A Hen Harrier Decoy

When you read or hear the word decoy, many meanings may spring to your mind. It may be that your imagination is filled with actions films and clever decoy drivers, or maybe even fabulous decoy plans that throw people off the scent and entice them into a well laid trap. Out of interest, I had a look at the first definition that presents itself when looking up the word ‘decoy’. This is what I found:

“A bird or mammal, or an imitation of one, used by hunters to attract other birds or mammals.”

Ok, so when considering a hunter, they may use a decoy duck, or something similar to attract the animal they really want. But recently, video footage has come to light, which shows a hunter using his own unique decoy. A decoy hen harrier.



So, what is this all about? What’s the story behind this bizarre tale? Well, it all began on the morning of the 24th of February 2016. The setting is the Peak District National Park and we find ourselves on the trail with some avid birdwatchers. For many birdwatchers in the Peak District, there was excitement in the air, because a male hen harrier had been sighted the day before! The birdwatchers of this tale were of course hoping to catch a glimpse of this rare sight. For a moment, they thought they had found this elusive bird, as they spied what appeared to be a grey raptor with black tipped wings sitting amongst the heather. Unfortunately, this was not their hen harrier male. With further observation, they saw something rather strange. A man, dressed in full camouflage, crouched in the heather, not far from the apparent hen harrier male. As they watched, they decided to film what was unfolding and not long after their footage was caught, the man got to his feet, picked up his decoy bird and walked hurriedly back to his Land Rover, leaving the moorland.

But why would anyone want to do that? What is a fake male hen harrier going to attract? Well, this is the material point. There will of course be a lot of confirming and denying of this point as this case progresses, but one would assume he was trying to lure in a real male hen harrier, who may approach the decoy in order to protect his territory. No doubt our hunter believed he was being very clever and very innovative in his approach and attempt to carry out illegal raptor persecution. Unfortunately for him, his suspicious activities have been caught on film and his clever idea has backfired rather spectacularly. Although the footage shows no actual criminal activity, as this individual has not been filmed shooting a hen harrier, the footage is suspicious to say the very least.

www.bbc.co.uk Video Footage

Video Footage

The National Trust have since issued a statement concerning this incident. They state that they are taking the incident ‘very seriously’ and will be ‘investigating fully’. However, the police, who have had the footage since February, have decided to take no further action, as there is no solid evidence of any illegal activity, i.e. there is no attempted shooting of a bird of prey, nor a dead raptor. The Moorland Association has also issued a statement, which for many, was highly disappointing. They first state that they are totally against any wildlife crime and do not support those who break the law. However, they then continue to say that as the police are taking no further action and as there is no evidence of any law breaking, they will not be investigating. They claim they do not know which moorland it is that the footage was filmed on and that they do not know who the landowner is, therefore, no action will be taken. This alone is disappointing, but perhaps what is even more disappointing is the insinuation that the footage in question has no significance, as it is ‘difficult to make out any detail.’ Ok, admittedly, the footage is grainy and is hardly crystal clear. But it was captured from a distance of around 1km away and although it does leave a little to be desired, what is shows is hard to deny. Have a look for yourself and see what you think, the footage is available online.

There is only one positive in this tale: we do not have a dead hen harrier on our hands, or at least, not that we are aware of. The rest is less positive. In fact, all it does it confirm something that many of us already know: raptor persecution is a very big and very real problem in the UK. It is happening and sometimes we find injured raptors or their bodies, and sometimes we don’t. Sometimes raptors such as hen harriers simply vanish. This footage shows that there are those who are committed to raptor persecution. Obviously very committed if they are willing to sit in the middle on a moorland with a shotgun and a decoy, hoping that a real hen harrier will show. Yes, no crime is committed on this video, but does that render it insignificant?



What is the morale of this story? I don’t have a well worded one or particularly clever one that could grace the pages of ‘Fairies and Fables’, but I would say this to raptor persecutors: Your actions and methods are no more unique than they are clever, but they are illegal. Don’t persecute raptors. Don’t commit a crime. Don’t destroy our biodiversity.

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Eleanor Daisy Upstill-Goddard
I have been a bird enthusiast since I was a child and have just completed my MSc at Newcastle University on 'Biodiversity Conservation and Ecosystem Management.'
Eleanor Daisy Upstill-Goddard

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