For a birdwatcher getting up before dawn on a Sunday, is something you do to reap the rewards of seeing a rare or lovely gem but, this Sunday the 10th August as some 300 or so people descended on a Peak District beauty spot- it was different.
The bird on their minds would not be making a live appearance; The Hen Harrier a beautiful Bird of Prey is on the brink of extinction in the UK and the people gathering were there to make a peaceful protest against the persecution of these birds who have already disappeared from that area.
Organised by renowned Scientist and Naturalist Dr Mark Avery who worked for the RSPB, the gauntlet was soon picked up by TV's much loved Naturalist Chris Packham the BAWC and other leading conservationists. The first Hen Harrier Day was born in Derbyshire and several other venues across England.
There should be at least Three Hundred breeding pairs of Hen Harriers spread across England, this year only three have been confirmed. The reason for the decline is blamed on the Driven Grouse Shooting Industry and this is why Dr Avery started a petition (sporting more than Twelve Thousand signatures to-date) to ban the practice.
The Hen Harriers are being killed because they predate the "artificially" cage reared Red Grouse who are often only released hours before a shoot and make an easy meal to a Harrier because they possess very little sense of danger due to their captive breeding (which also makes them very easy to shoot).
The Hen Harriers are allegedly poisoned, trapped and killed in the same manner as other Birds of Prey like Eagles, Goshawks and Kites by unscrupulous Game Keepers, nests are trashed, eggs smashed and there are even reports ice being placed under eggs in nests.
The persecution of the Raptors is only the tip of a major ecological problem, the multi-million pound driven grouse shooting industry manages the land in a manner that creates unnatural, unsustainable heathland by means of large scale draining and burning what would otherwise be diverse, rich Bog and Moors. The result is a man-made heather desert devoid of any predatory species or natural bio-diversity. Even mountain hares are targeted and persecuted as they can pass on parasites to Game Birds.
So as the rainclouds opened in the wake of Hurricane Bertha, delivering a ceaseless deluge. Dr Mark Avery and Chris Packham both delivered speeches to the soaked crowd highlighting the dire situation these birds are facing.
One poignant line struck a chord in most as Chris said "As far as conservation of this species is concerned we have failed." All in attendance agreed that Hen Harriers are part of our natural heritage, that an elitist leisure industry cannot be allowed to take precedence over natural ecological systems (a days shoot consisting of 8-9 guns can cost between £20,000 and £40,000 but bizarrely through "Farming Subsidy Loopholes" in the guise of Environmental Stewardship " the industry received more than £17 Million in Government pay outs in 2012-2013).
Acknowledging the rural employment that the industry provides and as a result of asking for smaller scale, responsible land management, legislature is needed urgently by Parliament. However, once thing is certain, the campaign is gathering momentum and if the tenacity of today's soaked gathering is anything to go by it won't be too long before the collective voice saying "Save the Hen Harrier" starts to make a difference.
Hen Harrier Day 2014 is supported by: the RSPB, the Wildlife Trusts, the National Trust, the Hawk and Owl Trust, the League Against Cruel Sports, the Peak District National Park, Birdwatch magazine, Rare Bird Alert, Welsh Ornithological Society and Quaker Concern for #Animals.