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!