An imperfect storm?

By Juan lacruz (Own work) [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC-BY-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
By Juan lacruz (Own work) [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC-BY-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
It’s been a ghastly day weather-wise but I have been thinking about the storm that is coming together around raptor persecution.  I thought hard about it – it put a smile on my face.

No, raptor persecution isn’t as important as climate change, or flooding, or even, to my mind, farmland bird declines – but it is a problem which has been with us too long and which, in a civilised society, we should end as quickly as possible.  It’s a bit like burglary – it’s not as important as rape or murder but that doesn’t mean we should let people get away with it.

Here are some reasons why those involved in raptor persecution should be sleeping less easily;

  1. the media are more sensitive than ever before about illegal persecution of birds of prey – see the Channel 4 News piece linking Royal pleas for elephants not to be killed illegally to Royal silence on the illegal killing of birds of prey.  There will be more of this type of thing and it will build public support and outrage on this subject.
  2. the sentencing of a gamekeeper, Ryan Waite (aged 25 – we are always told that the younger generation of ‘keepers is much more enlightened…), from the Swinton Estate yesterday for setting a pole trap. See here for an RSPB blog and here for the video footage.  Every time a criminal gets caught it worries the others.  Well done RSPB Investigations Team (and LACS)!
  3. the Tories came third in the Wythenshawe and Sale East by-election and there is a slim chance that the party most keen on shooting will be returned to power at the next UK general election.  Whoever replaces them (even if the rather hopeless LibDems are involved again) is unlikely to be as naturally accommodating to game-shooting interests (which, as we know, are the source of most illegal activity against birds of prey) as the Conservatives. One might even hope that a Labour government might do something about it!
  4. a new pressure group, Birders Against Wildlife Crime, has been set up. I wish them well.  Twitter account @birdersagainst
  5. a majority of respondents voted for the banning of grouse shooting (in England) on my readers’ poll  -indicating to me that moderate and tolerant people, yes, like me, are getting well and truly fed up with the blatant and widespread removal of protected birds of prey (hen harriers, Golden Eagles, Peregrines etc) from our uplands and are becoming more radical as a result.
  6. a peaceful protest around the 12 August is being planned (although planned might be too strong a word at the moment) by a small, but perfectly formed, group of people.  See my April Birdwatch column (out in late March) for some more fragmentary details and how to sign up.
  7. the RSPB is being a bit more outspoken about this issue – see Martin Harper’s blog here and here – partly, I guess, because they see that there is some frustration directed at them.
  8. Parliamentarians have raptor persecution in their sights as never before.
  9. Scotland has already introduced vicarious liability and other places are likely to follow – that is how progress is made.
  10. I have a few other things up my sleeve – shhhh!
  11. Natural England will not be able to sit on the final locations of those satellite-tagged hen harriers for much longer – I wonder what the map of ‘last locations’ might look like?
  12. Scotland voted for the Golden Eagle as its favourite iconic animal – a great show of public support for raptors.
  13. John Armitage’s e-petition passed 9000 signatures today and just has a chance of getting to the 10,000 mark that will trigger a response from Defra.  But even so, it is a fine effort. Please sign here and, if you have a friend, then ask them to sign too.
  14. It’s Valentine’s day – everyone loves a raptor don’t they?
  15. And, as pointed out to me by a reader’s comment, there is also the very positive NT Vision for the Peak District which moves away from burning and towards a more natural upland cover.

And it’s not a perfect storm – it’s an imperfect one – but let’s keep it blowing all through the year and for as long as it takes.

Photo: Kositoes via wikimedia commons
Photo: Kositoes via wikimedia commons
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22 Replies to “An imperfect storm?”

  1. http://www.avaaz.org/en/petition/The_British_Government_Give_custodial_sentences_to_people_who_kill_birds_of_prey/
    Please can you help me promote my petition Mark.
    Chrissie

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  2. Well done Christie,good luck with this petition.
    Mark,Really admire all your positive thoughts on this issue that is depressing to many people.
    We need the rspb to take seriously this problem.
    I have no real problem with them having other interests but they are now more concerned with Badgers,flooding and other things and suddenly consider themselves experts in these fields when lets face it Badger groups and various flood agencies and local people in Somerset levels know far more than rspb do,just let these experts get on with it.
    Raptor persecution that the rspb must be real experts on this subject they are neglecting in favour of these other interests so come on rspb if you have a problem upsetting Government or Lottery then let them withdraw any financial support they give you.
    These birds are worth more than that.You are the only ones with the support to make a difference and you are seriously letting these birds down.

