Hen Harrier Red Grouse conflict – What Options Remain?

Earlier this week on his Blog Mark Avery was talking about a number of ideas which could possibly help resolve the conflict between Red Grouse and Hen harriers on Red Grouse moors. It is now very clear Natural England’s Hen Harrier Recovery initiative has been a complete failure, as there are less Hen Harriers on England’s uplands now than when the project was first rolled out a decade ago.

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Mark outlined three possible options which Raptor Politics would like our readers to consider before making any comments. The three options are briefly outlined below.

A Quota System

The introduction of a quota system allowing grouse moor owners (gamekeepers) to limit hen harrier numbers on any given grouse moor once numbers exceed the agreed quota parameters. On Mark’s Blog he goes on to say if more harriers settle on any particular grouse moor in the spring than the agreed quotas allowed, then any surplus could be “bumped off” ( in Mark’s words the most extreme version).

Pricking Eggs System

Pricking harrier eggs contained in a nest once a complete clutch of eggs had been laid. This would be the preferred option by gamekeepers we have canvassed, being simple quick and humane.

 The Translocation System

Translocation of surplus harrier chicks away from the uplands to an area where the chicks could then be raised artificially without any risk to young grouse chicks during the summer.  Of course this method of control would have one major draw-back, most  harrier chicks relocated would eventually return to the uplands where their appearance would not be greeted with open arms by a mojority of gamekeepers or their employers.

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These are the options which we ask everyone to consider before making your views known.

We have ruled out diversionary or buffer feeding as an option, as this would only compound the problems resulting in more, not less, harriers for gamekeepers to worry about.

If anyone has any other ideas suitable for publication which may help resolve the current problem we would like to hear about them. Please keep your views logical and please try to be constructive.

If this straw poll is going to be fair we would welcome comments from the shooting fraternity also; should anyone from that side of the debate wish to make a genuine contribution, we would not expect you to use your real name unless you wish to do so. It would however be helpful to this debate if you included your present employment status and experience.

48 comments to Hen Harrier Red Grouse conflict – What Options Remain?

  • John Miles

    As I have said before these people do not want Hen Harriers, Short eared Owls, Golden Eagles or any other raptor that put off a ‘drive’ from 12th August on wards. So what are you going to do – allow breeding and then kill them. Change the way they shoot is the only option.

  • paul williams

    May i take this opportunity to remind everyone that when a private estates gamekeeper was caught at a known Peregrine Falcon site on United Utilities estates with a loaded shotgun, this gamekeeper was given retrospective permission to be there by United Utilities after the event, ( when caught the gamekeeper admitted to NOT having permission to be on the property to myself and my colleague).

  • sh23363

    In the short term I love the idea of a quota. The quota approach would only kick in when there are some harriers – better than now when there are none. I also like the idea of offering it as an option. It would cause the sporting lot some discomfort. To accept the idea means signing up to having harriers on grouse moors. There would also have to be some verification. If they reject the idea it smacks of intransigence and unwillingness to enage with constructive suggestions.

    On the other hand allowing any legal persecution will simply make it even harder to prove that there is illegal persecution. A bit like putting a gang of looters on guard in a shopping mall.

    For the long term I like John Miles’ idea better – i.e. change the way shooting works. I would go the whole hog – do away with grouse moors and allow the whole lot to scrub up, reintroduce large fauna and, in due time, allow trophy hunting. That way could allow co-existence of hunting and benign persuits that might provide a year round sustainable tourism industry that does not conflict with every other landuse.

  • Rodders

    It comes down to whether we want to maintain uplands as heather moorland. If we do then driven grouse shooting is the economic driver that helps to pay for it. Walked up grouse shooting is practised only in those areas where grouse shooting is a peripheral activity as on deer forests in the wet North West Highlands or where tick numbers have reduced grouse populations to low levels.

    If hen harriers numbers make driven grouse shooting uneconomic then we must be prepared to see upland land use change or else pay for heather management in some other way. A change to scrub or forestry would be detrimental to hen harriers would it not?

    A quota system has the advantage that grouse moors could withstand some losses of grouse but I can see that it would open up an enforcement nightmare. The present law has the advantage that it is illegal to harm birds of prey- no ifs or buts. As in many areas of life there are no easy answers.

