This week we welcome guest blogger Findlay Wilde. A passionate young conservationist, Findlay has spent the past year campaigning for hen harriers. Here, he explains how he first got interested in the bird of prey and what he has been doing to help the species.
Hen harriers. Aren’t they just magnificent? Whenever I see one, I feel totally “raptorvated”.
I can still remember the first time I ever saw a hen harrier. I was out on the North Wales moors. The rain splattered my face and the low cloud limited my views over the vast landscape. Despite the rain, I resolved to walk even further until a grey ghost, elegant and effortless, glided past me within 10 metres of where I stood.
I gazed at it for as long as I could, before it was a distant speck, gliding easily on the wind, appearing and reappearing through the sloping hills. I was simply captivated and inspired by such a spectacle of nature.
As a young conservationist, I understand that there are huge problems facing British wildlife. One of these problems is the illegal persecution of raptors, and especially of hen harriers. As more and more information was being shared by the likes of the RSPB, Mark Avery, Chris Packham and Birders Against Wildlife Crime about the declines in our breeding hen harrier population, I knew that this was my next project. I made it my goal to work hard to raise awareness and to try to reach the people who had never even heard of a hen harrier. After experiencing such a wonderful bird out in the wild, it is horrible to think about how they are being purposely killed.
I continued to learn all about hen harriers, the good and the bad. People talked about how positive it was to have four breeding pairs in England in 2014 after having none in 2013. But our uplands should support more that 300 breeding pairs of hen harriers, so four pairs is just not acceptable.
People I meet at conferences, talks, reserves and events frequently ask why I think saving our English hen harriers is so important. The answer is simple; hen harriers have every right to be dancing in our skies and we have to protect them. I can't understand how people can allow extinction to take place right on their doorstep and not do anything about it.
In 2014, I began “Project Harry” to help the RSPB’s Skydancer project. Harry, a 6ft hen harrier, started off as a tiny thought in the back of my mind. He was built and bought to life for a local scarecrow competition in our village. Harry spent four weeks in our living room while his feathers were drying and he then he spent another four weeks on the roof of our house, number 52 in the scarecrow competition. There was a poster put up below him, telling people all about the persecution of raptors.
Findlay with Harry the Hen Harrier
I quickly realised that Harry was reaching people who hadn’t heard of a hen harrier before and who were shocked to hear about the near extinction of Harry’s English relatives. Harry won the competition and the prize money was given straight to Skydancer. At this point though, I had no idea how amazing the journey I was going to have with Harry would be.
On 10th August 2014, I took Harry to the first ever Hen Harrier Day, organised by Mark Avery, Birders Against Wildlife Crime and Chris Packham in the Peak District. It was amazing to see 570 people out in driving rain, coming together to speak out against wildlife crime. Since then, Harry has been to the Rutland Birdfair on the Wildlife Crime Prevention stand, raising even more public awareness. Visitors to the fair were asked to take selfies with Harry and post them on Twitter to keep hen harriers in everyone’s hearts.
Findlay with Chris Packham at Hen Harrier Day
Harry has also been to BBC Autumnwatch, appearing on Autumnwatch Extra. He was again a great focal point, and it was great for me to be able to talk about hen harriers, persecution and their declines. Currently, Harry is located at RSPB Burton Mere Wetlands, where he is staying for the rest of the hen harrier winter roost. He is on display for all visitors to see, and every week more Harry selfies appear on Twitter.
The RSPB do monthly Skydancers on the Dee events throughout winter to raise awareness about hen harriers. On these days, I get up full of enthusiasm and head off to volunteer with the RSPB’s Dan Trotman and his team. During the afternoon we talk to passersby about hen harriers and, when possible, show the birds to them through the scopes. I really enjoy conversations with all these different people and love watching their faces when they see a quartering raptor close up for the first time. Sometimes though, I admit I get a bit distracted watching across the marsh myself.
Hen harrier on the Dee
In December, I used a picture of Harry with a snowy background and made Wishing You A Harry Christmas cards. 500 cards were sold in just two weeks and this raised another £525 for Skydancer. More importantly, it got the hen harrier story in to 500 homes over Christmas.
Harry was just one small project, but he has made a very big impact. For a while, social media was filled with images of this 6ft imposing giant. I like to think that Harry has inspired people, and that some of them will do something positive to help protect our wildlife. This started out as just a small project and look how it’s turned out. Imagine if we did a larger-scale project; imagine if we all worked on something huge together. I have an idea or two of course!
I am not sure what will happen to Harry after his winter roost; I hope he can continue to raise awareness, but I am bursting with great new ideas for the future. I feel more and more confident that all of us; NGOs and other organisations can work together to change things. I for one can’t wait to be a part of the movement making a positive difference and filling the skies with dancers.
Read Findlay’s regular blog at http://wildeaboutbirds.blogspot.co.uk/
Follow Findlay on Twitter: https://twitter.com/wildeaboutbirds