Monday, 2 June 2014

Save the Harrier

Reading a local blog the other day I was intrigued by the blogger's obvious excitement when urging readers to sign a new E-Petition that had been started by the ex-Conservation Director of the RSPB, Mark Avery, this is the BIG One the blogger stated.
I had a read of the petition, found at (trawl down to the 28th May) and it is an E-Petition started by Mark Avery in a somewhat tongue in cheek effort to get driven grouse shooting in England banned in order to help protect Hen Harriers from persecution. I say tongue in cheek because he hasn't got a hope in hell's chance of getting the wealthy owners, including Royalty, of the great grouse moors to accept such a thing and pretty much admits that in his petition. However it will obviously appeal to all those hunting antis out there that will sign anything at the drop of a hat if the words ban and shooting are in the title.

Now I have been involved in various forms of conservation for over many, many years and in recent years have been part of a team that counts the numbers of harriers going into evening roost at numerous sites in Kent during the six winter months. At the site that I watch at, Hen Harriers have had a traditional roost for countless years but in the last few years have dwindled down to the fact that this last winter, for the first time, no Hen Harriers were recorded on any of the six roost counts that I carried out. So I know, from actual first hand experience, how badly the Hen Harrier is doing and would be happy to petition for most things that would help the birds but Mr. Avery's petition makes no mention of what he sees as the after effects of such a ban becoming law. Obviously, many of those that have rushed to sign the petition simply presume that such a ban would mean everything suddenly becoming honky-dory overnight and that the harriers will start to breed in much greater numbers because there will then be no nasty shooting types protecting their grouse by shooting and poisoning them - well that sounds great and I'd like to believe it as much as the next person, but come on, it ain't as simple as that.
Would all the people that get profit, wages and pleasure from what is a multi-million pound industry, simply accept such a ban with no spite, would potentially, even more persecution of harriers take place because people would see them as the cause of such a ban, would the spite of estates who until the ban had always left harriers alone, not be brought into the conflict. And let's face it, shooting and poisoning are the more blatant and identifiable ways of killing harriers, a more subtle way is to identify a nest and "accidentally" stand on the eggs as you walk by. There is also then, the huge and costly amount of moorland management that goes into making a moor ideal not only for grouse but for Golden Plover, Curlew, Merlin, Meadow Pipits, etc. etc. Ban grouse shooting and all of that management and it's necessary pest controls will likely stop, might the moors become overgrown, or what would be in place to stop huge moors being grazed to the ground by sheep by the owner as a means of both revenge and making profit.
People who rush to sign petitions need to first put aside their bias for a moment and look at the bigger picture and determine if in the long run, such bans will actually help to protect a particular species. Assuming that the moors will still look as good after a ban, or that the RSPB will simply rush out and buy them is a dream too far.

On a slightly different subject, I found as usual, Robin Page's article in the Telegraph this weekend, interesting, especially where he quoted what Martin Harper (Mark Avery's successor as head of Conservation at the RSPB) had to say when addressing the National Gamekeepers Organisation recently. He told them that the RSPB controlled mink and foxes - apparently 30 mink bit the dust on RSPB reserves last year and 273 foxes were shot on 26 reserves.
Now, as someone who has actually got his hands dirty on nature reserves, I like Robin Page, have known for some years that the RSPB control predators and not just mink and foxes and not always by shooting. But why are the RSPB so reluctant to report these facts in their magazine, they always give glowing reports and photographs of such reserves and what they have achieved, why not tell the whole story of how they have achieved such success. In that way we might end up with RSPB members better educated in the true ways of countryside and reserve management and far less of those that believe that such things don't and shouldn't happen.


  1. A very interesting read Derek.

  2. I think Mark Avery is really trying to raise awareness of the shocking situation regarding persecution by grouse moor owners of Hen Harriers. Hen Harriers are pretty much extinct in England now, yet there should be some 200 pairs in the available habitat. With the amount of grouse not even consumed after being shot, losing a few to predators should be an accepted consequence of managing vast moors to produce high numbers of prey for the profits of a minority. Any petition which causes alarm in the minds of the grouse moor owners who permit, either directly or negligently, this destruction of our country's wildlife is a good thing. Perhaps the responsible owners would be OK but those who flout the law could be punished including vicarious responsibility for the permitted action of their gamekeepers. This would solve the "spite" or "revenge" concern - they would have killed the birds anyway, so it would make little difference but it leaves the repsonsible ones to continue with no ill feeling.

