Wednesday 2 February 2011

Harriers: the saga continues

Things may look quiet on the surface, but underwater I have been paddling furiously. Which is a roundabout way of saying that I have been in contact with a wide variety of people who have an interest in raptors in general, and hen harriers and grouse moors in particular.

Treading carefully too, I might add - the subject arouses strong feelings. If you were to place some of the people I've been talking to in the same room... well, sparks would fly, maybe fists too. What has struck me, though, is that everyone has come across as impassioned and genuine, whatever their take on the subject.

I am not going to comment on how widespread the problem may or may not be - that's where most discussions run in to a brick wall. But talking to people on all sides of this debate, I am now convinced that some keepers firmly believe that they wouldn't be doing their job properly if they allowed harriers to set up home on their patch.

Equally, there are many in shooting (of whom I'm one) who believe that killing birds of prey is totally unacceptable, whatever the circumstances. If it means a grouse moor is financially unviable, tough. For me, shooting was never about money anyway.

When these two types of shooter collide, things get unpleasant. Imagine a situation where a young keeper with a 'modern' outlook finds himself working under an 'old school' head keeper, and gradually becomes aware that killing raptors is considered part of the job.

He wrestles with his conscience, perhaps for months. His career, his family's wellbeing, maybe even his own safety, depend on him keeping schtum, betraying everything he believes in. Perhaps that goes on, and he just learns to live with hating himself. Many of us have been in jobs like that. Or perhaps, brave soul, he decides to turn whistleblower.

First problem, where to turn? His employer? No chance. The RSPB? You must be kidding. The shooting organisations? They say they're against illegal killing, but when the chips are down can they really provide the care and, yes, protection, that our whistleblower is going to need? The police? That's probably where he turns - and that's when his personal hell escalates to a whole new level.

If we're ever going to tackle this problem head-on, this is the guy we need to support 100%. At present, it would take a very brave man indeed to dob in a rogue keeper. The RSPB's 'Bad Apples' campaign was aimed at such people, but it offered them no incentive, no protection. We need to do more. Who does, and how? Well, I don't have the answer, but my instinct is to look towards the keepers' organisations, who at least have some experience of supporting keepers in difficult situations, and of all those groups are most likely to be trusted by our man on the horns of a dilemma.

Whilst talking to various people involved in this debate, it struck me how in many ways it's similar to issues like the impact of tuna fishing on dolphins. Is there scope for a 'Raptor Friendly' scheme for shoots, just as you might see a 'Dolphin Friendly' logo on your tin of supermarket tuna?

The idea certainly has a superficial appeal - it could get shooting estates and the raptor lobby talking positively, which must be a good thing. But who would draw up the criteria? And who would administer the scheme? Would shoots really go along with something run by the RSPB? Or would we need another body to run it, one that's not perceived as so anti-shooting -  even though that would weaken the value of the scheme?

Again, I don't know the answers - but I think the questions are worth asking, and I'd be very interested to hear views from all sides. Shout if you must, but I listen better when people talk nicely!


Alan Tilmouth said...

James can I congratulate you on the honesty and openness of this post. I have been amongst the first to criticise when you have written material and views that I had issues with but I (finally) sense a genuine desire to resolve this issue for the benefit of all involved. If I can help in anyway please don't hesitate to ask.

Mike Price said...


You are unfortunately spot on you could take the example further, what if with a wink and a nod the employer is actually the person who believes the raptors need to be "controlled".
What does the keepers do his house, his vehicle and his reputation are at stake, not just his current job but possibly his whole career.

Certainly not a situation I would like to imagine myself in, particually with the current job market.

As always the open ended question is what can be done about it?

Certainly the penalties that have previously been given for such crimes would do very little to act as a deterent, equally it is very hard to uphold the law that already exists.
So will further legistlation really make much difference?

We could possibly get a look at how that might pan out with the WaNE bill updates in Scotland if they are passed.

The solution has to be workable and needs the support of both sides.

Lancashire and Lakeland Outback Adventure Wildlife Safaris said...

I like the idea of 'dolphin friendly' shoots but there is a major flaw in the proposal in that all shoots by already by law have to be raptor friendly so by putting a sticker on x's shoot could be taken to imply that y's isn't and so is breaking the law and therefore should be prosecuted...but dialogue needs to start somewhere and soon and this is as good a place as any.