A change of pace this week as fellow Wildlife Articles blogger Eleanor Daisy Upstill-Goddard writes on the subject of raptor persecution. An issue close to the hearts of many, myself included, which has attracted a great deal of attention of late. And rightfully so, with abhorrent instances of illegal killing still seemingly commonplace in our countryside, despite the best efforts of conservationists and the supposedly stringent laws put in place to protect our wildlife. You can find about more about Eleanor on her website or follow her on Twitter for future updates, but for now, let’s get to it.
Britain. We have been an island nation for over 8000 years. An island nation that has played host to some of the world’s most magnificent specimens from the animal kingdom. However, as many of us are all too aware, over the past 8000 years, things have changed somewhat and we now find ourselves without many of these iconic species. In 2016, the state of British ecosystems is very different to 6000BC. Although in some respects this is down to dramatic changes in climate and the natural changes this causes to habitats and species compositions, much of it is down to something else. Down to the actions of one species. The humanoid. That’s right, over the centuries, the actions of us humans have caused many changes and problems for our wildlife and biodiversity. In recent years, we have recognised the magnitude of such changes and this has caused the growth of many campaign groups, charities and individuals who have fought to improve and save many of our species and habitats. However, when it comes to British conservation problems, there are still many hurdles we need to overcome.
So, what are these problems? Well, put it this way, if I were to list each individual topic, it would take quite some time to get through and afterwards, we would probably be left feeling very depressed and deflated indeed. So! Perhaps it would be best if we tried to tackle or address one at a time? For me, there is one that is very high on the agenda, which, if we are honest, should not really be a problem at all. Why? Because it is illegal. What am I talking about? Raptor persecution. To purposefully kill or harm any one of our raptor species (except the sparrow hawk; outlawed 1961) has been illegal since 1954. However, regrettably, it would seem that throughout the decades, their protection status has done little to shield them from persecution. But wait! Hang on there one minute! Little to protect them? Look at the Red Kite! Extinct in England in 1871 and now, in 2016, they are thriving! The same for the Buzzard! A once highly persecuted bird that is now come back with vengeance. Well, indeed and thank goodness! Now, although nobody is denying the success of these comeback kings, what about the Hen Harrier? Is that a tumbleweed? The Hen Harrier is a species, which, on our shores, cannot seem to catch a break. A species that is constantly battling extinction, predominantly due to the inability of some to accommodate this magnificent species on their land. In the case of this raptor and some others, their protection status would seem little more than a formality, a formality to be flouted and ignored. So, you say Red Kite, I say, Hen Harrier, you say Buzzard, I say Golden Eagle. Although the status of many of our birds of prey have improved, it is still not enough. It is not enough that an activity that has been outlawed for over 60 years, is still practised by some who seem to perceive themselves as above the law.
But some think we raptor lovers and conservationists are merely kicking up a stink because we like to complain (apparently). So, there are ‘a few bad apples’ (my favourite line) that commit such crimes, but most people don’t and most people work within the law. Right. It never ceases to amaze me how an activity that is labelled illegal can be so nonchalantly cast aside. I wonder if we applied the same reasoning to other crimes if the response would be quite so lacklustre. If we were talking of robbery or murder, would we say oh well! It’s only a few bad apples! With nothing done to remove them? I think not. It seems to me that because this crime concerns wildlife, the action taken to prevent it leaves a lot to be desired. But perhaps I’m being overly dramatic? Yes, raptor persecution exists, but is it really as bad as it is made out to be? As it is often argued by some, incidences of raptor persecution are falling.
In 2002, the reported incidences of raptor persecution, including shooting, trapping, poisoning, egg collecting, nest disturbance and possession was numbering 591 cases, compared with 356 in 2014. Now, I am not about to deny that 591 is indeed a higher number than 356, nor am I going to dispute that this does indeed constitute a drop in numbers. However, over a 12 year period, the drop could be greater. In fact, in my eyes 356, which is a rough estimation, is still far too high. Just because numbers seem to be falling, it does not mean that the issue is being resolved, with each year bringing new and shocking cases of persecution. In fact, many believe that numbers of persecution cases are much higher than the data suggests. Why? Is it just us conservationists being determined to take a gloomy look on life? Desperate to sit in the cloud and ignore the apparent silver lining? Not quite. In fact, that belief is quite a justified and logical one. Imagine this. You are an individual who does not look upon birds of prey with a friendly eye, in fact, you are a person who is going to harm them. But you know it is illegal, you know that the laws against such an activity are becoming harsher and you know the public are becoming more aware of the problem. You see a Red Kite. You check you have no unwanted observers and you take aim, hitting your target. Would you say job done, and go home? Or would you watch where your quarry fell, retrieve it and dispose of it, so that there was no evidence of your crime? If you were smart and had the ability to do so, you would get rid of the evidence. Your crime goes unchecked, unchallenged and falls into nothingness. So, do we believe all recorded cases of raptor persecution are the only cases? Most certainly not.
Raptor persecution is a British problem. It is not limited to one country, one county or one species. It is indiscriminate and unspecific in its nature. It could take the form of a Goshawk nest disturbed in a southern county forest, or a Hen Harrier shot in the Scottish Highlands. For some people, birds of prey will never be welcome. They are seen as crass and dangerous species who are capable of destroying business and livelihoods and unfortunately, this is enough to cement opinion against them. However, on the enlightened side of the coin, they are recognised as magnificent, unique and important species who have a crucial and rightful place within British habitats, increasing our biodiversity and improving the health of our ecosystems. They are important predators, scavengers and bio-indicators of ecosystem health, and where there are healthy populations of raptors, there are thriving ecosystems.
In Britain, we have already lost some of our important natural predators. The Brown Bear, Grey Wolf and Eurasian Lynx currently reside on the list of species that were hunted to extinction many centuries ago. Raptor species should never be allowed to be added to that list. It is time that those opinions still displayed by our wildlife criminals were cast back into the Medieval times where they belong. Birds of prey are not mindless, savage, cold killers, they are vital members of our biodiversity. Destroy a bird of prey and you are destroying the ecosystem health of your country and that is a crime that cannot be allowed.
“You are not entitled to your opinion. You are entitled to your informed opinion. No one is entitled to be ignorant.” – Harlan Ellison