Hen harriers, peregrines and some other birds of prey eat red grouse. In some circumstances, grouse form a major part of their diet and they may take a sizeable proportion of the shootable surplus of grouse. However, hen harriers were barely present in mainland Britain during the major grouse declines between 1930 and 1950 and numbers have not increased during the second period of grouse decline since the 1970s. Grouse bags have continued to decline on many moors, despite widespread illegal killing of birds of prey and destruction of their nests.”
The report also stated that “At present, the illegal killing of birds of prey on grouse moors, especially of hen harriers is widespread”
The Scotsman 4 August 2002 reported that “Hen harriers are considered a pest by gamekeepers because they reduce the amount of grouse available for shooting. A recent study revealed that up to 74 females were being illegally killed - shot or poisoned - by humans on Scotland’s grouse moors every year. Penalties for breaking the law are severe but prosecutions are rare. Doug Ross, a gamekeeper on a Morayshire estate, was fined £2,000 two years ago after being convicted of shooting a harrier.”
Even an article in the openly pro-huntin’ and shootin’ Country Life conceded that “although hen harriers are specially protected under the Wildlife and Countryside Act, they continue to be destroyed illegally on grouse moors throughout upland Britain. Recent research shows that the number of young harriers reared per female on grouse moors is only a third of that on other moorland in Scotland. The same study concluded that gamekeepers destroy nests and kill adults on a significant scale.” (“The Future Of The Hen Harrier” by David Tomlinson)
The RSPB, whilst taking no stance on whether or not grouse shooing is acceptable stated on their website that Hen Harriers are threatened “…because they eat red grouse and so come into conflict with managers of moors managed for grouse-shooting. To ensure that a shootable surplus of grouse is maintained, protected birds of prey are routinely and illegally killed on many such moors.”. On the subject of demands by Grouse moor owners to allow the killing of raptors, they added that “Conservation organisations are concerned that the populations of birds of prey in general, and hen harriers in particular, are already threatened by widespread illegal killing and that weakening the law would permanently threaten birds of prey”
In general, gamekeepers on grouse moors – in common with lowland keepers – persecute all wildlife other than the species being reared. Foxes, badgers, song birds, birds of prey and small mammals have all fallen foul of gamekeeping practices. There have been a number of Wildlife Crime prosecutions against keepers which are regularly reported in the HSA magazine HOWL and documented on the North West HSA website (www.nwhsa.org.uk) (e.g. Martin Joyce, a gamekeeper, was fined for the killing of three kestrels on Holkham Estate in Norfolk after he admitted shooting two birds and poisoning a third because he blamed them for attacking young partridges). However, the majority of this activity goes undetected or there is not enough evidence to take legal action against the perpetrators.
Besides which, it is crass of landowners to hold conservation to ransom in order to justify bloodsports. Perhaps this shows that they are not true conservationists but more akin to selfish children – “If I can’t have what I want I’ll destroy it”. This hardly puts people in a position where they should be entrusted with stewardship of the natural environment.
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