After months of build-up, excitement, and suspense, it finally happened – Skydancer appeared on the National Lottery Awards Show last Friday night at 10.45pm (11.30pm in Scotland)!
In case you missed it (and let’s face it, I doubt if anyone in Scotland could keep their eyes open long enough following a sleepless night of referendum results), you can catch it on BBC iPlayer here until Friday. After that, you’ll still be able to watch the short film we shot with Chris Packham in Bowland on YouTube here.
Skydancer receives a National Lottery Award for Best Education Project 2014.
It was an amazing feeling to see the work of the project celebrated on a national stage and especially to see hen harriers put firmly in the spotlight. After the award ceremony, the project team and I received loads of lovely feedback from other projects, celebrities, and guests, with one person even commenting, “Watching your film, I feel like I actually learned something tonight.” For a project whose main aim is to raise awareness, what more could we possibly ask for than that?
Those of you that did see it may have noticed the young man who came up on stage with me to collect the award. Perhaps my speech was too long, or perhaps too rambling (I didn’t think so), but the only pity of the night was that any mention of him or why he was there was cut from the final edit of the show. For me, his presence was one of the most important points of the night, so I want to take a moment to offer some explanation here.
The young man in question is Ryan Mort, a level 3 Gamekeeping student from Askham Bryan College in York. He is one of over 100 gamekeeping and countryside management students who’ve taken part in Skydancer workshops over the last three years, debating, discussing and exploring the issues of hen harriers and grouse shooting from all points of view (read more here).
The student feedback from these workshops has been fantastic with comments including:
"If I was an upland keeper, I would consider ways to promote hen harriers."
"I believe now that with the right attitudes and the right methods, hen harriers and gamekeeping can coexist."
"Didn’t know much about hen harriers before but know a lot now. Found it very helpful and it changed my opinion slightly as I seen it from another point of view."
Askham Bryan staff and students following a Skydancer workshop, June 2014.
At the end of every workshop, we take a vote in favour or against encouraging hen harriers to nest alongside grouse shooting. At the final workshop I ran back in June before leaving Skydancer, for the first time ever (and that includes when I’ve done these workshops with general high schools and youth groups) we had a unanimous vote in favour of hen harriers – from a roomful of gamekeeping students.
Brian Sweeney, who runs the gamekeeping course at Askham Bryan, was also with us at the Awards. Brian is a fantastic advocate for what he terms a modern, enlightened approach to gamekeeping – game management that supports a whole suite of biodiversity, including birds of prey like hen harriers – and he has played no small part in the success of these workshops.
Illegal persecution and intolerance remain the biggest threats facing hen harriers today. However students like Ryan, and the positive influence of Brian and his colleagues, give me real hope for a generational shift in attitudes towards these magnificent birds. Who’d ever have predicted that a member of RSPB staff and a gamekeeping student would be standing side by side to collect an award for education work to promote hen harrier conservation? It is not the whole solution but it is a significant step in the right direction and to me, that is definitely something worth celebrating.
Ryan Mort, Brian Sweeney and Blánaid Denman at the National Lottery Awards, 2014.
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