The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) has issued an appeal for information after a post mortem confirmed that a rare bird of prey found dead on a Scottish grouse moor had been illegally killed.
According to RSPB Scotland, the young female hen harrier, which had been named “Annie” by conservationists and was fitted with a satellite transmitter, was illegally shot on remote moorland near to Daer Reservoir in South Lanarkshire.
Scientists first became concerned about the rare bird in March, when tracking data confirmed it had stopped moving. An extensive search by conservationists, recovered the body at the end of April, but only now have scientists confirmed that the bird was illegally shot.
Spencer Murphy's portraits of birds of prey
Spencer Murphy's portraits of birds of prey
1/6 Spencer Murphy's Traces
When the photographer wanted to carry out a study that captured the art of motion, he immediately looked to birds of prey
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Murphy hired the birds from a specialist animal agency, and two handlers accompanied them on the shoot in April
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He sought to capture their likeness both in flight and sitting still - and photographing them motionless proved really tricky
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"It was a very foreign environment for them," recalls Murphy. "The main challenge was keeping them calm. Some were more comfortable than others."
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The 35-year-old photographer is more used to taking portraits of celebrities. So who is easier to work with: wildlife or the famous? "They each have their pros and cons. Neither can stand still for very long"
6/6 Spencer Murphy's Traces
Murphy says: "I was keen to take portraits of birds that wouldn't look out of place alongside human portraits. It was as much about trying to convey some sort of emotive connection as about the technicalities of the shoot."
The shooting in Scotland follows a string of hen harrier disappearances and nest failures in England this summer. These prompted fears that the endangered bird, which feeds on grouse chicks and is known for its beautiful aerial displays, is being targeted by “rogue gamekeepers” and is facing “extinction by persecution”.
Stuart Housden, Director of RSPB Scotland, said: “This case shows very clearly what happens to some of our hen harriers when they leave protected nesting areas and move around the UK’s uplands. This is just the latest incident of criminal persecution of this species, following the confirmed shooting of birds in Aberdeenshire, Moray and Ayrshire in the last two years. It is little wonder these magnificent raptors continue to be absent from large areas of our uplands.
Of all the UK’s protected birds of prey, the hen harrier is among the most heavily persecuted. The bird's population in Scotland is larger than in England however, which last year consisted of just four breeding pairs despite a Government study showing their is suitable habitat for 300 breeding pairs..
Chris Packham, naturalist and television presenter, told the Independent: “My reaction sadly is that I’m not the slightest bit surprised. There is no ambiguity in our claims that these birds are being illegally persecuted.”
On 9 August the Springwatch presenter led a protest for "Hen Harrier Day" to defend the embattled bird. He has backed called for a ban of driven grouse shooting and also backed calls for an extension to England of a Scottish law which allows for the prosecution of land owners if protected birds of prey are illegally killed on their land.
Mr Packham added: “This is one instance where we have the evidence and I’d like to see the owner of the land prosecuted and be publicly shamed to the extent that they became the social pariah they deserve to be for robbing us of a very valuable part of our natural heritage.”
According to the RSPB hen harrier numbers declined 20 per cent between 2004 and 2010, however the timing of the appeal, the day before the so-called Glorious Twelfth, the start of the grouse shooting season, is likely to be questioned by members of the shooting lobby.
Former cricketer Sir Ian Botham, who fronts You Forgot The Birds, a grouse-industry funded group which has been waging a war of words against the RSPB, condemned the illegal shooting of birds of prey but questioned the RSPB’s “news management tactics.”
He said: “What happened in April needs to be investigated carefully. However this bird died, some will wonder why the RSPB is announcing [its death] in time for the papers on 12 August.”Reuse content