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    1. Dennis, I'm not sure whether you followed Mark's links to Martin Harper's blogs (see Mark's point 7 above). There is a clear policy from the RSPB on it's attitude to raptor persecution and, not for the first time, a recommendation to sign the petition on the licencing of upland grouse moors. Mark suggests that the RSPB may at last be responding to pressure on this issue but my feeling is that Martin has been airing this for a long time and the whole RSPB team have been working hard with the government and other agencies to promulgate VC. I know many wish that they would push the membership harder but I respect the way that they work continuously in the background. I signed many petitions and sent them to contacts as well but I sometimes think that the petitions are written in a hurry and are not all that coherent in the objectives.

      I also think the RSPB have every right to advise on such things as flooding. They have great experience of controlling water flow and using their reserves to mitigate flooding and work very closely with the EA. Our local reserve, a lowland wet meadow and reed bed, has many sluices to control water movement and is currently holding back much water which would add to flooding further down rivers, although with the current rainfall I fear it is a losing game.

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  3. What about the people that buy the game. Couldn't you make them think about what they are buying. If you can have dolphin friendly Tuna can you have Hen Harrier friendly grouse. You wouldn't be stopping people that want to do shooting because I don't think you can stop them even if I don't like it. so I think I will have to try and work with them when I am older and make sure there is a reason for them to look after the birds of prey.

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  4. Mark, there is another option which I don,t think has been mentioned. Let grouse shooting continue, yes I know it is barbaric, but withdraw the licence for that area (assuming that licences are mandatory) if it is shown that raptor persecution has taken place on the land in question. (Stand by for the usual dislikes).

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    1. Are these upland moors dedicated as Open Access under the CROW Act?

      I seem to recall reading on this blog that someone suggested that that was one of the reasons Natural England were not culled, because they were needed to steer the dedications through.

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      1. I think that public access should be extended to all river banks as a right. In times past, when people came to a river that was too deep to cross they would probably walked up-stream until they found a crossing point. This should continue as a public footpath.

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    2. Hi Diapensia
      Licenses are not yet mandatory for grouse moors but that is the subject of John Armitage's petition to the government: http://epetitions.direct.gov.uk/petitions/46473 - if you haven't yet signed it you may care to as it is proposing the idea you are floating here.
      No dislikes yet but why should there be?

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      1. Hello Jonathon, yes I was aware of the situation, thanks. Licensing should come first. I was pointing out that there should be no reason not to license grouse shooting as most land owners are responsible people and should not object to the policy of licensing. The few land owners who are irresponsible as far as wildlife is concerned probable do not care about small fines but would take notice if they were not allowed to shoot on their own land.

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  5. Mark, the problem with Vicarious Liability in Scotland is that the police and Crown Office are blatantly uninterested in enforcing it. There are often laughable delays between raptor corpses being discovered and police scotland making appeals for information, then even when an offender is traced, getting the procurator fiscal service to take it to trial is a further struggle. Having VL legislation in place will only work with the political will to use it.

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    1. John if a body of a dead raptor is found proving who killed it, unless it has been filmed,witness or the criminal has left behind evidence must be pretty hard would you not agree especially of the body has been left around for a while before discovery? It can be deflating not seeing calls for help/info a few weeks after but again there can be operational issues at play here eg is there a chance more dead raptors can turn up and if so publicising the fact you found one body in situ' could alert said offenders and prevent any other bodies being dumped, please also think of this, how many times do you see police appealing for any information after another crime (other then dead raptors) days and sometimes weeks after the event? Somtimes the police will exhaust all their own avenues of leads/tips etc before going public and I'm guessing in the world of gamekeeping some who ARE providing information have to be careful so it may look slow or no interest shown. As for the courts not taking it seriously, well the fact VL has been introducded says it all to me, but also again securing convictions isn't easy and if the prosecutors can't be certain of securing a conviction then the case may well be dropped to "save money" and even though I can understand the anger at this I feel it's not well placed after all if one suspect goes unpunished the police will have at least another suspect to look at if another offence is committed and a database of "known" offenders can be very helpful to the police.
      The very fact the crime is being investigated is a good thing after all some police forces in this country DO NOT take wildlife crime that seriously and some forces only have ONE person investigating such crimes.

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  6. The uplands of England to me should be ours the publics there is nothing wild about our uplands except for the weather a managed mess developed by intensive grouse shooting the people who manage grouse estates are selling a lie many organisations and individuals are frightened to stand up against this they persistently break the law killing our special raptors as well as mammals, wake up to the ignorance and arrogance.

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  7. Arrogance describes the situation well, but I've come to the conclusion that only a total ban on grouse shooting will change the situation.

