Today is August 12th. Until a couple of years ago that meant nothing out of the ordinary to me, as I doubt it did a great proportion of the general public. And why would it? Unless you are one of a very small minority who enjoy the ‘sport’ of driven Grouse shooting then the fact that today marks the start of that particular season was neither here nor there. However, what has become hard to ignore over the years thanks to tireless campaigning by the likes of Mark Avery and others is just what a cost this minority activity is having on our native wildlife, particularly Hen Harriers. Being fortunate to live near a winter site for these elegant birds means that I get to see them often but did you know that this year only three pairs bred on Grouse moors in England? The true total should be in the hundreds and the primary reason for this is illegal persecution by those that manage these areas for maximum Grouse numbers and thus the biggest ‘bags’ on any given day. Because why would you want to shoot one Grouse when you can slaughter hundreds?
And it’s not as if this is some exaggerated campaigning by a select few as part of what some see as a war against the upper classes. That couldn’t be further from the truth. There is no longer any doubt that rampant illegal persecution of Hen Harriers and other raptors on Grouse moors is not only ongoing but actively encouraged as the only viable means to keep the industry going. This isn’t about class. I couldn’t care less if it was some inner city youths or the local Lords and Ladies. Illegal persecution and killing is exactly that. Illegal. And the perpetrators should be brought to justice for robbing the rest of us of the chance to enjoy our native birds of prey, whoever they are.
Perhaps if a civilised debate could have reached some meaningful way forwards with the operators of these moors then the current campaign for an outright ban on driven Grouse shooting could have been avoided. But what little trust there may once have been has long since been eroded by a seemingly never ending parade of atrocities and illegal acts which go unpunished. There are many examples easily accessible across the web but here are some of the headlines which stick out for me:
- There should be 300 pairs of breeding Hen Harriers in England. This year there are three.
- There should be 500 pairs of breeding Hen Harries on Grouse moors in the UK. A typical year now sees less than 20.
- It is a fact that burning of heather on Grouse moors increases surface run-off leading to a greater risk of serious flooding in downstream areas and increased costs to water companies. These costs are passed on to each and every one of us in terms of increased water rates.
- 36 Golden Eagles have been found dead or lost from Scottish Grouse moors in the last ten years.
- Thousands of Mountain Hares are wiped out each year (legally but it really shouldn’t be).
- Illegal traps are set which indiscriminately maim any passing wildlife.
- Wholesale wiping out of Foxes, Stoats and Weasels on Grouse Moors is commonplace. Basically kill anything that could possibly have any kind of an impact on Grouse populations.
I could go on but frankly it’s a little depressing and if you want the full horrific picture then Mark Avery’s blog and Raptor Persecution UK are well worth reading. I must warn you however that even a cursory scan makes you wander if we have really made any progress in this country over the last couple of decades, especially when it comes to raptor persecution.
Thankfully with increased awareness the wider public is finally beginning to realise what is happening in their own back yards. Atrocities that once went unnoticed on remote hillsides are rapidly becoming public knowledge, hitting the national press and instilling the outrage that such acts rightly deserve. Last weekend was the third annual Hen Harrier Day and it was bigger then ever with events up and down the country attracting thousands of ordinary people just wanting to share their outrage at activities against which the authorities apparently seem powerless to act. Only by speaking with one voice can we hope to make a difference, force a national debate on this issue and hopefully save some of our greatest bird species, particularly the Hen Harrier, from further population declines.
The best way to add your voice to this growing campaign is to sign the petition to ban driven Grouse shooting. This is not a decision that many of us have taken lightly but in the face of limited options it seems the only course now open. As I write this 85,919 people have already signed and at 100,000 the petition will be considered for debate in the Houses of Parliament. If you do anything this August 12th I would encourage you to add your signature and help ensure that in future years we don’t look back and wonder what more we could have done to save our Hen Harriers. Thank you.