No strong evidence to support claim Norfolk Marsh harrier was ‘shot’

Two days ago the Hawk and Owl Trust announced the discovery of what was claimed to be a “shot” Marsh harrier close to the boundary of the Sculthorpe Moor nature reserve near Fakenham, Norfolk.

This story has since been reported in the local press and national media including the BBC website.

However, to be completely honest, the evidence to support this claim is not strong.

The bird was seen and photographed by a member of the public, but they were unable to reach the bird to rescue it. The photograph shows a clear injury to the harrier’s wing.

[Photo of the injured Marsh harrier, from Hawk and Owl Trust]

The member of the public then reported the discovery to reserve staff who went to try and locate the bird but it had gone. The report on the Hawk & Owl Trust website says ‘the vegetation was all broken down with only a few feathers left’.

The incident was then reported to the police.

Sorry, but unless there’s part of this story that is being kept under wraps for investigative purposes, it’s not possible to tell from the photograph whether this Marsh harrier had been shot or whether it was injured from, say, a collision with a fence. An x-ray would have confirmed it, of course, but under the circumstances an x-ray wasn’t an option.

Of course, it’s perfectly feasible that this Marsh harrier had been shot – we know this species is routinely targeted whether it be in the lowlands (e.g. see here and here) or on upland grouse moors (e.g. here), hated so much that the Moorland Association has been asking questions about whether licences to kill Marsh harriers might be available (see here). But on this particular occasion, with this particular harrier, more evidence would be required before this should be recorded as a confirmed shooting.

It’s ironic really. Remember, this is the same Hawk & Owl Trust that refused to acknowledge that its satellite-tagged hen harrier Rowan had been shot, despite a conclusive x-ray showing the bird’s shattered leg and, er, fragments of shot:

4 thoughts on “No strong evidence to support claim Norfolk Marsh harrier was ‘shot’”

  1. So one wonders who would gain by its removal? An enterprising taxidermist? An organisation keen not to upset the organisations it has aligned itself with? A criminal removing the evidence of their crime?

    Hard to say really – but at least the shooting industry can now claim “not proven”

  2. Speculation again I know but ” the vegetation was all broken down with only a few feathers left” suggests perhaps that someone or something went in to get the bird once the person who discovered it left the scene. Might help if HOT could provide some more detail? But as you say could be withheld due to ongoing investigation.

  3. Regardless, it’s good to be cautious. If one pursued the only explanation possible was it being shot and a carcass or an injured bird appeared which ultimately revealed that it was not, in fact, shot then it would give the hunting lobby a much needed shot in the arm, while damaging their critics in the eyes of the public.
    Much kudos to RPUK once again for it’s openness and honesty. Thank you.

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