  • Circus maximus

    Do we want to maintain heather moorland the way it is managed at the moment, its terribly un-natural.
    Frankly if we are considering a quota system…I want a quota of scrub birch and willow…I want some juniper, I want a much greater diversity of habitat. I want muirburn prevented on wet-heath and blanket bog.

    We should also have a quota on grouse…what is the ecological impact of the super-densities created on farmed heather? All the indicators say that if there are too many grouse, biodiversity goes down the toilet.
    So why dont we simply just move away from single species management?

  • Circus maximus

    Rodders….the highest densities of harriers in the uk occur in areas of neglected moorland with patchy birch and willow scrub.

  • Rodders

    Yes, which probably explains why hen harriers are doing better in the west Highlands which is mostly deer forest and Forestry Commission land than further east on the grouse moors.

    However, what would happen if grouse moor owners changed their land use to commercial forestry?

    Camera nests should show us the cause of nest failures should they not? I suspect foxes will be shown predating a good number of nests.

    Anyway I have a lot to learn about the subject. I also live in eastern England so I am not close to breeding habitats. However, I have seen them at Stubbs Mill in Norfolk and last year a highlight of a hike I did along Breydon Water last winter was seeing a male harrier flying just 50 yards from me.

    • Terry Pickford, North West Raptor Protection Group

      Blaming foxes for the failure of hen harrier nests is always the easy option, the facts tell a completely different story if you know what to look for. For example the failure of the nest this year in Derbyshire located in the Goyt valley was caused according to one or two people by fox predation, not true. For one thing the fox would have taken the eggs not smashed them in the nest. It is well known foxes take eggs back to their den to feed their cubs. The fox would have also pulled and chewed the feathers which remained near-by the nest . Once again if there were cubs to feed the dead harrier would have been taken back to the den not left at the nest. From the information I have been given the feathers from the female harrier had been cleanly pulled from the dead harrier. The only fox involved in this crime had two not four legs.

  • paul williams

    Camera’s at nest sites in the Forest of Bowland would only show a BBC camera crew with a presenter kneeling at the nest site for way too long and of course subsequent visits to the same nest by the RSPB and Natural England fieldworkers ( all this commotion causing nest failure ).And of course NE fieldworkers visiting harrier nest sites still under construction giving the fragile situation no chance of recovering.

  • Rodders

    Terry if the female was found was no post mortem carried out?

    • TerryPickford, North West Raptor Protection Group

      Rodders, it seems the corpse was taken away to DNA tests the feathers for remains of any Saliva which may have been left by the killer/s. I would not expect any trace of Saliva were found. I have observed a vixen return to a duck nest taking each egg in turn from the nest back to her cubs, carried in her mouth. I can assure you the smashed eggs in the harrier nest had nothing what so ever to do with a fox..

  • birdboy

    Terry,what if the fox in question had no cubs?

    • TerryPickford, North West Raptor Protection Group

      It has been suggested the eggs were smashed and the female harrier may have been killed by a fox. All I am saying in my experience IF a fox was involved here and it’s a BIG IF, no fox would have smashed the eggs and left a dead female harrier near the nest. Foxes like most ground predators kill to eat to sustain their survival, with the exception of the mink. Even if a fox was involved and there were no cubs to feed, the eggs and corpse of the harrier would have been eaten,or removed, – in my opinion, not left at the nest. When the three harrier chicks were found dead on the United Utilities estate in 2009, each of the dead chicks were found partially eaten many metres from the nest.

      This incident was put down to fox predation by the police and Natural England. There WERE doubts about this however as the dead chicks had only been nibbled, this indicated a small mammal had been involved and not a fox. Besides foxes are very rare on well-keepered grouse moors.

  • Terry, surely foxes are renowned for killing just for the sake of killing when food is plentiful.

    I had a case several years back with a brood of almost fledged harriers. The last bird out of the nest was unfortunately predated by a fox. The young harrier was in perfect condition apart from a chunk taken out of the breast. I use this slide in presentations entitled ‘what a waste of a harrier’. These harriers had chosen to nest on an unmanaged moor.

    The following year the birds returned and all the young were predated at around a couple of days old. Fox scat was found in several areas close to the nest. Wisely the adult birds never returned the following year.

    If we could only find a workable solution over this harrier/grouse conservation mess and get this raptor back were it rightly belongs on managed grouse moors then foxes wouldn’t be such a huge problem.

  • Circus maximus

    In the case of the video recorded nest raid, the fox systematically removed the chicks from the nest one by one until the last remaining chick(no.5) raked its face and it left it to fledge.

