Guest poem – The Blood and the Purple (to mark Hen Harrier Day) by John Smart

HenHarrier3~I and a colleague, who does much work for the Essex Wildlife Trust, attended the ‘Hen Harrier Day’ protest event on Sunday, at Derwent Water in the Peak District. It was heartening to mingle with so many like-minded folk who are appalled at the persecution of raptors across the grouse moors. And even more dismayed that the hunting and shooting fraternity has not attempted to reach a compromise on the issue.

Bertha’s stair rods did not dampen our spirits but seemed to add emphasis to the resolve. In the face of adversity as it were!

I know I speak for a lot of us when I say,

Keep the pressure up!



The Blood and the Purple ~

[To Mark Hen Harrier Day]


In a habitat of raw elements

Squalls sweep by in chilled flurries

Across the ridges and carved valleys

All along the waving folds of Calluna

Thrives the bilberry and the sundew

And the upland ways of wild things


A theatre for a Circus turn

Soars adeptly in his cyaneus livery

The laws of physics surpassed!

Skydancing above the purple haze!

Crazy spirals and showy switchback!

Adorns the bright broad skies


On the killing ground of the driven

Trodden in and stamped upon

Lay crushed by whim and profit!

The budding dance troupe no more

In the blood and the purple

Do they not acknowledge our treasure?




The phrase ‘purple haze’ was first used by Charles Dickens in 1861 in ‘Great Expectations’.

And later re-penned by Jimi Hendrix.



20 things you must do at the Bird Fair


Recognise anyone?  Cartoon by Ralph Underhill @cartoonralph

Recognise anyone? Cartoon by Ralph Underhill @cartoonralph

  1. Buy a copy of A Message from Martha
  2. Miss the opening ceremony (it’s not exactly Danny Boyle) but if you find yourself waking up at the end of it then do stay for an interesting talk by Tristan Reid about running for Turtles Doves and some other bloke about a bird that’s been extinct for very nearly a century
  3. Buy a raffle ticket from Birding for All
  4. Visit some non-birdy stands – Butterfly Conservation, Plantlife, LACS, British Dragonfly Society, Buglife and some others too
  5. Read the programme so that you don’t go ‘Damn, I’ve missed it
  6. Subscribe to Birdwatch – the magazine that supported Hen Harrier Day
  7. Drink some beer
  8. Have an ice-cream
  9. See a 6ft tall Hen Harrier
  10. See a 5ft 2in tall ginger-headed boy who made a 6ft tall Hen Harrier
  11. Tell Carry Akroyd that she is responsible for two of the very best book jackets of the year; A Message from Martha and Tweet of the Day
  12. Tell Martin Davies that it won’t be the same next year without him – after 26 years of co-organising the Bird Fair
  13. Look up occasionally and see how many birds of prey you can see over the three days
  14. Visit the BTO stand and tell them that the Atlas was wonderful, Birdtrack is wonderful, the Cuckoo project is wonderful and they are all rather wonderful
  15. Visit the Cornell Lab of Ornithology stand – they may talk in a slightly odd accent but they know their birds, and actually, they know your birds too!
  16. See how many points you can get over the three days by spotting (one point each) the following: Chris Packham, Tim Appleton, Mike Clarke, Stephanie Hilborne, Mike Dilger, David Lindo, Bill Oddie, Martin Warren, Matt Shardlow, Martin Davies, Richard Porter, Findlay Wilde, Stephen Moss, Conor Jameson, Andy Clements, Ed Drewitt, Ieuan Evans, Debbie Pain, Ian Wallace, Ian Newton.
  17. Visit the Birdlife Malta stand and ask them how you can help
  18. Go to Bird Brain of Britain and pretend you knew all the answers (Saturday 3pm)
  19. Have another ice-cream?
  20. You did get that copy of A Message from Martha didn’t you?

Martha ends


A Swift exit?

By Wunderwanderer (Self-photographed) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

By Wunderwanderer (Self-photographed) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Last year, the last evening with Swifts above my house was 8 August. This year, my last record so far, was the morning of 9 August before heading off to the Peak District.

Are they really gone? I have seen them on evenings at home after days at the Bird Fair before – we’ll see.

Remember this poem which was a Guest Blog by Steve Halton just three months ago?

Summer slips away…


Hen Harrier Day – some ‘thank you’s

Hen-Harrier-Day-300pxI was thanked a lot on Saturday, Sunday and subsequently for organising the Hen Harrier Day event in the Peak District. It really didn’t take much organising – it took a bit of nerve though!

Here is a run-through of the roles of organisations and individuals in making Hen Harrier Day happen.  Some people’s roles have been omitted at their own request, either because they are too modest to want any credit or because they don’t want their bosses to know how much they helped.

