Following the recent news that yet another hen harrier has been found dead in suspicious circumstances (here), Hen Harrier Species Champion Mairi Gougeon MSP has taken the opportunity to call for conservationists to work in closer cooperation with the game shooting industry.
SCOTLAND’S big landowners have backed an SNP MSP’s call for all sides to work together to end persecution of hen harriers.
Species champion Mairi Gougeon spoke out after Police Scotland launched a probe this week into the death of a hen harrier found with “unexplained injuries” near Dunoon in Argyll.
The Angus North and Mearns MSP urged all sides of the debate on raptor persecution to come together to find a long-term way to help the hen harrier flourish.
The death of the satellite-tagged bird, named Kathy, is one of a number of high-profile cases involving hen harrier.
Earlier this year a bird was reportedly shot in Leadhills, while satellite-tagged Calluna went missing near Braemar, Aberdeenshire, and a four-year court case over the alleged shooting of a harrier on Cabrach Estate in Moray was dismissed.
A recent survey showed a 27 per cent fall in Scotland’s hen harrier population – down to 460 pairs – since 2004. Illegal persecution of the bird is thought to be a major factor in its decline. It has been suggested some estate staff kill the birds to protect game-bird species such as grouse.
Heads Up for Harriers is an initiative from the Scottish Government’s Partnership for Action against Wildlife Crime to get land managers to protect harriers.
More than 20 of Scotland’s estates have signed up for the project. It reported its highest number of fledged young hen harriers, 37, in 2017, and Gougeon is keen to do more to bridge the gap between estates and conservationists.
Gougeon said: “I’m under no illusions about how contentious this issue is. I know it won’t be resolved overnight but I take my role as a species champion very seriously.
One of the main reasons why the hen harrier population hasn’t flourished is the fact there has been illegal persecution of this species over a long period.
Almost half of Scotland is capable of supporting a hen harrier population. There are a number of ongoing projects – including Heads Up for Harriers – geared towards trying to sustain and grow the population in the future.
Heads Up for Harriers is not without its critics and may not be an immediate panacea but it is a promising step in the right direction.
More estates need to sign up to the project before we can assess whether or not it is successful.
We also need to look at other potential solutions such as diversionary feeding.
We need to take every available measure to crack down on the serious crime committed against raptors and to tackle the illegal persecution that takes place.
At the same time we cannot tar all estates with the same brush. We must acknowledge the positive steps some estates and gamekeepers are taking to promote the species.
We need conservation groups and shooting interests to set aside their natural distrust and to try to work together“.
‘Species Champion’ MSPs agree to provide political support for Scotland’s wildlife, under a scheme organised by environment groups.
Tim Baynes of landowners’ group Scottish Land and Estates said: “We are committed to playing our part in helping to restore this iconic species.
We support Mairi Gougeon’s call for greater co-operation and collaboration and look forward to working with other organisations with the same objective at heart.
We are concerned about the fate of the hen harrier found near Dunoon.
This bird has been found in area which is heavily afforested and a long way from any grouse moor. We echo the police appeal for information.”
Photo of satellite-tagged hen harrier ‘Annie‘, found shot dead on a Scottish grouse moor in 2015, shortly after the Heads Up for Hen Harriers Project began [photo by RSPB Scotland].
Full credit to Mairi for being quick off the mark and using her position to reiterate in the national press that, “One of the main reasons why the hen harrier population hasn’t flourished is the fact there has been illegal persecution of this species over a long period”. That’s exactly what the Hen Harrier Species Champion needs to be saying and we applaud her for doing so.
But this idea that ‘conservationists need to be working closer with the gameshooting industry to tackle illegal raptor persecution and then everything will get better’ is indicative that Mairi is new to this game – and she is. That’s not her fault and she’s taking the position that every other reasonable person takes when they first join this ‘debate’ – that of thinking that if only both ‘sides’ would sit and talk/cooperate then this whole sorry mess could be resolved. Mark Avery wrote a detailed blog about this earlier in the year (see here), and although it’s slanted towards ineffective long-term talking in England, the same applies to Scotland.
The bottom line is that as long as one ‘partner’ (or in this case, many partners) continues to deny the extent of illegal persecution (e.g. see here) even when the evidence continues to mount that the illegal killing continues, then that ‘partnership’ is doomed to fail.
In the case of hen harriers in Scotland, the so-called Heads up for Harriers ‘partnership’ has been a scam right from the start – we’ve blogged about it a lot (e.g. see here, here, here, here, here, here) and only recently this view was aired in Parliament by MSP Andy Wightman (see here). We are currently pursuing an FoI with SNH to expose what we believe is a very serious political cover up about this project (see here) – more on this in the new year.
And all the time this ‘partnership’ has been running, hen harriers have continued to be killed.
Conservationists are tired of the rhetoric, tired of the propaganda, tired of the lies, tired of the ineffective judicial system and tired beyond belief of the never-ending illegal killing.
For hen harriers to start recovering in Scotland (and in England), no amount of ‘closer cooperation’ between conservationists and the game shooting industry will ever work. Only one thing will work – and that is for the raptor killers to stop their criminal activities. And as they can’t (or won’t) do it after 60+ years of self-regulation, then they only have themselves to blame as the strength of public disgust brings about enforced political change.
Have a read of the first comment under the article in The National – nobody’s fooled by this scam anymore and no amount of Xmas goodwill is going to change that:
Bruce Anderson: Scotland’s big landowners have signed up for this because it is just the latest in a long line of window dressing ‘partnerships’ which provide cover and a veneer of respectability for the routine criminal destruction of protected wildlife across nearly all Scottish grouse moors. Mari Gougeon has done some very good work championing hen harriers but she is naive if she thinks that ‘working together’ with Tim Baynes and the grouse industry will have any effect on the organised crime and big money that have left huge ares of Scotland devoid of hen harriers and other protected raptors.
UPDATE 27 December 2017: ‘Closer cooperation to protect hen harriers’ – what does that mean, exactly? (here)