At last some common sense about vicious killers

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At last I see some green shoot of common sense about hen harriers, that most vicious of raptors which, when hunting, quarter moorland like pointers or setters, a mere couple of feet above the heather.

I have watched as hen harriers flushed birds from where they were sheltering and on one occasion, 30 odd years ago, I watched as a female hen harrier came down and attacked a cock peregrine falcon which seemed to be in difficulties among rushes. Both birds flew away as I approached them.

In Dublin this week the Oireachtas Joint Committee Agriculture, Food and the Marine agreed to progress farmers’ concerns around the designation of Special Conservation Areas to protect the hen harrier.

As part of the process, the committee decided to call officials from the departments of Agriculture, Food and the Marine and Arts, Culture and the Gaeltacht.

The Committee was meeting with representatives from Irish Farmers with Designated Land (IFDL), who outlined how changes of designation under EU Directives had served to dramatically devalue the land of 4,000 farmers.

Committee Chairman Andrew Doyle TD said: “The meeting with IFDL representatives illustrated the difficulties many farmers have endured in light of the designation of 169,000 hectares of land to protect the hen harrier.

“With EU agriculture policy increasingly recognising the public good, the Committee is concerned that farmers with these lands are being unduly penalised by policies to protect species such as the hen harrier. During the meeting, the committee agreed to play a proactive role in seeking a practical and common sense solution.”

And the Marine Committee in Dublin is to consider new EU guidelines on State aid to the fisheries sector.

Those great friends of the hen harrier in the RSPB have been working to great effect to save raptors and predators, red in tooth and claw and it is time decent people, particularly those who live and work in the countryside, had their views realistically considered.

Among those who never believed that the RSPB, or raptors like hen harriers, were whiter than white is Charles Moor, former editor of the influential Daily Telegraph. In his column on Saturday, headed “There’d be room for grouse and hen harriers if it weren’t for politics” Charles dealt an extremely serious blow to the RSPB.

Readers will know that I have long tried to spread the truth about raptors and predators. My quarrel with the RSPB and other highly paid organisations claiming to be the friends of the environment and its wildlife, is that they are most certainly not making the best use of the millions of pounds and euro that keep flooding in to them.

Charles Moore’s colleague Robin Page seems to share that view. If we are right then the do-gooders are doing more harm than good. And that is very serious with fatal consequences for the species that the vast majority of rural dwellers love and cherish.

Charles quotes a disillusioned former member of the RSPB, Alex Stoddart, who told him it was an absolute lie when the RSPB said it spends 90 per cent of its money on conservation. Stoddart estimated that the fund raising, management and advertising costs consumed 45 per cent of its budget.

Charles ended his article with the warning: “This Christmas you might feel like saving a hen harrier. If so, don’t buy your family a gift subscription to the RSPB.”

In Monday’s Daily Telegraph Angus Jacobsen from Inverbervie, Angus wrote: “The decline in many avian species (Charles Moore, Comment, December 13) – a matter of concern to me a farmer – is due to the buzzard being ‘top bird’ in most areas of the United Kingdom.

“It is not preyed upon. On my farm in the past 10 years, I have lost all the snipe, redshank, oystercatchers, woodcock, lapwing and a great many voles.

“When resident buzzards find their traditional food source is absent they prey on other bird species, whose populations suffer. To allow these species to recolonise their habitats some culling by shooting, of buzzards is required.

“If only countrymen (in the truest sense of that word) were permitted to control many species of birds and mammals and thus create a desirable balance of nature, the countryside would be a more interesting and ecologically more sustainable environment for all to enjoy.”

A European Commission consultation on state aid to the fishery and aquaculture sector was later considered by the Oireachtas Joint Committee Agriculture, Food and the Marine.

Officials from the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine will outline Ireland’s response to the draft guidelines, which give specific recognition to natural disasters and ‘exceptional occurrences’.

Committee Chairman Andrew Doyle TD said: “The objective of the consultation is to collect stakeholder views on the draft Guidelines, which relate to all State aid granted by Member States to the fishery and aquaculture sector under EU law. Given that the existing Guidelines were last updated in 2008, it is important that the Committee informs Ireland’s approach to the current consultation process.

“Of particular interest are the indications by the Commission that it may accept aid to make good the damage caused by adverse climatic events.  This is particularly relevant given that fishing communities in Ireland have been disproportionately impacted by the severe weather at the start of this year. Committee members will be keen to ensure that any new guidelines for the sector are sensible and proportionate and come with the minimum possible bureaucratic impediments when State aid needs to be urgently dispensed.”

At Stormont Danny Kinahan MLA asked the Minister of the Environment, Mark H Durkan, how he ensures the Northern Ireland Environment Agency responds to concerns over rivers.

Mr Durkan said: “Within my Department, the Northern Ireland Environment Agency (NIEA) monitors and protects all of Northern Ireland’s waterways, including inland streams, rivers and lakes, groundwater and coastal waters out to three miles from shore.

“NIEA also leads in responding to water pollution or to threats of such pollution throughout Northern Ireland. This includes investigating all such incidents or threats, overseeing the immediate steps necessary to put a stop to pollution, gathering any necessary evidence and then pursuing appropriate enforcement action.

“NIEA’s Water Management Unit operates a 24-hour, 365 days a year free-phone Pollution Hotline (0800 807060), with staff on call at all times to promptly assess and respond to incidents.

“NIEA targets include that for pollution incidents reported during working hours, regardless of where they occur across Northern Ireland, NIEA staff will be on site at 90 per cent of significant incidents within two hours. Averaged over the past 10 years, 94.5 percent of pollution reports were responded to within set time targets.

“NIEA has an extensive network of locally based Catchment Stakeholder groups across Northern Ireland, each of which meets twice a year. These groups were set up with the express aim of harnessing the experience and knowledge of local people, allowing them to deal directly and co-operate with those government agencies responsible for our waterways, and to ensure detailed knowledge about our rivers and NIEA’s work in protecting them is disseminated to the public at a local level.”

At Craigmore, not too many anglers braved the mixed weather, with some having to break the ice to fish on Saturday. Jim Magill had 21 trout to 4lb on damsels and bloodworm. Harry Devine had 15 on black lures and John Gibson had 14 to 5lb on bloodworms.

Other catches were: Paul Jones, 13 to 7lb; Tommy Wharry,12; Billy Hazlett, 10; Mark Telford,13; John Carson, eight; Martin Foster, 15; Tommy McCrubb, eight; Sandy Dorian, nine; Ruth Arell, 12; Ian Smith, 10; Paul Anderson and Jackie Childs, trout of 4lb.