    I am fed up of hearing how these people are the "guardians of the land" and know so much more about how the countryside works than those pesky ignorant bunny cuddlers, yet if it were left to them we'd be in a Victorian nightmare and raptors would be as rare as they were back in those days (we still are when it comes to the Harriers). I do agree with you that the picture is not black and white and some species such as waders still do well on managed grouse moors although it would be nice if more sympathetic management could take place (some more upland forest in appropriate places too). Such big areas of land can no longer be run in this way - there has to be more tolerance of raptors and all big landowners must act in a responsible way towards their local ecosystems. That is the price of land stewardship or you forfeit the "guardians" claim.

    It is time those who own this land woke up to their responsibilities - they can still make a profit, but people are aware of what's been going on unchallenged for too long. Things have got to change, and change fast. This petition is a first warning shot and they need to listen.

  3. Joe,
    Thankfully my posting has prompted the kind of response that I was hoping for and I agree with what you have said and I'm certainly on the side of the harrier. I especially feel that the fact that losing a few grouse to hen harriers from the many that would be anyway wasted, should be acceptable but as always in these situations a few bad apples are spoiling it for the majority. Those landowners are only "guardians of the land" in respect of the fact that because of their shooting interests the moors have remained unchanged as habitat for a few hundred years, what I'm still waiting to hear from the likes of Mark Avery is how they feel that that that same habitat would be protected in the very unlikely event that a blanket ban came into force.
    While some of these landowners, or more importantly their gamekeepers, still do cling on to archaic attitudes to birds of prey that we should never allow to become the norm again, I still feel that many of them know more about the countryside and how it is best managed, than the average "bunny hugger". Some of the nonsense that they spout, about leaving things to nature and it will all balance out, is absolute crap when it comes to managing many of the pest species, something that even the RSPB have now accepted.

  4. Derek, you are certainly on the harrier's side, continuing to help with the winter roost counts even though it must get depressing at times when none show up any more.

    I am concerned that it's not just a "few bad apples", sadly - if it were there would surely be a few Hen Harrier pairs left somewhere in some of the English grouse moors. A few bad apples surely can't eliminate a whole breeding population unless it is more widespread than is apparent at the moment. At best, it shows a tolerance in the game industry of this practice, a way of doing things that is approved of and allowed to continue, and this attitude is the biggest problem. The "good" grouse moor owners should be trumpeting their conservation credentials and denouncing their comrades who are committing illegal acts, but we hear not a peep of condemnation from within their closed ranks. If they don't want to be tarred with the same brush they should speak out and be firm in reporting illegalities and in zero tolerance of abuses by their own employees (eg use of illegal pesticides).

    The habitat thing is interesting - some is very good and biodiverse but other places have been over-managed and support relatively little apart from heather and grouse.

    The "good" landowners should proudly make clear the Curlews, Wheatears, Merlins and so on that their land management supports AS WELL AS tolerating and protecting Hen Harriers. They need to distance themselves from the irresponsible greedy ones rather than tacitly support them.
    That said, you are right - it is true that certain areas and in certain circumstances some species do need managing and we are a long way from being able to leave it to nature if we want a wide diversity of wildlife to thrive in our damaged landscape - some is just too vulnerable and would be elimnated by generalist/opportunist species. Thanks as always for your interesting post and your thoughts.

  5. Derek, remember that a member's motion got deer coursing banned on National Trust land, and parliament banned fox hunting. So it can be down in the face of powerful owners.

  6. I agree Sidney and hope that you are right but we're talking about land that is owned by very wealthy people who are also in some cases, MP's or royalty, so perhaps not so moveable.
    As for a ban, well, fox hunting still takes place here on Sheppey in the traditional way so a ban hasn't worked that well.