There has been quite a bit in the media recently about grouse shooting and its impacts on bird of prey populations in the north of England. Studies suggest that the grouse moors of northern England should be able to support a reasonable hen harrier population, but the absence of harriers from these moors points a finger at the levels of ongoing and illegal persecution.
There will always be tensions where native predators compete with us for food or for other resources. Whether it is goshawks and young pheasants, grey seals and sea fish or otters and prize carp, we see this competition as something to be challenged. We talk of how the act of predation may threaten livelihoods, viewing it as a challenge to our rights to cultivate and harvest nature’s larder for our own ends. To me, this seems a very one-sided and rather arrogant attitude to adopt. Why should we have greater right to exploit natural resources than any other creature? Surely, if we are going to stock game or fish at unnaturally high levels then we shouldn’t be surprised when some other creature takes advantage of the bounty on offer.
We seem intentionally blind to the impacts of some of our activities, particularly so in the case of game-rearing. We have strict rules and regulations that limit the release of non-native animals and plants into the British countryside, yet each year we continue to release many hundreds of thousands of introduced pheasants for sport. We get upset when some of these pheasants are taken by native predators, yet many hundreds more are killed on our roads. There are, undoubtedly, benefits that come from some of the practices associated with game-rearing – notably those related to woodland management and the provision of game cover – but why are we so willing to turn a blind eye to the levels of persecution directed towards our native predators?
Norfolk may be many miles from the grouse moors of northern England, but birds of prey are still being illegally persecuted on some of our shooting estates. Change will have to come from the landowners themselves, to deliver a growing tolerance that will see our birds of prey return to our countryside.