Some comments on last night’s ‘Inside Out’ programme on hen harrier persecution

hen harrier (by laurie campbell)So, what did we learn from last night’s Inside Out programme on the illegal persecution of hen harriers?

According to Martin Gillibrand, the Moorland Association’s secretary, there is ‘no evidence’ that gamekeepers have been involved in hen harrier persecution, and the cause of their near extinction as a breeding species in England is “as a result of some very bad springs, breeding productivity has fallen off and the numbers have gone down“. Ah, so climate change is the real problem then. So if we all turn down our central heating and get our lofts insulated the hen harriers will be ok. It’s the same old story – give any explanation for the demise of the hen harrier except for the most obvious one.

Funny that he didn’t mention an earlier Moorland Association statement, given as written evidence during the recent parliamentary audit on wildlife crime (see here) –

“Until a full set of special rules allowing the positive management of hen harriers breeding on grouse moors is forthcoming from the Environment Council’s Hen Harrier Dialogue, moorland owners are within their rights and the law to deter the birds from settling on their moors to breed.”

Nor did he mention previous correspondence between the Moorland Association and DEFRA minister [grouse moor owner] Richard Benyon, discussing the possibility of derogations from international law that would allow for the legal ‘management’ of hen harriers (see here).

What else did we learn? Well, as predicted, the recent introduction of vicarious liability legislation in Scotland was touted as the solution to end raptor persecution. Unsurprisingly, this view was presented by Des Thompson of SNH – an organisation with a vested interest in making everyone believe that they’re dealing with the on-going (59 years and counting) problem of illegal raptor persecution. According to Des Thompson:

We are seeing some real signs of success. There are indications now that the recorded incidents of poisoned birds of prey is declining“.

He went on: “We were despairing in Scotland a couple of years ago but things have got a lot better“.

Have they? Yes, the number of recorded poisoning incidents has dropped, but does that mean poisoning has dropped, or poisoning is still going on but it’s now better hidden, or that recorded poisoning incidents have dropped because other methods of persecution are now being employed? Here are three examples that suggest things have not ‘got better’ (see here, here and here).

spinning180It’s interesting that SNH should interpret the drop in recorded poisoning incidents as a ‘success’, when the only true measure of success will be if raptor populations (especially hen harrier and golden eagle) recover. If they do recover, it will take several years to see it. Sorry, but to suggest at this early stage that vicarious liability has been a ‘success’ is utter rubbish – it’s a statement with more spin than a Zanussi.

Yesterday we blogged about how vicarious liability isn’t the solution to solving the issue of illegal raptor persecution, mainly because the crux of the vicarious liability concept is that the individual criminal first has to be identified before his/her employer can be charged under the new legislation. However, this was written from a Scottish perspective, where evidence such as covert video surveillance (identifying an individual actually committing the crime) is so often banned as admissable evidence in court. However, in England, this type of evidence is frequently accepted in court and has been used very successfully to convict criminal gamekeepers. So, in this context, vicarious liability, if it was to be introduced in England, might just work.

If you missed last night’s programme you can watch it on iPlayer (here) for a limited period.

We’ll be blogging later today about the latest development from the Hen Harrier Dialogue…


3 thoughts on “Some comments on last night’s ‘Inside Out’ programme on hen harrier persecution”

  1. As usual, the conservation establishment equates laws on paper [vicarious liability] with changes on the ground. When will they learn that it takes actual application of these laws, real prosecutions, before there is any deterrent effect?. Weve had a variety of laws protecting raptors, on paper, since the end of the 19th century for gods sake!
    Until the enforcement authorities and the legal establishment show a real committment to applying conservations laws, nothing will change here, which suits some very influential figures in the landowning community, some in both parliaments and some “establishment conservationists”, who just want an easy life, down to the ground.
    The cynicism of the Moorland Association here is breathtaking – no evidence!!..what contempt for the general public, parliament and the law.

    1. I gues it’s only to be expected from people who act like they are still in the Victorian era and wish they still were !!! “Ahh”, for the good old days when gamekeepers were looked on as salt of the earth, now it’s the bad old days and we just take them with a pinch of salt !!!

  2. Most welcome to hear the straight talking from the RSPB’s Tim Melliing, laying the blame for the virtual extermination of hen harriers in England, squarely with the illegal persecution by gamekeepers on grouse moors. Contrast that with SNH’s Des Thompson pretence that the situation is much better in Scotland, when it’s clearly as bad, with the harriers virtually exterminated from the grouse moors there too. To say V.L. as reduced the persecution in Scotland, is clearly not the case. Less raptors have been found poisoned, but other forms of illegal persecution have come to the fore including the trapiping of a golden eagle and the shooting of a golden eagle, not too mention those eagles that have “disappeared” in the lawless uplands. The next step forward, if we wish to protect the nations raptors, is for all shooting estates on both sides of the border to be licenced.

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