Montagu’s Harrier killed

Last month came the sad news that Sally, a Montagu’s Harrier featured on BBC Autumnwatch, had gone missing and presumably killed illegally. The bird was tagged and released into the wild on the show last year and researchers followed her migration to and from Africa.

The RSPB, who were monitoring Sally’s progress, lost track of her signal on 6 August around her Norfolk nesting site and believe she has been illegally killed. If a tagged bird dies from natural causes, the satellite track is not lost and the corpse can be found, so foul play is of course suspected. Birds of prey are often persecuted by gamekeepers and shooters in efforts to protect their grouse and game from birds they believe their profits would otherwise fall victim to. 

Sally and her mate Roger was one of only 4 breeding pairs in Britain, so she was incredibly rare and vital to raptor conservation in the UK. They had been breeding in Norfolk for 2 seasons and so far had successfully raised 5 chicks. Sally was 4 years old and could have bred til 20, so this is a significant loss to the population.

To all accounts, Sally was a remarkable birds; according to Mark Thomas of the RSPB:

“This year she timed her return migration to perfection, arriving back in Norfolk at the exact time as Roger and they met up once more over last year’s breeding field. Her satellite tag has been very reliable giving us a daily window into her life.”

Chris Packham noted:

“We cannot directly accuse the shooting fraternity of illegally killing this bird but the fact it disappeared under such mysterious circumstances is enough to raise suspicions.”

Anyone with any information is urged to call Norfolk Police on 101 quoting ref  12815082017.

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Time for the National Trust to change its position on grouse shooting

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In 2016 a man was secretly filmed with a gun and a hen harrier decoy on National Trust land in the Peak District. Consequently, the Trust served notice to the shooting tenant that managed its land for grouse management, claiming it no longer had confidence that the tenant fitted with their vision for the Peaks.

Local residents and NT members started a petition to ask the Trust not to fill the position when the current tenant vacates, hoping it would instead move towards a wilder vision for its estates in the Peak District, the first National Park.

Grouse shooting drives wildlife crime and it is very difficult to catch the perpetrators. Grouse moors are managed to benefit grouse only, and that means that heather is burnt to provide food for grouse, mountain hares are killed as they carry ticks, foxes and other predators are killed, and, importantly rare birds of prey are illegally killed.

Last year, another hen harrier went missing over a grouse moor. There is definite link between grouse shooting and the disappearance or killing of raptors; a recent study showed that in Scotland:

“tagging data for 44 golden eagles, eight hen harriers and 25 red kites that had disappeared or been deliberately killed since 2009… displayed on a map of Scotland… the distribution of illegally killed or suspiciously disappeared satellite-tagged red kites and hen harriers is far from random, and shows clear clusters in some upland areas. As with the hotspots for eagles, these clusters are almost entirely coincident with land dominated by driven grouse shooting management.”

The arguments against grouse shooting come from several parties: the nature conservationists are concerned about the rare birds that are illegally killed; animal welfare activists are horrified by the annual murder of 500,000 grouse birds for fun; environmentalists worry about how management of grouse moors leads to flood risk and leaves no room for species diversity.

‘This petition is not trying to ban shooting, nor is it just about our missing hen harriers. It’s about restoring the balance in favour of biodiversity and removing the drivers for wildlife crimes on National Trust land.

The petition has so far been ignored by the NT but they have coincidentally put out a job advert seeking a new tenant to manage the grouse moors. Can they seriously desire to continue this work when so many of their members and the local community are so disgusted by it? When the land could be put to better use for its members through rewilding – allowing a variety of species to flourish and not jeopardizing our struggling hen harriers?

The NT explain their overall position on shooting on their website:

Peter Nixon, Director of Conservation, said: ‘Our core concern is looking after special places so that they can be enjoyed by everyone for ever.

Grouse shooting could not be a clearer example of an elite few benefiting while the rest of us miss out. Grouse moor estates are private land managed solely for the purpose of making lots of money out of people shooting grouse. Not only is the concept completely out of date and as disgusting as fox hunting is to most people, it is also a wasted opportunity to create a wilder nature reserve in the popular Peaks. It is the loss of an ecosystem.

If you’re interested in signing the petition to end grouse shooting on these two NT sites please follow this link and add you name.

 

Buzzards are now fair game for gamekeepers

One man in England has been given a license to shoot 10 buzzards which, he claims, are interfering with his pheasant-shooting business. That one license will enable others to seek licenses to shoot legally protected species in this country, and it makes a mockery of the huge conversation success that was the protection of the buzzard.

Birds of prey have been legally protected in the UK since 1954, but just one license will undermine that; not only will it set a precedent for more licenses, but it will make the continued illegal killing of raptors by gamekeepers even easier.

Buzzards were hunted to near extinction in the 19th century and, although there are now around 30 to 40 thousand in the UK, there are still reports of illegal killing and they are still a recovering species. You can read about the buzzard’s story on the RSPB website here.

Once again, economic interests have been placed before the survival of a species, despite the evidence that buzzards pose very little threat to pheasant populations. Those that escape the barrel of a gun are usually discovered squashed by the roadside.

45 million gamebirds are released into the countryside every year for the sanguinary enjoyment of those who pay to kill animals for fun. Some of those birds will inevitably meet their fate instead at the claws of a bird of prey. BECAUSE NATURE.

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And where does it end? Licences to shoot hen harriers and peregrine falcons? This is the precedent that will open the floodgates to allowing further licenses that could threaten the buzzard with extinction yet again, or decimate struggling populations of other birds of prey.

Will the post-Brexit apocalypse enable thousands of EU environment-friendly laws to be crossed out? This is the first step.

Angry? You should be. I know how you like to sign a petition.

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