When I was younger the countryside here was a different place. There were birds that aren’t here anymore and other species have returned since then- the pace of change never ceases to amaze me.
When I grew up there were plenty of Kestrels- they were a common sight along roadside verges or over mowed fields. We had Little Owls too, and sometimes saw the occasional Sparrowhawk or Tawny Owl- and that was it- four raptor species. All other species were so rare and confined to the more remote and isolated corners of the UK that we resigned ourselves to the fact that really there were just the four species.
Slowly, as time went by, as a nation we got a little better at tackling some of the threats to our other raptors. We clamped down on the use of certain chemicals and pesticides, and rabbit populations recovered from the myxomatosis outbreak. We became more aware of the problems caused by pollution and the loss of habitat, and we began to better understand the importance of protecting birds and their nests from persecution. With improved conditions in some areas we even began to reintroduce some species.
Some threats didn’t go away- our roads kill too many birds, particularly those whose prey favour the overgrown verges. Many habitats remain degraded and raptor persecution and egg collection are an ongoing and ever present threat to all species. The sad truth is that the species with the smallest, most fragmented and most habitat-specific populations are the hardest hit.
So there were still threats, things were not perfect but we’re moving in the right direction, and the rewards were evident all around us. Within a few short years we are now able to regularly spot Peregrine’s and Hobbys on our farm. They’re by no means common but we also get the odd Barn Owl and Red Kite over the farm, I’ve even seen an Osprey locally, and Merlins have been sighted, but no raptor better symbolises the ability for a population to recover than the Buzzard.
There are few creatures I see in my day to day life that are more impressive than a Buzzard, as they drift on-high or launch into flight and soar skywards. At certain times of the year they gather on warm thermals and where there had been none there were now half a dozen.
The impact these predators have can be seen on the land. Rabbits are particularly problematic for arable farmers but their impact is not normally felt on pastoral farms like ours. Yet without the Buzzards, and few predators capable of controlling them their population had swelled far in excess of natural levels. I remember well walking into one of our small 2 acre pastures and counting sixty rabbits. When the Buzzards returned the rabbit population declined and the balance was restored.
With all this progress it’s even more shocking, frustrating and infuriating when you discover, as I did a couple of years ago, evidence of the persecution of these impressive birds.
The scene I discovered in one of our fields was a sorry sight. Two adult Buzzards lying dead, either side of the carcass of a pheasant, the evidence of what had caused the death of these birds couldn’t be any clearer. Whatever the poison it was so strong it'd killed them then and there. At the time this was reported and followed up but finding the culprit is notoriously difficult.
It's crazy that when we've come so far that this can still happen. Of course policing such things is incredibly difficult but when this is the case the only true deterrent is a harsh punishment. I understand that the punishment has to remain proportionate to the crime so we need to look at who the punishment is aimed at.
We all know why raptors are persecuted, even if the debate is sometimes clouded by those that argue otherwise. In truth, in 2011 there are so few individuals with the incentive or motive to commit these crimes that it's pretty obvious who is doing it too. If we're honest there aren't a great deal of people in the countryside who feel raptors have a negative impact on their income.
It's for these reasons, because some of our raptors are still being persecuted, and because of the photo above that I am asking anyone reading this blog to sign the petition found on the link below.
The offence of vicarious liability could address a current shortfall in England's wildlife protection laws. Those who persecute our raptors are not acting alone, they are operating upon the instruction (directly or otherwise) of employers or others with a vested interest. The offence of vicarious liability brings the case to the doors of those in a position to prevent these crimes.
There is no good reason not to make vicarious liability law. Anything that protects our magnificent birds of prey can only be a good thing. So please take a moment. Sign the petition. And help ensure a future for our raptors.
Sign the petition here