  • barbaryboy

    why cant people see, there is no viable solution? keepers dont want ANY birds of prey on thier patch, any talk of compromise is basically just rubbish! they will pay lip service and agree to this and that, but behind closed doors they have thier own agenda.

    The only way to end the slaughter of britains raptors is to ban shooting! which will not and should not ever happen. Most but not all of britains raptors are doing better than ever before and thier is conflict, Quota systems would be a joke with keepers removing harriers before they ever reached “agreed levels”. A fair licensing system for a wild take by falconers could provide an income for estates and provide an incentive to leave some nests untouched but harriers arnt of any interest to falconers of course! Its wrong, its illegal, but its a fact that as long as people make a living from game preserving there WILL BE raptor persecution and the detected level is only the tip of the iceberg! the banning of any man made interventions to increase or help the game populations is the only way forward, ie no keepers no legal vermin control and no artificial release of any game species. of course this will never happen either. we just have to accept that with the mighty RSPB and others at the helm raptor
    persecution is an unacceptable price we have to accept as inevitable!

    • Terry Pickford, North West Raptor Protection Group

      I have a number of reservations regarding the introduction of any sort of control, including quotas simply to appease shooting estate owners. If such methods were introduced I don’t think it would work for the benefit of harriers as intended. I totally agree with barboryboy, apart from the fact the majority of red grouse moor owners may not be prepared to accept or abide by any proposals, far too many estates would only pay lip service to these changes and the persecution would almost certainly continue.

      If agreement could be reached in principle between the representatives of all moorland shooting estates and Natural England allowing harrier numbers to be controlled this would require a change in legislation. Inevitably this change would allow red grouse moor owners to undertake an activity legally which until then had always been undertaken illegally, setting a dangerous precedent for the sole benefit of an elite minority. I am sure if this ever happened other criminal elements within our society would argue for similar concessions.

  • Well done Mr Terry Pickford and barbaryboy for two excellent posts. I’m delighted that some of us are on the same wavelength. All this talk about quota’s and legal controls, does anyone really want to reward the keepering community, for their decades of criminal activity?

    You may as well tell a thief that he can rob certain shops/properties, so long as he agree’s to leave others alone.

    The whole thing is laughable. Britains birds of prey are protected by law, and have been for nearly 60 years. Let us press the government ministers for vigorous enforcement of these laws, and never settle for silly compromises.

    As the late great Mr Jack Mavro said, “every compromise contains a snag”, the snag in this case being that birds of prey would still be killed, and that is totally unacceptable.

  • tom

    As a former gamekeeper of many years continuous service I find I am in agreement with what Mr Pickford has stated. Based upon my personal experience with harriers, irrespective of quotas or agreements which may or may not be reached the vast proportion of moorland estate owners would find it difficult to accept hen harriers on the moorlands they own. That said I am convinced any changes in legislation to permit the legalised control of harriers would result in more problems for the game shooting industry than it would resolve. Mr Pickford has summed up the problems very well I think. I have some sympathy for the comment made by Barboryboy regarding the legal take of peregrines. The question which arises would organisations like the RSPB support or condemn such a proposal? Perhaps to make such a scheme more acceptable, all birds obtained by a licence scheme should be returned to the wild in the third year.

    • Hi Tom, we already know what the RSPB’s responce would be to a wild take. This organisation prefers to allow 70% of all eagles, hawks , and falcons to die before their first birthday.
      What may make such a scheme more acceptable is if the public at large were made aware of this cruel and unnecessary waste of life. I believe that many would be horrified if they knew that experienced falconers and breeders are denied the opportunity to save some of these birds, and even more angry at those that are denying us.

  • Hi Douglas, I thought we were trying to discuss progressive ideas/solutions with regards to the harrier/grouse stalemate.

    Could I kindly ask what has the known fact that birds of prey throughout the world have a very high natural mortality rate (>50%), especially in their first year of life got to do with this debate?

    You also make a statement which truely confuses me about the public at large being made ”aware of this cruel and unnecessary waste of life”.

    Surely you would have to explain to them that this high mortality rate is obviously designed to create a survival of the fittest/maintain a strong gene pool in raptors.

    There’s nothing sinister in this it’s only nature.

