The conflict between grouse shooters and conservationists has traditionally centred on hen harriers. Many conservation charities blow this friction out of all proportions by describing it as the “widespread destruction” of this beautiful raptor species by a shooting community which jealously protects its quarry species. From my limited perspective on grouse shooting and conservation, it is hard to understand why this conflict is being so exaggerated.
Arriving on the grouse moor this morning to check my traps, I watched two pairs of hen harriers sailing low over the moor within a single square mile, and it was a great treat. The cock birds are far more conspicuous than their partners, and the fact that the two sexes are hunting close together means that they are probably beginning to pair up. Hen harriers nest on the ground, so they are extremely vulnerable to the attentions of foxes and badgers, and given their incredibly diminished numbers, they probably warrant the same sort of focussed conservation efforts that I have been working on for black grouse over the past year.
Isolated incidents of raptor persecution are just that. I have met a great number of keepers and land owners over the past year, and few have ever even come across hen harriers. To suggest that harrier persecution is part and parcel of upland keepering is misleading, and only the most foolish would consider harming birds of prey to boost grouse numbers. Given that I also came across a horribly large number of crows during my walk this morning, I am convinced that there are far more vile and unforgiveable predators on the grouse moor than hen harriers, and I can’t see how my attempts to conserve moorland birds can’t go hand in hand with my enjoyment of seeing harriers hunting. Judging from the responses I have received while speaking to many keepers on the subject of hen harriers, I am not alone.