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.


A love of the natural world demonstrates that a person is a cultured inhabitant of planet Earth.

  • Redouble its efforts & then a lot more. At the moment its as if it's burying its head in the sand.

    In fact its as if trimbush is directing policy on this issue.

  • Matt especially - very thoughtful comments.  Thank you.

    A love of the natural world demonstrates that a person is a cultured inhabitant of planet Earth.

  • @Sooty, apologies for not having read your previous comments. I completely agree too that punishments should be severe for this sort of crime.

    My question is more, particularly at a time when the government has more limited resources than ever, how do we promote better enforcement?

    Also, I would say that banning all shooting is completely infeasible - there will never be a government that will do so. While it would save countless lives of rare species, it's politically impossible. Given that the hen harrier is almost extinct, I'm talking about taking tough, perhaps unsavoury choices but which would buy the support of landowners rather than entrench the battle lines and waste more time over conflict and stalemate.

    I think it would be great if government could be encouraged to enforce the rules better, and I applaud the work of the RSPB's investigations unit. But given that we have already had a huge 'Birds of Prey' campaign, I don't see there's much more that can be done, in this economic climate, to encourage stronger government action. If you can propose an alternative, then I'd be very happy to listen to it. But bringing about tougher enforcement is a long-term strategy that I don't see coming around in time to save the hen harrier, whereas cooperating more with shooting estates and incentivising higher breeding rates for hen harriers on their land could be supported by both them and us, a coalition strong enough to convince government to take action sooner rather than later.

    Matt Williams, Assistant Warden, RSPB Snape.

  • Matt accept your explanation but you would have seen if you were on the forum that previously I have several times said that we need to talk to these people and even some form of compensation but equally I do not wish to brand all shooting people with crimes but we do need more severe punishments or even deterrents unless the minority stop killing B O P and I would even go so far as saying stop all Grouse shooting absolutely because I promise anyone that would make the innocent stop the guilty really quick.All along the route there is not the wanting to stop the slaughter right from general public right upto Government and so one of our best birds are almost extinct.

  • @Sooty - I assure you I have no vested interest whatsoever - I'm vegetarian and have never been near a shooting estate in my life.

    My point is more that clearly, while the legislation exists, the government feels no pressure to undertake enough enforcement to deter the crimes. So, rather than coming up with technical fixes, why not try to work with shooting estates and address the reasons they need to kill hen harriers, rather than making enemies of them and entrenching the battle lines.

    @JockeyShield - I was unaware of the issue over taxes, and obviously the government has a long way to go in many areas in making sure taxes are collected from the wealthy. I still nonetheless feel that the government will remain unincentivised to malign these shooting communities through stringent enforcement and that perhaps another tack is necessary.

    While the hen harrier is a beautiful bird and I am as thrilled as the next birdwatcher to see one, we can't always see everything from the conservationist's perspective. Either we need to find a much more effective way of making the government enforce tax collection and penalties for persecution, or we need to take a new tack and deal with the reasons that hen harriers are persecuted at all.

    As long as we see these as purely environmental issues we are drawing battle lines with large landowners who could, if they were on our side, do a lot to truly manage huge areas for the benefit of wildlife. It's all about thinking more strategically in the long term rather than reacting negatively over one issue and refusing to cooperate because of that.

    Matt Williams, Assistant Warden, RSPB Snape.