Most of this list is related to the Peak District event, because that’s where I was most closely involved, but it can’t be said enough that Birders Against Wildlife Crime (in the shape of Alan Tilmouth) organised the Northumbria event,  and BAWC attempted to arrange some other events in Yorkshire and Cumbria but these weren’t in the end possible (maybe next year?), the Northwest raptor Protection Group organised the event in the Forest of Bowland and some bloke on Twitter called @ashleywatts3 (I’m guessing he’s called Ashley Watts, myself) organised the event in Dorset.

Charlie Moores of BAWC has worked tirelessly (although I think he did get a bit tired actually) producing podcasts, writing blogs and other text, tweeting and generally has been a driving force for Hen Harrier Day. And he’s been incredibly supportive to me at times when I have needed the equivalent of a ‘hug’ over the phone.

Chris Packham and his team (including Ruth, Gerry, Jez, Adam, Nick) promoted the day, designed a T-shirt, attended and filmed proceedings, arranged and did media interviews, added over 100,000 Twitter followers to the thunderclap (@chrisgpackham) and Chris made a perfect speech on the day.  Also, only a few people will know, by definition, that Chris was almost the last person to leave the site – he stopped and talked to everyone who wanted a word with him, or an argument, or a photograph. Big thanks to him and his team.

Anthony Roberts of BAWC designed the exquisite logo for Hen Harrier Day (@zedanthony).

Aurellio33, also known as Chris, for writing the Hen Harrier Day song that accompanies the video of the day.

The RSPB set up the HHDay thunderclap (which reached 2.3m people), added their Twitter account to it, promoted Hen Harrier Day and sent four staff (officially) to the Peak District event.

The Wildlife Trusts also supported Hen Harrier Day, added their many individual trust Twitter accounts to the thunderclap, were noticeable on the day with many banners and placards from the Derbyshire WT and Sheffield WT but also the England Director of the Wildlife Trusts, Stephen Trotter, was there in person too.

The Hawk and Owl Trust attended the event with a banner, staff and their Chair, Philip Merricks.

The National Trust gave their moral support to the day but did not, disappointingly, add their Twitter account to the thunderclap – and that would have made a huge difference in social outreach.

The Peak District National Park were helpful in the planning of the event, and facilitated advice on choosing the best location for it.  They gave moral support to the event and their rangers on the ground, on the day, were part of the event. It’s a shame that the Chief Exec of the PDNP, Jim Dixon, was seen by many to disparage the event, an event against wildlife crime in his National Park (and our National Park), in a personal capacity, in an article in The Times the day before the event.

Severn Trent, who own the site where the event took place, needed a bit of nudging before they came to terms with the fact that it was going to happen but were very jolly about it all on the day. I guess torrential rain is a good day for a water company!

The Wilde family (Harley, Findlay, Heather and Nigel) brought the 6-foot tall ‘Harry the harrier’ on the day and it became a focal part of proceedings. Harry and the Wilde family will be appearing at the Bird Fair over the weekend!

A big thank you to Barry Gardiner (and Caroline) for attending the event as the only MP to come to a Hen Harrier Day event – as far as I know.  Please take the message back to Labour that tackling wildlife crime should be a manifesto issue and an election issue.

The Green Party of England and Wales supported Hen Harrier Day and added their Twitter account to the thunderclap – many thanks!

Two Twitter accounts, @irinagreenvoice and @themoceanvibe, each added over 150,000 Twitter followers to the thunderclap.

The League Against Cruel Sports supported the day and added their Twitter account to the thunderclap.

Lush promoted Hen Harrier Day in their shops, and much else about Hen Harriers besides, and added their Twitter account to the thunderclap.

Birdwatch magazine promoted the day and the issues in their August issue.  Dominic Mitchell has been a great support on this subject and I’m glad I write a monthly column for them.

Rare Bird Alert has also promoted the day incredibly well – thank you to them – and it was good to have a chat with Brian Egan on the day too.

Raptor Persecution Scotland attended the day and is the best, in my opinion, source of news and comment on raptor persecution issues on the internet.

I’ve sent out a lot of emails to thank people for their help and will be sending out more for days to come but in case I forget you – thank you!  And there may well be people or organisations who I should be thanking here – point them out if you spot ones I’ve missed (there are bound to be some).

Pictures and videos of the day can be found here.

And lastly, I’d like to mention moorland owners, managers and gamekeepers who made it all necessary.  There was at least one person convicted of a wildlife crime present at the event, and the Director of the Moorland Association seemed to be filming the whole thing too.  I hope they take the message back that we are serious – and we will win!

