HHs in BB – time for the Royals to speak out.

Photo: Gordon Yates
Photo: Gordon Yates

There is an excellent paper in British Birds – there often is. But the February BB has ‘The past, current and potential status of breeding Hen Harriers in North-east Scotland’ by Graham Rebecca, Brian Cosnette, Jim Craib, Alistair Duncan, Brian Etheridge, Ian Frnacis, Jon Hardey, Alastair Pout and Logan Steele.

It’s a very good local or regional account of how illegal persecution of Hen Harriers on grouse moors plays out – it brings the horror of it all right down to earth in Deeside, Donside and the neighbouring areas.

The whole article is well worth a read, and I don’t want to detract from your enjoyment of it – in fact, I’d like to encourage as many people as possible to read it, but here are a few highlights or lowlights:

  • in the study area there regularly used to be over 20 pairs of Hen Harrier (probables plus confirmed)
  • now there are rarely double figures and rather rarely more than five.
  • in the absence of illegal persecution the study area could support over 100 pairs of Hen Harrier so things have never been great, but they are at rock-bottom (perhaps) now.
  • SNH failed to designate the Ladder Hills as an SPA under the Birds Directive despite thinking it over for several years. Lack of enthusiasm from landowners might have been a factor in their dithering.
  • it is suggested that buffer zones around Hen Harrier nests could be employed to protect the birds from disturbance – I guess including lethal disturbance.
  • it is mentioned that ‘there are now sustained calls for [grouse shooting] to be regulated or even banned’ – where’s that e-petition when you need it?

If you live in Aberdeenshire or East Moray and you go up into the hills, the landscape you see is given over to the selfish hobby of shooting Red Grouse for profit and/or fun and the message of this paper is that this deprives you of around 100 pairs of Hen Harriers – a bird with complete legal protection since 1954. Much of this crime must be happening inside the Cairngorms National Park and across a wide variety of Sites of Special Scientific Interest and some Special Areas of Conservation too.

This is surely the time for those landowners who deplore wildlife crime to speak out.  Are there any prominent landowners in this area whose views might influence the others in a dramatic way and might send out a strong signal to end wildlife crime?

Hang on! Yes there are.  The Royal Estate of Balmoral is in this study area and we know that Prince Charles, Prince William and even Prince Harry are very keen on ending wildlife crime abroad. They often give their support to campaigns against foreign wildlife crime – well, now is the time to speak out about wildlife crime on their very doorsteps.

It’s all very well saying that Princess Charlotte’s generation will be the last one to see elephants and rhinos in Africa but there must be Charlotte’s living in Deeside who never see Hen Harriers because of wildlife crime on the Royal doorstep. And good for Prince Harry to hug an elephant but we’ve never seen him hug a Hen Harrier have we?

It’s supposed to be ‘think global and act local’ not ‘turn a blind eye locally, and go out and talk wildlife crime abroad’.

There is no doubt that the grouse moors of North-east Scotland lack Hen Harriers because of wildlife crime. And there is no doubt that that wildlife crime emanates from the grouse shooting community.  It is time, past time actually, for our Royal Family to speak out on this issue which is on their very doorstep.  It cuts no ice to be against wildlife crime abroad and yet remain silent about it at home.

And yes, let’s say it, the fear is that the Royal Family is a part of the community that is responsible for wildlife crime – not that they, of course, allow it on their own land, but that they are so fully embedded in the grouse shooting community that they find it far easier to talk about foreigners killing elephants in South Africa than fellow landowners killing Hen Harriers just down the road.

Inglorious (p254-55) includes an entirely fanciful account of a speech made about raptor persecution by a Royal Prince – we should hear that speech now.

A good starting point would be a statement on how many Hen Harriers nest at Balmoral, and how many more the landowners would like there to be.


See also Raptor Persecution Scotland blog.

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38 Replies to “HHs in BB – time for the Royals to speak out.”

