I had lunch at the Reform Club the other day. Of all places. “And here’s where Phileas Fogg struck his great bet in Around the World In 80 Days…” Funky old place, then. I was guest of Mark Avery, who is fed up with being described as “former conservation director of the RSPB”. He’s independent these days, and a great deal more radical in public. His blog is a conservation must-read: http://markavery.info/blog/
Naturally we talked about hen harriers. Mark and I have both spoken out on this issue, and shooters regard us as extremists. Well, if expecting people to obey the law is an extreme position, it’s accurate enough. Mark speculated in his blog that I had to leave The Times because I had written against the illegal killing of birds of prey – especially hen harriers on grouse moors. Certainly I have annoyed some powerful people.
The Times is part of times-past for me, so let’s not pursue that one. What is significant is hen harriers are becoming a line-in-the-sand issue. None bred at all in England last year, and there’s space for 300 pairs. There are online petitions, there were demonstrations before the beginning of the grouse-shooting season began, there are now calls to ban grouse-shooting altogether: http://epetitions.direct.gov.uk/petitions/65627.
Conservation has been a shade too polite for too long. Organisations like the RSPB are excellent and I wouldn’t want them changed, but they’re not enough. The hen harrier issue is driving some conservationists to become confrontational, more edgy, more angry. It comes down to one important question: whose countryside is it anyway? Does it belong to a few rich people? Or to everybody else?
So Mark and I had a drink in the place where James Bond fought a duel with swords in Die Another Day, and raised a glass to harriers. And to the idea of fighting on the right side.