Scottish gamekeepers hit back at RSPB over accusations of Hen Harrier shooting

An argument has broken out between the RSPB and gamekeepers over the illegal killing of Hen Harrier in Scotland last year.

 Hen Harrier

The RSPB has called for sporting estates to stamp out illegal persecution of the protected hen harrier after a male bird was allegedly hunted down and shot in the Cairngorms by unnamed gamekeepers. A spokesperson for the Scottish Gamekeepers Association said gamekeepers  should not be “demonised”. Read the full story published yesterday

Conservationists described the killing, on a Highlands grouse moor, as “appalling”. Two unnamed witnesses reported the incident to police on 30 May last year.

They described watching for almost three hours as two people with shotguns searched the moor for the bird’s perch. It’s believed the gunmen were taking directions by radio from at least one other person in a vehicle.

A police investigation was launched but found insufficient evidence to bring charges. Should anyone be surprised, based upon most wildlife crimes which take place in Scotland, for some reason evidence seems to be very difficult to produce.

Ian Thomson, RSPB Scotland’s head of investigations, said: “All the evidence indicates that this appears to have been an appalling, organised killing of one of our rarest birds of prey, which shows a complete disregard of the laws protecting our wildlife. The hen harrier population in Scotland is in trouble, with a 20 per cent decline from 2004 to 2010.

“The intolerance shown towards this species on grouse moors, with this latest case being yet another example, gives a clear indication of one of the main causes of this decline.”

The harrier is a natural predator of the red grouse but the conservation charity said techniques such as providing alternative food have proven effective and should be more widely embraced.

But a spokesman from the Scottish Gamekeepers Association said: “Our understanding from the case in the Cairngorms is that there is no evidence to support the RSPB’s interpretation of events, and the RSPB is aware of this.

“The RSPB, as a bird charity, could spend donor money more wisely by assessing the bigger picture of harrier decline and the criminal drop in the smaller, less-iconic prey birds, rather than spending it on demonising gamekeepers.”

The spokesman argued that the vast majority of land managers work within the law in challenging circumstances to ensure a balance of species is maintained alongside grouse for sport.

Last year the Partnership Against Wildlife Crime Scotland launched its Heads up for Harriers project, aiming to raise public awareness of the bird’s plight and prevent illegal persecution.

Duncan Orr-Ewing, RSPB Scotland’s head of species and land management, said gamekeepers should protect grouse chicks by providing alternative food sources for the raptors.

He said diversionary feeding – putting out food such as chicks and rats for hen harriers – is proven to cut the numbers of grouse chicks taken for food by up to 86 per cent.

The SGA insisted it advocates legal methods for dealing with species conflicts.

The hen harrier is on the red list of endangered species with fewer than 500 breeding pairs in Scotland.

In England, the species is on the verge of extinction.

2 comments to Scottish gamekeepers hit back at RSPB over accusations of Hen Harrier shooting

  • paul williams

    Two chicks left orphaned after Hen Harrier is killed in Ayrshire
    Police and SSPCA launch joint investigation following death of ‘magnificent’ rare bird of prey

  • Circus maxima

    Interesting to note that the SGA are not denying the evidence, they are just saying don’t blame keepers. So what were a team of armed men up to? They were quick enough to blame the RSPB for food poisoning the kites but they are not offering a legitimate explanation of what the witnesses saw?

    Editor’s Comment. Seems very odd the vehicle registration of the car in which the man in charge of the shooters on the moor was not taken and handed to the police. Two people witnessed this shocking scenario, someone should have been arrested and interviewed.If no one is charged after what the witnesses recorded, no one will be charged with wildlife crimes in Scotland, the law there is simply not up to the job-period.