According to The Killing Fields article in this morning’s Sunday Herald, raptors are being killed in their thousands. Allegations abound that highland sporting estates are poisoning hen harriers in order to boost grouse numbers.
It is illegal to kill these protected birds but detection of the perpetrator of these environmental crimes is notoriously difficult. This has led to plans to hold estates accountable for any killings on their estates. Needless to say this is a controversial proposition, not least because a dead bird could have been poisoned by bait on a neighbouring estate.
Under current legislation, there is an option to allow selective killing of problem birds under license, however the government has not granted any licenses as this would be seen to condone the illegal killing of raptors. Surely such a system would be similar to the annual deer culls which are undertaken to manage numbers and prevent damage to the environment from excessive numbers.
In a purely natural setting, numbers of each species would be in balance – an increase in grouse numbers would lead to a healthier raptor poulation until they over-expoited there food supply then numbers would fall back. We do not have a natural system with additional grouse being introduced for sport thus leading to an increase in raptors. There is surely a strong argument for management of the hen harriers, which are said to number 15-20,000 pairs, to natural levels that would exist without the artificial measures to boost their food supply. If, as suggested by the article, much of the illegal killing is directly or indirectly linked to sporting estates, authorised population management measures would reduce the incidence of illegal killing and increase visibility of the problem.
What are your thoughts?