Originally from London but a resident of Lancashire for 17 years with a love of the surrounding countryside and wildlife, Helen Ficorilli is the Programme Director of the Cloudspotting Music and Arts Festival, which has taken up residence in the Forest of Bowland over the last seven years. Here she tells us why a female hen harrier has this year been taken up as the emblem for this annual event.
Cloudspotting Music and Arts Festival returns to Gisburn Forest within Forest of Bowland AONB for it’s 7th outing for the last weekend of July. More pocket sized than boutique, this unique festival has captured the imagination and support of regional and national plaudits which include The Guardian, The Big Issue, Radio 6Music DJs and the high number of returning family audiences.
In a location managed by the Forestry Commission England, Cloudspotting has the support from the FCE and the Arts Council to bring high level quality arts engagement into the forest, an area of traditional low arts representation. Home to some of the most stunning scenery and delicate wildlife habitats in Britain we have always encouraged our audience to explore the surrounding forest and engage with the local wildlife. This has led to us incorporating environmental issues into our activities programme to deliver important ecological messages of responsibility to an ever-increasing family audience.
In 2016 Bowland AONB brought their Bowland Hay Time project to the festival and ran workshops, activities and discussions about the importance of wild meadows to support the animals and insects who inhabit our festival location. These animals include wild birds and from that our Birds of Bowland Project began to take wings...
So why a Hen Harrier?
We wanted to make birds that are native to Bowland a focus for our festival this year and we needed to recruit someone to help promote this. After research and discussions with the RSPB, Bowland AONB and Forestry Commission we realised that the Hen Harrier, although not alone on the endangered list, had the highest profile and its recent loss from the local area has gained the most notoriety. Just the fact that there was a national project dedicated to the survival of this extremely rare and beautiful bird of prey made their profile even more attractive. Threatened with extinction this bird has a national network of supporters who scour the skies and nesting locations hoping for a rare sighting of this bird. The Hen Harrier whose Latin name means “circus” has a magical awe surrounding it, an almost mythical existence; and a festival, a temporary world of escapism seemed like the perfect place for a Hen Harrier to be spotted.
We immediately commissioned local illustrator and sculptor Kerith Ogden to bring the Hen Harrier to Cloudspotting. Our brief was to create an image which we could use throughout our promotional activities of the festival. An image we could use with our logo but with a tribal imagery all of its own. When we saw the initial drawings we were blown away by the grace and beauty of our bird and we needed to give her a name. But it had to be the right name.
A few options were bounded about which included Hetty, Jen and even Rhythm (….is a sky dancer!) but the overall obvious choice was Bo. Bo after our location, the beautiful Forest of Bowland and Boudicca another formidable female warrior.
Have you met Bo yet?
Since then, Bo has become another member of the Cloudspotting team. Visually appealing, she has featured on all our promotional materials including flyers, posters, website, social media, banners etc. Bo will also feature at the festival where we will reveal the second commission of Kerith, Bo the parade puppet lantern. A huge 3D version of Bo with lights and a whopping flapping wingspan of 3.5m. Bo will tour the festival site leading our rhythmical bird themed parade, dance the night away to our local reggae band Jeramiah Ferrari and finally take her nesting position in the Village Green for the remainder of the festival.
Learning through play
Working in partnership with the RSPB and other activities/arts associates, our Birds of Bowland project has developed immensely to weave throughout our weekend activities programme. Inclusive, engaging, educational and creative our arts package includes Bo and her other feathered friends involved in a variety of activities. These include the opportunity to join the Cloudspotting Choir. Rehearse throughout the weekend to perform Three Little Birds from the main stage on Sunday afternoon. Join other crafters for regular knit’n’chirp sessions to knit your own Bo. Leave the festival for a trek through the forest on our sculpture trail where you will discover 8ft bird; or be a part in the creation of a huge piece of community art adding colour to our huge canvas Bo. These are just a few of the linked activities and workshops available; for more information please visit our activities page on our website.
But our work with Bo doesn’t stop there. We are so taken with Bo she will feature on artwork for future Cloudspotting events. We have already been asked to tour Bo and the community developed artwork from the festival to regional galleries and libraries where we will produce narrative to support the images and continue to deliver the messages of the RSPB to support our local wildlife so that we can all live together, harmoniously in our modern world
For more information about Cloudspotting Music and Arts Festival 2017, please have a look at our website or visit our facebook page.
This is not the news I wanted to wake up to. Just weeks after the Crown Office discontinued a high-profile case against a former gamekeeper for the alleged illegal killing of a hen harrier despite clear video evidence, another hen harrier shooting has come to light. Police Scotland issued an appeal this morning, for information relating to the lethal shooting of a hen harrier near Leadhills, South Lanarkshire. You can read the response from RSPB Scotland here.
