More media coverage of hen harrier persecution

A male hen harrierIt sounds like an odd thing to say, but something good has stemmed from the ‘disappearance’ of five breeding hen harrier males this year, and that’s the amount of media coverage generated by these incidents.

The national press has been all over these crimes (and yes, we are calling them crimes because you’d have to be either pretty dense and/or wilfully obstructive to claim that these ‘disappearances’ are the result of anything else) with plenty of column inches in the Guardian, Independent, Daily Mail and Express, as well as TV broadcasting on the BBC News and Channel 4 News. Social media has also been busy, with massive coverage on Twitter and Facebook in addition to constant coverage on several well-read personal blogs, all with a wide social reach.

Instrumental to all this media attention was the release of the information in the first place, and for that we have the RSPB to thank. As a result, the RSPB find themselves at the centre of (another) targeted slur campaign, funded by the industry with the most to lose in terms of public perception when news gets out about another ‘missing’ hen harrier in yet another area managed for driven grouse shooting. The funny part is, the more they smear the RSPB, the more that news editors will want to run the story, so the more people are going to hear about what’s going on.

Some may worry about what’s been written in some of the papers – the Daily Mail coverage was, well, pretty much what you’d expect from the Daily Mail (with it’s grouse moor-owning proprietor), but did that matter? Apparently not. The plight of the hen harrier has never been so high profile and never have so many people raised their voices in support of this species – it’s inconceivable that just a couple of years ago the hen harrier would have been voted the nation’s 9th favourite bird (as it was this week) – it would have been lucky to have made the Top 100, let alone the Top Ten. That’s pretty impressive, especially when you consider that the grassroots campaign in support of the hen harrier is still pretty young – it’s only really just got started.

There’s even more media coverage this weekend, with this article in the Independent. It doesn’t really tell us anything new, apart from learning that United Utilities had ‘banned’ the reporter from visiting the one remaining hen harrier nest in Bowland because the issue had become “too political”, whatever that means. But the content of the article isn’t really what’s interesting – what is interesting is that the Independent thought this issue newsworthy enough to send a journalist all the way from London to Cumbria to look at the now abandoned hen harrier nest on the Geltsdale Reserve. The accompanying text is largely irrelevant (although undoubtedly it will have been read by some people who were previously unaware of hen harrier persecution on driven grouse moors, so that’s good); it’s the fact that the story is being published in the mainstream media, again, that’s important.

Not only does extensive media coverage reach an ever-increasing audience, it also helps to build pressure on the authorities who are in a position to do something about these seemingly untouchable raptor killers, but so far have managed to do virtually nothing, or at least anything meaningful.

A few days ago the UK Government’s statutory nature conservation agency, Natural England, published a statement in response to the news that five breeding male hen harriers have ‘disappeared’. You can read it here. It tells us how ‘concerned’ they are, but other than that, it seems to be business as usual. More satellite-tagging to “provide even more detailed information on how birds move around the landscape and the factors currently limiting the population”.

That’ll be the same satellite tag information they’ve been collecting for the last eight years and have yet to publish in any detail.

12 Responses to “More media coverage of hen harrier persecution”

  1. 1 keith heaney
    June 14, 2015 at 4:06 pm

    Amazing whats happening in uk with this gorgeous species so rare and endangered but still the game keepers persist and egg collectors still collecting the future for ths species is very bleak.conservation must work or somply they will disappear altogether.

  2. 2 Anand Prasad
    June 14, 2015 at 4:18 pm

    That was a pretty good article in the Independent (which usually has so may errors in its environmental articles it makes me cringe).
    Meanwhile as the country v. townie myth is spun endlessly by the Botham crowd, here in the real world we have this grass-roots campaign, which my sister who lives and farms in the Forest of Bowland, told me about.
    View at Medium.com

  3. 6 Jane McArthur
    June 14, 2015 at 4:37 pm

    At long last there is something happening at Abbeystead, Forest of Bowland see facebook page Hands Off Our Harriers! Let’s hope the numbers rise for the proposed event

  4. 7 Anand Prasad
    June 14, 2015 at 5:04 pm

    Local (country) knowledge tells me that there were 40+ pairs of Hen Harriers in the Forest of Bowland until His Disgrace took ownership of 18,000 acres of it in 1980. Just co-incidence of course.

  5. 8 Chris
    June 14, 2015 at 11:56 pm

    The following is copied from an RSPB report on the European Eagle Owl as an invasive non-native species.

    “As a probable introduced species, eagle owls have been the subject of a government risk assessment to determine their likely impacts on economic interests, society and the conservation status of native wildlife.

    The risk assessment concluded that an increasing population of eagle owls in Great Britain may pose a significant threat to species of conservation concern, such as hen harriers. Eagle owls are not the reason that hen harriers are absent from large parts of the UK’s uplands – that is due to sustained persecution over decades – but they do occur in places where hen harriers are hanging on.”

    I am not attempting to negate the fact that persecution is a very real problem, but can we be absolutely sure that this isn’t the cause of so many male hen harriers disappearing in the last few weeks? Bear in mind that these males would have been hunting to support females as well as feeding themselves, that makes them an easy target for a hunting eagle owl which may have it’s own brood to feed, as much as a keeper with his gun.

    This report was from 2010. Does the RSPB know what the current situation is? If this is an additional risk to the hen harrier, would it alter their position on the “brood management” plans that were being discussed?

  6. 9 John Miles
    June 15, 2015 at 1:11 pm

    In Europe only 1 incident of Eagle Owl taking Hen Harrier has been reported. On Bowland a Common Gull wing was thought to be a male Hen Harrier wing! A camera on an eagle owl nest showed 95% rabbit as food early in the breeding season. Rabbits cause £200 million in damage to agriculture, horticulture and private gardens a year! The government would not license the killing of Eagle Owls as they knew the shooting estates would do the job any way! I was privileged to have a pair of Eagle Owls up from my house until some one killed them as they did most of the Bowland birds.Was this the last year for breeding Eagle Owls in Britain?

    • 10 Chris
      June 16, 2015 at 12:00 am

      Really John?
      This is another paragraph from the RSPB report:-

      “Eagle owls will prey on a wide range of birds and mammals, and they are known to be intolerant of other birds of prey and owls in their territory. Little is known about what they eat in Britain, although locally common prey such as rabbits and pheasants are known to feature. It is important that eagle owls breeding in Britain be monitored to understand what effect they are having on species of conservation concern and whether the population is expanding.”

      They have been recorded as eating buzzards. In Scandinavian countries they are recorded regularly as a predator of smaller raptors, both diurnal and nocturnal.

      In the USA, a significant cause of mortality of falconers birds is eagles and the larger owls, most often when the hawk has made a kill a distance from the falconer, and is occupied with securing its kill.

      Here is the link to the report. https://www.rspb.org.uk/forprofessionals/policy/species/nonnative/eagleowls.aspx

      You may also find the comments on the numbers of escaped Eagle Owls interesting.

      Do you have any more information on what the camera on the eagle owl nest showed? What was the breakdown of the other 5% of prey items? And what did the camera show later in the breeding season? I would be interested in hearing more.

  7. 11 Een Historicus
    June 15, 2015 at 1:23 pm

    It´s now or never. Everywhere in West-Europe numbers are going down dramatically. Happy with the (social) media attention, but I wonder what the future brings for hen harriers.

  8. 12 John Miles
    June 17, 2015 at 1:17 pm

    A new poyser is coming out on Eagle Owl. The hen harrier killed was in fact in Finland. Funny how people don’t like to hear the positive of a species. May be Chris is a game keeper!

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