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On Friday the RSPB in Scotland issued this to the media:
RSPB Scotland is calling for more sporting estates to take action to protect the country’s hen harriers during the breeding season.
The conservation charity says grouse moor managers and gamekeepers must do more to prevent illegal persecution, following a 20% decline in the population between 2004 and 2010.
Effective and legal techniques, such as diversionary feeding, have been proven to reduce the predation of red grouse by hen harriers and should be more widely embraced, the charity says.
Examples of illegal persecution involving the bird of prey include a shocking incident last year, unreported until now, in which a male hen harrier was apparently shot in the eastern Cairngorms, within the boundary of the Cairngorms National Park.
Two outraged members of the public contacted Police Scotland on May 30 last year after witnessing what they described as a coordinated “hunt” on the moor, ending in the shooting of the protected bird of prey. They explained watching for almost three hours as two individuals, armed with shotguns, criss-crossed the moor, with at least one other individual directing them by radio from his vehicle to the location of where the bird was seen perched.
An investigation by Police Scotland was launched but failed to turn up sufficient further evidence to charge anyone in connection with the incident, which has never formerly been made public.
Ian Thomson, RSPB Scotland’s Head of Investigations, said: “All the evidence indicates that this appears to have been an appalling, organised killing of one of our rarest birds of prey, which shows a complete disregard of the laws protecting our wildlife. Had it not been for the presence of these two witnesses, no-one would have known about this incident.
“The hen harrier population in Scotland is in trouble, with a 20% decline from 2004-2010. The intolerance shown towards this species on grouse moors, with this latest case being yet another example, gives a clear indication of one of the main causes of this decline.”
On Friday, the Scottish Gamekeepers Organisation said:
‘Our understanding from the case in the Cairngorms is that there is no evidence to support the RSPB’s interpretation of events and the RSPB is aware of this.
In terms of accusing grouse moors alone for the decline of Hen Harrier, the RSPB, as a bird charity, could spend donor money more wisely by assessing the bigger picture of Harrier decline and the criminal drop in the smaller, less iconic prey birds, rather than spending it on demonising gamekeepers; the vast majority of whom work within the law every day, under very trying circumstances, to produce a balance of species as well as a surplus of grouse to shoot.’
I’ve heard many similar reports in my time and I don’t find it difficult to believe this one. Were these two individuals armed with shotguns, directed by radio by another, just a bunch of happy hikers who decided to try to kill some protected wildlife on the spur of the moment? Maybe some schoolteachers? Lawyers? Nurses?
You can make a difference by making your voice heard – please sign my e-petition to ban driven grouse shooting in England.
And now, on Saturday afternoon, I read of this case where a female hen harrier was found dead in Ayrshire and her two chicks are now being cared for by the SSPCA.
Det Insp Graham Duncan, of Kilmarnock CID said: ‘Whilst at this time we cannot divulge how the bird was killed, we do believe it was the result of a criminal act and we need to establish why this has happened.‘.
Please sign my e-petition to ban driven grouse shooting in England.