Hen Harrier Day Eve and Day – some thoughts and reflections.

Saturday 8th August Buxton

I don’t normally go out on a Saturday night. It’s not that I am a risk to the public, or likely to make a nuisance of myself with visitors to the town. To be honest, I can’t be bothered anymore. I’m getting old and usually feel  rather tired, so that a good night out nowadays is a good night in.  Tucked up in bed before sundown, a decent book, which means one that has large enough type so that I don’t have to squint, a hot drink, and something improving on the wireless that I can fall asleep to. (I have to wear earphones of course as Lilly the Collie gets disturbed by the radio.)

However this Saturday night I was going out. I was looking forward to it. It was ‘Hen Harrier’ day eve, a celebration of the Hen Harrier and a call to action, to say, enough of persecution and destroying valuable habitats, we want our wildlife back.

It was being held at the Palace hotel. There was entertainment and speakers and I was worryingly excited by the prospect.

The Palace hotel is strange place for the birth of a revolution. A slightly down at heel Edwardian hotel, recently put under new management, which apart from Kate the attractive and efficient young lady serving behind the bar at the front of the hotel, explained the general sense of chaos about the place. But I digress, tonight is not about taking cheap shots at a struggling hotel, it is about a celebration. Tonight 8th August 2015, will go down in history as the night that the people started the long march to reclaim the countryside and gave a chance to the wildlife that lives in it. The start of the environmental revolution, that gave the people, armed with a basic but sound understanding of ecology, the arguments to change the way things were and to create a wild and wonderful future for wildlife.

Sunday

After a reasonable night’s sleep, I am up early and off to the Goyt. I have offered to help with the marshalling at one of the car parks. This is a bit like asking Genghis Khan to broker a peace deal as I have very little spatial sense. We manage to cram a lot of cars into the Derbyshire Bridge car park, no one is hurt, no cars are damaged and everyone is in high spirits. There is a great sense of a shared purpose.

It is not just in the Peak District that people are gathering, all around the UK groups of people are making their views known and drawing a line in the sand, or on the heather clad hillside. But the Peak District gathering is special.  Mark Avery and Chris Packham will be there to address the gathering.

Hen Harrier day is only in its second year but it is growing in support. It has been made necessary because the Hen Harrier, along with other raptors are persecuted by a small but powerful minority of people who want to preserve a so called sport, that has effectively turned the moors and uplands of large tracts of northern England into ecological deserts. Cut and burn mono cultures maintained in a condition to maximise the shooting surplus of red grouse, so that each late summer and autumn ‘the few’ can venture onto the hills, to blast away at this small inoffensive and rather dull bird.

If you think about it for one moment, the argument that shooting is good for conservation is absurd. I have noticed that a few of the usual suspects on my Facebook feed put forward the argument that killing Cecil the Lion was good for wild life conservation in Africa because of the money it raised. Have these people no shame? Perhaps I am being unkind. Perhaps they are just thick, and too stupid to understand the consequences of their selfish sport. If you care about wildlife conservation in Africa, go on Safari, get up close and personal and take a photo. You can still spend your money and support wildlife conservation. Killing a magnificent lion with a bow and arrow and botching it, just for the fun of it, just so you can put a trophy on the wall of your dental practice, isn’t brave and it isn’t clever. You have an emotional intelligence quotient of zero. There is more compassion and humanity in a petri dish. You are pathetic excuses for a human beings.

I have digressed a bit so back to the Goyt and Hen Harrier day. In order to maintain a viable grouse moor, gamekeepers need to ensure a ‘shooting’ surplus of red grouse each year that can then be shot. This means that they effectively farm the grouse, delivering medicated grit to combat disease and culling the mountain hares that pass on a fatal tick. Predators (foxes, stoats, weasels, crows) are culled to a bare minimum and raptors such as the hen harrier are not made welcome. This year it seems that grouse numbers have crashed as the prolonged winter and disease has curtailed their numbers. That is what happens in intensive, unnatural, damaged and broken ecosystems. Its just basic science.

Grouse moor managers claim that they are good conservationists. They would like us to be grateful for the work they do, often with tax payers money. But increasing the numbers of waders on a grouse moor is not conservation. Only allowing fauna that does not reduce the numbers of grouse is not creating a sustainable, viable, healthy ecosystem. To have a healthy viable ecosystem you need to have apex predators, meso predators as well as the herbivores and to the grouse moor managers, animals that do not effect the numbers and health of the grouse. Picking and choosing the species that are ‘allowed’ on the moors creates an un sustainable damaged habitat. Its time to stop messing about and learn from nature. Time to introduce Golden Eagles, back into the Peak District.

Attending the Hen Harrier events this weekend has restored my belief in humanity. There are some great, some kind and some very determined people about. They care about the environment and the creatures that live in it, but more importantly their narrative is not one of class hatred, nor are they merely tree hugging green blobs as a Tory Sec of State for the Environment once labelled them, their narrative is based on science, on fact, on justice and having right on their side. In the end this is what will prevail.

We will win.

To hear Chris Packham’s address to the crowd at Goyt’s Clough Quarry, click here.

To get an objective perspective on grouse moors and hen harriers you could do worse than read ‘Inglorious’ by Dr Mark Avery.  If nothing else have a look at his blog here.

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