What future for England’s Hen Harriers?” Response.

[singlepic id=211 w=320 h=240 float=left]The RSPB recently put out the above release dealing with the current status of Hen Harriers in England, which makes depressing reading. May I urge everyone to read it either at the RSPB’s site or on the Raptor Politics website, where there are other articles too on the subject.

Such caused me to think deeply about where we are, or need to be, on this matter of raptor persecution. Much vaunted admittedly, but necessary until such time as birders and the general public rise up and declare that it has now to stop. ENOUGH IS ENOUGH!!

We’ve to have no doubts on the issue….there is no justification for such actions, which arise from prejudice, intolerance, commercial gain and a flagrant breaking of the law. Hen Harrier is included on Schedule 1 of the Wildlife and Countryside Act ( as amended ) and any interference with its status attracts severe penalties, if proven. It’s quite clear cut with no exemptions. Now, forget who owns the land, the pedigree of their employees, and so on, the fact of the matter is that such actions are against the law and an errant and arrogant minority are setting themselves above its provisions, not a luxury most responsible people exercise! It has to be said that there are many within the shooting fraternity who feel the situation has gone too far. These illegal actions are the bedrock of the depressed numbers and distribution in England and the virtual absence of the species from parts of Scotland, e.g. Angus, arising as a consequence of the actions of a few who are actively setting themselves above the law. This is why it is so important that the proposed legislation goes through in Scotland whereby landowners can face a fine, or imprisonment, if any of their staff are convicted of killing birds of prey. The official term is “vicarious liability” and Roseanna Cunningham ( Scotland’s Environment Minister ) must be congratulated on progressing the matter.

Let’s take an honest look at the “tools” available to combat such activities. The voluntary sector, notably RSPB to their credit, have spent endless sums and devoted an immense amount of time to the issue. But it is not producing the required results!
Keeping the issue alive is not an easy task and repeatedly finding a focal point for action is difficult. Extensive political activity is also regulated by Charity Commission regulation, so there are major constraints associated with any campaigning. Government agencies similarly suffer from constraints, given their formal position within the Administration, and unilateral action is difficult. The Police, whatever their commitment, are under immense permanent pressure and the cutting back imminently of services will not help in this regard.

Have things changed in the last ten, twenty, thirty years? Not really and, therefore, these time honoured approaches should be accepted as having failed and new ones adopted. So what might comprise these alternatives?

Doubtless talk of licencing and quotas will, and must, proceed, but I fear the road to adoption will be paved with frustration and I still have little confidence the erring minority will faithfully pledge and maintain support. It seems to me that, rather than endlessly pouring out depressing results about Hen Harrier productivity, we should turn our attention directly on those responsible for the situation and not only of their actions, but the position being adopted by them. Divert the concern relating to Hen Harriers and direct it at those who exhibit a repeated willingness to ignore the law. Whilst many members of the public don’t give a damn about Hen Harriers they would bridle at the thought that people were operating an industry based on illegality and setting themselves above the law, and very often people who should know better too! The demographics and attitudes of many people have changed with increasing urbanisation and countryside sports don’t automatically enjoy the respect they did in many quarters. I’m buoyed up by the thought that shooting itself could see a backlash of opposition if its arrogant minority fail to change their ways. I’m not against shooting, and feel it far better some form of balance should be struck, rather than the sport and tradition increasingly have to fight off sanction and regulation….but only if the practitioners recognize the right of others to enjoy the components of the countryside they attach value to. To galvanize support for targeted opposition and regulation should not prove difficult, on paper at least. However I’m not convinced many who voice off about these matters ever really get down to doing something about it and so they must carry some responsibility for allowing the status quo to continue and Hen Harriers to slide into gradual local extinction.

An extensive co-ordinated campaign is needed, not just a 210,000 petition from the RSPB, but a joint one from Wildlife Trusts, Ramblers Association, Natural History Societies, BTO members, in fact everyone who’s affronted by the current abuse, plus members of the general public approached through Facebook and other facilities.

Fifty letters received by each and every elected member of our respective national and country governments on a given day would be a good start to get the onslaught under way. Other initiatives could follow. Similar efforts have been tried before, of course they have, but there is a need for a fresh beginning and an expression of sincere opposition ( not concern, things need to go up a gear! ) to ensure the subject is never far away from the attention of those who could effect the necessary changes. It’s a numbers game, and the expression of what the public feels is right that are the key elements, coupled with comments on confidence and future support (or its withdrawal!) that indicate to government members people are fed up.[singlepic id=212 w=320 h=240 float=right]

In the end, instead of persistently grumbling about things , it’s down to us to do something about it or concede the loss. The rhetoric has not changed in thirty years! Then we believed various initiatives, compromises, legislation changes would do the trick. The truth is they haven’t and a drastic change in approach is required.

