Many will have noticed that game-shooting has suddenly gone soft on Hen Harriers in a big way. Led from the front by the increasingly vocal Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust they are now making daily appeals for DEFRA to publish the Hen Harrier Joint Action Plan and let them get on with saving the Hen Harrier from extinction.
That's it then I guess, a few tweets, the odd petition and we've changed the world, converted the killers into saviours. We can sit back and watch as Hen Harriers become as common as Buzzards and stop worrying about their fate as they're safe in the hands of gamekeepers everywhere.
While it is a positive move that GWCT and others have realised that their previous lack of action reflects badly on both them and the wider game shooting community, the current PR onslaught on social media and the industry press, mostly urging DEFRA to release the Joint Action Plan is the least that we should be expecting given the lack of action to date. It's disappointing that most haven't felt able to grasp the olive branch offered by Hen Harrier Day, a day to clearly call for an end to illegal persecution by all. Perhaps the distinctions between this awareness event and other more general anti-shooting sentiment have been blurred by some commentators to the extent the shooting industry hasn't felt able to support it?
Game-shooting, or more specifically driven grouse shooting, is facing a huge crisis and they know it. Public awareness and feeling towards any activity that willfully allows some to destroy parts of our natural heritage is growing. The campaign to raise awareness under the banner of #HenHarrierDay is proving a huge success. Add to that Mark Avery's attempts to bring about a total ban and national media attention will follow as we approach the 10 August and a strong display of support for the cause on the day itself will send a powerful message to the wildlife criminals that have removed Hen Harriers unchallenged for years that their time is running out.
Elements of the Joint Action Plan such as diversionary feeding may prove to be an important part of the recovery but the current rush to head off criticism and the worst of the media's attentions by waving JAP as 'the answer' is a poor and rather cynical attempt to avoid some of the real changes that are needed to ensure the culture of killing and illegality in some quarters is consigned to the history books.
I'd like to see a Joint Action Plan but one that included Licensing of Grouse Moors and included conditions on providing detailed records of all wildlife trapped and killed annually for instance. Penalties for both the perpetrators of these crimes and their employers who carry the responsibility for what happens on their land need to be strengthened to act as a real deterrent. However the biggest change needs to be in attitudes and culture, the current support to publish a JAP from GWCT et al needs to be followed up by a genuine, industry-led campaign to change the thinking and dogged reliance on killing predatory wildlife.
I'd like to see (and support) industry wide competitions seeking innovative mitigation techniques involving non-lethal methods. Trials of 'net-ceiling' poult pens for Pheasants that deter Buzzard predation in alleged trouble areas. Estates willing to not only implement diversionary feeding for Hen Harriers but open the estate up with hides to allow public viewing. Commitments to reduce the number of spring traps that pepper some upland estates killing not only target species such as Stoats and Weasels but often many moorland birds such as Ring Ouzels and Dippers.
There is so much more to do, this isn't near the end it's just the start of the change.