Yesterday the RSPB released the news that there had been a pair of Hen Harriers nesting at their Geltsdale nature reserve in Cumbria, but that the male had gone missing and the nest had consequently failed (see here, here and here).
This followed the news that three male Hen Harriers had gone missing in the Forest of Bowland earlier in the season.
Birds do go missing for a variety of reasons, although in the case of Hen Harriers, four males disappearing in this way is very unusual and highly suspicious. It is overwhelmingly likely that several of these missing males have been illegally killed. It wouldn’t surprise me, nor my companions at dinner last night (somewhere in Scotland), if they all had been killed. And it would be a great surprise to all involved in raptor conservation if the killers were anyone other than gamekeepers acting to protect their Red Grouse stocks. That’s what happens in the lawless uplands of Britain – fully protected wildlife is illegally killed for private profit.
Although many have become used to hearing such news, it is a deeply shocking state of affairs. The situation is so dire that these four Hen Harrier nests were being protected around the clock from wildlife criminals and yet when the males fly away from the nest, hunting for food, they are in mortal danger.
Our law enforcement agencies seem powerless to stop wildlife crimes in the uplands and that is hardly surprising – how many coppers have you seen up in the hills, at six in the morning, miles from the nearest house? We can’t blame the police very much.
Our government turns a blind eye to this wildlife crime at the moment. Have you heard the chair or chief executive of government agency, Natural England, speaking out on this matter? No, but they used to. Has Liz Truss stirred herself to condemn illegal killing and rule out any prospect of brood meddling while the levels of crime are so high? No, there is no sign that Defra gives a damn about the impending extinction of the Hen Harrier in England.
The good news yesterday was that Sepp Blatta is leaving FIFA. The connection? For years the world has known that corruption is rife in FIFA but people have shaken their heads and thought that nothing could be done about it. For years we have known that wildlife crime is rife in the uplands of Britain but people shake their heads and think that nothing can be done about it. Not enough has been done about it by the grouse shooting industry itself, by statutory agencies or by government.
Driven grouse shooting is the Augean stables of wildlife conservation. Hercules seems to be absent. We need to ban driven grouse shooting to rid the hills of wildlife crime.