John S. Armitage

Islay Birder

19 comments to What future for England’s Hen Harriers?” Response.

  • Mike Price

    I agree whole heartedly, there is a real need to increase the pressure upon these people to respect the law and protect the raptors.
    At the moment those wishing to illegally kill raptors are seemingly holding all the cards they are quite happy with the situation as it is (a small chance of being caught coupled with paultry sentences), there needs to be a reason for them to change, there has to be co-ordinated campaign that show’s the harm that is being done.
    There has clearly been some improvements on some species in some area’s but that has to be extended to cover all species in all areas.

  • James

    Fine words indeed, and I wholeheartedly support the sentiment that illegal killing of harriers has to stop.

    I’m not sure what you’re offering that’s new, however. This sounds like a rallying cry for yet another petition for yet more legislation against something that’s already illegal. Escalating the offence from ‘very illegal’ to ‘very very illegal’ is unlikely to change anything.

    We certainly need a radical new approach and I believe, for the reasons you cite, engaging with gamekeepers and shooting estates is the only way forward, no matter how distasteful some raptor enthusisasts might find it.

  • Mike Price


    As we have discussed in the past, I don’t see that there is any other way forwards, unless we can get the support of the estates then there is little progress to be made.

    How we get that support is the crux of the problem, clearly there has to be something to make it attractive to the estates to change, or unattractive to continue with the current regime.

    I guess I have stepped over the line where I was an innocent bystander and have started to take an active interest and involvement in the well being of the raptors in my area.

    I have certainly invested quite a lot of time and effort in trying to be aware of what the present situation is and to be completely honest a lot of the information I can gleen comes from secondhand information and shows little in the way of real scientific fact, that said if you read my reply to the previous thread I think those facts are starting to come about and are being investigated in a way that will prove or disprove the suspected levels of persecution of raptors on managed heather moors.
    I think with information like that there comes the opportunity to put pressure people to change their ways (and hopefully they will actively seek to change), pressure that in the past could be shrugged off as nothing more than mud flinging.

  • John Miles

    James I have worked with game keepers most of my life even as far as stopping one Buccleugh keeper from going to court. I even managed to get many keepers to stop killing birds of prey in one large area. Why it changed was due to the land owners/shooting syndicates. One keeper lost his job as soon as a new owner purchased the estate he was working on. The way keepers are paid in cash [non taxable!!] is yet another way to encourage keepers to kill any thing that MAY take a game bird. If changes in the law are needed then also the way estates are run in a ‘Victorian fashion’ must change as well.

  • Mike Price

    I forgot to add that increasing responsibility really should, in my opinion be enforced.
    Added pressure and working together is all very well but when you can sit in the background and not be directly effected by the actions of your employees it sends out the wrong message and offers a hole in any legislation that really should be closed

    • TerryPickford

      The Environment Agency have been playing host between the shooting estate Landowners, gamekeepers and conservationists in the on going Hen Harrier debate in the hope of finding a joint solution to this problem. Despite spending hundreds of thousands of pounds of tax payers money, to date nothing concrete has been achieved. The estate owners of course hold all the cards, because if these talks can be delayed as long as possible the status quo, i.e. the killing, will continue until the Hen Harrier in England finally becomes extinct thus resolving the problem at a stroke for the estates.

      • Mike Groves

        Hi Terry,

        Please correct me if I’m wrong but are we virtually saying that all grouse estates in England don’t want any breeding harriers?
        I would personally like to think that this is not the case and that only peer pressure from within their own landowner community is stopping some estates consider a change of heart towards this raptor.
        Surely if we could change this mindset then I’m convinced that with a little good will and common sense on both sides progressive movements could be made after decades of stalemate with this superb raptor.

        • TerryPickford

          Hi Mike, I do not know what estates want or don’t want, they do not confide in me. All anyone can say is that the lack of harriers on all other estates in England except the UU Bowland estate in my view speaks for itself.

  • DEAN

    Good afternoon
    We’ve debated often about toughening laws,(generally popular),and accepting some sort of ceiling,(contentious).However if the estates are to survive,and we are NOT an anti blood sports campaign, then the latter must surely be implemented at some point.Nationally we have a healthy and widespread population of Peregrine. How would people feel if some form of non lethal control was a possibility now, where they are deemed to be causing a problem?I ask because if an alliance of interested parties was to be built,as has been suggested,then this question has to be confronted.My own view would be that so long as the overall population was secure, then endorsing such a move would send out a positive message of our willingness to recognise the rights of the estates to exist as viable businesses, which should pay off with regard to the HH.

