I have just spent the last two days attending the Hen Harrier Weekend and as I write I’m still slightly overhauled by all the passion and sheer bloody mindedness to save these truly stunning birds I encountered over these two days. This is the second year this event has run now set up by a man I have followed and read his blog and words for many years, Mark Avery. If you end up on his blog without an invite then you’re in trouble as he holds nothing back in his pursuit to see the right thing done for wildlife.
On the Saturday night the setting was the lovely Palace Hotel in Buxton where an evening with speakers and guest had been planned to first raise the plight of these birds and second to gain support for a much needed campaign to save these birds. Upon entering the room before everyone else I saw that each chair had an empty shotgun cartridge on which brought the whole horror and the extent of the killing of these birds home.
The evening for me was inspirational as I sat at the back just taking everything in. The stars of the show where the speakers and at times hairs on the back of my next stood up watching the presentations and sheer determination to save these birds. The following images capture some of the speakers and the people there all doing their best for this amazing cause.
I met Finlay over the weekend, one of the stars for me and a great example to the young . Very powerful message with this film which was shown on the Saturday night. Watch the whole film and you will see the amazing people and the work going into saving this bird known as the “skydancer” Such a lovely film with a great message.
The following images were taken on the second day, the Hen Harrier Day of action and I attended the event in the Goty Valley, in the Peak District a place I know very well. It was a brilliant turn out and powerful and moving speeches from Chris Packham, Mark Avery and members of the Wildlife trusts and RSPB. Very inspiring the whole event was and send a message out that people aren’t going to stand for what is happening on the uplands of the UK to these birds and all the other wildlife that live among them.
What is happening on our uplands throughout the country is truly shocking, the large scale killing, trapping and poisoning of anything with a pulse that landowner deem a threat to the Red grouse and in turn their precious intake of money they make from this commodity given to them in the first place by mother-nature.
Grouse shooting for ‘sport’ depends on intensive habitat management which damages protected wildlife sites, increases water pollution, and increases flood risk, increases greenhouse gas emissions and too often leads to the illegal killing of protected wildlife such as Hen Harriers.
The Peak District, even though some forty minutes away from my home in the nearby county of Staffordshire I class it as my patch. A place I write often about and that has brought me great peace and beauty since the age of 12 when my late mum would let me catch several buses to get there.
It’s a place I watch Dippers, Watervoles, Red Grouse, Mountain Hares and many more species live out their lives. I personally have seen so much change some over those years and in recent years more so I’d say. The areas I go to photograph Red Grouse, Mountain Hares and other wildlife has changed alot. I often come across gamekeepers or their staff walking the moors with shotguns and dogs and there is always a very uneasy stand off when I appear from nowhere and witness them knowing what they are up to but they soon disappear.
Some I know by sight and don’t bother me many others I don’t and are keen to please their masters by removing anything that does and could interfere with the management of the Red Grouse. The landscape of the Peak District is changing, it’s becoming like a mono-culture, meaning whole areas also most soleless but for the Red Grouse that are protected, and looked after until the men with the big guns come and pay the going rate to walk the same paths I have done for over three decades and shoot and kill the wildlife I photograph and love.
I find it often sickening when I see these people, that have no or little regard for the landscape and its all about “class, privilege, money, wealth, greed” and all the other vile things you were warned not to inherit as you grew by your parents. But for some it’s a badge, it’s a standard to which they can use and manipulate the countryside for themselves.
I don’t have any background in conservation or anything like that what I do have though is a lifetime almost of deep love and passion for wildlife. The camera is just an expensive piece of plastic that allows me to speak for the wildlife and those situations I find myself in. Often as in the case of the Sumatran Orangutans giving them a voice outside of their native country which I have been doing now for a number of years.
I have seen firsthand in many countries from Madagascar, India and Sumatra how difficult conservation is and how it at times is almost impossible to keep all sides happy. Over the years I have been going to Sumatra to help the charities there tell the story I have seen people I trust and respect greatly having had to jump into bed with the enemy to get anything done.
Meaning to sit at the same table as those killing animals with those hoping to save them. I have also witnessed alot that mono-culture I describe where everything is removed for the better of man and his wealth and greed. What is left behind isn’t nature and barely living and so sad.
