Species Champion Mairi Gougeon MSP speaks up for hen harriers

‘Species Champions’ are members of the Scottish Parliament who have agreed to provide political support and awareness for Scotland’s threatened wildlife, under a scheme organised by Scottish Environment LINK.

Mairi Gougeon (nee Evans) MSP is the Species Champion for the hen harrier, and it was fantastic to see her attend Hen Harrier Day at Loch Leven a couple of weeks ago. She wasn’t the only MSP present – also in attendance was Alexander Stewart MSP (Scottish Conservatives) and Andy Wightman MSP (Scottish Greens) – Andy had cycled from Edinburgh and broke his pedal 5 miles away but still managed to make it on time – impressive!

It was gratifying to see all three of these politicians giving up their Saturday to come along. And they didn’t just turn up for the photo call and then clear off; they spent a considerable amount of time talking with the public, asking pertinent questions (and listening to the responses!) and they all stayed to hear the presentations throughout the afternoon. Mairi even gave a short but very encouraging presentation – you can watch it here (it’s only 4 mins long – well worth a listen, thanks to Guy Shorrock for recording it):

Perhaps of all three politicians in attendance, Mairi had the most cause to be there. Not just as the Hen Harrier Species Champion, but also because her SNP constituency is Angus North & Mearns, which includes the Angus Glens grouse moors, a notorious raptor persecution hotspot.

The history of illegal raptor persecution in this area is well known (see here for a long list of incidents), and it’s also known for its lack of breeding hen harriers – not a single recorded breeding attempt on these grouse moors for 11 years, although there was one breeding attempt in the area this year, but it wasn’t on a driven grouse moor. It’s clear from Mairi’s speech that she is well informed about the situation there.

Here’s a map we’ve created for Mairi to study. It’s a map of her constituency and includes data from the recent expert review of golden eagle satellite tag data and also from the RSPB’s recent map showing the locations of ‘disappeared’ or illegally killed satellite-tagged hen harriers and red kites. It’s quite clear that it’s the grouse moor areas of the Angus Glens that are bringing her constituency in to such disrepute.

Thanks to all three MSPs for their genuine interest in protecting the hen harrier and particular thanks and good luck to Mairi – we hope blog readers will support her endeavours to draw political attention to this species’ plight.

8 thoughts on “Species Champion Mairi Gougeon MSP speaks up for hen harriers”

  1. I have just read the NGO’s report from 2011 on the conservation aspect of gamekeeping, and in it they list the number of estates and the number of raptor species present (the methodology is not gone into detail so it could just be a one off sighting). From this information they make great claim that over 50% of estates report five or more species. I live in a town in the north of England and over the course of a year I can spot at least 5 birds of prey, perhaps more telling is that 98 estates only have recorded 1 raptor species!

    One way to re-present the whole raptor persecution issue is to draw an analogy with in-land course fishing. Over the past 20 years cormorants have started to seek out inland and urban water to feed on the stocked fish. This brought them in direct conflict with the business interests of a purely sporting pastime (no hint of food for the table). Here we had a sea bird moving into urban areas for food, not it’s natural habitat. The course angling fraternity successfully lobbied Natural England to allow licenses to shoot these predators. ( don’t want to get into the rights and wrongs of this I am just using it as an example)

    Now take this analogy to upland moors. Unlike urban bodies of water and the cormorant, these areas are the natural habitat of harriers and many raptors. So if you are producing excess number of grouse, for either food or sporting interest, in areas where harriers naturally live, why aren’t harriers a big problem? Why aren’t the grouse moors lobbying for licenses for controlling harriers? We have a well-defined precedent in the effect of cormorants on inland water fish stocks, so what effect do harriers have on grouse numbers, it should be considerable (something which the Langholm study demonstrated).

    I know one of our questions is where are the harriers, we should also ask why aren’t harriers a problem to grouse moors, why when you produce an abundance of their natural food they aren’t thriving to levels that require you to ask for dispensation to control them? What methods do the grouse moors use to ensure that harriers aren’t a problem?

    1. Some good points Mike but if you don’t mind I’d just like to make a bit of a correction (from an angling perspective). It’s not the coarse angling community that lobbied, nor are solely granted culling licences from Natural England (or their Welsh counterpart – Natural Resources Wales), it’s any fishery, whether it supports Wild fish, stocked fish, game fish or coarse fish. There’s a quite rigorous procedure and study carried out before any licence is granted, they’re not simply handed out. As an angler I don’t really support the need to cull birds to support commercial fisheries, but there is sympathy for the impacts on wild fisheries. The imbalance of food availability at commercial fisheries can increase pressure beyond what would be a natural predator/prey abundance as the birds move about. Not the cormorants fault, I agree. Too many fisheries are over-stocked with unnaturally high densities of fish, and the cormorant has taken advantage of this. Migratory fish species in particular (salmon & sea trout) have declined pretty severely throughout the UK in the last two decades – for example in Wales, of the 33 principle salmon rivers, 31 are currently failing to reach conservation limits (not targets, limits of what is calculated to ensure viability into the future), and are classed as either ‘At Risk’ or ‘Probably At Risk’ in the stock abundance classification, so in short it’s possible that many rivers in the UK are at risk of losing salmon and sea trout populations completely. Now I won’t for one second suggest this is down to predation – it isn’t, it’s a multitude of factors we could probably discuss long into the night. However, with the move inland by cormorants, and unnaturally high abundance of prey at some locations, additional pressure is being felt by the declining populations of migratory fish in particular. Culling licences can be applied for, and are granted for the protection of wild fisheries, but I’ll be honest, I think limiting the availability of food at commercial fisheries by lowering stocking densities would be far more effective, and if I’m honest, palatable also.

      Apologies, I accept this has very little to do with the subject of raptor persecution, but I thought it prudent to clarify the situation regarding cormorants.

    2. ‘So if you are producing excess number of grouse, for either food or sporting interest, in areas where harriers naturally live, why aren’t harriers a big problem?’
      They are (for the grousers), that is why they are killed.

      ‘Why aren’t the grouse moors lobbying for licenses for controlling harriers?’
      They do occasionally but it is not great PR.
      Brood-meddling is controlling harriers.

      Have you read Inglorious?

      1. I know they are being illegally killed but if we start asking why aren’t harrier a problem, and no broods have been meddled with because there are no harriers. We need to get them to answer what they are doing to prevent harriers affecting there grouse. We know the answer but the more we ask and knock down their response the more they back themselves into a corner.

        1. I think i see your point but you are asking for logic from criminal apologists. They, for example Andrew Gilruth, will come up with nonsense that there are other factors effecting Hen Harriers and points to an obscure paper on sheep density on Mull. When you point out that of course there are other factors but there are loads of Hen Harriers and sheep on Mull but very few sheep on grouse moors they change the subject. denial is in Andrew Gilruth’s job description.

  2. I live in a suburban area and have seen Kestrel, Sparrowhawk, Hobby, Marsh Harrier, Red Kite and Common Buzzard from my garden. All, apart from Sparrowhawk were flying when seen but you may expect a moorland area to also record Hen Harrier, Merlin, Osprey, Peregrine plus others, depending on the region. So those figures don’t say much if taken on face value. However, there are more questions than answers in figures like that to be honest. It sounds like they are scraping the barrel.

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