On 10th August 2014 around 570 people met on a (very wet!) patch of grass by the Derwent Dam, Hope Valley in the Peak District National Park, Derbyshire. Our aim was to highlight the illegal persecution of Hen Harriers on grouse shooting estates in the north of England. In 2013 no Hen Harrier chicks fledged and in 2014 only three nests are known in England. If the three pairs manage to fledge young there is no guarantee that they or their young will survive the shooting season which started on the 12th August. There is suitable habitat in England to support over 300 breeding pairs.
The meeting was conceived and arranged by Mark Avery, former Conservation Director of the RSPB. His idea was to gather a group of birdwatchers together to bring media attention to the plight of this enigmatic bird. Within a few days all tickets had be allocated, T-shirts printed, placards made, a 6 foot high Hen Harrier was made by Finlay Wilde, a young conservationist and travel plans were put in place. With the shadow of hurricane Bertha hanging over the country we made our way to Derbyshire – in my case a pilgrimage back “home”.
As we all gathered in the pouring rain we were welcomed by Mark, who thanked us for our commitment especially given the terrible weather and explained why we were here, and how the event would run. Similar events were being held in Lancashire, Northumberland, and Weymouth.
He then handed over to Chris Packham who spoke eloquently and passionately about Hen Harriers and their loss in recent years. He pointed out that it has been illegal to shoot HH since the 1950’s but the law has not been upheld and they have continued to be persecuted. He compared our natural heritage to a piece of artistic heritage, musing that if he damaged a famous painting there would rightly be outrage and punishment, but when someone kills our natural heritage nothing is done.
We were gathering “to send a message that we want the law to be respected, upheld and implemented, all we are asking for is an end to persecution and for birds of prey to be a presence in our countryside and our lives”. He said that we were “frustrated, fed up, have done our best to compromise and work creatively ……… but we have failed. The conservation movement of which we are all passionate members has failed. So we have to come up with new methods.”
One of those new methods is an e-petition, created by Mark Avery which aims; “to ban the ‘sport’ of driven grouse shoots, believing that the intensive management of upland areas has led to the near-extinction of the protected Hen Harrier in England, as well as increased the risk of flooding, discolouration of drinking water, degradation of peat bogs and impacts on other wildlife. Grouse shooting interests have persecuted the Hen Harrier to such an extent that despite full legal protection for the last 60 years it is almost extinct as a breeding species in England” “Grouse shooters have failed to put their own house in order, despite decades of discussion, and government has proved incapable of influencing this powerful lobby group. The time has now come for the public to call ‘Enough!’ and require the next government to ban driven grouse shooting in England”.
As Chris Packham said – “It is an audacious request, to ban a complete type of shooting activity, but it sends out a message to the shooting fraternity generally. We have tried and trusted you to work with us but you have failed us, sort out the bad apples in your barrel otherwise we are gunning for you and we will win”
This petition garnered sufficient support to force Government’s response. At the time of writing over 15,000 people have signed. To sign the petition, follow this link:
Photographs were taken, media interviews were completed, and then we were all free to chat, take photos, discuss our experiences and enjoy the day.
Many organisations supported the day including Birders Against Wildlife Crime who helped to organise and publicise the event, RSPB, Rare Bird Alert, the League Against Cruel Sports, the Green Party and many others.
Martin Harper, the RSPB’s conservation director, said: ” The public is becoming increasingly concerned about the effect intensive grouse moor management is having on birds of prey, and we’re challenging the industry to consign illegal persecution to history.
“All those taking part in Hen Harrier Day look forward to the day when hen harriers can fly freely over the moors of England once more.”
To see what a great time we had, view here.