Saturday, 13 June 2015

Shots in the Foot

Now I've never been shy at defending parts of the hunting/shooting fraternity in recent years, they, like many farmers, do a lot for wildlife and conservation these days, despite what those "conservationists" with tunnel vision might think. However, they do have a habit of shooting themselves in the foot at times (poor pun) as has been happening recently.

As we all know, the Hen Harrier is almost extinct in England as a breeding species and it has been particularly depressing this last few weeks to read the news that five male Hen Harriers have "disappeared" from their traditional nesting sites on the grouse moors of northern England. This has meant that some female birds on nests have abandoned them in order to hunt for food that normally the males would provide. Now, many in the grouse shooting fraternity, make no secret of their dislike of these harriers because of the fact that they feed on grouse chicks at this time of the year. This, of course, has meant that the majority of conservationists have immediately blamed those connected with grouse shooting i.e. gamekeepers, for the "disappearance" of these birds. Despite their obvious and strenuous denials of being involved, gamekeepers, or friends working on their behalf, do seem an obvious candidate for the blame, but in fairness, nothing has been proven and larger birds of prey will kill harriers at times.
Although they are presumably not related, we then get this article in a national paper today (Sat), which shows how absurd the current raptor -v- gamebird situation is getting. (Click on it to make it easier to read)


This is the second year running that such applications concerning buzzards have been made and it can only be hoped that this particular appeal is turned down. There is no disputing that Buzzards are now Britain's commonest bird of prey and that they will take pheasant chicks/poults, especially where they are put in front of them in massively artificial numbers, or that other such predators such as crows and foxes, are legally allowed to be controlled. But for me at this moment in time, to also start adding birds of prey to such lists purely because they are feeding on game birds, artificially reared in their millions, each year, to shoot at, would be a worrying development. You could imagine the flood of applications from numerous shooting estates all over the country to follow suit and it wouldn't stop at Buzzards. Also perhaps, some householders could also apply to shoot Sparrowhawks because they're being attracted to artificially high numbers of songbirds attracted to bird feeders in their gardens.

Also on BBC national TV this week, was the news that police in Yorkshire were led to a small barn in which 16 young fox cubs were being kept. They were only 6-8 weeks old and obviously came from several litters and had access to food and water but the police were investigating why they were being kept there and by whom. The fact that the kennels of the local Hunt were only several hundred yards away immediately caused many people to come to obvious conclusions although the Hunt, through the Countryside Alliance, denied any knowledge of the cubs or involvement.
All I would say is that in the past it wasn't unknown for hunts, where foxes were in short supply on their land, to import young stock and release them in order to maintain the need for the Hunt to be in existence. I suppose it would also assist arguments for repealing the current hunting ban if foxes could be shown to be doing well in many areas since it came into force.

Just a few examples of the bad side of shooting and hunting and when I continue to see them reported, or hear of them, it makes me realise how maligned the traditional old wildfowler is. Sitting alone on a freezing salting in the dark with the hope of getting the odd duck and yet being lumped in with people such as the above. A bit like calling a true birdwatcher a twitcher - shudder the thought!


  1. Derek - your take on this aspect of "country sports" is spot-on! Bad apples spoiling any chance of the good work that those involved in this outdoor pastime are contributing to the well being of the UK countryside. Luke, a veterinary nurse at The White Mill Surgery, Sandwich, told me of a website (he was looking for ring details of an injured bird which had been brought in) which the Racing Pigeon guys are petitioning for a blanket license to remove Peregrines and Sparrow Hawks from the UK eco-system. We live in truly screwed up times! - Dyl

  2. As always Derek a very interesting read with plenty of food for thought.

  3. Thanks Dylan/Mike.
    Apparently the gamekeeper making the appeal has previously been convicted of being in possession of banned poisons but NE have said that that doesn't come into consideration.
    Yes, the racing pigeon fraternity have been campaining for years for a restriction on Peregrine and Sprawk numbers, although why they can't accept that throwing thousands of pigeons into the air each weekend is going to attract such birds, I don't know. Protecting endangered species against such attacks is one thing but mega artificially reared birds is another.

  4. Agree with you Derek. This case should not even be considered, especially given the past criminal history of the gamekeeper. As you say, releasing 35 million (!) large, non-native gamebirds into the British countryside annually to be shot is crazy enoughbut then persecuting natural predators fro taking a few (surely not that many compared to all those killed by cars) is ridiculous and sets a very dangerous precedent. Are we to return to the dark days when all predators were exterminated and birds such as Red Kites were drive into a remote corner of Wales, for example? Buzzards are returning to their old hautns, along with Peregrines, Ravens etc and a lot of people welcome this recovery after such a long time. It's also great that Peregrines are colonise cities - at least some things can thrive amongst humans. Shooters must realise they have to live alongside nature in the 21st century, not fight it, if their claims to be custodians of the countryside are to hold any water.

    I also think the driven-grouse shooters have gone quite brazenly extreme in the search for profits by seeking to eliminate a protected species (Hen Harriers) from England. I think they have made a mistake as, while they may succeed for the time being, a lot of people -birders, conservationists and to some extent the public -are turning against them and losing patience because of this deliberate disregarding of the law and our wildlife heritage. The grouse lobby may find the softly-softly, appeasement approach (that has been going on for years when trying to get them to tolerate raptors) may not last much longer since it's clear negotiations are pointless.

  5. Also it should be remembered that young Pheasants at their most vulnerable are reared in pens and are not susceptible to predation anyway.

  6. Very, very, well said Joe. I particualy like the comment - "shooters must realise they have to live alongside nature in the 21st century, not fight it" and some are doing just that. The Kent Wildfowlers (KWCA) have set up their Wild Spaces Fund which has created several wildlife reserves on their land in Kent. One example is Westbere lakes near Canterbury, which are now attracting a lot of people to photograph dragonflies.etc there.

  7. Interesting read as ever Derek. Agree with all the comments. The fact that the shooting fraternity are suggesting that the reason the harriers have "disappeared" is due to "bird botherers" and over-monitoring smacks of desperation.
    I'm not too sure to what you're referring when you mention "larger birds of prey will kill harriers at times". If you're referring to Eagle Owls, I don't think there are any Eagle Owls on the grouse moors of northern England; do you really think the keepers would tolerate them?
    Furthermore, let's not forget the state of other raptors on grouse moors; peregrine and goshawk numbers are all greatly reduced on or around grouse moors. In the Peak District grouse moors only 2 of 17 traditionally-occupied territories are occupied; one of which is on an RSPB reserve! On Bowland it's 1 out of 20. There are more peregrines nesting in London than there are in the grouse moors of northern England. If it weren't for the way these birds have successfully colonised our cities then we might be looking at the peregrines in the same way as the harriers.
    I've got every respect for wildfowlers and the conservation work they do but, as far as I'm concerned, driven grouse shooting is a rural perversion that needs confining to history.

    Are there any "Hen Harrier day" events planned in the south-east for the 9th August? Events in the upland breeding areas of Bowland and the Peak District have already been announced ( An event is also planned in the south at RSPB Arne so given the importance of roost sites in areas like Kent I don't think it's a topic that should be 'out of sight out of mind' when the harriers are on the moors.

  8. Thanks for your interesting comments Arnold and by "larger birds of prey" I was suggesting Eagle Owl and Goshawk.
    I have seen nothing that indicates that there is to be a Hen Harrier Day celebrated in this area on the 9th August. That is surprising given Sheppey and Kent's importance as winter roost sites in recent years, although last winter on Sheppey saw very few birds anywhere.