Wednesday, 13 November 2013

Raptor Persecution...same old, same old...

13th Nov.  I came in last night from an RSPB presentation concerning the Skydancer Project.  I sat down to have my supper and watch the TV and what should be the first item I see on the local news, but more information on the high levels of raptor persecution in Northumberland, North Yorkshire and Cumbria.  I know this is stale news to anyone with a real interest in the natural world, as was the showing of the hooligan gamekeeper and his clubbing to death of Common Buzzards, although I noticed that on TV they were careful just how much of that incident was shown.  As we know this guy wasn’t sent down.  I’ve been doing quite a bit of reading concerning raptor persecution and some of that reading included some points taken from recent Parliamentary Committee discussions (at least it’s being discussed in Parliament!) where it was pointed out on several occasions that laws already exist to protect raptors.  Whilst no one can dispute this, it would seem that having laws set in place are only the first stage in protection of wildlife.  Being in a position to enforce these laws and then the handing out appropriate sentencing is quite another matter!

Whilst I’ll be the first to admit that as a long standing member of the RSPB, I do get frustrated at the organisation at times for what I perceive to be a lack of appropriate action in certain areas, I have to say that this frustration is minimal in comparison to what I perceive to be lack of understanding and action from a vast number of members of the RSPB.  I asked myself last night ‘how can anyone who is a member of the RSPB not fully understand what the Skydancer Project is all about’.  For goodness sake it is written about in the RSPB magazine often enough and mailings have been sent out to members.  Still, clearly some members don’t have an understanding, so what chance do we have of getting things across to the general public I wonder?  I do want to say that I was impressed by the actions taken by The Skydancer Project (I’m perfectly aware that some people aren’t.  That’s their prerogative of course).  In this respect Samuel Hood and I have offered our services as volunteers with the project depending upon suitable practical roles being available.

I tire on occasions of reading innuendo, mis-information and sniping from both far wings of the conservation/raptor persecution argument.  It hasn’t appeared to get us anywhere over recent decades, nor has it helped the Hen Harrier in particular.  With no successful breeding attempts made by Hen Harriers in 2013 it could be seen as a failure on all counts.  The Skydancer project has just passed the two year mark of a four year operation so the present situation isn’t good.  What impressed me however was the actions being taken to involve all sides of this on going debate in discussion and attempting to involve the general public (of all ages).  To deeply care about any issue you have to have at least some understanding of it.  How many members of the public know what a Hen Harrier is?  How many have seen one?  If they have seen one do they understand the issues surrounding their conservation?  I didn’t need to go along last night to learn that the answer to those questions is ‘not many’.  To my mind the there is a major problem here, in that secrecy often surrounds Hen Harriers and whilst secrecy may be used to protect the birds (I’m not sure myself that secrecy always has such an effect), it also prevents the wider public from becoming aware.  I believe that the great success achieved with the likes of Ospreys and Red Kites was that the public were eventually taken along with the conservation/re-introduction of these species.  As was said last night, saving this species is going to be a long term issue.  Whilst I accept the Hen Harrier raises some different issues, I was pleased to hear last night that there had been plans to involve the public much more had there been successful breeding achieved by this species in 2013.  Some may think me naïve, but I do have faith in the fact that attitudes and minds can change over time.

I’m hoping that some members will have left last night remembering the encouragement I gave to write to Members of Parliament and others.  Sadly I’m not confident that many will bother, but hopefully at least some will.  In the meantime Sam and I will offer our practical support to the Skydancer Project.

Highlight of the presentation was watching the video of the Hen Harrier skydancing and the food passes between the male and female of the pair.  This has to be one of the most exciting of birds to watch in the wild, as are harriers in general.  I can only hope that all who have the privilege to watch and enjoy these birds in the wild will also feel able to take action in support of their protection!

I of course condemn anyone who illegally kills raptors of any species and in so doing removes our natural heritage.


  1. Well said Brian! Blanaid requested I get her e-mail address from Jeff, so that I can also get involved with the project in some practical way.

  2. Cheers Mark. I felt that there was room and time for far more questions and discussion after the presentation. I'm not sure why that didn't occur. The speaker was quite happy to stay behind and discuss issues with those who were interested and it was good that a handful of members took her up on that.

  3. Yeah I was certainly pleased I chatted with her afterwards.

    It may have been due to it being AGM night and the timings of the room being booked, that the questions were cut short. It was a shame anyhow, as we didn't leave the building for a good while afterwards. There was no caretaker kicking us out, lol.

    But hopefully those who were really keen to assist in the project, will make the effort to get involved.