Annie. To many people just a simple name. However, that simple name is likely to stir one of two thoughts in the minds of conservationists and wildlife enthusiasts alike. Either, the life of the poor little orphan Annie, with fabulous songs illustrating her hardships, or, the tragic story of Annie the hen harrier. Our Annie.
As one of our most endangered species, we all know the story of the hen harrier in the UK. Finding themselves very decidedly on the Red List, the struggle to maintain our hen harriers remains a constant and exhausting battle. Annie is possibly our most famous hen harrier, but this fame comes for all the wrong reasons. Raised as part of the Langholm Moor experiment in 2014, Annie became one of the hen harriers that we were satellite tracking. The tracking aimed to monitor their movements, find out what they were doing and when, and how they spent their winter months- one of their mysteries. Things started off fantastically and Annie seemed to be doing very well indeed. However, in April 2015, we heard the devastating news that our Annie, had been found dead on a remote moorland in South Lanarkshire, Scotland. In the following months, the post-mortem revealed what all had feared, Annie had been shot.
As a species that is desperately struggling against extinction on our shores, the news of Annie’s fate came as a devastating blow. We already felt like we had been banging our heads against a brick wall when it comes to trying to save hen harriers, but with this news, we had been well and truly knocked out cold. Concerns surrounding Annie began to mount when her satellite tracker indicated that she had simply stopped moving. Then, following an extensive search, Annie’s body was found.
Unfortunately and rather frustratingly, many months later, we still have nobody to hold accountable for Annie’s early demise. But things did not end there, over the course 2015, Annie has been joined by 3 other nesting males who have disappeared. All 3 males had tracking devices, yet their trails have gone cold. The only thing that can stop satellite trackers is if they are buried deep underground, or smashed to smithereens. The word suspicious does not quite cut it. As an expanse of land that can sustainably support around 300 hen harrier pairs on our upland moors, the fact that only four pairs bred in 2014, highlights the severity of the situation.
But Annie has not been forgotten. Far from it. After Annie’s fate came to light, the conservation and wildlife worlds were in uproar in the UK. Annie could not just fade into the background, joining the long line of raptor persecution incidences in the UK over the years. Annie’s name now finds itself at the forefront of a conservation campaign that just keeps growing in momentum: ‘Justice For Annie’.
The campaign focuses on the plight of the hen harrier in the UK and Annie’s story is one of the most hard hitting. The fate of Annie, and the fact that she fell victim to persecution, highlights the problems that harriers and many other birds of prey face, and proves that what befell her warrants a debate. We need to discover who killed Annie and bring them to justice. We need to protect our birds of prey without the constant threat of persecution and we need to highlight the importance of our natural heritage.
We cannot bring Annie, or any of our other persecuted raptors, back from the dead. But, with a little grit and determination (which I think we have proved we have bags of), we can stop, or at least reduce, the amount of persecution that we see over our lands. No matter what your opinions on shooting or the impacts of grouse moorland management, we must be able to agree that the killing of Annie was a mistake. Annie’s death was a shameful and needless loss of a beautiful specimen that we should be proud to have in our country.
Though after all of this, one fact remains: for a hen harrier living in the UK, its a hard-knock life indeed.
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