They are just one species of bird, and their numbers in the UK have increased a bit over the last couple of decades, but still the hen harrier's plight is resonant of a distant age when nature was persecuted freely.
I believe, and the RSPB believes, that this is a species which is ruthlessly killed by some of those involved with grouse shooting. The evidence for this comes from science, rumour, film evidence, a few court cases and the more honest members of the shooting fraternity. And this regular killing is of course totally illegal.
Things have got worse over recent years - by which I mean that the degree of honesty on this subject has decreased in the 'sporting' press and the organisations which claim to represent 'shooting folk'. It was not so long ago that honest men from the shooting community accepted that hen harrier persecution was common and unacceptable - some even wrote scientific papers on the subject.
The pity of it is that we do not believe that everyone is 'at it' but that view would be easy to maintain since the number of voices raised against these practices in the shooting community is very small and rather quiet. The community that protects its evil-doers has to share some culpability, surely?
Personally I get on rather well with many members of the shooting community - their and my love of the outdoors and of nature gives us quite a lot to talk about. I wouldn't be interested in shooting grouse or pheasant but I am not personally that worried that people do - and the RSPB which remains strictly neutral on the ethics of field sports. But illegal activity is different - and that's what raptor persecution is. And the shooting community has gone down in my estimation because it is not honest about what so many of its members know to be true - that illegal persecution of birds of prey (hen harriers included) is widespread and covertly encouraged.
I have had moments when I have wondered whether this issue is so small in the big scheme of things that we should simply move on. But then I always come back to the fact that if the RSPB does not speak up about this issue then precious few others will. And it's wrong - killing protected wildlife is wrong.
But what do you think? Should the RSPB take a deep breath and calm down on this subject - or perhaps redouble its efforts? You tell me.
Previous blogs on this subject are (here, here, here, here, here and here) and here too.
It seems to me that those who have the privilege to have a Licence to own a gun to shoot things for fun should do everything they can to name and shame those who abuse that privilege. So, in answer to your question Mark - let's redouble our efforts - and actually the shooting fraternity should too.
Don't be put off by claims of a smear campaign - such talk makes good press but actually is meaningless. This isn't a 'them and us' issue as far as I can see - if the RSPB think its wrong and, as James says, the Shooters say it's wrong, where's the problem?
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