I’m hoping to see a Hen Harrier today. I’m going to visit the Eddie Balfour hide on the mainland of Orkney. The route takes me through a working farm to a neat handful of parking spaces. There’s a terrain map with instruction to get to the hide. It’s a glorious day.
There’s a graphic sign telling me there are Hen Harriers ahead.
I wonder if it’ll be my lucky day.
I can see the hide along the path:
As I walk towards it, I see a bird take off and begin circling higher and higher. I look up as it flies above me:
It’s a Hen Harrier. It flies over and back to where I parked my car. I can see it circling over where I parked. I watch it until it disappears. I wonder if there’s another one.
The hills are beautiful here. It’s perfect hunting territory for a Hen Harrier. Why are they here in Orkney and yet I’ve never seen them in all the time I’ve walked on the North York Moors? The landscape is so similar, surely the birds ought to be the same? The answer is simple: landowners in England have employed gamekeepers to illegally kill Hen Harriers and destroy their nests to protect the grouse on driven grouse moors. The reason? So they can increase their profits. Along with Hen Harriers, they kill mountain hares, foxes, stoats and crows and many more species besides, all to protect grouse. Each year 500,000 grouse are then shot for enjoyment.
The hide is in front of me. The new hide has been open for three years. It’s a great spot in this valley. The real Hen Harrier has already gone, so I enjoy looking at the paintings of Hen Harriers done by children at Firth Primary School.
How do we stop the persecution of Hen Harriers elsewhere? The answer is very simple: ban driven grouse shooting. It’s the best answer to rejuvenate the wildlife of vast areas of our countryside. If we don’t, then all that will be left of the Hen Harrier is children’s drawings.