    • Hi Mike, it appears that you are easily confused. The whole idea of bird protection laws, is to keep the maximum number of birds (in this case Birds Of Prey) alive, and their populations healthy. The high mortality of first year eagles hawks and falcons may well be natural, but it is still cruel and wasteful, some would add spiteful, when there are those whom wish to save some of these birds.
      As for your so called harrier/grouse stalemate, the solution is simple, we just have to ensure that laws are enforced.
      To suggest that we allow keepers to kill some so long as they spare some others, is a sick joke. What next? Egg collectors can legally go about their business, so long as they leave an egg or two in the nest and don’t take the whole clutch.

  • nirofo

    Why are we still arguing about this Raptor Persecution problem which is solely created by the so-called “sporting estate” owners and their selfish and illegal activities. The law is already legislated to protect these birds from unscrupulous gamkeepers and their like in order to bring the criminals to justice, why do we have to compromise this position when it would mean even more slaughter of our Raptors. Instead of compromise we should be demanding that the laws we have already are upheld, at the moment it’s a joke, no other blatant criminal activity would be tolerated the way wildlife crime is tolerated. Imagine if any of you went onto the estates and started blasting the Pheasants and Grouse, you’d soon be apprehended and locked up, your shotgun and probably your car confiscated. You would be fined heavily and or thrown in jail and you would have a criminal record for the rest of your life, why doesn’t this happen to the gamekeepers who are also illegally shooting, trapping, poisoning etc, our birds of prey. I think we all know the answer to that one.

    nirofo.

  • Hi Douglas, I wish to clarify that I don’t support any illegal killing of raptors.

    • Hi Mike, of course you don’t and I never thought for a moment that you did. However, this does beg the question, could you ever be comfortable with the legal killing of any species of raptor? Would you really give a second thought to Mr Avery’s “Shoot some, Spare some” idea? Where would it all end?

      Having got “control” of the harriers, wouldn’t the moor owners and their keepers start complaining about the peregrines and merlins, suggesting they be allowed to control these species as well, after all, both falcons prey on grouse.

      It is clear from the above that you were wrong to suggest that we debate Mr Avery’s 3 options, since none of them are worthy of discussion.

      The illegal persecution of all birds of prey on Britains uplands and indeed lowlands is the subject we should be talking about, and we must never stop until the problem has been resolved.

  • Circus maximus

    My views on quotas are above.
    But if it was decided to enforce a quota system some hard questions…..what area would the quota apply to? A County, a Parish, a named hill range a shooting estate or a moor within the estate…what about a km2? Who sets the quota who monitors the quota? What if birds nest in one quota area and hunt in another area? What about birds in non-quota areas.
    Will only breeding birds be included? What if a nest fails are birds still breeding? What about immature birds that may be harder to identify. Will there be a season (oh thy would love that)? What happens if one shooting estate does not want to enforce a quota while the neighbours do? Would a quota only be available where natural prey are the issue eg not where phesants or red-legs are involved?
    There is a questionable area around habitat….for example if the moorland has been over-grazed and is in poor condition for grouse (the moor will not be viable as a shoot) should a quota be made available?

    etc etc etc……..

    • Admin

      Many good comments here which all indicate there is no support for any form of quota system. The question perhaps we should now be asking, why are the laws relating to England’s raptors not being enforced as intended when it comes to shooting estates???? PLEASE KEEP YOUR POINTS OF VIEW COMING IN TO US, they are all important.

  • Terry Pickford, North West Raptor Protection Group

    It is significant that the Irish Government have now brought their wildlife legislation into line with existing laws here in Britain. For the first time anyone convicted of killing birds of prey can be give a 6 month prison sentence together with a £5000 fine. I know what many of you are already thinking, it’s a pity British courts don’t use the powers they have been given to deter individuals from committing such crimes in the first place, if they did perhaps those responsibe may have second thoughts. Better still if their employers were made accountable!

    A question for you all, what are your views on the way many European countries protect raptor nesting sites like Eagle, Osprey and Peregrine? In the Czech Republic and Poland designated nests, (all White-tailed and Golden eagle) are surrounded by a 500 metre public exclusion zone during the breeding season and a 200 metre zone throughout the winter. The system is very effective and leaves no doubt what so ever whether or not the laws protecting breeding sites have been infringed.

    Does anyone think this way forward might offer improved security for hen harrier nests as there are now so few left in England? What else is there to try?

