It’s that time of year – the Hen Harrier is back in the news – with the publication of the results of the National Hen Harrier Survey 2016. And like so many times in the past, we at BAWC are bitterly disappointed. The numbers are not good. DEFRA’s “Joint Action Plan to Increase the English Hen Harrier Population” is clearly having little impact.
To quote Martin Harper, Conservation Director for the RSPB: “The latest figures back up a continued trend that we have seen for more than a decade – Hen Harrier numbers are on the decline throughout the UK.”
Furthermore, Martin puts persecution at the centre of the problem: “The illegal killing of this bird of prey is a significant factor behind the diminishing numbers and a large barrier stopping their recovery.”
As at the time of writing, the Hawk and Owl Trust have not commented on the survey. It will be interesting to see what comments they make, given their support for the plan and its controversial support for brood management.
The RSPB stresses that they are not anti-shooting and want to find a sustainable solution for grouse moors. BAWC too is not anti-shooting per se, but what is clear is that one of the UK’s most iconic species is in danger of becoming extinct in England. Throughout the UK, Hen Harrier numbers are falling and the current campaigns and action plans are failing.
BAWC’s position is simple. Raptor persecution is a crime. Hen Harriers and indeed all raptor species in this country are being let down because crimes are going unprosecuted. In addition protection measures are clearly inadequate. BAWC believe that more resources need to be put into the investigation and prosecution of crimes against Hen Harriers. We also believe that vicarious liability should be introduced in England as soon as possible with individuals and employers prosecuted where appropriate.
We’re sure many of our readers would have seen the shocking reports of two cases of blatant birds of prey persecution being dropped by COPFS in Scotland (here and here). The timing of the decision to drop the cases means that no further action can be taken – this has shocked many in the BAWC community. However, the sense of injustice is only making us more determined than ever to play our part in defeating the wildlife criminals.
It is now almost two months since the BAWC community exceeded all of our expectations and generously donated more than £20k for our first field-based project. We will be monitoring raptors using state of the art satellite tracking technology to look at dispersal and survival. As many of you will appreciate we have been keeping the specific details of the project just to those who are directly involved – this is for the safety and welfare of the project team. However, whenever we can, we aim to give project updates so that you can all be assured that your money is being spent wisely and that you are aware of progress.
Since the fund-raising was completed, licensed raptor workers have been checking known territories of a range of species across the north of England – looking for new or renovated nests, plucking posts and fresh kills, as well as displaying adults. The usual picture emerges of many territories being occupied and then adults disappearing. It’s difficult to know how many of these vacancies arise by natural causes and how many are due to more sinister causes. Despite fewer occupied territories than expected we are confident we will be tagging birds this breeding season. The next couple of months will be spent monitoring active nests so that we know the ages of the chicks and can decide which ones to tag on which dates. It will be interesting to see whether any of the young birds that we plan to tag will occupy these sites next year, and what happens to them.
And of course the tags have been ordered and paid for using the money raised by BAWC supporters. Thanks to your generosity we were able to order more tags in this trial year, and testing them prior to deployment will be underway shortly.
Those of you that follow the ongoing travesty of wildlife crime here in the UK will be aware that the Victorian practice of birds of prey persecution is as prevalent today as it was 100 years ago. Indeed, it is the raison d’etre for the existence of BAWC. In many ways there should be no reason for BAWC to exist, on the otherhand never has the BAWC community been so needed. Last week the news broke that a case of Hen Harrier persecution had been dropped by the Crown Office Procurator Fiscal Service (COPFS). An active nest of a breeding pair of Hen Harriers was being monitored by licenced RSPB Scotland staff using the standard technique of a remote hidden camera. Such cameras are used to monitor the breeding success of a wide-range of species, including passerines, waders and raptors. As widely reported, this particular case captured footage of a female Hen Harrier flushed from the nest and the sound of two gunshots followed by a ‘puff’ of feathers a split second later. A man carrying a shotgun is then seen holding what appears to be a dead hen harrier and then makes his way to the nest site and collects a number of feathers. Details of the event can be read on the RSPB Scotland website.
It defies belief that any rational person could argue that the video footage does not clearly show a wildlife crime. That the legal authorities have decide not to proceed with case stating that the video evidence is inadmissible seems a rather bizarre stance to take given the wide use of such evidence in a range of other crimes. Why should wildlife crime be treated any differently?
As always Raptor Persecution UK have posted a series of excellent blogs on this latest incident of wildlife crime. See here, here, here and here. Included in these blogs are some ideas on what you can do to show your disgust at the decision not to proceed with this case. If you live in Scotland, we would urge you to contact your MSP (find out who yours is here) and ask him/her to contact the Scottish Government’s Justice Minister, Michael Matheson to complain on your behalf about the handling of this case. The more MSPs that see this video footage, and hear about the public’s serious concerns, the better. For those of you that live outside of Scotland then please email the Convener of the Scottish Parliament’s Justice Committee, Margaret Mitchell MSP (Scottish Conservatives). Email: firstname.lastname@example.org (thanks to RPUK for these links).
Of you are on social media then please share this news on Facebook and Twitter. The more people hear about these appalling wildlife crimes that are happening here in the UK the greater the desire for change. This is another example of a case that hasn’t resulted in a prosecution or conviction, but we will win in the end. All BAWC supporters can play their part, remember the 3Rs: Recognise, Record, Report.
And finally: RSPB Investigations, keep up the great work, we all appreciate your fantastic efforts to protect our magnificent birds of prey.