E-petition to ban driven grouse shooting has passed 14,000 signatures.



And at the end of the Inglorious 12th…

Peak HH Day G Shorrock RSPB_017

…over 14,000 folk have signed the e-petition to ban driven grouse shooting (making it the 11th most successful Defra-related e-petition ever).

This is the summer of the Hen Harrier.

Things are changing.

You are making that change happen.

Thank you.


BAWC-220-x-220pxhen harrier(1)

Photo: Tim Melling

Photo: Tim Melling


The media war

1408 p001 cover_with comp v2.inddFirst things first, no-one much would be talking about Hen Harriers today if it weren’t for Hen Harrier Day and an e-petition to ban driven grouse shooting.  Well done us!  Standing in the rain in Lancashire, Northumberland and Derbyshire (and in the sun in Dorset – yes, I’m envious) is changing the story.

Chris Packham roundly trounced the Moorland Association on the Today Programme this morning (listen here after 1 hour 22 minutes  – just before the sport)).  Amanda Anderson tried the ‘cuddled by a keeper argument’ to persuade the world that grouse moor management is good for Hen Harriers even though there are practically no breeding Hen Harriers left in England.  And she couldn’t quite bring herself, or her organisation, to agree that gamekeepers kill Hen Harriers ‘it may well have happened’.  It’s understandable that the Moorland Association doesn’t want the world to think that its membership has quite a few criminals embedded within it.

Matt Ridley penned an article in yesterday’s Times along the lines that gamekeepers and grouse moor owners are great conservationists. He omitted to say that most of the people convicted of crimes against birds of prey, hardly the badge of honour for your finest nature conservationist, are gamekeepers. How could this have slipped his mind? Perhaps because he is the brother-in-law of green-blob hating ex-Defra Secretary of State, Owen Paterson, and the nephew of the late Nicholas Ridley, and is himself now the 5th Viscount Ridley.  Matt and I knew each other well, and were friends, at Oxford a long time ago; he is very bright but our view on the world is rather different these days. Matt trots out his opinions in his Times piece but any ecologist would be shocked by the nonsense he writes. For example, Black Grouse and Merlin would be in danger of dying out if it weren’t for gamekeepers apparently. In which case grouse shooting ought to be our greatest export saving the wildlife of Canada, Norway and Russia but apparently those countries think that their nature can just about rub along without all that tweed killing the predators and then another lot of tweed killing the grouse. But The Times readership may have lapped it up…

…except of course those people who read (pronounced ‘red’ not ‘reed’ of course) the Times for Simon Barnes’s rather different take on the world. After Jim Dixon’s awkwardly worded piece on Hen Harriers on Saturday (see comments on this blog including several quite reasonable ones from Jim himself (he sounds slightly, just slightly, sorry for his choice of words)0 and now Viscount Ridley’s paeon of praise for the gamekeeping ‘profession’ it seems very clear where The Times’s heart lies on this matter.

The Telegraph is certainly no better – Robin Page thinks that if Hen Harriers are allowed to come back they will wipe out the Lapwing.

Both Ridley and Page have to have a go at the RSPB in their columns. I’m not sure why exactly – it’s not as though the RSPB has been incredibly outspoken in its condemnation of grouse shooting over the last few days. I guess it’s just a habit for ‘real countrymen’ with column inches to fill.

It’s a bit disappointing that there is no mention at all, as far as I can see, of any of this in the Guardian or the Independent.  Pray, why not?

I wouldn’t say that we are winning the media war, but I would say, again, that no-one would be talking about Hen Harriers today if it weren’t for birders such as Birders Against Wildlife Crime, Chris Packham and others, aided and abetted by Birdwatch (though not by Birdwatching as a few people have mentioned), Rare Bird Alert, the League Against Cruel Sports, the Green Party and a few others.  Everybody is now talking about the lack of Hen Harriers as a problem that must be solved and although the Moorland Association can’t bring itself to admit that amongst its members are likely to be many of the criminals who are responsible for the lack of Hen Harriers in England, much of the rest of the world is beginning to realise that is the case.

The e-petition that will most easily and unbureaucratically put an end to this nonsense is here and is heading for 14,000 signatures fairly quickly. If it gets there by 0838 tomorrow morning that will be inside 11 weeks – a remarkable achievement of public outrage at wildlife crime.  This e-petition is currently the 11th most-signed ever referring to Defra’s area of responsibility and is in the top 1% of such e-petitions. Your signature can push it even higher up the list.






Hen Harrier Day – the video

Hen-Harrier-Day-300pxTo get a true feeling for how wet, but how inspiring, it really was click here. Some people are finding it difficult to make this link work (it works for me!) so please try this


And to help bring an end to driven grouse shooting click here.


