The plight of the English hen harrier population has been well-documented, spiralling to near breeding extinction in recent years thanks to the criminals within the grouse-shooting industry who continue to show a zero tolerance policy for this species when it tries to nest on their grossly mis-managed grouse moors.
But what of the Scottish population? There hasn’t been as much focus on this, and some of what has been written has been immensely misleading.
One common misconception is that ‘Scottish hen harriers are doing ok, because there are hundreds of them as opposed to the single-figure breeding attempts in England, right?’ This false declaration is usually trotted out by representatives of the grouse-shooting industry, presumably in an attempt to cover up what is actually happening on many Scottish grouse moors.
Take the GWCT for example. They have a web page, written in 2014, called The Status of Hen Harriers in Scotland (see here). They paint a rosy picture and say that in 2004, hen harriers were nationally in favourable conservation status in Scotland, based on the results of the 2004 national hen harrier survey. The 2004 survey did indeed show an increase in the overall hen harrier breeding population (since the previous national survey in 1998), although this national increase masked the finer details of local scale: those increases were restricted solely to areas in the west and far north (i.e. areas without driven grouse moors) whereas breeders in the east and south (i.e. areas of intensively-managed grouse moors) had suffered significant declines. Sound familiar? It should – it’s exactly the same scenario for the golden eagle (e.g. see here).
Not only did the GWCT article fail to acknowledge the 2004 regional declines associated with driven grouse moors, but it also glossed over the results of the more recent 2010 national survey. Why? Well, perhaps because the 2010 national survey showed an overall decline of 20% in the Scottish hen harrier breeding population, and the species was only considered to be in favourable conservation status in five of 20 Scottish regions. Unsurprisingly, none of those five regions are in areas managed for driven grouse shooting.
For those of you who prefer to source your information from a more reliable authority, you’d do well to read this article, written by one of Scotland’s foremost hen harrier experts.
For an even more detailed view, the standard work to consult is the 2011 Hen Harrier Conservation Framework, written by leading scientists in the field. This report has since been updated although we’re still waiting for SNH to publish it, more than a year since it was submitted.
This report sets out very clearly what the main issue is: Illegal persecution is the biggest single factor affecting hen harriers and it is having a dramatic impact on the population, not only in northern England but also in Scotland:
- The potential national hen harrier population in Scotland is estimated (conservatively) to be within the range 1467-1790 pairs.
- The current national hen harrier population in Scotland as recorded during the most recent (2010) national survey is 505 pairs, more than a 20% decline from the numbers recorded during the 2004 national survey.
- In Scotland, the hen harrier has a favourable conservation status in only five of 20 regions.
- Two main constraints were identified: illegal persecution, and in one region, prey shortages.
- The species is particularly unsuccessful in the Central Highlands, Cairngorm Massif, Northeast Glens, Western Southern Uplands and the Border Hills. There is strong evidence in these grouse moor regions that illegal persecution is causing the failure of a majority of breeding attempts.
The next national hen harrier survey will take place in 2016. We look forward to seeing the results.
In October 2014, a new five-year project was launched, ‘aiming to achieve a secure and sustainable future’ for hen harriers in northern England and parts of Scotland (we blogged about it here). The project website has just been launched (see here) – just an outline at the moment but more detail will be added as the work gets underway. Take a look at the map they’ve published showing the status of breeding hen harriers in seven Special Protection Areas (SPAs) in Scotland and northern England. These SPAs were designated specifically for hen harriers. Not one of them is functioning as it should.
2014 saw the launch of the first Hen Harrier Day, initiated by the campaign group Birders Against Wildlife Crime, which included a large social media campaign and a number of public demonstrations in England. Unfortunately, Scotland missed a trick by not holding its own demonstration, although a number of us did travel to demos in Northumberland and Derbyshire to show solidarity and support. This was appropriate given that ‘English’ hen harriers regularly visit Scotland, and ‘Scottish’ hen harriers regularly visit England. They also visit Northern Ireland, the Irish Republic, the Isle of Man and Wales, and vice versa. We shouldn’t view the hen harrier issue as just an English problem, because it isn’t; it’s a problem throughout these isles and we need to stand united against it.
Hen Harrier Day will take place again this year (Sunday 9th August) and this time there will be Scotland-based demonstrations. We’re not directly involved in the organisation of these events but we’ll post information here as plans develop.