Hen harriers. There's been a lot of activity amongst conservationists recently concerning their perilous plight, and quite right too. And with the ‘Glorious 12th’ having been reached, the cash crop of the (over)managed moorland can be reaped by the moneyed folk who believe blasting some living thing from the sky is good fun. But do we as a nation really care? We are supposedly a country of animal lovers, with whole industries devoted to the wellbeing of domestic pets, with charities doing sterling work looking after that icon of British wildlife the endearing and endemic donkey. Yet we stand by and allow a bunch of gun toting idiots to obliterate one of our most fantastic and beautiful birds of prey; our bird of prey, not some African or Indian species whose tenuous grip on existence would doubtless cause people to launch Facebook campaigns and empty their pockets in a vain attempt to reverse the downward trend. Nothing wrong with that of course, but hells teeth! we have a crisis here right in front of us and it's about time we started sorting out our own backyard before waxing lyrical about what Is happening in the wider world. How can we preach about the horrendous things happening to wildlife around the globe whilst allowing the seemingly unaccountable privileged few to wipe out our own precious bird life? There is simply no excuse in this 21st century of ours for a situation to pertain whereby a minority of rich landowners can effectively - and illegally - eradicate a native species for commercial interests. It stinks and quite frankly is a disgrace. And as for YFTB and that prize fool Ian Botham, let's just say I can think of an excellent use for the handle of that cricket bat loitering in the loft...stick to cricket Botham, it’s the only thing you are remotely qualified to talk about.
Why doesn't our government do something? Why hasn't any government for the past 20 years done anything? Individually there’s not much we can do, but collectively we may get our elected politicians to actually ensure the law is adhered to and our wildlife properly protected. I’ve sent a missive to my local MP asking her what the heck she is prepared to do about it, pointing out that although hen harriers do not breed in Norfolk they do use the coast and Broads as an important wintering ground. In this way they contribute, albeit marginally, to our local economy. Maybe we should all do the same? In any event I’ll let you know what she says.
My friend Darren who blogs ‘More Than Kittiwakes’ – see link opposite – recently recounted the first time he saw a hen harrier which got me thinking as to when I first encountered one here in Norfolk. It was in January 1979 when we had something of an influx with birds being widely reported all over the county. The one I saw was hunting the marshes at Buckenham and shortly after that I saw another as it floated across the road in front of the car at Surlingham. From that point I kept a lookout for these white-rumped raptors every winter and made frequent excursions to the bleak lookout point at Stubb Mill to see them coming to roost in the distant reed beds. The hobby of standing alone on a raised ridge of mud as the sun set over the flat landscape of East Norfolk is one that appeals only to the dedicated. It was, and is, mostly freezing at this spot and at times decidedly eerie. Before the current wooden platform, interpretation board and special footpath had been created the chances were you would be pretty much on your own, or possibly standing with the welcome support of maybe just one or two other hardy souls. Walking back along the lonely lane towards the car park conjured up all kinds of supernatural imaginings with various rustles and flutterings from the hedgerows and trees being magnified to take on a more spectral interpretation. Perhaps I’d read too many M R James ghost stories than was good for me. I’ve tracked down a scribbling I made after one such bitterly cold trip which gives a flavour of the feelings engendered by a dusk outing to this lonely spot.
I love the sight of a hen harrier quartering the fields hereabouts in search of prey. I love to see them sailing across the vista of empty marshes dotted with silhouettes and broken sails of disused wind pumps as they silently come in to roost. I love the unexpected encounter as one tussles with a short-eared owl over the glistening reed heads at Titchwell. And I don’t want to lose them.
An encounter with a Hen Harrier on Hoy recently -
the only pic I've ever managed to take!