It’s been a while since we’ve heard any more cock and bull stories from Sir Ian Botham. He’s been pretty quiet since he was caught out mis-using the good name of the BTO last August, but on Saturday he was back attacking the RSPB in an article in the Telegraph.
The article (here), written by ‘Online Education Editor’?! Harry Yorke, headlined with ‘RSPB embarrassed after rare bird it suggested had been illegally dispatched is found alive and well‘.
The article refers to satellite-tagged hen harrier ‘Highlander’, whose signal had stopped abruptly last summer but who had probably been observed in the field last month with a presumably faulty sat tag (see here).
The Telegraph’s headline is inaccurate on two counts. The RSPB isn’t ’embarrassed’ and nor had it suggested Highlander had been ‘illegally dispatched’. On the contrary, at the time Highlander’s tag stopped working the RSPB blog announcing the news was supremely cautious (see here) and at no point was it suggested that Highlander had been ‘illegally dispatched’.
Of course, many of us assumed she had been bumped off, and that was an entirely reasonable conclusion to draw given the growing list of hen harriers known to have been illegally shot in recent years (Rowan, Carroll, Lad, Annie, Betty, Heather, Muirkirk female, Fettercairn male, Geallaig Hill male) but the RSPB did not say that Highlander had been illegally dispatched, just that she had disappeared.
And that’s why the RSPB isn’t ’embarrassed’ by Highlander’s apparent reappearance. What has the RSPB got to be embarrassed about? Absolutely nothing – the RSPB has been open and honest about this failed tag, in sharp contrast to how other organisations have handled the recent news that another sat-tagged hen harrier, Rowan, had been shot.
The Telegraph article includes some quotes from Botham where he slags off the RSPB – it’s not clear if he was speaking as the mouthpiece of the grouse-shooting industry’s propaganda campaign You Forgot the Birds but his diatribe has all the familiar hallmarks of the Nasty Brigade.
As ever though, it’s what the article didn’t include that is the most telling. This piece was published the day after the RSPB’s 2015 Birdcrime report was published, detailing the continued illegal persecution of raptors across the UK, largely at the hands of gamekeepers. You could argue that this attack on the RSPB was the Telegraph’s / grouse-shooting industry’s direct response to that report.
Thanks to one of our blog readers (‘Mr Carbo’) for sending in this interpretation of what’s happening to satellite-tagged hen harriers.