The Times they are a-changing

Hen-Harrier-Day-300pxGood bye Simon Barnes and hello Jim Dixon in Saturday morning’s Times.  That’s somewhat ironic given that Simon wrote about the lack of raptors in the Peak District and Jim is the Chief Executive of the Peak District National Park.

Jim emailed me to say he was sorry that he couldn’t come to our protest rally in his National Park but his ears were probably burning on Sunday morning as his name was mentioned. Quite a few local naturalists were surprised and incensed that Jim wrote, presumably in a personal capacity, ‘…a bird that has a proven disruptive influence on wild grouse exists uneasily with raising large bags of grouse for sport. The naturalists will be angry tomorrow, but it’s hard to see anger doing any practical good for hen harriers. Enlightened moorland owners and a new generation of keepers who show respect for nature hold the future of this special bird in their hands‘.

Some saw that as unnecessaily understanding of the criminal activities that have reduced hen harriers to such low numbers in the English uplands, and unnecessarily dismissive of the views of the people whose taxes pay for the National Park activities.  It might also be seen as a little presumptuous to write about a group of people’s views many days ahead of them expressing those views, and a little odd not to come and see if your guess about their views was right or not. Well, that’s what I heard people say, but Jim didn’t, because he wasn’t with the sodden 570 on Sunday morning.  If he had been, he would have found a lot more smiles than anger.

Simon Barnes is irreplaceable…


A Peak Day

Photo: Guy Shorrock

Photo: Guy Shorrock

When I wrote in my blog of 1 January that I would help to organise a peaceful protest against Hen Harrier persecution in August it was a little like jumping off a cliff – with my eyes shut!  It was my way of committing myself to do something even though I didn’t know how, where or when – but I did know why.

Yesterday I landed after that long jump – on a wet patch of grass in a crowd of 570 others in the pouring rain in the Upper Derwent Valley in the Peak District.  And despite the torrents of rain – I couldn’t have been happier.

As we gathered at 10am we knew that not only were three other events happening (in Lancashire, Northumberland and, of all places, Radipole in Dorset) but also 2.3 million social media messages were being sent across the world, and, in fragrant Lush stores across the UK, Sunday shoppers were learning about Hen Harriers.

Never before have people started talking about Hen Harriers in July, way ahead of the Inglorious 12th (the start of the Red Grouse shooting season), and kept the conversation going for so long.  Never before have so many people learned that 300 pairs of Hen Harriers are missing from England’s uplands because they are killed, illegally, by some in the grouse shooting industry.  Never before have so many birders come together and said that this criminality must stop.

In April 1932, a few miles from where we stood, sodden, in the rain, a group of people carried out a mass trespass on Kinder Scout to reclaim access to the moors for the people,  Maybe, yesterday we, the sodden 570, started to reclaim the wildlife for those moors. We were standing in a National Park which has a blemished and tarnished reputation because of the level of illegal persecution of birds of prey within its boundaries in fairly recent years. A National Park which is famous for wildlife crime amongst raptor enthusiasts – rather like many of the rest of our National Parks.  This is a scandalous situation.

Yesterday we sent a very strong message to grouse shooting that it should have cleaned up its act and to politicians to stop treating wildlife crime as unimportant.

One politician who has clearly listened is the Shadow Environment Minister, Barry Gardiner, who was getting as wet as the rest of us. Barry had travelled up to the rally to meet people and talk to them, and he has spoken out in Parliament on the subject of raptor persecution more than but a handful of other MPs.  It was great to have him with us for the day and I hope he takes the message back to the Labour Party that it needs to promise us some tough action on wildlife crime if it is elected next May.

So our thanks to Barry but my thanks go to every single person who came to the Peak District yesterday. You came from as far afield as Essex, Upminster, Cornwall, Wales and Inverness to show your support for the Hen Harrier and your outrage at wildlife crime.  Thank you for coming. You made it a soft and very happy landing.

That bloke Chris Packham made a great speech and Findlay Wilde brought a six foot Hen Harrier with him.  It should all be on You Tube later today.

And the e-petition to ban driven grouse shooting passed 13,000 signatures yesterday!
Peak HH Day G Shorrock RSPB_017


Oscar Dewhurst – Blue-and-yellow Macaws

Blue-and-Yellow Macaws

Oscar writes: Blue-and-Yellow Macaws: One of my favourite things about where I was staying in the lowland Amazon (at Los Amigos Biological Research Station) was their 60m tower. Every evening groups of macaws would fly past. Here are two Blue-and-Yellow Macaws flying to roost.

Nikon D300s, Nikon 600mm f4 AFS-II