Yesterday I went on a march in London with lots of other people protesting against driven grouse shooting, the badger cull and any chance that fox hunting should be reinstated. And I said a brief few words and listened to a range of passionate speakers such as Chris Packham, Peter Egan, Natalie Bennett, Dominic Dyer and Will Travers. It was a good day.
There were lots of familiar faces in the crowd – people who have come to Hen Harrier Day events, people who will be at the Bird Fair next weekend and people who work in nature conservation. But how many people were there?
Tim Bonner says on Twitter that he was told that there were 380 people at this march – well that’s about as accurate as most Countryside Alliance ‘facts’! In my article in the Observer today I said thousands, but that was a guess as the piece was written between getting home from Scotland at 930pm on Friday and leaving for London at 930am on Saturday.
I actually counted people leaving Cavendish Square and got a total of 625 – but there were far more than that taking part by the end of the march. In fact, walking down Regent St before we got to Oxford Circus there were lots of people behind me who I certainly hadn’t counted earlier and more joined en route. When we got to Downing Street there were a lot of people I knew who hadn’t been in Cavendish Square at the start, and some had baled out along the way (going shopping?). I notice that there were also people present that I knew who posted on social media that I hadn’t even seen on the day – I think we would have bumped into each other in a crowd of 380, thanks Tim. So it certainly wasn’t 380, and it wasn’t many thousands, but it was at least a thousand and maybe more. Let’s call it over a thousand.
But it was an interesting experience and an inspiring event. I’m pretty sure that there were people in that crowd of over a thousand who think that I am far too reasonable and understanding about all forms of shooting, and there were things said by others that made me wince a bit, but I don’t want a return of Fox hunting, I don’t agree that the Badger cull is necessary or useful in its current form and I do want a ban on driven grouse shooting (and intend to see it happen). If Tim Bonner had turned up in person then we would all have booed him together!
I talked to a couple who were passing through Cavendish Square on their way to a wedding but who saw the Hen Harrier banners and T-shirts who told me, with delight, about seeing six Hen Harriers on Orkney on their recent holiday. They knew about grouse shooters killing Hen Harriers and they didn’t like grouse shooting as a result.
And then there was a couple from Yorkshire who had read Inglorious and had been motivated to come to their first Hen Harrier Day in Sheffield a week ago, and from that event had been further motivated to come down to London for the day. That is how it works – spread the word.
Let’s imagine that 2% of the UK population has heard of a Hen Harrier (that may be an overestimate!). And let’s imagine (though it won’t be true) that half of them hate Hen Harriers and half of them love them. Then go and talk to 1000 people who are unaware – maybe 950 still aren’t interested in the issue but, of the other 50, you can’t tell me that they are going to join the grouse shooters as being covertly in favour of killing Hen Harriers. No, most of them will recruit to the cause of the Hen Harrier, or nature conservation and environmental sustainability, and our numbers will grow.
We have a message of hope, and we have a message that is true – and our numbers will grow, and we will win!
Yesterday felt like an animal welfare/animal rights march and I was a bit nervous that the Hen Harrier message would be swamped – but it wasn’t. On the day, the number of Hen Harrier T-shirts, placards and banners was roughly equal with those who were more focussed on Badgers or Foxes. And there were plenty of people with a persecuted bird on one side of their banner and a persecuted mammal on the other!
I met one RSPB staff member at the march although, of course, neither the RSPB nor the Wildlife Trusts promoted this march. I can understand that – when I was working for the RSPB I would have wondered whether it would be populated with violent anarchists and maybe there were some (it’s so difficult to tell by looking) but they weren’t being anarchic or violent yesterday and I really do know that there were plenty of RSPB and Wildlife Trust members in that crowd, including committed volunteers and supporters. There were also plenty of former members and supporters and a lot of potential supporters.
My concern about the approach of the mainstream nature conservation organisations is that there is a great danger that they spend more time talking to supporters of Tim Bonner’s nasty Countryside Alliance with whom they share little in common than they do with other animal interest groups where the starting points are different but the journey is more similar.
Would you rather that conservation organisations reached an agreement with the Countryside Alliance or the League Against Cruel Sports? And how likely do you think progress is with each? The answer ought to determine the effort spent in discussion. Read my article, Our Friends the ‘Antis’?, in the issue of British Wildlife dropping through your door at the end of this week.
Thanks to all the friends, new and existing, with whom I marched, chanted and chatted yesterday. We should do it again, soon.
And, of course, thanks to the organisers who made it happen and the speakers (and I would say especially Chris Packham) who made it a great day.
And thanks to the police who were lovely, and even clapped the speakers on occasions – was that particularly when we mentioned wildlife crime on grouse moors?
- Posted in: Grouse and harriers