At the risk of the following article seeming more than a little self orientated I thought that I’d better try and explain why I’ve submitted it. The facts presented speak for themselves, the sentiment behind it is a different matter. An evaluation of the efforts, from a variety of people, over the last decade show that these are not producing the desired results as far as raptor protection in Bowland is concerned. This is in no way criticising all the hard work that has been put in, but we have to face facts! It’s true that holding the line, short term gains, and a consolidation of success in some parts has been enjoyed, but elsewhere the situation is not improving, a fact we must all? recognize and not allow ourselves to accept otherwise. I’m not suggesting that I have a single solution, far from it, but what I do have is time. Time that I’m more than willing to offer, to lend weight to overstretched efforts to bring about permanent change. I’m utterly disgusted by the current situation, it’s immoral and, in this day and age, it can’t be allowed to continue!!
Some thirty years ago I successfully gained a job with the RSPB, a position I was very proud of and enjoyed every minute of until I arranged early retirement in 1999. One area that fell under the aegis of the RSPB NW Region, as it was then known, was the Forest of Bowland in Lancashire, a wild and beautiful area and one that I still miss today despite living on Islay in the Inner Hebrides.
Early on in that twenty year period a major issue arose when several Hen Harrier nests were destroyed, quite deliberately, by local gamekeepers, and details hit the Press. From memory various Hen Harrier corpses were recovered from several nests, many of the dead chicks had been decapitated and their bodies then trodden under foot until the flesh had been reduced to pulp. This was my personal introduction to a problem and conflict that has perennially dogged and drawn down Bowland’s otherwise pristine reputation, even to this day.
A couple of weeks ago I happened across the Raptor Politics web site following discussions I’d had with various past colleagues. For years I’d pursued what I’d felt to be the correct position when relinquishing any job, that of taking an interest, but not involvement. And, to be honest, I was doing a lot of travelling and birding!
Now I feel compelled to break that commitment and come out of retirement to raise a voice, and lend weight, to what is a wholly unacceptable position as far as the persecution of the UK’s raptors is concerned, particularly those in the Forest of Bowland.
Politics, vested interests, tradition, past history, I’m not interested! Neither am I interested in representations from any of the formal institutions relating to ongoing initiatives or policy, worries about treading on toes, delicate balances and such like. Successive press releases from the RSPB and others, and reported court cases, all point to a continuation of illegal activities happening regardless of the best efforts by conservation organizations. It would be churlish to suggest these efforts are not securing some success, but there is clearly a need to cajole as many people as possible into supporting such actions and making them aware of the arrant way in which positive conservation work is being undermined.
Why am I so angry? Because I spent twenty years ( yes, 20 years of my working life fighting to make progress with the desperate plight of Hen Harrier, and other raptors, a situation which today, ten years on, even thirty years on, is palpably similar or even worse now than it was then. No, I’m not criticizing those who have come after and worked on the same theme, except perhaps the careerists and 9 to 5 brigade! Nor am I anti-shooting or against the provision of facilities for its undertaking. What I am against is the indiscriminate persecution by a minority of part of our natural heritage, revered and enjoyed by many more people by proportion, and the arrogant way in which this minority sets itself above the law, whatever station in life they occupy.
Being independent has its strengths, and I’ve no intention of diluting my position or even hiding my identity. Facts and situations will be judged against what any right- minded individual would deem to be correct and fair. The current situation relating to breeding Hen Harriers in England is deplorable! It needs to alter and I’ve no comfort on offer for delicate egos that are questioned in the process
So, judge it to be simply a return to the fold and the availability of an additional voice to lend weight to a subject against which there is a need to see positive, permanent improvement.
Over the next few months various entries will appear on this website dealing with the situation in Lancashire’s Forest of Bowland, as they will on my own Blog too (Islay Birder). Just think of it in terms of the heat being turned up from simmer to boiling and spare time being converted into positive efforts to publicise, with others, the woeful situation raptors are facing at this current time.
Arrogant! Of course, but embracing a sentiment based on what is believed to be right and fair, against which there will be no concessions offered. Alongside this is the opportunity to initiate questions and ensure the truth is out, not just to simply comment and gripe.
Follow this link to the latest hen harrier news reported in Wildlife Extra, in which Natural England state persecution main reason for current decline in Britain.
Above my mantelpiece, is a painting which was presented to me by RSPB Regional Director colleagues when I bowed out early in 1999. Arranged so ably and intuitively by Tim Melling (RSPB it was commissioned from a then local South Yorkshire artist, Tim Wootton, who now lives in Orkney. It depicts a male Hen Harrier crossing a windswept Pennine moor. It’s brilliant and has never lost its charm or vibrancy as far as I’m concerned. Each day it serves to bring joy, nostalgia, appreciation, and now, commitment!
That’s what Hen Harriers should mean to everyone!
Hen Harrier Update 27 July
Today we are able to report that only 10 chicks have so far fledged from all of England’s combined uplands this year. The single remaining nest in the Forest of Bowland containes at least 3 chicks; one eggs still may hatch and will be rechecked this week. One additional nest in the Lake District successfully fledged a further 4 young. This seasons productivity news is very dissapointing, especially as the winter conditions were no worse than in the mid to late 1970′s, when 40 breeding females in Bowland existed. In those early years, winter condions were extream with several weeks of hard frost and heavy snow into April and even early May. Information from many of England’s grouse moors this year indicate grouse number are very high, so food availability does not appear to have been a limiting issue this year for the Hen Harrier. It should not be forgotten, the Hen Harrier when faced with extreams of temperature and low food availability, will always move to lower altitudes around our coastal areas where conditions are more favourable.