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  8. Divers, Grebes, Shearwaters, Petrels, Gannets, Cormorants, Herons, Egrets, Bitterns, Spoonbills, Storks, Swans, Geese, Ducks, Game birds, Cranes, Bustards, Rails, Coots, Waders, Plovers, Skuas, Gulls, Terns, Auks, Pigeons, Cuckoos, Owls, Nightjars, Swifts, Kingfishers, Hoopoes, Woodpeckers, Larks, Swallows, Martins, Pipits, Wagtails, Waxwings, Shrikes, Warblers, Flycatchers, Wheatears, Redstarts, Thrushes, Tits, Nuthatches, Treecreepers, Wrens, Dippers, Buntings, Finches, Sparrows, Starlings, Orioles, Crows, Jays, Magpies.

    Why is it always raptors?

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    1. Gethin - it's not. But the criminals who break the law would like nothing better than everyone to be silent about their crimes. What do you think of that 'keeper by the way?

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  9. That keeper, and all others of his ilk, should have the full force of the law thrown against him/them. I am also fully in favour of his employer being held accountable for his illegal actions (vicarious liability). Raptor persecution is a blight on shooting and I'd like to see conservation organisations as well as shooting organisations, the police and the courts working together to stamp it out.

    If I witnessed any illegal activity, whether it be against raptors or any other protected species of birds or animals when I'm in the countryside, I wouldn't hesitate in involving the police right away.

    However, I also firmly believe that calls to ban grouse shooting or to license grouse moors will not help in achieving this goal and can only be divisive at a time when we all should be working together toward a common goal. What I'd like to see is more rigorous enforcement of existing laws which protect both raptors and other bird species rather than make raptor/bird persecution 'more illegal' than it already is.

    I'd also like to see an honest recognition of the fact that sometimes, in certain cases and sometimes requiring licensing, a number bird species or individual birds, whether we are talking about corvids, gulls or even the commoner predators such as Buzzards, may need to be controlled. Arguing that that control is never necessary in a 'natural environment' is a delusional and inherently dishonest approach to wildlife management.

    Saying this, I could never envisage a case where culling would be appropriate for Hen Harriers or the rarer raptors (Golden or White Tailed Eagles, Peregrines, etc.) but it should be recognised as a legitimate last resort with commoner bird species in cases where other solutions have failed.

    My mind goes back to my youth when wardening a colony of Little Terns near my home town (a colony which sadly no longer exists) when we had to control foxes and stoats who were taking eggs and chicks. I recall another north Wales colony having trouble around the same time with a Kestrel taking a large number of tern chicks and was amazed that the single bird involved could not have been dealt with. Kestrels were, then at least, very common and eliminating one Kestrel to save a much rarer species, the Little Tern, seemed to me then, as it does now, to be an eminently sensible approach.

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    1. Gethin - good comment, thank you. I agree with a lot of it: some culling (last resort from where I am coming) might be needed under some circumstances.

      Someone like yourself should sign the e-petition to raise the profile of this issue. It would be a bit surprising if this government suddenly said - 'OK - we'll introduce licensing' but raising the issue's prominence might just prod them into doing something. So please sign!

      Thank you for your comment.

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  10. Richard,yes I am well aware of Martin Harpers blogs as previously I put lots of comments on his blogs,indeed we may see things differently but I thought him and myself agreed that if I signed a petition he was pushing then he would put serious effort to push the V L petition that was open at that time.Well the rspb do not need to push membership harder as you put it,a flyer in the magazine would be a good nudge and no force in it,they certainly have no qualms about pushing continually for contributions for several different things so that bit about them pushing I cannot accept.
    No one at rspb seems able to understand 2 things(1)when Mark was there with his efforts a raptor petition got I think in the region of 216,000 signatures so surely if rspb had seriously helped the V L petition surely it is reasonable to expect a similar result which if nothing else would have made the Government think.
    (2)What a farce that now the petition is closed for rspb staff to go on about they want Vicarious Liability.They have messed up completely no one important will take any notice of that,they might as well p*** headwind.
    I wish you could explain to me why they waited to go on about they want V L until the V L petition was closed.
    They have seriously let Hen Harriers in particular down,especially as they are the only organisation with enough members,finance,staff and resources to have helped that petition and maybe done some good.

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  11. Terns love islands because they are safe Gethin. We don't make enough of them for our terns. I remember the case of the Little Owl down south. Flew to an island to take Little Terns. Every time it needed a post to land on before selecting a tern. Remove the post. Job done! How many kestrels take the place of the one you wanted to kill! I have watched a vixen hunting voles while a Curlew guards its chicks. Predators always seem to take the easy option!

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  12. Gethin - It isn't always raptors though it's often raptors and, for me, there is a very good reason. What other genera among your list (well, maybe cormorants) are so deliberately, relentlessly and systematically persecuted as raptors? I daresay that the RSPB and other conservation bodies wish that it wasn't necessary to have to sink so much resource into bird of prey conservation largely because people with "interests" have a problem with obeying the law.

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