At the Bird Fair I walked past the large stand of the Hawk and Owl Trust many times – there was a small group of volunteers there but I saw no visitors (in contrast to the small BAWC stand which was very, very busy). Several others commented on the same thing. One claimed to see tumbleweed blowing across the H&OT stand…
How things have changed! Two years ago I joined the H&OT after they had attended the first Hen Harrier Day rally, a few months later I resigned my membership at about the time when the H&OT President (and long-time supporter) Chris Packham also resigned. Our reason? The H&OT’s sneaky decision to favour what has become known as brood meddling as a solution to the conservation problems of the Hen Harrier. [See these links for more information on this sorry tale; OK Hawk and Owl Trust – where are you?, Defra take note!, Poll results: Brood meddling even more unpopular].
I have spent the last three days at the Bird Fair with c25,000 other birders, conservationists and environmentalists. There was a hell of a buzz – and part of that was because of the progress made on the popular e-petition to ban driven grouse shooting as the real action plan for Hen Harriers, Peregrine Falcons, Golden Eagles etc and for a better future for people in our uplands. As I write these words I have just seen that e-petition pass 116,000 signatures.
Apparently those 116,000 people, including me, are eco-zealots. This is according to the H&OT’s Chair Philip Merricks who was at the Bird Fair on Friday. In fact, he attended a Q&A on the future of grouse shooting late on Friday afternoon – he attended but had turned down the opportunity offered weeks ago to have a place on the panel. As he sat in a full-house of 500 people in the main Events Marquee Philip must surely have turned to the RSPB and Wildlife Trust members sitting all around him and said ‘I see this place is full of eco-zealots and you’re another of them’.
It’s a remarkable state of affairs when the chair of a small conservation organisation, which has done some good work in the past, brings the organisation so low. We only ever hear Mr Merricks speaking about brood meddling for Hen Harriers – never on any other subject. It’s almost as though he sees his sole role as being to get brood meddling agreed and funded at any price – that price might well be the future of the H&OT of which he is the chair.
Mr Merricks can take whatever position he wants on any issue, but it seems that the H&OT is now single mindedly pursuing this policy at the expense of all others. There is money in brood meddling for H&OT but I doubt that is the sole motive for their position. It feels as though the grouse shooting industry (and what a nice bunch we know them to be (see John Vidal and Geoege Monbiot on the subject) have somehow turned a small quite well-respected conservation organisation into a mouthpiece for grouse shooting’s ridiculous solution.
But Mr Merricks speaks with forked tongue, I feel. Ahead of their 2015 AGM, less than a year ago, the H&OT had decided that brood meddling would only play a ‘very, very small part’ in Hen Harrier conservation but today Merricks reckons it is the main hope for the bird. It seems we can’t trust what the H&OT says in public – it tells its members one thing (perhaps to keep them quiet) and then its chair tells the public something quite different. Shoddy, I’d call it.
Merricks also made a commitment that H&OT would withdraw their support from brood meddling if there was evidence of Hen Harrier persecution. He chose his words very carefully, I’m sure, so he could quibble that his ‘immovable proviso and condition’ Number 2 has not yet been broken, but Merricks and the H&OT cannot be in any doubt at all that the Hen Harrier illegal slaughter goes on unabated and perhaps with undiminished enthusiasm by the grouse shooting industry. And if they are in doubt, then at least the eco-zealots running the RSPB have seen that the grouse shooting industry has not changed at all.
What is going on? There are good people in H&OT – good staff who are mostly perplexed and concerned about where the rest of their trustees have allowed Merricks to take them. It’s time for the trustees to get a grip – or are they all fully behind Merricks’s position and the way that it is completely dominating the public face of H&OT?
I can’t see the H&OT stand at the Bird Fair being any busier next year – unless it is with a queue of members resigning.