Free lunch keeps hawks off grouse

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The Independent Online
FEEDING DEAD rats and mice to hen harriers on a stretch of Scottish moor has "saved" hundreds of grouse chicks. Conservationists hope the free lunch experiment will persuade gamekeepers that there is an alternative to the illegal poisoning of birds of prey.

The results of the feeding trial on Langholm Moor in south-west Scotland, announced yesterday, are impressive. Hen harriers, one of Britain's rarest birds of prey, showed such a preference for the rats, mice and day-old chicks, that had the food been available over the whole moor it would have saved 600 grouse chicks. Until they were shot as juveniles for sport, that is. Langholm is a commercial grouse moor owned by Buccleuch Estates.

Each chick is worth about pounds 30 to a moor owner, not for its meat value but because clients are charged according to the likely bag in a day's shooting.

The results of the trial were disclosed at a Moorland Summit of conservationists and landowners in Perth, hosted by Scottish Natural Heritage, advisers to the government. Poisoning, nest-wrecking and shooting by estates prepared to flout the law has left large blanks in the distribution map of rare birds such as hen harriers, peregrine falcons and even golden eagles.

There are about 660 nesting hen harrier females in Britain, and a much smaller number of males. The red grouse is not at all rare.