National Audubon Society (USA) raises awareness of hen harrier persecution in UK

An article about UK hen harrier persecution has been published by the National Audubon Society, a massive environmental NGO in North America.

Written by journalist Emma Bryce, it’s a pretty good overview of the situation, especially for North American readers who may have no prior knowledge of this issue.

One minor criticism – the article focuses heavily, understandably, on hen harrier persecution in England, although it’s just as big a problem in large areas of Scotland where driven grouse moors are dominant. We’ve blogged before about this perception of hen harrier persecution being just ‘an English issue’ – see here – it’s a position the harrier killers like to promote in an attempt to diminish the extent of their crimes.

Nevertheless, it’s great to see a well-respected organisation like the NAS take such an interest and help to raise awareness.

The article can be read here.

Audubon HH article


8 Responses to “National Audubon Society (USA) raises awareness of hen harrier persecution in UK”

  1. 1 Les Wallace
    November 2, 2015 at 6:25 pm

    Raising awareness abroad is really helpful – would people who might like to come to Scotland write in to the Scottish parliament and tell it what’s going on with the estates puts them off? I’d like to see more people overseas being told that our beautiful hills are actually overgrazed and wildlife poor.

  2. 2 Jack Snipe
    November 2, 2015 at 8:27 pm

    It’s worth reading the story from an external perspective, which drives home the ridiculous situation that exists in the UK. A degree of naivety actually helps to refocus the mind on issues that we take for granted. For example, I think it is time for a reappraisal of our approach, which has received a boost from the call to ban driven grouse shooting (and the excellent forum provided by RPS). Compromise, in my opinion, is simply never going to work and we should abandon the conciliatory approach and tackle the real issues head on. The recent legal post, regarding the human rights problems arising from vicarious liability, highlighted something which has always been a concern of mine, and another issue which has troubled me from its inception is supplementary feeding. Apart from its unnatural effect on the natural history of an iconic species which exemplifies the whole notion of wildness and wild places, and a worry that we have not seriously researched the possibility of pathogen transfer, my main problem is that it is regarded by some as a ‘solution’ to the harriers preying upon grouse ‘problem.’ The NAS article starts off by saying that the reason for harriers being so persecuted in the UK is “because Hen Harriers hunt grouse”. As a simple statement this is not untrue, but a real problem is that because it is repeated so frequently, the harrier’s reputation suffers. Some people, particularly those of the hunting and shooting persuasion, tend to infer that harriers eat mostly grouse; some I’ve spoken to even think that harriers exclusively prey upon grouse! The reality of course is different, and it’s my opinion that we don’t hammer this home hard enough.

    One problem with the choice of Langholm Moor as a demonstration project was the lack of a control site to measure the difference in prey selection between a highly intensively “well managed” grouse moor and a more typical situation where harriers breed successfully. The truth is that most of the harriers breeding in their main strongholds are in areas where Red Grouse have declined markedly in the latter half of the twentieth century. Argyll, for example, supports around 120 breeding pairs of Hen Harrier, approximately a quarter of the Scottish population. One reason for their success is the absence of driven grouse shooting, of course. However the harriers there are known to produce sustainable numbers of young birds, unfortunately many of which are killed as they disperse to sink areas elsewhere. They are not immune to persecution however, as pheasant shooting is widespread, and typical ‘countryside’ bias against predators remains rooted in the collective psyche.

    It seems likely that the Langholm study exaggerated the importance of grouse in the harrier’s diet, not that this should influence the level of protection afforded, but it does reinforce the perceptions that lead to the harrier being so irrationally hated by the grouse shooters. Langholm is one of the most intensively managed moors in Scotland, and the over-dominance of heather is not particularly conducive to providing a sustainable or reliable population of the preferred prey species, which are not grouse, but Meadow Pipits and Field Voles. Without going into the complexities of population dynamics, this means that when the preferred prey is scarcer and grouse breeding more productive, a major switch in the prey components takes place. The clue to achieving a more natural balance, with a wider range of species reproducing to a sustainable degree, is to manage the habitat to consist of a measured mix of heather, unimproved grassland, undrained blanket bog and other important micro-habitats such as wet flushes. And get rid of the guns.

  3. 3 nirofo
    November 2, 2015 at 8:33 pm

    It just goes to show how bad the raptor persecution in the UK has become when the Audubon Society in America is publishing articles about the plight of our Hen harriers at the hands of the grouse shooting fraternity. This is no longer a local issue, it’s now become international !!!

    • 4 Marian
      November 3, 2015 at 8:34 am

      Indeed, Nirofo – many of us protest against American hunters killing wolves, bears, cougars, bobcats, you name it – but we have our own homegrown gun-happy people – and they are getting away with it.
      Legal or illegal – it’s a disgrace.

  4. 5 Chris
    November 2, 2015 at 10:58 pm

    Very good points Jack Snipe, as you point out, these kinds of details (the complication of reality), are too often overlooked, or dare I say ; suppressed!

  5. 6 Julie wright
    November 3, 2015 at 10:16 am

    Watching George Monbiot on Autumnwatch and his vision of rewinding is something that I wholeheartedly agree with and as Jack Snipe points out it is the management of the land that has caused the HH to prey on what is bountiful. Rewinding done in the right way could produce so much more money and enjoyment for people in Eco tourism and restore the natural balance for everyone to enjoy especially the wildlife.

    • November 3, 2015 at 10:52 am

      Spot on Julie, the grouse moor owners have created a plentiful food source for the hen harriers, thus creating their own problem, therefore they shouldn’t moan about the losses or blast, trap and poison these beautiful raptors to extinction. And yes it was wonderful to see George Monbiot on Autumnwatch, let’s hope his message continues to get more airtime. In my fantasy world, he would be prime minister. And wolves and lynx would roam the wild places. Heaven.

  6. 8 Jack Snipe
    November 3, 2015 at 1:42 pm

    Jonathan, I think you might have missed my point. Grouse moor owners have not created a plentiful food source. The actual evidence shows that harriers do not require grouse to exist or reproduce successfully; only that it is too regularly accepted as a premise. My point was that we are falling too readily for the falsehood that harriers consume lots of grouse. The Langholm results depicted an extreme situation. There is no real problem, just a perceived one. I first realised this when I closely monitored breeding Hen Harriers for 17 years (to date), and participated in a number of nest camera studies which produced highly revealing results. In a total of around 1,300 prey items brought to the nests, not a single grouse was recorded. I have communicated with a number of other harrier workers, and it is actually quite rarely that anyone observes a harrier carrying prey which is not either a passerine or a small mammal. For the record, in twenty years of watching harriers on grouse moors, in hundreds of kills observed I have only ever once witnessed a harrier catching a Red Grouse.

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