If I could have a penny for every single time I have read or written about the persecution of a hen harrier, I would be a very rich person by now. Perhaps even rich enough to employ an entire trained team of hen harrier protectors, who would work 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days of the year, to fiercely guard any and all hen harriers over UK lands. But why should I need such a team? Why, when this bird of prey is so protected by law and so protected by thousands of conservationists, should I worry about the hen harrier? We all know the answer; because the relationship between the hen harrier and the UK is a tumultuous one, a relationship characterised by hopeful and joyful highs and by crashing and devastating lows. Unfortunately, the latest news on the hen harrier recovery in the UK is a low indeed, with the news that another one of our fledgling hen harriers, born in 2016, has been found dead. Her name? Carroll.
Just like me, Carroll is a Northumberland girl, and remained here throughout her very short life. One of two chicks to nest on Forestry Commission land, Carroll was often sighted and delighted raptor conservation workers in Northumberland. However, in late January of 2017, Carroll was found dead in a farmers field near Alnick in her home county, by a member of an organised pheasant shoot. The discovery of Carroll was immediately reported by the estate. Before her body was found however, concerns over Carroll had been raised with data from her satellite tag worrying those who monitored her.
After her discovery, Carroll was sent to the Zoological Society of London for a post-mortem to determine her cause of death. Sadly, as was feared by those who monitored her data, Carroll was indeed in very poor condition and was suffering from an infectious disease. So, it would seem that this is not a case of persecution as we are so used to hearing. Although this could serve as small consolation to those of us who love these birds, that consolation is in fact empty. Very empty, because in addition to the discovery of her cause of death, Carroll’s post-mortem also revealed some hidden secrets. Two hidden shotgun pellets to be precise, both lodged within her body, one in the neck and one in the leg. Surprisingly, these pellets were not in conjunction with any wound or injury on her body and it is believed that the wounds she would have sustained had healed, with Carroll miraculously surviving her shooting.
Unfortunately, it is impossible to determine where Carroll was shot and when she was shot, only that it would have occurred in 2016. So, Carroll fledged in 2016 and was shot in 2016. It presumably took little more than a few months for an individual to decide that Carroll did not belong in her own county or her own habitat. Sadly, the news concerning Carroll is not the only bad news that has occurred for the hen harrier campaign over the last few months. In October of 2016, Rowan, another satellite tagged harrier, was found dead in Cumbria. Cause of death? Shooting. And although no body has been discovered, another harrier, a male aptly named Bonny, is also currently classed as missing and presumed dead. Once again, persecution haunts the recovery of the hen harrier in the UK.
Unfortunately, we cannot control the health of our hen harriers, nor can we control the twists and turns of the natural world. The problem of illegal persecution however, is a threat to hen harriers that we will always fight to control. Hen harriers are a beautiful, breathtaking species that belong on our lands and are part of our natural heritage. The persecution of these birds by those who perceive themselves as above the law is not acceptable. The prejudice and narrow mindedness of those who commit such atrocities against the natural world never ceases to amaze conservationists. Persecution has been illegal for over 60 years, laws and punishments continue to get stronger (though are still not strong enough) and public outcry at these crimes is increasing, yet there are still those who will shoot a hen harrier as soon as lay their eyes upon them. I would argue to those individuals that the hen harrier has more right to be part of these lands than you do, and if you choose to remove them, then you are an enemy of the natural world.
News of bird of prey persecution and particularly hen harrier persecution continues to flow through to us. It almost seems like one piece of good news is followed by 100 pieces of bad news. For those of us who fight for raptor conservation, it is soul destroying. But isn’t that what those who harm these birds want? For us to give up? For there to be no hen harriers in the UK? Of course! So! I say that it may be soul destroying, and it may be a constant slog, but unfortunately for those persecutors and those who would eradicate the hen harrier from the UK, I tell you that you could blow our souls to smithereens and we would still keep fighting for not only the hen harrier, but all birds of prey who grace our lands.
When I was a child I remember watching a film with my dad. A film with a certain scene that I have always remembered, and always (tirelessly) quoted when it seemed applicable. Well, in light of this news, it would seem very applicable now and always applicable when it comes to the conservation of our birds of prey and fighting against those who persecute them.
“I want you to get up right now and go to the window, open it and stick your head out and yell, ‘I’m as mad as hell! And I’m not going to take this anymore!'” – Network, 1976
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