In case you missed it, there has been a storm of anger brewing online this week after Limerick County Council Cathaoirleach (Chairman), John Sheahan, made comments in the Limerick Leader on 20th July 2013 calling for an "open season" on hen harriers, one of Ireland's most threatened birds of prey, to be declared if the Irish government failed to abandon or amend the designation of Special Protection Areas (SPAs) for the species.
Conservationists and nature enthusiasts across both Ireland and the UK have expressed a mix of fury and disbelief at the recklessness and narrow-mindedness of Cllr. Sheahan's comments and an online petition calling for his resignation has rapidly been gathering signatures. Understandably, BirdWatch Ireland, our Birdlife International partner and Ireland’s largest conservation charity, has condemned Cllr. Sheahan's comments as "highly irresonsible" and what follows is a copy of their official statement on the matter.
A female Hen Harrier, one of Ireland's most threatened birds of prey(Photo: James Leonard)
Alan Lauder, Chief Executive of BirdWatch Ireland, commented, "Cllr. Sheahan's ill-informed and short-sighted statement shows how far we have to travel as a state in prioritising our natural heritage over the self-interest of individuals.
"Such statements can have far-reaching consequences. The Hen Harrier is protected under both Irish and European Union law, and Cllr. Sheahan's statement could be viewed as an incitement to break these laws. For any decision-maker to hold such views in the 21st Century is alarming. When that individual actually sits on the Advisory Committee of the Environmental Protection Agency and also represents Ireland on an EU committee that helps form policy on the environment, natural resources and biodiversity, as Cllr. Sheahan does, then it becomes pitiful, and even dangerous."
The Irish State already has a dismal record on the protection of its nation’s natural heritage; Ireland has been prosecuted before the European Court of Justice specifically for its failure to properly protect SPA's, leaving the Irish taxpayer facing the prospect of hefty fines.
"Being top-level predators, large birds of prey such as the Hen Harrier are excellent barometers for the overall state of our environment and a precious part of our natural heritage", notes John Lusby, BirdWatch Ireland's Raptor Conservation Officer. "Their presence or absence from an area tells us a great deal about the health and diversity of the other wildlife that is present there, as well as about environmental factors that impact directly on us humans. Birds of prey can also provide an enormous attraction for tourists, as illustrated by the great interest generated by the recent nesting of the White-tailed Eagles in Co. Kerry and on Cllr. Sheahan's doorstep in Co. Clare." "Cllr. Sheahan appears to have bought into the fallacy that nature is the enemy of progress, and that environmental laws stand in the way of profits", said Niall Hatch, BirdWatch Ireland's Development Officer. "Judging by his misunderstanding of the theories proposed by Charles Darwin and the processes by which evolution works, he also seems to hold the patently untrue belief that our flora and fauna bounce back, regardless of what we do to them. The extinction of thousands of species around the world, including many here in Ireland, as a direct result of human activities sadly reveals his views to be nonsense."
Alan Lauder concluded, "BirdWatch Ireland firmly believes that farmers and landowners who do the right thing by our wildlife and for the environment upon which each of us depends should be rewarded for their actions. All of us benefit from their work, and the Irish Government should do much more to acknowledge this. Protecting the Hen Harrier and the environment in which it lives also protects the long-term viability of farming, not to mention Ireland’s tattered international reputation when it comes to the environment.
"Calling for the species' destruction, sacrificing yet another piece of our natural heritage for the chance of a short-term gain for a select few and the long-term loss of us all, is irresponsible and to be condemned. In light of his ill-considered comments, BirdWatch Ireland would call on Cllr. Sheahan to consider his position and to decide if he really is the best person to chair Limerick County Council or to act as an advisor to the Environmental Protection Agency and to represent the environmental interests of his country at EU level."
For an update on Cllr. Sheahan's response to the matter see here and for more information on work to conserve hen harriers in Ireland, visit henharrierireland.blogspot.co.uk.
Developed by Newcastle-based Circus Central, the Hen Harrier Circus Show uses aerial acrobats, jugglers and unicyclists to tell the fictional story of the last remaining pair of these moorland birds in England and the gamekeeper who, inspired by their graceful flight, comes to their rescue.
Blánaid Denman of the RSPB explains the inspiration behind the project:“Hen harriers are famed for their aerobatic courtship displays and mid-air food passes so circus is the perfect medium to celebrate these amazing birds and draw attention to their decline. Their Latin name is Circus cyaneus so you could say that this is a Circus circus.”
Helen Averley, Director of Circus Central, says: “We hope to inform and inspire people to be concerned about the plight of the hen harrier, while at the same time entertain them.”
Hannah Thompson, who is directing the show, says: "It's wonderful to work on something that is so close to home and to be able to make a difference through art and performance, engaging with people on matters that affect us today.”
It’s a fictional story but one that is close to the bone, as the future of hen harriers in England currently hangs by a thread. It is estimated that the upland heath and blanket bogs of England should have around 320 pairs of nesting hen harriers but last year, there was only one breeding pair in the whole of England and this year is shaping up to be an equally disastrous season for the species.
Blanaid continues: “Unlike buzzards and kestrels, which are familiar, everyday sights to many people, hen harriers exist in remote and often inaccessible locations. Through the Hen Harrier Carnival, we aim to bring the magic of hen harriers and the moorland landscape to people in a celebration of this incredibly unique part of North East wildlife. We hope these events will inspire people to want to save these beautiful birds while they still can.”
Sadly, the species is affected by continuing illegal persecution, normally associated with intensively managed aspects of the grouse shooting industry. A recent Government report concluded that illegal killing and disturbance is the biggest single factor limiting the population of this species in Northern England.
Blánaid explains: “We know that there are people in the shooting community who like us, feel that there is no place for these illegal practices in modern gamekeeping. In choosing to make the gamekeeper the hero of the day we want to celebrate those who value birds of prey like hen harriers as a natural part of the moorland.”
The show is the centrepiece of a range of fun, hen harrier-themed family activities atThe Alnwick Garden on Saturday 27 July, and will be performed again at the Greenhead Village Duck Day on Sunday 28 July. It forms part of Skydancer, a four-year RSPB project which aims to work with the shooting community and the wider public to raise awareness and promote the conservation of hen harriers in the English uplands.
The Hen Harrier Show will be performed between 10am and 4pm at The Alnwick Garden on 27 July. The show and activities are free but normal entrance fee to the Garden will apply. The Greenhead Village Duck Day on 28 July starts at 1pm and is free (postcode CA8 7HB).
For more information about the Skydancer project, visit www.rspb.org.uk/skydancer
Join us on the Sat 27th and Sun 28th July as the Hen Harrier Carnival comes to town!
Inspired by the hen harrier's Latin name, Circus cyaenus, we've been working with the Newcastle-based community circus group, Circus Central, to create a spectacular skydancing circus show like no other! The show is about 30 minutes long and uses aerial acrobats, jugglers and unicyclists to tell the fictional story of the last nesting pair of hen harriers in England. Witness skydancing hen harriers on trapeze, juggling grouse and a story-telling mole, amongst a whole host of other characters.
The show is the centrepiece of a range of fun, hen harrier-themed family activities from 10am-4pm, at The Alnwick Garden on Saturday 27 July. The show and all activities are free but standard Garden entry fees apply. See here for details. If you can't make it to Alnwick, we'll be performing the show again as part of the Greenhead Village Duck Day, which starts at 1pm on Sunday 28 July (postcode CA8 7HB). The Duck Day is a free community event opent to all.
Hope to see you there!