If you aren’t interested in Hen Harriers then you’d be best to skip this blog for a few days and come back on Saturday – I wonder whether Ralph could do a Hen Harrier cartoon? We’ll see.
Last week I launched an e-petition calling on Defra to ban driven grouse shooting in England. It wasn’t an easy thing to do. Generally, I am not much in favour of banning things so there was quite a lot of soul-searching involved. Some won’t believe that, but it’s true.
Through the course of this week I will explain why I took this step, what I hope to achieve and put up some open letters to organisations involved in this issue.
Here is a bit of background, though.
Why Defra and England and not the UK?: I chose the HM Government e-petitions website because it has some clout. You have to be a UK citizen (not necessarily English though) to register your view and you have to submit an address etc to register your name. This is a serious website. If any e-petition reaches 10,000 signatures then the relevant government department has to reply (although it doesn’t have to be a good reply as we have seen) and if the number of signatures reaches 100,000 then there may be a debate in parliament on the subject. This is a tiny part of democracy in action – this is the people speaking. But this website deals with England and so England it is.
Why now?: I’ve been weighing up the possibility for some time and talking to people about it. Whilst John Armitage’s e-petition was running I supported that, and it did very well to get to over 10,000 signatures. Then I felt there should be a break and a time for reflection. If there had been any sign of movement from the grouse shooting community then I might have wavered – but there wasn’t – and I wavered anyway – but then I decided! Also, we are now within 12 months of the next UK general election and if this e-petition is well-supported then it may influence the political manifestos of our political parties and their policies in the future years. And also, I didn’t want to wait too long because it would be good to have amassed a noticeable number of signatures before the Inglorious 12th and the start of the grouse shooting season.
Why this subject?: the illegal extermination of a protected bird over a large part of its natural UK range isn’t the most important thing in the world but it really annoys me. I would rather solve the problems of world poverty, unfairness in our own society, climate change or be instrumental in putting farmland birds back into the countryside (and I will play, as a citizen, voter, blogger and speaker, some role in all of those and other subjects) but this seems to me to be an issue where, for various reasons, there isn’t anyone shouting loudly enough and a few determined men (it would probably take even fewer determined women) can make a difference. Campaigning against the vested interests of the grouse shooting industry seems a pretty difficult task so I don’t think I am taking a particularly easy option. But this is the area where I am going to spend some of my time living the thoughts that ‘All it takes for the triumph of evil is for good people to do nothing‘ and ‘Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed, citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.‘.
Why not all shooting, and what is ‘driven’ grouse shooting?: this e-petition doesn’t apply to most shooting. It isn’t about pheasant shooting, duck shooting or even all grouse shooting. Some will be disappointed in that but, that’s life. Driven grouse shooting is said to be ‘great fun’ by those who practise it. It involves producing highly artificial habitat through regular burning, removal of foxes, crows, stoats etc (all legal) to create artificially very high densities of Red Grouse. In the autumn, ‘packs’ of Red Grouse are chased over the hillsides so that they fly past a line of shooters who try to shoot them as they whizz past. This form of ‘sport’ requires lots of grouse and that leads to predators that are legally protected being illegally killed. ‘Walked up’ shooting is a stroll across the moors with a gun and a dog, shooting birds that you flush in front of you, and is not characterised by such intensive or intolerant management. It’s the driven grouse shooting that is the real problem – and which dominates the landscape of northern England.
What do I hope to achieve?: it would be amazing to get to 100,000 signatures as that could trigger a debate in parliament – but I’m not counting on it. Ten thousand signatures seems a long, long way away but that would be a significant achievement. If we can raise the issue to a higher position in political debate and make the criminals who kill protected wildlife feel more and more uncomfortable then that is an achievement. Who knows where this journey might end? There is a general election next year, after all.
How is it going?: amazingly well so far, though these are early days. There have been just under 2000 signatures in only five days. You can sign it here.
What is the link between this and Hen Harrier day?: Hen Harrier Day is an opportunity for ordinary people to protest against the illegal killing of Hen Harriers. See this blog at 6pm on Mondays for updates. You don’t have to agree with this e-petition to attend Hen Harrier Day events. I am organising one in the Peak District – others will be held in Lancashire, Yorkshire, Durham and Northumberland.