‘We can’t go on together, with suspicious minds.’
You know, Elvis really was right. Though this time we are not talking about two people who cannot trust one another, we are talking about two species. Two species with a stormy relationship history: humans and raptors. We might try, but we just can’t seem to coexist, each of us suspicious of the other. Sometimes, being a raptor lover is not easy. For me, living in an upland area, where expanses of red grouse moorland cover a much greater area than any other habitat, this is very true. It may sound dramatic, but being a raptor lover sometimes feels like it is a dirty little secret. And like all secrets, the idea is to keep it on the down low and keep it to yourself, then, there are no arguments and no strange looks from those who see raptors as something of a threat. I however, do not keep it myself. Why should I? It still amazes me that something such as enjoying the wonders of nature can be looked upon with resentful and puzzled eyes, whilst trapping and shooting so many of our fabulous animals, is the absolute norm and is totally accepted.
Running along the moorlands a few days ago, I was lucky enough to catch a glimpse of a magnificent red kite soaring high above the heather. I stopped and took a moment to appreciate it, but my feelings of admiration were quickly replaced with another feeling; worry. This red kite was, after all, soaring above a red grouse shooting moorland and I found myself glancing around, hoping that nobody more sinister had spied the bird. Then, this morning, I saw a buzzard landing in the treetops and the unmistakable calls of chicks in a nest, which eventually, I spotted. Again, I found myself thinking ‘I am definitely keeping that a secret. To be honest, I was almost considering hiding in the tree tops and guarding the nest vigilantly, day and night. Putting that ridiculous image out of our minds (I still have-not totally abandoned the idea), all we are left with is shame. Shame that some of our most majestic species are so threatened by humans that those of us who love them, live in fear of their persecution.
But maybe I’m being dramatic. In fairness, not all those involved in the shooting profession are going to go out and persecute birds of prey and I am not trying to suggest that. However, I am suggesting that a proportion of them will. And they do. Sometimes, I question my own suspicion, perhaps I’m being unfair! But then stories of persecution just seem to keep hitting the headlines.
The latest instalment in the great black book of illegal raptor persecution, has taken place in Moy Forest in the Scottish Highlands. This time, raptor nests are at the centre of the story, with disturbed and abandoned goshawk and buzzard nests being discovered. In total, one goshawk nest and four buzzard nests have been found, all of which exhibiting signs of illegal disturbance. Dead chicks have been found in some nests, whilst the adult birds have mysteriously disappeared.
Unfortunately, this is not the first time that this area of Scotland has experienced such crimes. In 2010, a gamekeeper was convicted for the possession of a dead red kite in the back of his vehicle. The red kites legs had been broken and its head was severely damaged. Other items were also discovered, including wing tags that were once fitted to a satellite tracked red kite, which were hidden in holes, and then covered with moss. Sadly, this story does not end there, with even more evidence of illegal activity being found in the location, including six baited spring traps (set out in the open), a trapped, live, hen harrier, a poisoned bait and four old leg rings that were once fitted to golden eagle chicks. So, a blatant, shameless, mixed bag of law breaking, all aimed at one thing, to kill birds of prey.
With occurrences such as these being a constant tarnish on the UK’s raptor conservation, is it any wonder that raptor lovers live in constant suspicion? Some are totally innocent and some are totally guilty, yet they often get away with their crimes, getting a slap on the wrist and light warnings of ‘Oh! You shouldn’t have done that! Don’t do it again, ok? Promise?’ or sometimes going totally unpunished. Now, I know that some of you may be totally and utterly bored with my constant ramblings on about the injustice of raptor persecution, but guess what? I’m bored of writing them. I’m bored of raptor persecution and I’m bored of those who carry it out. Birds of prey are magnificent specimens that enhance our biodiversity and are vital parts of our natural ecosystems, they should be cherished, not loathed. We need tougher penalties for criminals and we need to do more to put an end to bird of prey persecution. It is an illegal activity that seems to be widespread and an activity where the word ‘illegal’, seems to mean absolutely nothing. I will happily stop reporting it and even crack a bottle of champagne when I do, because when I stop writing about it, raptor persecution will be a thing of the past.
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