Many battles have been fought upon the shores of the British Isles. The Battle of Bosworth, The Battle of Maldon and The Battle of Culloden are just a few that have taken place here and although they may be separated by miles, years and dispute, there is something fundamental that links them all; they were fought by men, between men. In 2017 however, there is another battle that although quiet enough it could be missed by your average man, is still raging in the British countryside. It is a very different kind of battle. A battle between two masters. A master of technology, engineering, medicine and science and the master and ghost of the moorlands. The skydancer. It is the battle of harrier and human. Sadly however, like many battles that have been before it, this is not a fair fight or a fight of morals. One party finds itself equipped with a devastatingly cruel and dishonest cunning, whilst the other is simply following the rules and laws of nature. Quite heartbreakingly, one is decimating the other. That is of course, humans are decimating the British population of the Hen Harrier.
For me, this is like a very dark version of ‘Groundhog Day.’ The same scenario playing over and over again like a broken record playing the same word incessantly. A hen harrier disappears, the outcry and the sound of the alarm goes up from conservationists and concerned parties, the rudimentary statement from the ‘officals’ all follow and then, all goes quiet. Those responsible are let away with it and those of us who try to fight against it are left banging our heads against a brick wall, squabbling with thin air. All goes quiet on the western front. Once again, we find ourselves in the midst of a missing hen harrier. Manu is his name and he was tagged as part of the Hen Harrier LIFE Project in July this year. On October 18th, Manus’ tag stopped signalling. His last location? Blenkinsopp Common on the Cumbria, Northumberland border. Since then, Manus’ trail has gone cold. No body nor tag has been found. It would seem that Northumberland, my home county, may have something serious to answer for.
Hen harriers, as I am sure many of you are aware, are such a rare bird on our shores, particularly in England that the loss of a single specimen is a significant blow to the countries population. So when such a rare and beautiful bird goes missing, we brace ourselves for the arguments and accusation which follow such events. There will be the usual comments of ‘but how do we know the bird has been killed?’ Cries of a ‘malfunctioning satellite!’ And us conservationists are told we are not only jumping but leaping with intent to ludicrous conclusions! Spreading propaganda! And I admit yes, we may be making assumptions, but surely these are not knee jerk reactions? These are informed, justified assumptions based on many previous events that have echoed this latest occurrence. There may be no body, there may never be a body, but that does not mean it has not happened. Unfortunately, those humans that may perpetrate these acts have changed their game. They have learnt from previous mistakes. After all, how can you be accused and held accountable for a crime if there is no evidence such a crime has occurred? Why leave the body of such a protected species on the moorland, when you could easily dispose of it and remove all indications that such an heinous act has taken place?
Sadly the killers of our birds of prey are evolving. They are learning. They are upping their game in this particular fight for the supremacy of our countries moorlands. So how should we respond? With accusations and anger? With handbags at dawn? Or with action? Action to pressure those in government to increase penalties even further against those who kill our birds of prey. Sign the petition to ban driven grouse shooting and alleviate some of the pressure on our raptors when all they are fighting for is their lives and increase the pressure on those who are willing to destroy our natural heritage!
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