    • Hi Terry, no, a 500 metre exclusion zone would offer no protection at all. As you well know, harriers and other BOP hunt a long way from the nest site,, and so could be shot, trapped or poisoned anywhere in their home range. This would leave the young to starve to death in the safety of the protected nest site, always assuming a fox or other predator doesn’t get to them first.

      We really must stop faffing about with soft options, and start applying pressure on those in power to enforce the laws that already exist.

      Most agree that bird protection laws are adequate, but that enforcement and the penalties given to offenders, are the areas which need to be looked at afresh.

      My own view is that a 5 year ban on all forms of shooting, on land owned/controlled by the landowner on whose ground the offence took place, would very soon bring these people into line. Any further offences would bring a 10 year ban.

      These are the sort of radical changes that could turn the tide in favour of our magnificent birds of prey.

      • Terry Pickford, North West Raptor Protection Group

        Douglas, no one can disagree with your comments, however do you recall an earlier article on this site… I have extracted the important paragraghs regarding Richard Benyon’s reply to a question from the Labour MP Angela Smith (Penistone & Stocksbridge, South Yorkshire) in the House of Commons 30 June. It would do no harm to read the question and the Minister’reply once again…

        Question.

        “Only two weeks ago, a gamekeeper was convicted for illegally killing birds of prey in my constituency. Is it not time to think about introducing a vicarious liability offence to ensure that landowners and estate managers supervise their gamekeepers more closely and more effectively”?

        Reply the Minister gave:

        “There are very good laws in place to punish the illegal killing of any animal. If they are not being effectively enforced, they must be and we will take steps to make sure that happens. However, this is a good opportunity to applaud gamekeepers for the wonderful work they do in providing excellent biodiversity across our countryside.”

        There is only one reply that we are able to give, these people are living in a different word and are totally prepared, or so it appears, to disregard the true realities of what is taking place on England’s Red Grouse moors.

  • nirofo

    Yes Terry, they are living in a different world, a world where they privately condone the illegal Raptor persecuting activities of the gamekeepers and others on the shooting estates, which quite a lot of them either own or have the shooting rights on. As for gamekeepers providing excellent biodiversity across our countryside, that must be the monocultural biodiversity that is almost devoid of any Raptors or any other predatory animals !!!

    nirofo.

  • Mike Price

    I have a question, if the Shooting Industry is making such a good job of looking after moors, how come Moors for the Future have stepped in to try to reverse their decline?

    The 2006 survey of the moorland close to here looked like this

    Favourable Unfavourable(recovering) Unfavourable(no change) Unfavourable(declining)
    Derwentdale 580 ha 1425 ha 1785 ha 2865 ha

    North-east moors 1014 ha 1000 ha 2304 ha 1705 ha

    Totals 1594 ha 2425 ha 4089 ha 4570 ha

    Whilst it does not say how much of this moorland was keepered I can tell you that most of the restoration activity has been taking place on moorland used for driven Red grouse shooting.

  • paul williams

    A crime is a crime, if the laws that are supposed to protect our raptors were upheld and inforced there would be no need for quota’s. Uphold the laws of the land and leave our raptors alone.

  • Dave

    The present status quo suites the grouse moor regimes. I’m sure they would agree to quota’s officially while in practise carrying on as usual. I’m afraid we are stuck with the status quo until, if ever, there are succesful prosecutions. The large sums of money which the RSPB have been granted for what is in effect a PR exercise, will come to nought because the criminals aren’t in the least bit influenced by public sympathy. HH RIP.

  • SPAR

    prosecute the landowners and the illegal slaughter of these birds would soon stop.

    Editor’s comment. Not that easy getting the proof, althougth we know the landowners are behind their keepers illegal actions. This is why it is so vital to sign the Vicarious Liability e-petition.

  • David Tard

    *Post deleted – author banned*

    • Welcome David. First you need to get your facts right. There are no “both sides”, Birds of prey are fully protected by law, and thats it! You talk about keepers not liking “their” grouse killed. Grouse do not belong to the keeper nor the landowner. Wildlife is nobodies property in law, and thats that.
      This also applies to pheasants and partridge once they are released from the rearing pen. Birds of prey are not aggressors, they kill only to survive, there is no malice involved. Once a raptors crop is full, then prey species could curl up and sleep with them and come to no harm, so long as they don’t hang around until the hawks appetite returns.

