The RSPB today turned its back on the failing and doomed Defra Hen Harrier plan – and quite right too. Humming a Shania Twain song, ‘Dance with the one that brought you‘ the RSPB turned its back on the grouse moor owners and came back to us. Thank you RSPB.
Where does that leave the plan and where does it leave the RSPB?
The Defra Hen Harrier plan was worthless from the start. It would be disingenuous of me not to say ‘I told you so’ because I did, and so did plenty of others.
In contrast the former minister Rory Stewart said at the time of the plan’s launch:
‘This new plan will transform the fate of one of our most magnificent birds’ – wrong minister, unless you meant that there would be even fewer of them once the plan got started!
‘We are working closely with conservation organisations and landowners and with their help, this plan will help hen harriers flourish once more while coexisting with a thriving rural economy.’ – wrong minister, the conservationists have just walked away from your failed plan because the wildlife criminals took no notice of you, nor of the organisations that are said to represent moorland owners and moorland gamekeepers. That leaves Defra cuddling up to an industry that has shown Defra as much respect as it does the law.
‘Our wildlife is a crucial part of our national identity. That’s why we care deeply about protecting this vital species for future generations to come.’ – better luck with International Development having left this mess for your successor to try to deal with.
Defra look very foolish today, as they have done every day since Rory Stewart announced his Hen Harrier plan – but at least the RSPB have absented themselves from the team photo at last. When will Defra, the Environment Department for England, responsible for nature in England, actually do something to tackle crime against protected wildlife? We should be hearing of government plans to introduce vicarious liability for wildlife crimes into English law – but we won’t. We should be hearing of Defra plans to license game shooting in England – but we won’t. And from the Opposition, remember them (?) we should be hearing of plans to ban driven grouse shooting completely – but we probably won’t.
Tthe RSPB says that reform of game shooting to protect the Hen Harrier will only come through a licensing approach. Not many people agree with the RSPB on this but it is a reasonable, though very timid, view of affairs. And reform of intensive grouse moor management is not just about Hen Harriers, remember. What remains the case however, is that the most likely route to having that debate in parliament is through getting our e-petition to ban driven grouse shooting to pass 100,000 signatures by 20 September.
Last week someone asked me what I thought the chances of getting 100,000 signatures by 20 September might be. I said I thought it was about a 40% chance. If you asked me today, knowing what events are coming up, and what plans we have, I’d put it at a slightly stronger 45% chance. There is everything to play for – it’s going to be close.
Of course, if the RSPB asked its members what they thought, and told them of the existence of an e-petition that would get licensing discussed in the Westminster parliament, then the chances would be 100%.