Sicilian lemon and liquorice masterpiece, so over to Chris Packham to come up with a name…."Skydancer – Far from the Madding Guns".
Skydancer went on sale in early August 2015 and here we are only seven months later having now raised £100,000 for hen harriers thanks to the wonderful support of our Lush customers. We’re over the moon with this result, and can’t thank everyone enough for their contribution towards this campaign.
So to finish off, do I think we’ll see a rise in breeding hen harriers over the coming five, ten, fifteen years? Well, yes I do. Not just because I’m a hopeless optimist but because I also believe in the power of people. Right across the country there are people fighting for this cause and all it needs is a little co-ordination, lateral thinking and dogged determination to fight for our environment and its hen harriers now and in years to come.
The LIFE Project would also like to thank the Lush staff involved in running an awareness-raising event with local RSPB staff at the Aberdeen store on 20th and 21st February where another 88 bath bombs were sold, proceeds of which have gone to the cause.
Can we have a shower gel as well? I don't like baths but I do love hen harriers.
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