Birding is about thin wispy calls in a foggy autumn morning. It’s also about tertial steps; ageing Curlew feeding on mud on the Tyne; the magic of screaming Swifts around the rooftops; and the memories of birds you have not seen in a while. Birding is also about making a difference.
Book reviews say as much about the reviewer as they do about the book. So if you don’t want to go through that pain, spoiler alert, buy this book it will change your life. Well it may not change yours, but it will certainly change the prospects for birds of prey in England.
I won my copy (sorry Mark, no profit) at the Hen Harrier Day event at RSPB Saltholme on 9th August. Now I was bashing out tweets on 12th August 2013 and standing in the rain at Coanwood in August 2014. So I am not new to Hen Harrier Day and I am convinced birders can do more. Just in case you cannot note my bias I wrote about Newcastle Hen Harrier Watchpoint Opens (Morethankittiwakes most read blog). As such I know a bit about the plight of raptors in the UK and England in particular. So what did I get from reading the book?
The book opens with a Forward from a sentient being. We can call him Chris (as that’s his name). Chris is a bit pissed off at the injustice in the world. Not just casual injustice but injustice that is supported by a minority of establishment figures who are using public money to maintain an archaic criminal status quo. He sets the tone for the book which sets the context of why Hen Harriers deserve our protection, why they are killed against the law and what we can do to stop it happening at some time in the future.
The first chapter describes what a wonderful bird the Hen harrier is covering its biology and also the emotion seeing one brings to mind. This is not just a bird you tick on your list. When you see one it’s a bird to savour. I cannot remember what year I last saw a Hen Harrier but, I can remember the sight on a winter’s morning of a ‘ringtail’ hunting a stubble field. It reminded me I have never seen a Hen Harrier flying over moors in the North East.
Chapter two describes the natural and unnatural biology of the Red Grouse and what it takes to maintain such high populations on moorland. It describes driven grouse shooting is only possible when high populations of grouse are maintained by the illegal killing of a number of protected species, but especially Hen Harriers. Even though I have stood on a number of grouse moors, I had never seen heather as a mono-culture like any other farmland crop. We all know how and why those fields have little bio-diversity.
Chapter three outlines research at Langholm which truly exposed the relationship between Hen Harriers, Red Grouse and shooting. It brought to light some inconvenient truths which birders will find fascinating.
Chapter four -Battline lines are drawn, covers the period 1997 – 2013. The relationships between Governments, big finance, ‘the Sandringham Two’, the numbers of Hen Harriers and Alan Tilmouth’s first Hen Harrier Day.
Chapter five describes the events in 2014 from the formation of Birders Against Wildlife Crime through Hen Harrier Day and the growth in awareness of how much we have lost. Even if you weren’t part of some of those earlier events you can see where you fit into future of having Hen Harriers back in larger numbers in England.
Chapter six takes a view from 31 years hence about what a world could look like if we ban driven grouse shooting. It describes the wildlife, the peat bogs and also it describes unsentimentally the intimidations that people who have stood up for Hen Harriers experience now. This is not an idealised world but one that is feasible. From the future what we have now looks like we are still living in a Victorian system that cannot be acceptable to the majority of people. In 2046 I want to see the type of birding this vision offers.
The book is engaging and written by someone who has a real zeal to see things change with our help. It is because he needs us to support his cause that he has to take the reader on the same journey he has gone on, in under 300 pages. For a book that talks of EU law, agricultural subsidies and the criminal justice system this is far from a snooze fest. Each chapter has a few bullet points at the end as the take home message. This is partly incase the reader missed it and partly in case you take up the call to arms in the last chapter. That way you have all the salient facts to hand when you write to your MP; your local grouse retailer; or organisations you might also be members of e.g. Wildlife Trusts or the National Trust about your concern for Hen Harriers and ask them what they are prepared to do.
If this was fiction it would be in the crime section, but there is no smoking gun. The perpetrators are standing against the rising tide of public opinion against driven grouse shooting and still pointing their expensive Purdy’s at it. And for much of this it is rich people using public money for these criminal acts. That’s unjust.
Buy the book. Read the book. Act to create the moorland birding we want to see.