  1. Lament for the Hen Harrier

    The cap is doff’d to the man or woman
    Who drains the moor or lofty common
    Leaving the owners at the grand ‘ouse
    Free to make a monoculture for the grouse

    The law demands that we atone
    When we take things we do not own
    But for lords and ‘keepers there’s no barrier
    To shoot and kill OUR Hen Harrier

    The toffs and noveau riche always escape
    If they conspire our wildlife laws to break
    Some ‘keepers are caught that’s for sure
    But those who command feel above the law

    The cap is doff’d to the man or woman
    Who drains the moor or lofty common
    Our Hen Harriers will never come back
    Till driven grouse shootin’ gets the sack
    After a 17thC protest poem about enclosures

    The parallels with enclosures hadn’t ocurred to me before, but once I did the similarity in the private gain versus public loss in the two cases seemed quite striking

    1. Excellent. And thanks. But who was the poet?
      Love the historical and literary stuff spiced with your parody. The more ‘we are not amused’ the better.

      1. As I understand it the original was written by that great poet “Anon”. It comes in various slightly differing forms, but theme of all is that the laws are used by the rich and powerful against those that are neither and that the common good is always subservient to private gain. The only remaining original lines in my version are “The law demands that we atone, When we take things we do not own” but I’ve tried to keep to the broader sense of each line of the poem.

        1. Thanks. It was ever thus.
          But if Avery really has morphed into Corbyn, as the two fine pictures below suggest, there might be hope for the Harrier yet.

  2. A couple of years ago I did an article for Bird Watching magazine [the other monthly one!] on the estates offering ‘Safaris’! Balmoral was one of them. The idea was that certain estates would charge for a day out often in a long wheel base land rover often covering several habitats. The question of what you would see often did not contain birds of prey which was the case for Balmoral!

    It is well known that Marr Lodge [Next door to Balmoral] when it was on offer was not to be an RSPB reserve and I am sure birds of prey was the reason as both even today, have no Hen Harriers breeding.

  3. The Royal’s involvement in wildlife crime campaigns is simply an extension of old fashioned imperialism. The failure to apply the principles of conservation at home clearly illustrates this. Indeed I think any old fashioned, ex-imperial contribution to a conservation campaign in Africa, must gaul the locals, as an insult to their intelligence. Mind you I have a VERY low opinion of Royalty.

    1. What utter nonsense. The Duke and the Queen through their patronage and encouragement have contributed incredible amounts to conservation at home and abroad.
      I well remember the delight on the face of the Queen when I saw her at WWT Slimbridge many years ago. She and her family were great friends with the Scott family and many connections and support over the years did an enormous amount for wildlife in UK and overseas. Of course these days such wonderful memories are labelled as “imperialist”. How utterly sad.

  4. I would like to see some information about game-keepers who have been prosecuted, and if they retain their jobs afterwards, or maybe even rewarded for their ‘inconvenience’.

  5. Ah great – glad we are now back to covering a broad range of issues and not just lead!

  6. Not a chance in hell of any Royal speaking out on behalf of their native hen harrier, these people are too involved in protecting Rino and other exotic animals well away from Britain’s shores.

    1. You are correct to a certain extent, Terry – but their wildlife interests overseas are limited.

      The group I volunteer for asked the two princes, in view of the concerns they appear to have for elephants and rhinos, to show support for the campaigns against Canadian bears’ pelts being bought for the military’s caps.

      But they showed no interest, just passed us on to the MOD – to whom we write anyway of course.

    1. Kid, do you live in the real world? Can you please let everyone know where these other areas are please, we would love to visit them.

      1. I’m assuming Kie was being ironic, but there are some areas where Hen Harriers do reasonably well compared to those on grouse moors, for example Arran and Argyll & Bute on the west coast of Scotland. However, “flourishing” is perhaps not an appropriate description, as numbers breeding in these peripheral areas can be adversely affected by an overall population decline due to the “sink” effect as birds are attracted to breed on grouse moors south and east of there. I have some evidence that on non-grouse shooting moorlands, the rate of decline in response to national declines is greater on those moors geographically closer to shooting moors. My evidence also suggests the possibility that there is a tendency for south to north filling of suitable territories in Scotland, but I’ve been unable to test this as raptor study groups will not release data for analysis.

    2. Yep, down in Berkshire they are breeding like rabbits…heirs and spares all over the place…

  7. Perhaps somebody should write to them highlighting the plight of the Hen Harrier in the UK and England in particular and suggesting that they take a public lead on this. A failure to reply will tell us exactly where they stand on this issue.
    I rather agree with Terry and think we will be lucky to get a response positive or otherwise. Especially when one takes in to account Harry’s alleged previous with Hen Harriers.
    So Kie tell us in simple terms without any double talk is it or is it not OK for the large parts of our uplands dedicated to driven grouse shooting to be devoid or nearly devoid of Hen Harriers, Peregrines, Short Eared Owls, Eagles and Goshawks, especially successfully breeding ones as is the case currently.

