This post was written at the weekend – before whatever happened yesterday at the debate on the future of grouse shooting happened.
I never really believed that we would get this debate until we were in the 90,000 signatures in early August 2016. But we have. And the way that people look at driven grouse shooting will never again be the same – never. We have done that together and although, at times, I may have looked as though I might be leading this campaign it has always been a joint effort.
But to be fair to myself, it was me, who after a certain amount of careful thought (or dithering) decided to launch a petition to ban driven grouse shooting. Not to tinker with it, not to change it, but to get rid of it altogether. That was big personal decision because it was not just sticking my head above the parapet but shouting at the opposing forces while doing it! And that first petition might have fallen completely flat – but it didn’t, thanks to so many of you.
The first Hen Harrier Day was certainly a great success with four events in England – and that in the Peak District was one of the best days of my life. A group of us dined in Buxton the evening before that first event and we are all still mates and working together over two years later – friendships forged in this campaign will be enduring ones. The ‘Sodden 570’ and the wonderful Chris Packham made it a superb day. Never have so many gathered together to get so wet for the sake of a bird that they weren’t able to see! And that petition reached over 22,000 signatures in under a year. Far more than I had imagined – you see – I’m not ambitious enough!
I decided, again after some dithering, to write a book on the subject to spell out the arguments in more detail and with the references so that people could find out more for themselves. I’ll tell you now that although Bloomsbury were pleased with how A Message from Martha had sold, they were a bit reluctant to publish a book of such a campaigning nature. So many thanks to Jim Martin and Nigel Redman who somehow got it through the system – and they were right in publishing terms as Inglorious has sold more copies than Martha already despite being on a very parochial niche UK subject – although it is also about how to change the world! I have little doubt that Inglorious has converted many people to our cause, and bolstered the confidence of those who felt warm to the idea right from the start.
It was easy to see that another e-petition was a good idea but I wasn’t to know that parliament would change the rules and cut the time in half – 6 months rather than 12. This was when a 6-foot Hen Harrier called Henry came on the scene. Not my idea – in fact I thought that it was a silly idea – but it was a touch of genius in retrospect as it introduced a ridiculous note of humour into a serious subject, and gained even more attention for the cause. Henry made his first public appearance at the BAWC conference in spring 2015, again in Buxton, and the guys and gals from BAWC have been great chums and great support throughout this march into the unknown.
The number of Hen Harrier Day events in 2015 swelled – and spread into Scotland – and Henry appeared at the Bird Fair and was even satellite-tagged to show how it’s done! We even had a cultural event to celebrate the Hen Harrier in Buxton ahead of Hen Harrier Day with authors and artists for heaven’s sake. Thanks to those, especially Susan Cross who helped arrange that, and to her for being around throughout this whole period (and no doubt into the future too).
I was starting to give lots of talks to bird clubs and RSPB groups at this time, and people expected to hear about Hen Harriers and grouse shooting – even if they’d signed me up for a talk on Passenger Pigeons. This spread the word further, but so did Birdwatch magazine in so many ways – its covers in August 2014 and 2015, through its editorial content and through letting me bang on about it in my monthly column ‘the political birder’. All at Birdwatch have been great but special thanks go to Dominic Mitchell who has been supportive at all sorts of professional and personal levels. British Birds, too, has been a great friend – in particular Roger Riddington has let Adrian Pitches chart the course of our campaign and the events relevant to it in the News and Views section of BB. Birders are a funny lot, but Rare Bird Alert has also been a real rock in spreading the word through social media.
Raptor Persecution UK has been a huge help and support – they are the nerdy ones who know the law and collect the evidence and there support for the e-petition has been just fantastic. Thanks guys (and gal)!
The second e-petition ended in late January 2016 – not that long ago really – with 33,000 signatures (in 6 months) and we created a late surge, and learned a lot, through setting up a Facebook page and raising a couple of grand to spread the word in social media. Thank you to Alan Cranston who spent that money wisely and ran the Facebook page and to all who contributed a few quid to that enterprise – especially to the individual who was the first to respond to my email amongst friends with the question ‘Would £1000 help?’ – it did. We learned a lot from spending that money.
Third time lucky? Well, maybe, but luck wasn’t going to have too much to do with it! We had learned a lot over the previous two years and the question was whether we had learned enough to triple the signature count the next time around? This was going to be my last e-petition on the subject whatever happened (in a Steve Redgrave ‘Shoot me if you see me getting into a boat again’ type way). I approached the RSPB with an offer of working together but they weren’t brave enough to take it and so I was happy to approach the League Against Cruel Sports for help. LACS had been rather unpredictable and inconsistent allies in the previous two e-petitions but this time around they were committed and a delight to work with. If you can’t rely on people who are against killing things when you want a bloodsport ended then who can you ask? But just remember where the ‘mainstream’ conservation organisations were when we were creating the momentum for change in the uplands…
This time we had momentum and we knew what would work. None of this was rocket science – we used the media as best as we could, produced short films (starring Chris Packham – that wasn’t my idea either but it was another good one), distributed leaflets and used social media to its fullest effect. This time we raised over £5000 to use to do this and we had LACS doing more work on social media and with its supporters too. Chris P was able to commit significant time to the cause and some time around July the campaign to ban driven grouse shooting didn’t look like a hopeless cause it looked like a popular movement that was heading for parliament.
And that’s where we were yesterday. Maybe it was a bit of anti-climax and maybe I spent the evening in the pub with some of you. But just remember that whatever was said yesterday the world is a different place because of you. The light has been shone on driven grouse shooting in a way that the grouse shooters could not have imagined in May 2014. Their world has changed for ever – and we have changed it. And we shall change it some more as time goes on because driven grouse shooting is a doomed hobby – the shooters know that and you know that.
This isn’t the end, but it’s a long way from the beginning. Thank you all.