22nd August 2016
James Kay’s letter exploring Hen Harriers on grouse moors has appeared in Bird Watching magazine and is reproduced by kind permission of the magazine.
“The question of Hen Harriers on grouse moors has become increasingly controversial and antagonistic recently. As a member of the RSPB for 60 years, I have observed this polarisation of views with some alarm. There is a danger that in our efforts to protect the Hen Harrier, we may be doing more harm than good. I recently spent a wonderful morning birdwatching on a grouse moor in the north of England. The air was filled with the calls of ground nesting waders including Lapwing, Oystercatcher, Snipe, Curlew, and Golden Plover. In addition, we also saw Red Grouse with chicks and were able to locate the nests of a number of Ring Ouzels and Wheatears. Later, we met the gamekeeper and discussed the birds with him. Little we said was new to him as he knew his moor well and clearly cared for its wildlife. His livelihood depended on the driven grouse shoot and he made sure that aggressive species of wildlife were kept under control. It was clear that without his efforts the ground nesting birds (including several of current concern) would be greatly at risk. It is for this reason that I feel that conservationists should be much more careful before we condemn gamekeepers and seek to ban driven grouse shooting. Not only are the livelihoods of local people at risk but we also run the risk of endangering some of those birds that we are currently trying to protect. We must continue to protect Hen Harriers. However, we must never forget that bird protection needs support of those in the countryside. We must insure that we do not alienate them.”