I went to the pictures last night – to see Mary Queen of Scots. Good film! I recommend it. She had her head lopped off down the road from here at Fotheringhay. The anniversary comes up on 8 February.
It’s impossible for me to watch a film without noticing the bird noises. There were some Curlew (they are beloved of film-makers – I remember the Curlew song near the end of Pride and Prejudice (the one with Keira Knightley in it)), a thrush of which I would have liked to hear more, some Swallows, Great Tit and a raptor calling at one point, I think. I was paying attention to the film – really I was. I see that some of the footage was from the Cairngorms National Park and some more from Glencoe – it’s difficult to recreate the Caledonian Forest back in its sixteenth century state or extent, just as it’s a bit difficult to arrange a fly past of millions of Passenger Pigeons in western films set in the nineteenth century USA east of the Mississippi, but there you go. At least the heather moorland in the film hadn’t been burned into abstract patterns by those intent on the not very traditional hobby of shooting Red Grouse for fun.
Many have noticed the fact that Hen Harriers cropped up on University Challenge on Monday when Paxman asked ‘What is the two-word common name of Circus cyaneus. According to the RSPB it is the most intensively persecuted British bird of prey and is particularly under threat on Northern grouse moors?‘ and the team failed to get the right answer (they opted for Sparrowhawk). More people watch University Challenge than will ever read my book Inglorious or attend a talk on the subject and although many will have forgotten the question and the answer immediately, for others it will have lodged in their brains for a while, maybe for ever.
And books can make a difference. One of my barristers was telling his nieces about our brood-meddling case and they said that they knew what a Hen Harrier was, and what happpened to them, because they had read Gill Lewis’s book Sky Dancer. Result! Let’s hope they grow up to see them in greater numbers than exist now.
And did you know that Hen Harriers are a card in a Top Trumps game? You don’t know what Top Trumps is? And it is quite a high scoring card too. I’ll wait for a suitable opportunity to show it to you.
The word is spreading. Imagine you are a grouse moor manager or owner and your niece is reading about Hen Harrier killing on grouse moors or winning a game with a Hen Harrier card. Imagine you were watching University Challenge and heard the same words. These things will be happening and you can’t put this genie back in the bottle.
But go see Mary Queen of Scots to see some heather moors that aren’t burned to a crisp – although those hills look a bit overgrazed in parts to me. But it was an engaging film.