Justice or Junket?

As I write this, it is with the pleasure of knowing that a spurious, crowd-funded attempt to interfere in the future of the hen-harrier has been averted. Natural England (the Governments custodian of the countryside) had quite sensibly agreed to license trials for brood management of hen harriers. A threatened moorland raptor species. Brood management would involve removing the eggs from successful nests, hatching them away from the risk of predation and then re-introducing the mature birds to re-populate moorland areas. A method successfully used to save spoon-billed sandpipers from extinction in Asia. This involved flying eggs back to Britain, hatching them and taking the mature birds back to Asia. So who on earth wanted to stop hen-harriers enjoying the same attempt at salvation? It was a joint action from the RSPB and one of their ex-employees, animal rights campaigner Mark Avery. The unsuccessful judicial review was funded by RSPB members contributions and (on Avery’s part) crowd-funding. Put another way, birders and sympathetic contributors threw money in a pot to stop an attempt to save the hen harrier. Who saved the sandpipers? Yes … you’ve guessed it. The RSPB. You couldn’t make it up, could you?

The declaration of this legal faux-pas came on a day when another of Avery’s ego projects (constructed jointly with a certain Mr C Packham, who apparently doesn’t work for the BBC, and Dr Ruth Tingay) announced that they will use their crowd funding to mount a legal challenge against Natural England’s General Licenses. This new endeavour calls itself ‘Wild Justice’. An organisation dedicated to use legal challenges to oppose currently lawful activities. For activities, read pest control, crop control, trapping, driven shooting, badger culling and fox hunting. So, what are the General Licenses? They are annually reviewed and issued licenses which allow the culling of specified bird species to protect crops, vulnerable species (such as songbirds, game and other ground nesting species) and prevent disease. For those of you who have never had to refer to the General Licenses, we’re talking about control of predatory species such as crows and magpies or crop raiders such as wood pigeons. Songbird nest and egg predation by corvids is legendary yet Wild Justice is happy to ignore this fact in order to attempt to score political points against Natural England. Is it a futile attempt to undermine shooting and pest control or is it a very astute move at a somewhat vulnerable time for Natural England?  As my old social media friend, Andy Richardson, pointed out last night the General Licenses are based on the EU Wildlife Directives. These may well be challengeable in coming months, depending on the outcome of Brexit? As Andy suggested, it could be that the time is ripe to tear up the General License restrictions and open out freedom of choice for the farmer, landowner and conservationist.

Wild Justice has nothing to do with saving wildlife. It’s about attacking peoples way of life. Avery and co have demonstrated (through the failed hen harrier judicial review) that they would rather see hen harriers extinct than allow the shooting community and moorland managers to save them. They would love to see the General Licenses torn up  and let loose the beak and talon to tear the songbird and wader population apart; rather than let a sensible fellow with a gun walk freely and protect these vulnerable species. Wild Justice would rather see a fourth generation cattle farm destroyed by TB infection than see a single badger culled; despite the overwhelming proof that bovine TB is vectored by badgers. They will no doubt continue to sponsor defence of the red fox while denying the need to control Britain’s apex predator – if only to protect ground nesting species.

I love all wildlife. Just look at the photo galleries on this site. Yet I also know how important we (homo sapiens) are in the need to balance the survival and conservation of other species. Even if that needs the use of gun or trap. We are, through natural selection, a part of Natures balancing act. Over the past fifty years we have become much better at it, making reparation for the sins of our ancestors.

Wild Justice is a clear demonstration of everything that can be wrong about animal welfare or animal rights activism. It will put animals before people. It will disregard communities, employment, economy and human welfare. Bitter, biased, intelligent zealots funded by money which would be better invested in a conservation project near you. But if that project doesn’t control predators, then that will be money wasted too. Finally, what about that money? Who monitors the ‘crowd fund’ to ensure that every penny goes towards what the contributors are expecting? Just asking.

No doubt my friends at BASC, the Countryside Alliance, the NGO and SACS will be monitoring their behaviour and intentions closely.

Copyright Ian Barnett, Wildscribbler, March 2019

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