  • David Tard

    *Post deleted – author banned*

  • David Tard

    *Post deleted – author banned*

    • Coop

      David,

      You’re actually on “dodgy ground” with the entire content of your last post. May I suggest that you need to undertake a lot more research on the subject.

      Populations of apex predators, such as raptors are ultimately “restrained” by the availability of prey, and can’t simply “balloon” as you put it. Any organism cannot increase in numbers beyond the carrying capacity of it’s environment. In the case of Hen Harriers, persecution is not only limiting the population below carrying capacity, but is driving local, and national extinction!

      Several raptor species have indeed increased their populations since the 50s and 60s. However, this is a recovery to levels before numbers crashed due to the effects of organochlorine pesticides such as DDT, aldrin and dieldrin. RECOVERY really is the important word here!

      As for Skylarks: Population declines were largely driven by the introduction of winter sown crops. (Just search for Donald et al, Skylarks, for in-depth studies)

      While I can’t comment on your own locality, massive changes have taken place in farming since WW2, that have directly contributed to serious declines in many species. (Once again, simply search for “farmland bird population decline” or similar)

      No scientific evidence exists to support the claim that Sparrowhawk predation has driven declines in prey species. This predation has taken place for millions of years, and it’s impossible for a specialist predator to drive long-term declines in it’s prey; as prey numbers drop, so do those of the species which rely on them. This is basic, ecological fact. Sadly, there are those who seek to deny such fact, in order to further their own badly hidden agendas. The number of individuals predated is irrelevant. Only two individuals, from each breeding attempt, are required to survive to breed themselves, for a stable population to be maintained.

      Regarding the gamekeeping issue: Intensively managed shoots rely upon unaturally high densities of quarry species for their viability. Which is why Red Grouse in particular are vulnerable to cyclic diseases which result in “good” and “Bad” shooting seasons. These artificially high densities cannot be maintained without “controlling” natural terrestrial and avian predators; in other words, by damaging the natural function of ecosystems. Hen Harriers DO NOT “damage” Red Grouse populations, but simply regulate them to naturally occuring levels, at which driven shooting is unprofitable. That’s the choice David; Healthy, fully functioning ecosystems (vital to us all) or sterilised grouse factories, run simply for profit!

      Finally: I’m not pedantic enough to criticise anyone’s spelling, mate. I just take issue with the implication that predation of one species upon another is, in any way, cannibalistic.

      Ecology is what makes the world go round David. Many excellent educational resources are available online. I hope that you can now avail yourself of these to further your own understanding.

      • Well said Coop, though you could have been economic with words and simply told David that he knows nothing about birds of prey, nor the problems facing them or what should be done about it. However, you chose to be constructive and I have to applaud that. For myself, having spent a lifetime watching, studying, training and flying these magnificent birds, I find I have no patience with these overnight experts.

  • David Tard

    *Post deleted – author banned*

    • Coop

      David,

      Personally I was prepared to give you the benefit of doubt, regarding your motives, but now your posts appear decidedly suspicious. “Sport”? “the thrill of seeing one bird eat another”? what, exactly are you on about?

      It’s apparent that the issue is more than a little beyond your understanding at the moment. I suggest you take a gander at another Ian Newton book: Population Limitation In Birds.

      To repeat myself; MORE RESEARCH REQUIRED!

    • admin

      ‘David Tard’ is what’s known on the internet as a troll*, you won’t be hearing from him on this site again.

      Anyone like to see a good photo of a sparrowhawk eating a racing pigeon? ;)

      *A person who posts to a forum or other form of online communication to disrupt or cause widespread argument.

  • Hugh

    Thank you Coop! I find many people’s ignorance of basic ecology frustrating and at times genuinely alarming; your detailed response above should help people struggling to understand that sparrow hawks are NOT responsible for songbird declines (just look at Scandinavia for a control study where there are plenty of songbirds despite their abundant raptors) since, as you clearly say, predator and prey have co-evolved. Domestic moggies on the other hand are of course not subject to any of the same ecological imperatives. When they find song birds harder to find they still get fed at home, so here we have a predator that is genuinely unrestrained and which therefore has the potential to affect real population crashes without suffering similar declines. I say potential because current research appears to suggest that even though cats may kill 55 million birds a year in the UK (!) they are not responsible for the decline of farmland birds such as skylarks or corn buntings. These sad declines seem attributable to modern farming and the ever increasing use of pesticides and herbicides.