The idea of ‘doing something’ to Hen Harrier eggs, chicks and/or adults, to reduce their impacts on driven grouse shooting has been kicking around for years. If the shooting industry had not been so intransigent, and if Hen Harrier numbers had not continued to decline, then my guess is that they could have got some of what they wanted many years ago. They haven’t learned and still are making unreasonable demands from a position of moral weakness (illegal raptor persecution has continued and arguably intensified).
Over 10,000 of us (including me) signed Andrew Gilruth’s e-petition, asking Defra to publish the non-agreed and non-joint Hen Harrier non-plan. It hasn’t been published, so in theory and largely in practice, we don’t know what it contains. I’d like to know. [By the way, Andrew Gilruth’s e-petition has hardly attracted a signature in the last three months despite being supported by the GWCT, BASC, the National Gamekeepers Organisation and the Countryside Alliance, and is stuck below 11,000 signatures – other e-petitions are available].
The RSPB does know what it contains and doesn’t like it (maybe because it is probably illegal) and suggested to Defra that they should publish the agreed elements of the plan and put the rest, the contentious bits concerning brood management, out to consultation. That seems very sensible and Defra could still do that, and if they did I would welcome it.
Paul Irving, Chair of the North of England Raptor Forum (though I guess speaking in a personal capacity), posted a thoughtful comment, with which I pretty much agree on this blog yesterday. It started ‘I’ve had all day thinking on this, firstly like most raptor workers I find BM unpalatable but under certain circumstances I was, and still am prepared to contemplate it. One of the problems in this long drawn out saga that is the harrier problem or rather the persecution of hen harriers problem has always been the other sides unwillingness to give an inch. That is why we are at the impass we are currently “enjoying.“‘
‘Rich’ posted another comment on this blog yesterday with reference to brood management with which I largely agree. He started thus: ‘If done correctly, I think Brood Management could be a positive step. I’m not convinced, however, that DEFRA will be pushing to ensure the finer details, that could prevent a scheme from failing, would be included:‘
Those comments (and others) and the RSPB’s view are well worth looking at. Personally, I wouldn’t countenance the implementation of a brood management scheme until the grouse shooters had shown good faith by reducing persecution and allowing Hen Harrier numbers to increase substantially. However, I might be prevailed upon to demonstrate my good faith (if I were in a position of power rather than being a guy with a blog) by signing up to such a scheme now – but it couldn’t swing into place until Hen Harriers were far commoner. What is far commoner? That would be up for negotiation – but note the word ‘far’ in front of the word ‘commoner’.
Where we are, is that the conservation community is guardedly open to the possibility of some sort of brood management scheme for Hen Harriers. Since no such scheme has been proposed and no-one has asked the public’s opinion on it, then it is difficult for any of us to know whether our distaste at the very idea could be swallowed for the sake of the Hen Harrier. Maybe it could, maybe it couldn’t. So, let’s see it, as the RSPB suggested months ago, and then debate a proposed scheme rather than the principles of an unknown scheme.
So it’s clearly up to Defra what they do, and we can vote soon taking into account any actions they take on this issue. Some leadership from the government would be welcome, but unexpected.
One thing that Defra, or a future Defra, should consider is introducing vicarious liability for wildlife crime (all wildlife crime) and a sensible brood management scheme for Hen Harriers (if such a scheme could possibly be constructed) as a package at one and the same time. And tell both ‘sides’ that they won’t get the bit they like without the bit that they don’t like so much. That would be the politically cute thing to do as a Defra Minister (you’ll notice that I am not a Defra Minister).
But if I were advising the grouse shooting industry I would point out to them that they are losing the public debate and that some of us are determined to keep that debate running and high profile into the future. This is not all about Hen Harriers but there were only four pairs of Hen Harrier in England last year and there should be hundreds. The lacking Hen Harriers are absent because the grouse moors of the north of England represent an enormous crime scene. As satellite tagging spreads, then the magnitude of the crime will become ever more apparent and will generate ever more tales like those of Bowland Betty and Hope and Sky which will make the position of grouse shooting more and more untenable, and also the position of any political party which is seen to have been soft on the crime coming from this industry.
It’s not just about Hen Harriers – it’s about Peregrine Falcons, Mountain Hares and blanket bogs as well. Those issues haven’t gone away and won’t go away even if Hen Harrier brood management comes in. Grouse shooting needs to clean up its act.
And it’s not just about wildlife either, the evidence shows considerable environmental harm to water quality, flood risk, greenhouse gas emissions and aquatic biodiversity from grouse moor management too. Those issues won’t go away even if a Hen Harrier brood management scheme comes in. Grouse moor management needs a complete make-over.
Oh yes, and grouse shooters oppose the switch to non-toxic ammunition too.
And so, if I were advising the grouse shooting industry, I would tell them that they would be wise to start making concessions all over the place otherwise the opposition to their industry and ‘sport’ can only increase across a broad range of issues. Knowledge of its harmful impacts will spread, and its days will be numbered. Grouse shooting’s days already are numbered, but giving some ground will increase that number, remaining intransigent will decrease it.
Of course, if you think that grouse shooting should be banned straight away, or if you want to give the intransigent grouse shooting industry a reminder of what awaits them, then you should sign this e-petition.