The long-awaited publication showing the results of the UK 2010 Hen Harrier Survey is finally here. Published in the scientific journal Bird Study, the paper (see here) documents significant declines across many parts of the UK.
No surprises there then.
England had a heady 12 pairs in 2010 (a country with sufficient habitat to support an estimated 323-340 pairs, according to the Hen Harrier Conservation Framework).
Scotland had 505 pairs in 2010 (a country with sufficient habitat to support an estimated 1467-1790 pairs).
Wales bucked the trend with at least a 33% increase to 57 pairs (none of which were found on habitat classified as grouse moor).
It should be remembered that these results are from 2010; there have been further documented declines since then, including just two (failed) breeding attempts in England this year and a consistent downward trend of breeding success in Scotland, according to the latest report from the Scottish Raptor Monitoring Scheme (see here).
The paper also documents a severe decline on the Isle of Man (49%) and bizarrely suggests that ‘there are no obvious drivers for this’. Eh? Could it possibly be anything to do with the systematic elimination of harriers on the mainland, reducing the number of birds available to travel to the Isle of Man? Just a thought.
So, where are the missing 962-1285 breeding pairs of hen harriers in Scotland?
And where are the missing 322-339 breeding pairs of hen harriers in England?
Widespread declines are indisputable. The relationship in England and Scotland between areas of reported declines and land managed for intensive driven grouse shooting is also indisputable. But what happened to all those birds? Those with a vested interest in the grouse-shooting industry will tell you it’s all down to climate change/habitat change/lack of prey/cold spring/wet spring/late spring/early spring/being eaten by golden eagles/too many foxes/too many buzzards/too many ravens/too many sparrowhawks/the work of animal activist extremists hell-bent on killing hen harriers to make the gamekeepers look bad…in fact they’ll blame anything except the blindingly fucking obvious.
Hen Harrier photo by Gordon Langsbury