Bowland Betty - final update

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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.

Bowland Betty - final update

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Those of you who followed the Skydancer blog over the spring/summer this year will have been familiar with hearing about the exploits of the female hen harrier 74843 or Bowland Betty as she was known to us locally.

The reason I've been unable to provide you with regular updates since my last post in June is because in July, Betty was found dead in the Yorkshire Dales National Park. She was recovered by the North Yorkshire Police and Natural England after fixes from her tag indicated that something was wrong and since then the Zoological Society London have been undertaking state of the art tests to determine the cause of her death.

We've just received the results, which confirm that she was shot and that the resulting injury was directly responsible for her death.

Gutted. That's how I feel at this news. I was privileged enough to have been present when she had her sat tag fitted. I also had, what I felt to be, the honor of placing her back in the nest once the job had been done. As I placed her back in the nest with her siblings that day, I made sure to wish her luck; silly as it may sound it's something I always do. The natural world is a harsh place for young harriers, even without any threat from illegal persecution. So, superstitious as I may be, in my mind they need all the luck they can get.

Betty was the first harrier I had 'known' to have had a satellite transmitter fitted. I, like so many others had watched her grow from a little (kind of ugly if I'm honest!) vulnerable white ball of down to a fine young female via video footage recorded at her nest in 2011. The prospect of being able to follow her progress for the next few years and learn a little more about hen harrier behavior from a bird I had actually held was incredibly exciting.

    

Betty being fitted with her satellite transmitter in 2011 © Jude Lane, RSPB

Normally I never know whether the young birds that have fledged from nests I have monitored survive or not, so knowing she had made it through the winter was fantastic and had me hoping that she would go on to fledge broods of harriers herself, maybe even on the United Utilities estate this year.

In my mind, Betty was England's symbol of hope for hen harriers. She had become quite the celebrity here in Bowland and indeed across northern England, with almost everyone I came in contact with asking what she was up to. No satellite tagged females have ever proved so mobile, especially during the breeding season, so the information she was providing us with was not only entertaining but incredibly valuable. It angers me that someone has taken the life of this beautiful creature and with it our ability to understand more about the behaviors of these incredible birds.

I want the death of Betty, the young bird I was privileged enough to hold in my hands, to have significance. It already has by proving that hen harrier persecution is still occurring - we need Government and its agencies to use this knowledge to redouble efforts to protect and ensure the recovery of this species.

If Betty's death is to have a silver lining, it must be in persuading the Government to take illegal persecution seriously and to act to bring this intolerable Victorian practice to an end. We urgently need Government to implement an emergency recovery plan to bring the hen harrier back from the brink, as extinction in England for a second time beckons. A vital first step is to ensure that the National Wildlife Crime Unit, which works to ensure the laws protecting birds of prey are enforced, has a future beyond this March.

Like so many people, I feel privileged to have known Betty in her short life. Her sad, untimely death may not be in vain if it means other young hen harriers avoid a similar fate.

Comments
  • Oh how I wish I could agree with you,your comment may represent your views of course but the fact is a similar petition on raptors where the RSPB put effort into it approximately 18 months ago got over 200,000 signatures if my memory serves me correctly whereas the V L petition started by a individual had with very little help from RSPB just under 11,000 signatures,that says everything about the difference in effort from RSPB.

    Of course as I see it there is nothing at all in fact Iwould say it would have been preferable to have got at least 100,000 signatures on the V L petition and the RSPB could still have had the present campaign.

    Our sub is up for renewal and I am upset enough with RSPBs attitude to that e-petition on V L that for the first time even though we are long term members we are considering not renewing and I guess many others feel the same..

  • Getting vicarious liability into English and Welsh law (as has already happened in Scotland due to RSPB campaigning) is a priority for us and you are wrong to say that we have only just found our voice on the subject.

    As an organisation, we chose to engage strongly with the recent Law Commission review. As you will be aware, this review is looking at all aspects of wildlife legislation and its enforcement. It gave the opportunity for individuals and groups to submit their views on existing wildlife laws and changes they would like to see brought in. It closed on the 30th November – I hope you were able to contribute.

    Vicarious liability is only one  part of a wider set of reforms needed to be introduced if a difference is going to be made to hen harriers and other birds of prey - we need urgent investment by Government and the police to tackle enforcement. Skewing the argument solely to VL risks underplaying the rest of the case – we did support the recent petition, but I don’t want to re-open a debate about tactics in the recent past; we all want the same thing, 2013 is going to be a year in which there are going to be real opportunities to push for change and that is where we need to focus our energy.

    You will also appreciate that changing legislation is not going to happen overnight. Ministers will look at the Law Commission’s proposals and the experience in Scotland before acting. It could take 2 to 3 years in England (possibly sooner in Wales).

    We will continue to follow this route as we believe it is the way to get real change in the legislation and to boost enforcement. This was the route we encouraged and adopted in Scotland, which ultimately led to change there.

    Like I said, Betty’s untimely death could have a silver lining as it has just added more evidence to show that these birds are being persecuted and current protection laws and enforcement are woefully inadequate. The Government should not be able to ignore this irrefutable evidence.

  • Hi Jude,I must have been a thorn in the side of the RSPB over the past months trying to get them to push publicity for the e-petition on Vicarious Liability,now I know it may not have been the complete answer but it would be better than nothing.

    I find it so ironic that now that I believe that petition finished the RSPB suddenly finds its voice.

    Think the RSPB has offered a £1,000 reward well much less than that invested in getting RSPB members to vote on V L petition would probably have done ten times as much good.

    The whole episode is unbelievable.