How far would you go to raise awareness of an issue close to your heart?
In Henry Morris’ case, the answer is at least 130 miles, up hill and down dale, whatever the weather. This July, the personal trainer from London will be running the equivalent of five marathons through Lancashire and Yorkshire countryside to highlight the plight of the hen harrier. The four-day run will take in the last-known locations of all the hen harriers which have vanished in suspicious circumstances in the two counties.
Henry (in green) with friends at another run
“The aim is to get close to the sites where birds have vanished,” says Henry. “I’m going to run the whole thing, with a few friends, and people are welcome to join us for various sections of the route. The last day, through Nidderdale, will be a good bit to join in with. There’s been a lot of interest already from birding fell-runners who, like me, are upset about the misuse of the uplands. We’ll aim to finish at a pub and have a bit of a party at the end.”
Henry is Yorkshire-born but only recently became aware of the illegal killing of raptors, including hen harriers, which is blighting the uplands he loves.
“I live in London now but I grew up in Yorkshire and spent a lot of time out walking and running. I wasn’t too aware of birds of prey growing up, until the red kites got re-introduced. But they never made it beyond the Skipton-Harrogate Road… it seemed they were disappearing. That’s when I became more aware of raptor persecution and what happens on grouse shooting estates, and the fact that there’s hardly any wildlife up there. My dad is always telling me how he never sees any wildlife while he’s out walking the dog.
“I became quite angry, but couldn’t think what I could do about it. Then I thought about what I’m good at, which is running.”
Hen harriers are on the verge of extinction as a breeding species in England, with illegal killing the main cause. The UK government’s own research tells us that 72% of satellite tagged hen harriers have been illegally killed on or near grouse moors and that a hen harrier is ten times more likely to die or disappear over a grouse moor than anywhere else.
Adds Henry: “It’s quite clear what’s happening, and the people doing it are brazenly pretending that it’s not happening.”
Henry will be dressing as a hen harrier on his run, and will even be wearing a satellite tag of sorts: a GPS tracker as used by runners in ultra marathons.
“This means people at home can follow us online in real time and see where we are. Hopefully we won’t disappear on a grouse moor!”
Henry has also been sent a gift by Chris Packham, in the shape of a custom-made hen harrier hat.
“It’s polystyrene, like a cycle helmet, with a big hen harrier flying above it… I’m going to try and wear that as much as possible!”
Passionate and personable, Henry is just the kind of activist hen harriers need, and has been drumming up support from friends, family and colleagues.
“I’ve been telling all my clients what I’m doing and every single person is gobsmacked about the illegal killing of birds of prey and the misuse of the land up there. They’re amazed it goes on. But they live in the city so they don’t see it.”
“I’ve grown up with lots of friends in the Dales and everyone knows who does this. But they’ve been getting away with it in plain sight for too long. I am hopeful that things can change, but a lot does have to change.”
2019 is proving quite a year for environmental activism, and Henry agrees that more people are sitting up and taking note of the problems facing our wildlife.
“I felt like I needed to do something, and I think many people feel the same way. I talk to people who a couple of years ago might not have given any thought to environmental issues but now they’re listening.”
Having just become a father, Henry is even more conscious of the sort of world we’re going to pass on to future generations.
“Nature means a lot to me, and when I moved to London I missed it a lot. Where I am now, the swifts have just returned and it’s just fantastic hearing them and watching them. They’re probably my favourite birds.”
Despite preparing to sweat it out for these glorious birds, Henry is yet to see a hen harrier himself.
“I’d love to see one. The best possible outcome could be if I saw one while I was running.”
Henry Morris will be running 3-6 July 2019, finishing at The Stonehouse Inn near Thruscross Reservoir, Washburndale for a celebration of hen harriers at 2pm.
Want to join in? On the final day (6 July) Henry will be running 20, 10, and five-mile legs, open to anybody who feels up to it. Superintendent Nick Lyall, Chair of the Raptor Persecution Priority Delivery Group, and members of the RSPB Investigations team will be lacing up their trainers in support.
Find out more on his website: www.thehenharriers.com
Finally, a message from Henry...
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