I woke up in a hotel in Lockerbie yesterday morning - a small Scottish town which is still much in the news because of horrific past events, but the previous evening when I got off the train one couldn't have guessed its past as the swifts screamed overhead. 

I was here to spend the day at Langholm moor with a gamekeeper, a grouse moor manager and some scientists.

Langholm was the stage on which some extraordinary ecological scenes were played out in the early 1990s.  It was the place where we all hoped that the disputes between grouse moor management and birds of prey would move to resolution.

Hen harriers are probably the most persecuted protected birds in the UK.  Their numbers and range are severely limited by persistent persecution of adults, chicks and eggs. Before Langholm we in the RSPB were able to pooh pooh the idea that hen harriers affected grouse bags, after Langholm there was no doubt that they could.

The Langholm project was jointly funded by the RSPB with others and the essence of the study was to protect hen harriers (and other raptors) strictly on the site, see whether their numbers built up and then see whether they affected the numbers of red grouse available for shooting in the autumn.

Hen harrier numbers increased dramatically through the project and reached 20 females just after the project ended.  Hen harriers eat a range of prey species, including voles, pipits and larks but also lots of red grouse, particularly chicks.  And those hen harriers cut a swathe through the stock of red grouse available to be shot from the 'Glorious Twelth'.  Autumn grouse numbers were so reduced that commercial driven grouse shooting became unviable on this site.  The harriers were eating the shootable surplus of grouse on which grouse shooting depends.

So, following Langholm there weren't many grouse moor managers who felt less keen on killing hen harriers, despite the illegality of this, and probably quite a lot more who were even more disposed to do so.

Following Langholm, work was carried out on seeing whether artificial feeding of hen harriers at the nest would reduce their depredation of grouse chicks - the results looked very promising to us but certainly didn't inspire grouse moor managers.  And then followed a period of stalemate.

Now there is a new Langholm project where a group of organisations are working towards trying to find a solution again. Will we succeed? - who knows, but the folk on the ground are working well together as I saw yesterday.

The new project aims to return viable driven grouse shooting to the moor - with a few hen harriers knocking around too!  Do visit the project website, read the keeper's diary and see what we are all up to!

On leaving Langholm I felt encouraged.  The guys on the ground are doing a great job - it may still be the case that Langholm is the place which provides a resolution to these conflicts.  I hope it does.

  • Hi Sooty

    Yes – they’ve done a lot of work on the moors near the Cat and Fiddle PH – I watched them working one day - it was strange to hear them as their tracked vehicles reversed – bleep - bleep - bleep …. in the middle of nowhere.

  • Well we certainly need some help for Hen Harriers but goodness knows how.When we go to Mull we see these beautiful birds and personally find it hard to understand that RSPB seem to me to be anti game keeper and anti estate and yet find individuals who they are quite happy to work with and as always bird watchers and the other side seem to be so entrenched in their own point of view that progress is impossible.I will not condone B O P killing but the RSPB and bird watchers in my opinion need to understand the fact that to stop someone who knows his patch like a game keeper does putting his foot on a nest and even more difficult getting caught doing what would be called a accident is impossible and I think it is time to explore the idea of talking seriously to these people and seeing if there is the possibility to have a better relationship even if some form of payment is made.Personally I would rather some of my sub do that than go on saving birds etc going in decline in other country's.The Hen Harrier in this country desperately needs help to save it from more or less extinction.Whatever we may think these people own their land just like we own our gardens and if they do not manage the Grouse moors with some income from shooting the moors will probably turn to scrub and be no use for most wildlife anyway.I think that serious dialogue with someone like James Marchington is a step that needs thinking about because the number of Hen Harriers in England seem to seriously decline all the time.What is the difference if it would help to solve this problem between RSPB and perhaps N E paying what I believe has to be called management fees for Sea Eagles to fill the sky's and paying management fees for Hen Harriers to grace our countryside.      

  • hi trimbush we go to see family perhaps once a year just probably about 8 miles due west and always go to Goyt valley,this year we hoped to see Ring Ouzel but not successful however we were surprise at the number of Red Grouse we saw on the moor and seemed to be lots of what I think were patches of medicated grit.Perhaps that the reason we see more than what we thought usual.A really lovely bird in its own right.  

  • My farm at 1,500 feet in the Peak District is 100 yards from a grouse moor.  Each morning I get up and exercise my dogs – usually on a grass field just below the fenced moor.

    There’s a family of grouse – numbering 10 – which frequently visit this field – and when approached – set up a steadily ‘babbling chirping’ alarm sound between them all – 10 or 15 seconds before they lift off – as one - and seek shelter on the moor proper.

    I’ve followed the progress of this family from when they were chicks on the moor and the numbers haven’t changed.   Strangely - it's the terrier that usually scents the birds first - way before the black lab.

    We had two German Shorthaired Pointers (GSPs) some time ago - they were a joy to work and see working - they didn't miss a thing - they worked together and they 'told you' everything that was going on.

    I’ve seen Buzzard, Kestrel and what I’m told is a sparrow hawk – never a Hen Harrier.

    We are quite close to Goyt Valley near Buxton Derbyshire and the birdlife there is many and varied

    At 1,500 feet life can be interesting in the Winter - but it's a decision I've never regretted