  8. Anti royalty sentiments may appeal to a narrow left wing section of the population but not to most of the public. The Royal family have a very long and proud association with birds and birdwatching, including HM The Queen who took great interest in the Wildfowl Trust from her earliest days as Queen and later the WWT. Also the Duke who has a long association with birdwatching and the BTO. Not all of us who love birds and wildlife are rabid hard left wing environmentalists who hate the royal family, thankfully.

    1. Mike – since when has suggesting that the Royal Family’s love of wildlife should actually transfer into doing something about it count as being a ‘rabid hard left wing environmentalist’?

      1. Because increasingly these days the conservation groups seemed to be filled with people like the ones who spout the class war nonsense on here. The Queen has done a huge amount for wildlife in her lifetime, as has the Duke. If you add up what they have done internationally through helping raise profile of different projects and groups it is enormous. These days though it seems that in the conservation movement, unless you are left wing or a Green and anti Royal you are a pariah. The reason campaigns fail, like the badger cull one etc, is that too often the groups have linked up with all kinds of fringe elements on the left, totally removed from the mainstream. The government can easily ignore as most of the public don’t like hard left agendas or styles of campaigns.

    2. I’m quite happy to be seen as not a great fan of royalty Mike, to me they are an expensive irrelevance to modern life. However a greater part of the public think differently ( that’s fine too its called democracy and freedom of thought). Given that it seems perfectly reasonable to ask them to support the cause of the much persecuted Hen Harrier, were they to do so it would give the campaign to put pressure to stop on the persecutors a huge fillip. Especially so given the family’s association with game shooting.

      1. Paul I agree.
        Incidentally, in PR terms. it would also give Philip a ‘huge fillip’ as well. (Even the Duke of Dukes would like to have made that quip.)

    3. ‘Anti this’, ‘anti that’; such labels are jaded.
      In short, the arguments are about ‘pro fairness’.
      Land, power, privilege and Royalty are all welded together. If you celebrate that, it’s fine. If others question that, it’s fine too.
      Can we agree on one thing: that we must champion fairness in every corner of society?
      If yes, then you will agree with the inclusion of the great outdoors and right to enjoy and celebrate the wonders of life that have evolved on earth.
      Forgive the platitudes here; sometimes they just have to be spouted.

      Yes, it’s well known that the Royals are supporters and lovers of nature. But they are also unaccountable. In a way they can’t help it; such perniciousness is a result a huge and long held sense of power and entitlement. The only way forward is plain speaking – it really doesn’t need to be old left/right thing.
      And, as individuals, the Royals are very important people. They are our equals after all.

    4. “The Royal family have a very long and proud association with birds and birdwatching”

      Well that being the case, it will not be a republican / monarchist issue whether or not they make a public position on it. Think global, act local. Their proud association means they can act locally quite easily.

      Yet despite worthy patronage of charities opposing ivory poaching, in the Uk the only story about conservation and the younger Royals is the one of unanswered questions over shooting of a Hen Harrier over Dersingham.

  9. In 2007 at a Hen Harrier meeting hosted by the Queen’s cousin on his Abbeystead estate in Lancashire the Duke of Westminster made his contempt for the Hen Harrier killing his grouse very clear. In front of 2 dozen attendees he warned the then United Estates manager he did not welcome Hen Harrier crossing from the UU estate onto his moorland where they were killing his grouse. In no uncertain words the duke then told the UU manager to bring gamekeepers back onto the UU estate to sort things out, as he (the duke) considered the United Utilities Bowland estate the worst managed estate in northern England. Within one year things on the UU estate be began to change for the worst as far as raptors were concerned after gamekeepers appeared along with several shooting syndicates. Last year one successful peregrine nest and one successful Hen Harrier nest; yes how things can and do change when gamekeepers are in charge.

    1. Hang on to every word of that contempt. They emanate from the biggest and wealthiest landowner in Britain. Land equals power; equals you can say and do what you like.
      But look on the bright side of life: some people get off on that sort of thing. And you can’t deny the right to that type of pleasure.

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