Give me my raptor today…
(This article first appeared in the September 2012 edition of ‘Birdwatching’)
(Apologies to Van Morrison for the misquote above)
I am well beyond grumpy – my irritation has leapt the barrier of vexed and left incandescent far behind… I can find no superlative to convey just how angry I am.
Two different sources have fired my ire, both conveying the very nadir of the most selfish criminality.
Yesterday Radio 4, which, almost unnoticed, whispers to me all day as I scratch and scrape away on my keyboard, suddenly grabbed hold of my consciousness and twisted it like a knife in the kidney. A pigeon fancier, so crass that he saw any threat to his prize birds as a permit to steal from us all, shot a peregrine. The irony is not lost on me that this idiot criminal killed a captive bred bird used to control feral pigeons that was being exercised in the wild. It had the temerity to land in a tree in his garden where it might have then predated one of his domesticated pigeons. He now knows the financial value of such a bird as he has been ordered to pay for one to be trained, but has no clue to the real value of all wild birds.
Clearly, like others who think material wealth actually matters, he knows the price of everything and the value of nothing. What makes me Wilde is that this appears to be increasingly ingrained in our society. One only has to watch an episode of ‘The Antiques Roadshow’, and see that an ugly, but rare, piece of twentieth century tat such as a moth-eaten teddy bear, is ‘valued’ more greatly than, say an exquisite, but commonplace, ancient Egyptian burial sculpture, because it has the right label. Stick a little cloth crocodile on a polo shirt and it suddenly becomes more ‘valuable’ than an identical item produced in the same sweatshop!
Our collective obsession with the material and its ownership undermines real value at every turn. Rainforests are intrinsically valuable, not just worth something to man because they might be hiding the cure to all our ills or might make nice furniture. Plants from plankton to pine trees give us a breathable atmosphere, and birds and butterflies are flying artworks more inspiring than any man made object because they have life. They are valuable to us all; a value not diminished by being restricted by ownership.
This brings me to the second source of so much righteous rage… I just finished reading Dave Dick’s book cataloguing his trials and tribulations as Scotland’s first RSPB wildlife crime fighter. A review will shortly appear on Fatbirder with an author interview on Talking Naturally so I will not big up the book here, its enough to say that it too fuelled the fire in my oversized belly.
The threats to wildlife in general, and raptors in particular seem to have survived all efforts at eradication not out of ignorance; not because they cost to much to curtail; not for the want of trying, but because of the total selfishness of a criminal few that hide behind their privilege and wealth and steal from us all. The majority are champions of the rights of possession. They can skulk in the shadow of a ridiculous feudal fiefdom embodied in our judicial system that has always allowed the upper classes to do what they like on their own land in the unshakeable belief that whatever lives wild on their estate is their property!
If you were to take a wild salmon from the water that runs between banks that they ‘own’ the full force of the law will be brought to bear, with the distinct possibility that you could end up in prison. However, the gamekeeper employed to stop you ‘stealing’ the landlords wild fish seems to be able to steal from us all the beauty of an Osprey that lifts a trout from a loch. You must not ‘poach’ the grouse from his moors, but the owner who encourages his keeper to poison the eagles or stamps on Hen Harrier eggs is more than likely to get away with robbing us all of their natural wonders.
I’ve lost count of the number of times there have been TV debates, or newspaper articles posing the question is the class system dead and buried, and many people seem to think it is. This is the sort of mass delusion, or sycophantic nonsense, that led to an Emperor walking naked down the streets, while his subjects praised his fine attire. If we truly were a classless society then bankers who gamble away billions, are paid millions and get away with fiddling hundreds of thousands in tax avoidance schemes, would not walk free. Meanwhile the benefit claimant who earns a tenner on the side, can face imprisonment, and laws are changed to take away the welfare state from the many that took centuries of political struggle to erect.
Yes, there are many Scottish estates whose owners have publicly condemned poisoning but there are also many others where, it has been estimated a third of Scotland Hen Harrier territories are deliberately voided of birds and over 50 Golden Eagles are killed every year!*
It’s the same the whole world over, ain’t it all a bloody shame? It’s the rich that gets the pleasure and the poor what gets the blame! It seems that 20 million people who feed the birds in their gardens and tolerate their neighbour’s marauding cat have it all wrong; we live in a nation where, if your garden is big enough you can get away with anything
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I’ve just read this piece to Mrs Grumpy who, true to form, shares my anger. However, she has offered up an idea to those who draft our wildlife protection legislation. She says that part of the punishment that such people should face would hit at the very thing they seek to champion. If a pigeon fancier kills a predator they should be banned from keeping pigeons for life. If a gamekeeper is convicted of poisoning, pole trapping or otherwise destroying raptors they should be banned for life from that profession. Shooting estate owners, on whose land they or their employees commit such crimes should be banned from ever running blood sports on their property.
* See below for a list of estate owners publicly condemning wildlife crime and a list of shooting estates where wildlife crime has been reported.
“To suppress a whole population takes a huge amount of organised effort, and that’s what’s happening. It is the grouse industry that is responsible. They simply won’t tolerate birds of prey on grouse moors.” Mark Rafferty 2011