Fortunately and exceptionally, “a number of witnesses” have apparently come forward but whether that’s enough to secure a prosecution remains to be seen. After all, if video evidence, clearly showing a hen harrier being shot out of the sky and its body retrieved by a man with his face in full view of the camera, isn’t enough to secure a conviction or even a court case, it’s hard to know what burden of proof is necessary. The message seems to be that those who wish to illegally kill our protected birds of prey can continue to do so with impunity, knowing that even if their alleged crimes are caught on film, they’re unlikely to be held to account.
Still of film footage taken on Cabrach Estate, Morayshire in June 2013, showing a man removing the body of a recently shot hen harrier.
Despite this, police are now appealing for CCTV evidence in this latest case. Anyone with any information at all should contact Police Scotland on 101.
A hen harrier illegally shot and killed in 2013 and another in 2017... It goes without saying that any hen harrier shot is one too many but with four years between them, could these just be random isolated incidents? Not when you start filling in the blanks...
January 2017 – hen harrier Carroll found dead in Northumberland of natural causes having previously survived being shot
October 2016 – hen harrier Rowan found shot dead in Cumbria
September 2015 – hen harrier Lad found with “injuries consistent with shooting” in the Cairngorms
April 2015 – hen harrier Annie found shot dead near Leadhills, South Lanarkshire
June 2013 – video evidence recorded of a hen harrier being shot dead on Cabrach Estate, Morayshire, and a man retrieving the body
June 2012 – hen harrier Bowland Betty found shot dead in the Yorkshire Dales
Body of a young male hen harrier, Lad, found with "injuries consistent with shooting" just months after fledging.
And that’s not to mention the number of satellite tagged hen harriers which have suddenly and unexpectedly disappeared – most notably in relation to recent events, Chance, who vanished in May 2016, just a few miles from where Annie was found shot and near to where this most recent shooting has been witnessed.
These are not isolated incidents. Collectively, they reveal a very clear picture of how protected birds of prey continue to be treated in some areas of our uplands, particularly where there is intensive grouse moor management. As I said in my last blog, our ability to uphold the law is only as good as our ability to enforce it and we are working hard to insist these issues be addressed by the public authorities as a matter of urgency.
In the meantime, together with the Raptor Study Groups and wider conservation community, we will continue to monitor and protect our hen harriers wherever possible. Satellite tagging is providing an unprecedented window into this world and through the Hen Harrier LIFE Project, we plan to tag more hen harriers in 2017 than ever before.
Whatever happens next, we will be watching.
To follow the fortunes of our remaining satellite tagged hen harriers and find out more about our work to protect these stunning skydancers, visit www.rspb.org.uk or follow us @RSPB_Skydancer.
In case you missed it, RSPB have just published film footage of a former gamekeeper allegedly shooting a hen harrier on Cabrach Estate, Morayshire, in June 2013, retrieving the body, and cleaning up the feathers after himself. After almost four years of waiting, court proceedings were dropped two weeks ago by the Crown Office, who indicated that after considering all of the relevant material, they couldn't use RSPB Scotland video evidence to support the prosecution in court. However, it's only today that the Crown Office has explained the rationale behind this decision.
Here' s the official response from RSPB Scotland:
We do not agree with the opinion from the Crown Office that we were attempting to gather evidence for a prosecution. We installed a camera to monitor a protected breeding bird’s nest site, core business for a conservation organisation. We did not share the information about the nest site with anyone, as would be the case with any rare and vulnerable breeding bird species. The fact that an individual came and allegedly shot the female harrier, and that this was captured on film, was an incidental consequence of the camera’s deployment, in the same way that it could easily have captured footage of the nest being naturally predated or failing due to bad weather. It is very disappointing that the opportunity for the court to consider the issue of the admissibility or otherwise of this evidence, as has happened in previous cases, has been removed. Until today, we have received no rationale for the decision to drop the case despite the fact that a number of our staff have provided significant time and expertise in supporting the authorities with the prosecution case.
Watch the footage for yourself here.
Full details in the original press release here.
We have now written to the Lord Advocate and are seeking urgent meetings with the Crown Office to consider the implications. Clearly the laws that protect our wildlife are only as good as our ability to uphold them.
If video footage of this quality isn't sufficient to secure a prosecution, then the question remains... what is?
Follow the fortunes of our satellite tagged hen harriers and find out what we’re doing on the ground to secure a future for these spectacular skydancers across England and Scotland by visiting our Hen Harrier LIFE Project webpage: www.rspb.org.uk/henharrierlife
Follow us on twitter @RSPB_Skydancer