August, 2012


Get the latest news on our hen harrier conservation work, including the five-year Hen Harrier Life+ project.

Skydancer - the UK's hen harriers

Follow the efforts of RSPB staff during the breeding season, as they attempt to monitor and protect one of England's rarest breeding birds of prey - the hen harrier.
  • Farming, shooting & wildlife - the people getting it right

    The subject of farming might at first seem like a bit of a digression for this blog but bear with me – it holds more relevance than you might think.

    If you haven’t already come across it, the RSPB’s Nature of Farming Award is an annual competition, sponsored by the Daily Telegraph, which aims to reward and celebrate the fantastic work of wildlife-friendly farmers around the country. And I do mean wildlife – this is not just about birds. The award is also supported by Butterfly Conservation and Plantlife and looks at the farm environment as a whole and all the diversity that that entails.

    Of course anyone with the slightest experience of the countryside will tell you that no two farms are the same and that it would be impossible to judge like for like. But this award isn’t about having the rarest species, or the greatest biodiversity. It is open to any farm and any farming system in the UK from industrial scale dairy to family run crofts and everything in between. It is about passion and enthusiasm and celebrating those who go above and beyond to do positive work for wildlife. You can read more about the motivation behind it here.

    With a top-prize of £1000, the competition is fierce for the four regional finalists and this year is no exception. Four fantastic farmers, who I personally have been hard-pushed to choose between. Have a look at them for yourself and cast your vote here.

    In fact, two of this year’s finalists have hit a double-whammy, standing as shining beacons of best practice for wildlife not only within the farming community but also the shooting community. Peter Knight runs a commercial pheasant shoot with full-time gamekeepers on his estate in West Sussex, while on the other end of the spectrum in Northern Ireland, Jack Kelly maintains a small scale shoot on his 36 ha family farm.

    The interesting point is that to win, entrants must also prove that the farm is a well-run, commercial operation.  In other words that the wonderful work they are doing for wildlife is compatible, even beneficial, for their business. See where I’m going with this...?

    Farming. Conservation. Shooting. These three vocations/land-uses/call-them-what-you-will, so often portrayed as incompatible, as against one another, as divided interests. Yet here they stand, shining examples to us all of how things can (and should) be.

    Show your support for these fantastic farmers and cast your vote before the 5th September. (You could even be in with a chance to win a luxury spa break for two!)

  • Ghost Bird, 15-16th September

    I must apologise - August is clearly a difficult month for blogging as everyone and his dog seems to be on holiday! Not to worry though, normal service will resume shortly...!

    In the meantime, I have what promises to be a very interesting piece of independent hen harrier based theatre to share with you. Ghost Bird has been created by Louise Ann Wilson as part of the Lancashire Witches 400 project and will take place outdoors on the 15th and 16th of September in the Trough of Bowland. Here's what she says about it:

    Ghost Bird is a beautifully-crafted walk and live art installation specific to an upland valley in the Trough of Bowland, a landscape that is internationally important for its heather moorland, blanket bog and rare birds.

    Following a pathway into upper reaches of the valley, you will be invited to walk onto the moorland.  Continuing in silence, you will discover installations and interventions made from the materials of the place that are inspired by the landscape and in particular the Hen Harrier. Here you can take your own time to look, listen and reflect on the environment around you.

    Referring to the ghostly grey feathers of the male Harrier and the absence this year of nesting pairs in the Trough of Bowland, Ghost Bird celebrates the beauty of the Hen Harrier and draws attention to their sometimes fragile existence within the North of England. In doing so, the work also becomes a means of reflecting on the journey taken 400 years ago over the Bowland Fells to Lancaster Castle by the Pendle Witches.

    Ghost Bird is the latest project by the internationally-celebrated artist Louise Ann Wilson, known most recently for the walking performances Jack Scout (2010) and Fissure (2011). In this new small scale piece, installations and acts of live performance combine to create a unique walking experience set within a stunning upland landscape.

    Ghost Bird is created and directed by Louise Ann Wilson with choreography by Nigel Stewart of Sap Dance; is performed by dance artist Julia Griffin and a team of life-models.

    Ghost Bird covers a 7 mile route, with installations sited at the top end of the valley.  Your walk is unguided and you can set out between the hours of 11am and 3pm on 15 and 16 of September 2012. Audiences should dress for the weather and wear sturdy footwear.

    Ghost Bird is free, but in order to attend visitors must register by email. Numbers are limited and further information about the piece will be sent out in advance. To register, email, including the size of your party, individual names and email addresses, and any specialist needs. Children must be accompanied by an adult.

    Click here for further information.

  • Never presume to assume #1

    Assumptions are dangerous things to make, and like all dangerous things to make -- bombs, for instance, or strawberry shortcake -- if you make even the tiniest mistake you can find yourself in terrible trouble.” – Lemony Snicket, A Series of Unfortunate Events

    As Skydancer fast approaches its first year marker, the truth of these words is becoming ever more apparent. Assumptions (ie the conclusions we reach based on little or no evidence, stereotypes, hearsay, or more often so-called common knowledge) are a bad habit and one of which we are all guilty from time to time. As a student, I once endured a 20 min taxi journey with a very confused and seemingly upset driver who couldn’t reconcile the fact that as a conservation student, I had neither dreadlocks nor vegetarian tendencies. In fact even now, people regularly assume that working for the RSPB as I do, I must be vegetarian. I’m not, for the record but as assumptions go, it’s fairly amusing and hardly something worth worrying about. At the other end of the spectrum, assumptions do have the potential to be hugely damaging (it is, after all, assumptions that form the basis of racial stereotypes), but innocent or malicious, all assumptions do have one thing in common – they are quite simply unproductive.

    If you don’t ask questions, how will you ever know the answers?

    Skydancer was conceived as a means to challenge assumptions on both sides of the harrier-grouse shooting debate and attending a wide range of events and shows this summer has certainly given me an opportunity to do just that. On the one hand, I had a woman at the Newcastle Green Festival telling me not to bother trying to work with the shooting lot, as “they won’t listen.” While on the other, I had a man at the West Cumbria Game Fair saying, as I beckoned him into our tent, “You don’t want to know my opinion. I’m a gamekeeper.” Assumptions, people, assumptions.

    In fact, I think these two statements border on the worst kind of assumptive behaviour – closed-mindedness. That may sound harsh but think of it in terms of an unwillingness to allow ones assumptions to be challenged. If you refuse to speak to someone on the assumption that they won’t hear you out, how will you ever know if you’re right? More importantly, how will they ever have the opportunity to prove you wrong?

    Over the coming weeks, I’ll be writing a series of blogs that each addresses a common assumption about hen harriers, the RSPB and shooting.

    In the spirit of fair play and open-mindedness, I would like to invite anyone involved in the shooting community, all you Shooting Times and Countryman’s Weekly readers out there, to email me with the assumptions that you feel that conservationists make about shooting/people who shoot, which you feel are unjustified and why, and I will do my best to publish and address them on this blog (reasoned arguments only please – rants, though therapeutic for the ranter, are rarely productive).

    I think it’s high time we all started questioning our assumptions and started challenging ourselves to find new paths and opinions. Here’s a starter for ten that I know will do that for some people: Gamekeepers do not want to see anything go extinct and the RSPB does not want to ban shooting.

    We would love to hear your thoughts on the blog and all things Skydancer. To leave a comment, simply register with RSPB Community by clicking on the link at the top righthand corner of the page. Registration is completely free and only takes a moment. Let us know what you think!