Police are investigating the disappearance of a rare bird of prey and treating it as suspicious. It is believed that the male hen harrier is dead after its satellite tag ceased transmitting a signal in Wiltshire. The chick which has been named Vulcan was one of five that hatched in Northumberland last year that the RSPB tagged. This is the eleventh sudden disappearance of a satellite-tagged hen harrier since last summer RSPB says.
Disappearance is baffling
RSPB says it tracked the movements of the young bird as it made its way from Northumberland down to the Peak District. However, at the start of the year the tag just stopped transmitting South of Calstone Wellington. What is baffling is that neither the remains of the protected birds or any damaged tags have been found. A spokesperson for RSPB’s Hen Harrier LIFE project said Vulcan’s tag had been working just fine, so for it to suddenly cease transmission makes the charity very suspicious that something untoward has happened to him.
Rare species of bird
The hen harrier is one of the rarest species of birds in the UK and under the Wildlife and Countryside Act of 1981 are protected by law. Unfortunately, they are also the most intensely hunted species of all of UK birds of prey largely because of the threat they pose to free-range fowl and game birds. A spokesperson for the Wiltshire Police said the rural crime team is partnering with the RSPB to try and determine the circumstances.
Hen harrier persecution needs to end
The spokesperson adds that there is no trace of the bird does raise some valid concerns about what happened to it. Gareth Cunningham another spokesperson from the RSPB says the suspicious disappearance of Vulcan is serious cause for concern of the safety of any planned reintroduction of this magnificent species. RSPB says it believes deeply in ending the persecution of hen harriers in order to restore the species population in the UK.
In November 2008 the UK Parliament passed the Climate Change Act. That was the culmination of intense lobbying of a variety of conservation coalitions that RSPB was a member of. That is obviously a spectacular achievement but many people must be asking what has been RSPB been doing in the decade since it helped bring about the act to reduce the effects of climate change? Well here are five achievements of RSPB over the last decade.
RSPB is a founder member of two conservation coalitions
RSPB helped found The Climate Coalition which helps to raise awareness of the impact of climate change on the things people love as well as influence the policy of the UK governments. RSPB played a massive part in the Show the Love campaign which got people including politicians and celebrities to wear hearts to show their commitment to the conservation of the environment and wildlife.
RSPB now manages its nature reserves differently
RSPB reserves are managed in order to develop resilience to climate change and the organisation seeks to help wildlife adapt to changing conditions. This includes allowing species to expand their range as well as allowing visiting species to move in permanently. An example of this is the migration of spoonbills permanently from continental Europe.
Restoring critical UK peat bogs
England’s peat reserves are able to prevent 90,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide from entering the atmosphere alone. In Scotland RSPB has been engaging with the Scottish Government for many years now. This has been key to getting it to commit to the restoration of 250,000 hectares or 350,000 football pitches of damaged peatland by 2030.
Creating new inland wetlands
RSPB has created reserves at Lakenheath Fen, Ham Wall, Ouse Fen that seek to prove brand new homes for wildlife whose coastal homes are at risk from rising sea levels. Ham Wall for example now serves as home to a minimum of six species of heron. Another example of RSPB’s conservation work is Ouse Fen which will eventually serve as home to the biggest reedbed in the UK.
Future proofing coastal communities
RSPB is trying to minimise the risk of flooding whilst also establishing new wildlife habitats. You can see this happening in West Sussex and in Essex. RSPB has realigned the coast in Medmerry which not only helps keep nearby homes protected but has also resulted in the creation of a range of habitats. Another example is Wallasea which has had its landscape restored creating 670 hectares of coastal wetland over the ten years which ended in 2018.
Michael Clarke, the RSPB chief executive is warning that there are less than 12 months with which to rescue the UK’s degraded environment and save the country’s endangered birds and animals. Mr Clarke says that the parliamentary bills that are scheduled to be published over the course of the year will need to force crucial changes to the way farms and fisheries are run in the country if the flora and fauna of the nation are to be rescued. He adds that the country is on the brink and if the UK fails to decisively act now, the nation will pay the price in the years that follow.
There are three bills set to be introduced that will govern agriculture fisheries and the environment which will serve as replacements for existing EU regulations. So far, the government has not disclosed the contents of these bills however conservationists are worried that there is a real risk that the new legislation will not provide the necessary powers to restore the UK’s crisis-hit environment. According to Mr Clarke, since 1980, 420 million individual birds have disappeared as a result of modern agricultural practices. Whilst that is a staggering number, the decline in insect life over the same time frame has been even more catastrophic.
Common Agricultural Policy
The main reason behind the declines is proliferation and intensification of agriculture and changes in land use. The Common Agricultural Policy of the EU has been perhaps the most destructive. The CAP emphasises the importance of agricultural output above all else and if what Mr Clarke says is correct this has resulted in the destruction of homes and food sources of an immeasurable number of birds, animals and insects.
Once in a generation opportunity
Brexit presents a once-in-a-generation opportunity to correct the damage. Currently about £3 billion a year is spent on agriculture in the UK as a result of the CAP. The money is used to boost output at great cost to the surrounding countryside. The new legislation needs to ensure that some money is provided for the maintenance of the environment and if it fails to do so, the consequences will be appalling, wiping out dozens of critically endangered bird species in the country. Mr Clarke says the UK is one of the world’s most depleted countries when it comes to biodiversity ranking 29th worst out of 218.
The last chance to make things right
Mr Clarke concludes by saying the new legislation could well be the last opportunity to end the degradation and correct the course of the country. The UK needs to establish strong targets for improving the quality of water, air and soil in the country. The bills should ensure there is a watchdog that enforces the standards and protects UK wildlife and fisheries. It is by no means clear whether the legislation will do all of that but Mr Clarke warns that if it doesn’t, there will be trouble.