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.