Crime against hen harriers – a discussion

Hen harrier chicks at the nest in long heather

Hen harrier chicks at the nest in long heather

Hen harrier chicks about to be ringed

Hen harrier chicks about to be ringed

I’ve just listened to yet another fascinating interview on Birders against Wildlife Crime (BAWC) Talk. Again the subject is on the persecution of birds of prey, in particular the hen harrier. This time Charlie Moores interviewed Bob Elliot, head of investigations at RSPB. Bob and I worked together regularly when I was wildlife crime officer with Tayside Police and I have great respect for his knowledge of birds and his diplomacy.

Bob acknowledges the difficulties in preventing and detecting the killing of hen harriers and other raptor species, and is well aware of how difficult it is for the police to get evidence to get a case to court, far less to get a conviction.

Some of what Bob said in his interview mirrored what I discussed in my most recent blog. We both have a sense of frustration that the killing of hen harriers continues. We are both, by dint of our jobs dealing with intelligence, well aware that not only is it continuing but in many cases who is involved. Bob said, ‘We need more of the good guys, particularly gamekeepers, to come forward and tell us what is going on.’

I wrote virtually the same last week. The really frustrating aspect is that the ‘good guys’ in game management far outnumber the ‘bad guys’ yet seldom pass to the police (or to the RSPB) their knowledge or suspicion of raptor-related crime.  Because of what these ‘bad guys’ are doing a large part of society is beginning to turn against the game shooting industry. This is unfortunate as in many cases land managed for shooting can have benefits for other wildlife.  I carried out a year-long wildlife survey on a north Perthshire estate, not managed for grouse but for driven partridges, and logged 89 species of birds during that time, including hen harrier, buzzard, red kite, kestrel, peregrine, white-tailed eagle, sparrowhawk and even goshawk. Though I know golden eagles and merlin were frequent visitors our paths never seemed to cross.

I fail to understand why the industry allows a handful of real criminals (and I’m talking here about individuals who are well known to landowners and gamekeepers as having a policy of eliminating any bird or mammal species that is in any way a threat to large bags of grouse on intensively-managed grouse moors) to continue to operate in this way with hardly a word said against them in public. It is even more baffling and annoying that there is sometimes denial by those associated with land management that gamekeepers and their managers are even responsible for killing hen harriers.

The nettle needs to be grasped by the game shooting industry and information passed to the police that will help bring this ‘national disgrace,’ as it was described years ago by the late Donald Dewar, to an end. So far as gamekeepers and their bosses are concerned it is their livelihoods that are at risk. I would like to share in Bob’s optimism that harriers will one day be seen in suitable habitat across the UK but the sanctions imposed by the government in Scotland are most certainly not working against the criminals I refer to and I am not sure that they will. I have no doubt that in time tougher sanctions will be imposed, but the patience of many people is ebbing fast. So far as the north of England is concerned there seems to be absolutely nothing in place that would in any way reduce – far less prevent – the killing of hen harriers.

Until this criminality ends, gamekeepers and others who are aware of or suspect raptor persecution to be taking place should make contact with the police, and if possible speak to a wildlife crime officer. By all means contact the RSPB as well but make sure the police are aware. Anonymity can be ensured through Crimestoppers.  What should also be remembered is that many gamekeepers and landowners, shooting organisations, the police, the RSPB and other conservation organisations or interests are all on the same side.  While I accept that some wildlife crime officers have more support from senior ranks than others it is not helpful to snipe at the police and prosecutors. This can simply put someone who suspects a wildlife crime off reporting it and crimes may end up being unrecorded and with no investigation taking place. I can do no better than quote the request from Birders against Wildlife Crime: Recognise, Record, Report.

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2 Responses to Crime against hen harriers – a discussion

  1. Alan, once again thankyou for your support for Birders Against Wildlife Crime, and thanks for such thoughtful comments on our podcasts. I hope this post – and the one that precedes it – is read widely and absorbed and understood by those criminals that are killing Hen Harriers and other raptors. Ultimately it is them and their actions that have triggered the expressions of anger and calls for change that so many people are now expressing: the fault lies with them – and those that are shieldlng them – and them alone.

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