Sunday, 23 August 2015

Hen Harrier Day 2015

Sunday the 9th of August was Hen Harrier Day 2015. Events were held across the UK last weekend as a show of strength and solidarity against the illegal persecution of Hen Harriers, one of our most striking birds of prey. The bird is in danger of extinction in England, in no small part as a direct result of persecution on the moorland habitats where they attempt to nest. It was really encouraging to see several hundred people at the event closest to us which was held at Goytsclough quarry in the Peak district's Goyt valley. This is an environment of moorland which is also a local stronghold for Grouse shooting, and the area is accordingly intensively 'managed' to maximise the numbers of Grouse available to be shot at by individuals who pay not a small amount of money to do so.

Hen Harriers are Schedule 1 protected birds however despite this are still mercilessly persecuted because they will nest on moors, and will predate Grouse chicks (amongst other things). Their presence (and that of any other potential predators) is therefore not tolerated by owners and/or gamekeepers of the shooting estates (because of potential loss of revenue from fewer Grouse available to shoot presumably) leading to many mysterious 'disappearances' of Hen Harrier adults as well as their young. Prosecutions are few and far between, evidence vanishes and many landowners seem to consider themselves above the law. Perhaps unsurprisingly this goes right to the top of the 'establishment' here.

Goyt valley - the Peak district location for Hen Harrier Day 2015, set in the scarred, burnt setting of Grouse shooting moorland
The situation is particularly dire in England where in 2013, the species failed to raise a single chick for the first time since the 1960’s and there were only 4 known nests in 2014. Some of the resulting chicks were satellite tagged but within weeks of fledging two of the tags, fitted to Sky and Hope, stopped transmitting within days of each other, bodies were never found. An astonishingly coincidental failure of technology? I doubt it. In summer 2015, of 12 known nests, 5 of the adult males of the pairs vanished (i.e. were shot/poisoned/trapped) with the result that their nesting attempts were doomed to failure.
Dr Mike Clarke (centre), RSPB chief executive
The Hen Harrier Day event was a real who's who in British conservation, with speakers including Chris Packham, Dr Mark Avery (both needing no introduction and of course having made huge contributions in raising awareness of the plight of Hen Harriers in the UK), also Jeff Knott of the RSPB, and Jo Smith of the Derbyshire Wildlife Trust. Dr Mike Clarke, chief executive of the RSPB was in the audience and has written an excellent post for the RSPB's blog about the weekend and the current situation with regards to Hen Harrier conservation and the RSPB's stance here

Dr Mark Avery (former RSPB conservation director) addresses the crowd
Naturalist and television presenter Chris Packham
It was inspiring to hear the talks, and the overall optimism of the speakers that despite the continued frustrations and setbacks (of tagged birds 'disappearing', of monitored nests failing because an adult has strayed into a shooting estate to hunt etc.), that eventually with considerable will and determination, the persecution of these birds will come to an end. I would urge anyone who hasn't already done so to consider signing Mark Avery's petition to ban driven grouse shooting. To quote the petition wording - "Grouse shooting for 'sport' depends on intensive habitat management which damages protected wildlife sites, increases water pollution, increases flood risk, increases greenhouse gas emissions and too often leads to the illegal killing of protected wildlife such as Hen Harriers."

A short clip of Chris Packham's impassioned speech at the event in the video below, referencing the 5 Hen Harriers which vanished this year, and also the risible 'You forgot the birds' organisation.

I hope that the event will continue each year and go from strength to strength until such a time as it is no longer needed. I live in hope that one day killing animals in the name of entertainment will be consigned to the history books where I firmly believe it should be.

Hen Harrier mascot (who happily posed for many a photo!)


  1. Another excellent blog Jan.
    I get heartily sick of people trying to manipulate natural environments and their creatures in order to make a few bob. The fact is that predator/prey relationships remained in a finely tuned balance for millennia, until man came along and decided they new better. I live in hope that humanity will wake up before it's too late!

    1. Thanks Dougie, I agree entirely. I also really don't see the appeal of blasting birds out of the sky for fun, it's nothing short of a bloodbath, and an unfortunate irony that in order to maintain sufficient (artificially high) levels of 'quarry' people take it upon themselves to also kill any other creature that happens to be a potential predator... in order to have plenty of birds available to kill.... It's easy to despair at humankind sometimes!