Monday, 10 August 2015

Hen Harrier Day

The Safari and Wifey set off mid-morning on Sunday to join the Hen Harrier Day protest meet at Dunsop Bridge on the edge of the eastern fells. Last year it rained a Noah-like deluge, this year the rain stopped just as we were setting off and the sun began to shine intermittently.
The Bowland fells - the killing fields
In a few days time many hundreds of Red Grouse will be driven by men waving flags and blowing whistles to other men (usually men) who have paid a small fortune for the privilege of killing as many as they can with shotguns that can sometimes cost more than our house (and they have two, sometimes three guns). It's very similar to the dolphin drives in Taiji in Japan and the Pilot Whale 'grinds' in the Faeroe Isles, if you didn't like/agree with those you shouldn't like this form of hunting either.
The problem is (in their eyes) that to get as many birds to the guns as possible all predators of the grouse must be eliminated. They don't mind being cruel, poison, back break traps, guns and snares are used for anything that moves on the ground be it  Foxes or protected Badgers, even creatures as small as Weasels. In the air all the birds of prey are supposedly protected but four male Hen Harriers went missing in mysterious circumstances while the females were incubating this season, all the Eagle Owls have 'mysteriously' disappeared as have almost all of the Peregrines. There are no Golden Eagles. Sparrowhawks, Kestrels and Merlins are just about tolerated but Goshawks and Buzzards are others in the potential firing line...has anyone ever seen a dispersing Red Kite over these moors? Anyway conservation groups and birders have had enough of the nonsense - we want our Hen Harriers back. Government reports have cited illegal persecution as the main limiting factor of their population in England and parts of Scotland. Using satellite mapping of the uplands scientists have calculated there is enough habitat for over 300 pairs in England alone - how many bred this year, 200 - 100 - 50? No just 12 nests of which only six fledged young and all of the unsuccessful nests were adjacent to grouse moors.
Then there's the scorched earth policy of vegetation 'management' again to produce as many grouse as feasibly possible. Areas of Heather are burned on a rotation resulting in a very unnatural looking landscape in which very little other vegetation can survive and it certainly isn't good for invertebrates and slow moving vertebrates like reptiles, Adders and Common Lizards are found up here. Burning over the peat soil has the effect of drying that out so rather than sequestering carbon it releases it and rain washes it down into the rivers where it stains the water and we all pay through our water bills to have the colour removed - what happened to the principle of the polluter pays? Dry peat absorbs lees water than moist peat and drained moors run off faster in heavy rain events which can lead to flooding and hence higher insurance coasts for us mere peasants...all to produce a few more grouse to be slaughtered. 
The landscape becomes a patchwork of varying aged Heather.
The marked point, Wolfhole Crag, gives an indication of some of the wildlife that was found here in the past. On the other non-Heather areas sheep-shorn grassland dominates where Bracken doesn't. The Bracken dominates areas that were previously woodland and could be again with a bit of  tlc and that would prevent some of the fast rain run off.
The uplands are a mess and the other day we saw that farmers are losing £30 a lamb, not sure if that includes their subsidies which they desperately do need if that's the true price of lambs. Maybe some of them could be persuaded to diversify away from sheep and into something more environmentally friendly and profitable, but what??? That's the big question.

Anyway we arrived at the location and there was no one there, hardly a car - where was everyone? With all the publicity and the large numbers of local birders we'd expected about 200 - 300 folk to be waving placards to be stood on the village green and no where to park. We found a place easily. 
Apparently we missed them by minutes as they'd set off on the walk up the valley where Hen Harriers used to be seen. But disappointingly there were only about 75 good folk involved. 75 is more than last year but we had hoped it was going to be at least double that.
We didn't know they'd gone already but ended up following in their footsteps, an emotional walk without Frank as he'd done with us several times. The sun came out and we looked for butterflies, it was the last day of the Big Butterfly Count after all.
A leaf mine on a Burdock near the riverside caught our eye.
It could be Phytomyza lappae but what do we know?
Wifey spot a little jewel shining in a trackside tree - an Alder Beetle. Closer inspection of the tree find it well chomped and infested with them.
They are little blogs of shiny loveliness...make big holes in the leaves though!
Sheep on stilts
Wifey's feet began to hurt so we turned back and once at the car headed to a popular picnic spot not far away we haven't been to for ages, the last couple of times we've been 'road-worked off'.
On the other side of the road there was an exclosure where sheep had been fenced out and trees had grown - by good to see more of this, that really does increase biodiversity not burning everything to a crsip.
Click to see the fence-posts - might need to go to Specsavers!
Back at Base Camp after a somewhat abortive trip we saw that the rain had left lovely droplets on the Ladies Mantle up the garden path while we waited for the Red Arrows to fly by.
The Red Arrows did indeed fly by but down in our position at the bottom of the hill we didn't get much chance to get ready for them when we heard one approaching. Well they are doing nearly 500mph.
 These are constitutive frames at 6 frames a second - Too quick for us!
Today a huge shoal of fish well over a mile long had attracted over 100 Gannets and a similar number of Sandwich Terns along with even more gulls...and then we saw a flash of white and a chase resulting in a dropped fish. A Great Skua (174, #P2 58). 
We really enjoyed watching the action but no cetaceans could be found. A final scan gave us a second Great Skua sat with the first and with that our time was up.
A group of children pond dipping in the afternoon were treated to the spectacle of a Common Darter ovipositing right in front of them.
All great stuff!
Where to next? Back on the beach tomorrow.
In the meantime let us know who's gone missing in your outback and then sign this epetition to the government - let's get it to 100,000


cliff said...

Lots of food for thought there Dave. I really must make more of an effort to join one of the protests, I wonder though if they've even registered on the rich landowners radars or if they'll just carry on regardless.

Warren Baker said...

Lots to comment (rant) about there Davyman, but i'll hold my tongue. Well done you and wifey for supporting the HH Day :-)