There's no denying it's been a dismal year for breeding hen harriers in England - only one pair away from total failure. However as autumn leaves herald the return of wintering harriers to the Dee and other sites around our coasts, I can't help but feel that little seed of positivity stirring. It is not over yet - we are down but not out.
To that end, this autumn brings a rare and welcome opportunity for all of us to genuinely change things for the better - not just for hen harriers, but for all wildlife in England and Wales. The Law Commission is currently undergoing the most comprehensive review of all wildlife legislation to happen for several decades, and they have opened their doors to public comment on their proposals. This means that anyone can go on the Law Commission website, read their proposals and submit an opinion, which the Commission will read and take into account.
Here's what it says on their website:
The current law regulating wildlife is spread over a collection of Acts dating back to 1831. The original purpose of much of the law was to govern activities such as hunting and fishing, including poaching. Over the years it has expanded to conserve certain species, ensure the welfare of wildlife and protect local biodiversity from invasive species.The result is a legal landscape that is out of date, confused and often contradictory. For example, the hunting, management and welfare of pheasants is governed by four separate statutes. Much of the older legislation is out of step with modern requirements, and the principal modern Act – the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 – has been amended to such a degree that it is difficult for any non-specialists to use.The proposals we are putting forward in this consultation aim to simplify the existing complex framework, placing wildlife law into a single statute. The new regime would reduce the current dependency on criminal law, by allowing an appropriate mix of regulatory measures such as guidance, advice and a varied and flexible system of civil sanctions – such as fines and bans.
This means that YOU now have a fantastic and unprecedented opportunity to ensure that the right laws are in place to give vulnerable species such as the hen harrier the necessary protection they deserve. Increasing the penalties available against those who commit wildlife crimes, is just one of the ways we can send an absolutely clear message that these offences are serious and unacceptable, and they will not be tolerated. Another is to ensure that those responsible for catching the criminals, the Wildlife Crime Unit, are given adequate and appropriate resources to do so.
I have no doubt that the sports shooting community will be as keen as we are to ensure that all the necessary tools are in place to bring those who persist in perpetuating negative stereotypes and tarnishing the reputation of shooting interests by committing these crimes to justice. I am happy to see that the Shooting Times is already encouraging its readers to participate in this review. Hopefully this is one issue on which we can all speak with one voice, in common interest.
You can look at the full proposals on the website here (warning: put the kettle on first, it's 192 pages long!) or read the summary here (a more manageable 15 pages). And if all that's a bit too daunting, you can also read what our Director of Conservation, Martin Harper has to say about it here. For a summary of some key points, the Law Commission's contact details, and tips on getting your message across, go to the RSPB website here.
Don't miss out on this unique opportunity to step-up for hen harriers and other wildlife in a real and meaningful way. Add YOUR voice now.
Up to three hen harriers, including a stunning grey male, are already back on the Dee Estuary already so get yourself down to Parkgate this weekend from 12 noon to see them.
Look for the green "Love Nature" marquee on the promenade at Parkgate and you could get views like this ....
Female Hen Harrier by A. Davis