Monday, 10 December 2012

Hen Harrier Shootings in Ireland and England

The Hen Harrier is a rare and protected species, but still incidents of illegal persecution can occur.

Recently in Wexford (not Kerry as reported by certain quarters who had no details of the incident) a Hen Harrier was reported to have been shot at its roost. No body was found in a search afterwards. Such an incident, in all likelihood would be at the hands of a maverick shooter rather than by any concerted effort. The harriers have existed at that roost for years and hopefully always will. It is imperative to treat roost and nest locations of any protected species as confidential - tell the local Ranger but why people - who may tell people - who may disturb the bird unintentionally or intentionally?

While relations between Hen Harriers and some landowners in Ireland were strained around the time of Special Protection Area designations for the species, people living and working in the SPAs now realise that after over five years of living with the designation, they are operating as they always have done. The reason the areas were designated as SPAs in the first place was because they were important for Hen Harriers - and they were important for Hen Harriers because of the way the landowners managed the land. Public awareness campaigns and agri-environmental plans for Hen Harriers in recent years have helped foster even better relations between the patrons of the landscape and this magnificent Irish raptor.

The shooting fraternity has done much to help protected species like the Hen Harrier (see recent post below) and are commended for their investment of time, money and effort in various conservation programmes. For anyone to berate shooters in general for the shooting of a Hen Harrier displays a lack of understanding of the issue. The response by the NARGC in the immediate aftermath of press release by BirdWatch Ireland regarding the shooting of a Hen Harrier shows the support and understanding that exists among the general shooting fraternity and this should not be forgotten, rather worked with and developed. For we have something different here in Ireland. We have different attitudes and we have different issues (e.g. Red Grouse are only a miniscule <1% part of the Hen Harrier's diet in Ireland).

When a protected bird is shot, it is indeed a travesty and there is justifiably outcry. When the habitat of a protected species is lost, it is less emotive for the public, but arguably much more damaging with long lasting repurcussions. When you take away a piece of habitat, you take away 1000's of years of history of the species, and damningly you take away any potential of a future. The issues for Hen Harriers in Ireland are obvious and are more numerous and greater than persecution.

In England recently, a famous Hen Harrier called Bowland Beth that was being tracked by means of a satellite tag identical to those used in Duhallow in 2012, has been proven to have been shot. She was an absolutely amazing bird and did so much for her species, raising awareness, answering conservation questions, showing a whole new side to Hen Harrier ecology. Hopefully now, her death will not have been in vein and progress will be made on establishing a scenario for Hen Harriers to co-exist on the moorlands of England...where ironically they have the best of habitat - but to quote an old Native American saying, "the best wolf habitat resides in the human heart" - if they want Hen Harriers they still have the foundations upon which to build. Do we in Ireland?

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