Oscar Wilde wrote that “each man kills the thing he loves.” When it comes to hen harriers there are campaigners whose passions are, to put it politely, not helping this species recover. These ideologues are so tribal that they will find every excuse for the RSPB’s underperformance on hen harrier conservation. They take so much delight in demonising gamekeepers that they cannot countenance the idea that their skills in predator control are as essential to hen harriers as for every ground nesting bird.
Real conservationists understand that the best results come from aligning the economic interests of humans with the needs of nature. For example the world’s most important conservation body, the IUCN says that there is “substantial evidence” that “trophy hunting, if well managed, can play a positive role in supporting conservation” “Baby and the bathwater” IUCN 2017
In 2016 a Parliamentary Committee published evidence from more than a hundred individuals whose livelihoods depend on their local grouse moors. They represent thousands who work around grouse moors and explained how if the grouse moor goes then their jobs, their homes and their whole community’s future would be destroyed.
So when raptors which eat grouse settle on grouse moors it is not surprising that gamekeepers feel worried. The evidence from the longstanding research project at Langholm moor shows that if one pair settles others tend to follow making the whole grouse moor uneconomic. And that is permanently uneconomic as raptor numbers can stop grouse numbers ever recovering to the point where the moor is commercially viable.
After human economic disaster comes ecological disaster as without keepers rampant fox populations work their way through not just grouse but red-listed waders. If the foxes do not get the raptors as well, then starvation will set in after their food sources get exhausted.
Such logic is so obvious that when Parliament debated hen harrier conservation MPs were overwhelmingly dismissive of the activists who wanted to ban driven grouse shooting. MPs have no interest in killing jobs, birds and the heather landscapes loved by so many.
“MPs have no interest in killing jobs, birds and the heather landscapes”
The RSPB’s suggestion of licensing grouse moors is superficially more palatable. Yet look below the surface and very rapidly it is revealed to be an attempt to drive grouse moors out of business. It would mean that whole teams of gamekeepers could lose their livelihoods on the suspicion of an official that one of them had illegally disrupted a nest. Even if the official was convinced that a gamekeeper was to blame for the persecution they might be taking a licence away from the wrong team. A neighbouring grouse moor might have been responsible. This does not fit with our nation’s core belief in justice. Even if such heavy handed intervention did end all persecution other conditions for licenses could be ratcheted ever tighter to the point that grouse management became unviable.
For those who hate grouse shooting just because they hate the rich then bans or licensing are attractive. Yet for conservationists who want birdlife to flourish any grouse moors failure would be a tragedy for nature. This is why Defra has put so much effort into the brood management scheme and have allowed selective culls of buzzards.
There are other creative solutions circulating to the problem of balancing the populations of different birds of prey. Eagle owls and golden eagles could be reintroduced as the apex predators that nature is missing at the moment. Such a ‘natural solution’ would stop humans feeling they have to step into the gap.