Another day, another report emerges of a missing bird of prey. For me, when I heard the news this morning, all I could manage was a depressed sigh.The species in question? A Hen Harrier. The Harrier in question? A male Harrier named Elwood, who was the only chick to fledge this year from a nest in Banffshire, Scotland. Elwood, who was satellite tagged as part of the Hen Harrier LIFE + project, fledged in July and although for the first couple of weeks he did not travel far from his nest site , he eventually ventured further afield. Where did Elwood go missing? In the Monadhliath Mountains, over an area of Red Grouse shooting moorland.
The revelation of where Elwood’s final transmission came from, to many, is hardly surprising. But it is perhaps even less so, when we consider that this is the same area of Scotland where 8 satellite tagged Golden Eagles have gone missing over the past 5 years. If ever the phrase ‘a broken record’ was appropriate, it would seem to be now, because these reports of ‘missing’ birds of prey, disappearing on Red Grouse moorland, are seemingly constant. Personally, when I hear news such as this, although I am sad and overwhelmingly depressed, I am not overly surprised. So, what happens now? Killing or injuring a bird of prey is, after all, an illegal activity and when a crime has been committed, somebody should be held accountable. But what will the response be? Statements of ‘disappointment’ and ‘regret’ will no doubt follow, but what does that do to address the problem? Unfortunately, very little.
In any other circumstance where the law has been broken, people will work tirelessly to catch and convict the culprit. However, if that crime is bird of prey persecution, the response of many seems rather lacklustre. Incidences of missing raptors seem to drift off into the background, confined to the history books, with little being done to address and ultimately stop the issue. It is cases like this which make the argument of ‘Hen Harriers aren’t colonising England because of environmental factors’, a little insulting at best. How do you explain a bird who has simply vanished? Well, explaining the disappearance of one is difficult enough, but the disappearance of 9? Have all their satellite trackers failed? Perhaps they fallen off? Were they caught by wind farms? Or have the Martians finally descended and stolen the trackers and the birds?
When it comes to the relationship between the Red Grouse shooting industry and bird of prey persecution, (particularly the persecution of Harriers) there is obviously a BIG problem. We know that. Even the argument of ‘a few bad apples’, is beginning to wear a bit thin. If indeed there are a ‘few bad apples’, then why not identify them and remove them from the barrel before they do any more damage? True, the first step toward solving a problem is admitting that you have one, but the next step following this is to effectively tackle that problem, not just moving on, ignoring it and hoping people will forget about it. They won’t.
Regarding this latest incident, the RSPB head of investigations has called for licensing on game bird hunting. The aim of licensing is that only estates who have showed effective land management and those who have no cases of raptor persecution, would be allowed to shoot.
“We repeat our call to the Scottish Government to introduce a robust system of licensing of game bird hunting, where the right to shoot is dependent on legal and sustainable management of the land, in line with approaches adopted in most other European countries.”
Licensing in itself has it’s advantages and disadvantages, however, regardless of the approach which is ultimately taken to tackle raptor persecution, one thing is for sure: it needs to end. Now. For too long, those who practice illegal activities have been allowed to continue unchecked and unchallenged. They have been allowed to run amok with your countryside, our countryside. Allowed to desecrate our bird of prey populations. Allowed to target our Hen Harriers.
Enough is enough. Help our Hen Harriers, help our birds of prey, sign the Ban Driven Grouse Shooting Petition
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