  • James

    Sounds to me like too much talk and not enough action. BASC, SGA and NGO have all come out with strong public statements against killing raptors. I’m sure they would understand the potential for positive media coverage if they were to cooperate with specific raptor projects on members’ estates. Has anyone asked them?

  • Dave

    All sounds like the usual hot air thats been talked about for decade after decade & its going to get you exactly where its got you before & where you are at the moment, the status quo or even worse. No ideas will make a jot of difference to reduce harrier persecution unless there are a series of prosecution against people for pesecuting them; to date no one in England as ever been prosecuted for shooting a harrier & if that never happens neither will the wholesale destruction of the species. No amount of legislation, dialogue, petitions or public opinion will change the attitude of those who are minded to carry out their actions; they have their reasons & as long as they get away with it with impunity they ain’t going to cease. It seems to be the same old story of all talk & no action & maybe no harriers soon.

  • James

    All very well Dave, but how do you propose gathering evidence of an act that takes a fraction of a second to commit and is quickly buried? If it was that simple we’d have it fixed by now.

  • nirofo

    The general members of the public don’t even know what’s going on in their countryside, nearly every time a Raptor is found poisoned or trapped or shot the circumstances and location of the dirty deed are supressed by the RSPB, the Police and anyone else who could be in a position to do something about it, very rarely does it reach the media. How many times have you seen the reports of Raptors killed with no mention of the Estate where it happened, it’s almost as if the RSPB and others are afraid to divulge any information in case it comes back and bites them on the backside.

    I know some of these estate owners hold extremely high positions in our society, all the more reason they should be exposed for the criminals that they are. Instead of sitting on the information it should be fed to the media, such as Sky News and News of the World etc, it should also be posted on just about any blog you can think of, including Twitter and Facebook. Name and shame them, that should be our game, if they want to continue playing dirty, so should we.


  • Pied Flycatcher

    Excellent article John, and agreed ENOUGH IS ENOUGH! With talk alone, time for the Hen Harrier is running out. Concerted, concentrated action HAS to be taken soon for the sake of our birds. I must take issue with the fact that you mention ‘a minority’ are taking out birds of prey. This phrase is often bandied about in an effort to appease various people. As Terry Pickford states, the complete lack of breeding harriers and almost complete lack of other raptors on upland shooting estates speaks volumes about the problem. It’s not just the land owners and keepers either. If anyone here takes the time to read the shooting press, they will know that contributors and readers (through letters) show a very vindictive attitude to raptors which will eventually ‘destroy’ their sport if control measures and culls are not brought in. They always hide behind the ‘songbird’ argument to hide real intentions as well as to gain support from the general public. Indeed one recent letter printed in The Shooting Times suggested a campaign should be launched to “show the public footage of raptors slaughtering our wildlife” to gain more support for control! It seems we are up against extremely Victorian attitudes.
    So yes, the pressure on the government must not stop! This problem has to be kept in the limelight.

  • Dave

    James, I don’t know if the Onekind officer thought it was simple or not, but he had the gumption to go out & gather the evidence that has just secured a conviction against a poisoner in the Leadhills. He’s put the RSPB to shame. The best you get from them is the infrequent bemoaning of the situation. But it takes action & that includes being pro-active. If their are crimes against hen harriers let us know who the criminals are. Thats fundamental. Anything less will make not an iota of difference.

  • James

    If anyone has evidence of a crime, I’d hope they’d go to the police with it. I don’t always see eye to eye with Onekind (not least on their animal rightist rebranding) but you have to admire the dedication and gumption of that chap.

    That’s distinct from twittering and facebooking suspicions, without due process of law (which runs a real risk of legal action for libel).

    If we’re honest there are times and places where raptors aren’t welcome – many householders don’t want their blue tits nabbed by a sparrowhawk, and it’s reasonable to consider how to use legal methods of deterrence, physical barriers, etc. Which is not to say that illegal methods are ever justified or acceptable.

  • John Miles

    There is one simple method to stop Sparrowhawks eating your Blue Tits – Stop feeding. You are making it easy for sparrowhawks and some of the bird tables have no cover at all so the birds have to fly distance to find cover when they are attacked. The multi £million bird food industry can not give any proof that they are keeping species alive only that folk like to see the birds in their garden. One incident I had with a land owner was that he came into an RSPB shop to buy a new bird table. When asked why he needed it he replied because the old one was demolished by his shot gun trying to remove a Sparrowhawk!!

  • James

    That’s rather similar to what I told the “birdloving” RSPB member who asked me to shoot her sparrowhawk. Her face was a picture when a shooter refused to shoot a bird of prey: Does not compute!