The Very Short Life of Brian?

‘The Life of Brian.’ To many of you, when you read those words, you will no doubt be put in mind of the religious comedy film, written and performed by Monty Python. I remember that when I was first introduced to Monty Python by my father many years ago, I had very mixed feelings. It was bizarre, ridiculous (as my dad says as he sits there crying with laughter), and, totally hilarious. Unfortunately, the life of the Brian that we refer to in this instance is not comedic in any sense of the word, as it refers to one of this years fledged Hen Harrier chicks. Brian.

What do we know about Brian? Well, that Brian fledged in Perthshire National Park a few weeks ago and though he remained within the Park for some time, he has since ‘disappeared’ in the Cairngorms National Park. Disappeared? What does that mean, exactly? Well, that Brian’s satellite tag has stopped transmitting and that so far, there is no trace of the Harrier. Prior to Brian’s disappearance, there were no obvious signs of technical faults nor battery failures, which may have affected his transmitter. The disappearance of Brian however, is all too familiar, with Elwood, another satellite tagged Hen Harrier, disappearing in early August of this year.

Searches have been carried out to try and locate Brian’s body, but as of yet none has been found. Kingussie is the exact area where Brain was last located before his disappearance and unfortunately, this is also the same area where the body of Lad was found in September of 2015, who was suspected to have been shot. However, these two incidences are not the only occurrences of raptor persecution to take place in the Cairngorms National Park. In fact, the list is a rather long and rather depressing one. In terms of illegal persecution, this list has everything, with incidences of trapping, shooting and poisoning, with apparently, little being done to stop it, nor catch those responsible. The species who have suffered as a result of these activities are also varied, with Buzzards, Short-eared Owls, Goshawk, White-tailed Eagles, Golden Eagles, Peregrines, Hen Harriers and Red Kites, all featuring on the list. Unacceptable? That’s putting it rather mildly.

The question on the lips of many will now revolve around what happens next? What is the course of action? Now, although we are yet to find ‘hard’ evidence that Brian has indeed been persecuted, based on previous persecution cases that have taken place in the area, it is not an unreasonable assumption to make. The Cairngorms is a National Park after all, and the persecution of raptors within its boundaries is more than embarrassing, it is a failing. We have heard before of the ‘disappointment’ of Park authorities and the endless ‘reviews’ that will take place to address these issues. However, disappointment is not enough and reviews tend to take far too long, with the outcomes being far from groundbreaking. The area of Kingussie where Brian disappeared is also surrounded by driven grouse shooting moorland. Sometimes, raptor lovers and conservationists seem to be accused of sounding like a rather tedious and rather broken record, as we always seem to come back to the same topic: driven grouse shooting. Sometimes it even seems as if we are being accused of ‘liking’ the fact that we can ‘pounce’ on the grouse shooting industry. No. We do not like it. In fact, we would much prefer it if our birds of prey remained alive and were allowed to thrive on our shores. But they are not and whether we like it or not, there is an undeniable link between the disappearings of our raptors, especially our Hen Harriers, and driven grouse moorland. Although not all those associated with this industry have a hand in these illegal activities, some of them do, and some of them act on it. The ‘few bad apples’ line is getting a little old, as so far, nothing has been done to remove these apples from the barrel.


It would seem that the UK’s constant raptor persecution headache is not showing any signs of easing up, in fact, if anything, it is getting worse.

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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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