Those same problems face everyone that is involved in saving these beautiful Hen Harriers against the massive wealth and power of the hunting lobby or grown men with mates in the government as I call them. That wishes to destroy the countryside as we know it and make it into a place for them and them alone.
The RSPB have a wonderful project they have been working on for a number of years to save these stunning birds. Skydancer is a great story and is engaging with many people from young to old and its brilliant. Alongside that is a man I respect for his attitude and caring nature to wildlife and more so these birds, Mark Avery. He is using the anger and frustration displayed by the hunting lobbies and turning it against them with powerful words and retric with his powerful blog posts and campaigning and its slowly working and exposing these rich fools for what and who they are.
The last time I personally saw Hen Harriers in the Peak District was 2011 when a nest was disturbed they say. I know the eggs were crushed as I had been watching the pair on the Goty Valley where they nested. Nobody was ever prosecuted but take it from me and the people I know there the eggs were crushed and destroyed but no evidence of them or the countless other Hen Harriers that go missing each year ever came to light.
This year alone 5 male Hen Harriers have disappeared, there were 6 nests in the whole of England where Scotland has slightly a few more. But as a country its disgraceful and shows us in a shocking light that we can’t live alongside these birds and allow their numbers to increase. Six nests is not progress Natural England, the same number was recorded a decade ago and if it wasn’t for twenty- four hour monitoring of those nest by volunteers then the figure most probably would be zero.
The reason I attended this amazing two day event is because firstly I love wildlife, secondly I class the Peak District as my patch a place I grew up in and it shaped and formed who I am today and gave me alot of the knowledge I have of wildlife today. Thirdly because I truly love the Hen Harriers of which I have been lucky enough to see them in the Peak District and other places in both England and Scotland. Sadly though in recent years I haven’t seen many and this pains me to even write it let alone think about this shocking state of affairs regarding this bird.
And lastly and so very important because this is an attack on everyone that loves and enjoys the wildlife. Gone are the days when everything was killed, stuffed and mounted on boards for visitors to see, gone are the days when we killed for fun. What is happening on the uplands and moorlands in the whole of the UK is about the privileged taking control over the not so privileged in their eyes and exercising that so called power which often is vested within friends in high places and using it to do as they please.
Anything and anyone gets in the way and its removed, killed, poisoned, trapped, hurt, or in the case of those people trying to help sabotage of their funding, their projects and the facts and figures they are producing to the public. The desired effect from the hunting lobby is to slow it all down to such a pace people they think will lose interest and go away and allow them to drive around their managed and mono-cultured estates doing as they please.
The bad news for them is the pressure, the cause is gathering pace, things are changing, powerful people from the hunting lobby are making mistakes they are getting caught out and people are seeing this and capturing that.
Birds don’t just disappear, wildlife just doesn’t vanish, birds of prey are iconic and belong on these moors and so do the Red Grouse, the Mountain Hares and all the other wildlife slowly being murdered and removed so people can blast native, innocent wildlife for sheer fun and that’s it all is. It brings too the surface the murky side of this country I live in, is shows us the dirty underbelly of the class and what is does and how it changes some people born into wealth but are so removed from reality its unbelievable.
The passion, the drive I saw over these two days made me feel proud, proud that people aren’t having this bullshit no longer and things will change. At times the country only favours the rich, the upper class those with Tory friends and donors that’s clear to see but what they cant buy, stop or pay off is peoples passion to see the right thing is done. We are a nation of wildlife lovers at the core and nothing and nobody can ever stop that or use their power and wealth to blow out that cancel of hope. Because as long as you still have hope you have everything and change will and does come.
I salute everybody that fights for wildlife, I respect anyone that cares for wildlife and I’d just like to thank everyone there that wants to help these stunning and truly beautiful birds fight back from the brink of extinction. Thank you to the Derbyshire Wildlife Trust that do some much, Thank you to Birders Against Wildlife Crime – BAWC -for a very moving speech and all the work you do in protecting these and many other species of birds and animals. Thanks to Lush also for raising awareness in your stores and the “Skydancer” bath-bomb which is a great idea.
Please take care of these birds and anything I can do as a wildlife photographer then please contact me on firstname.lastname@example.org . I wish you all well and thanks again Mark Avery for all you do for wildlife. Keep fighting for the voiceless.