Another day, another RSPB press release about hen harriers. Only this one seems confused. It tells us there's "no evidence of illegal killing or nest destruction", but it's all the fault of those pesky shooters. What is? The fact that the numbers are so low that they're "perilously close to being lost". Except they're nothing of the sort. According to the BTO, the hen harrier globally is in the category "least concern". By "lost" RSPB don't mean extinct, they mean not as many as they'd like breeding in Britain.
Although the RSPB release talks of 1 pair here and 2 there, their own website acknowledges 749 UK breeding pairs, plus another 57 on the Isle of Man. And that's breeding pairs. The RSPB's map has big blue patches showing wintering birds, some of which it says come from continental Europe, although the 'Estimated numbers' for 'UK wintering' shows a blank, presumably an oversight, or perhaps they just don't know.
Interestingly, the BTO also suggests that habitat, rather than illegal "persecution", may be the reason for fewer harriers being seen on grouse moors: "harriers feed mainly on voles and pipits, which prefer grassland, good moor management for heather will exclude both the harrier and its prey" its website says.
Going back to the RSPB release, they tell us: "The hen harrier was once found throughout the English lowlands and is not, as its current range might suggest, a bird solely of mountains and remote moorland". And, it seems, the name hen harrier came about because it used to attack... domestic hens. Not a species prevalent on managed grouse moors. So how exactly is it the grouse shooters' fault that the harriers are now found largely on, er, uplands? Or is it possible the odd chicken farmer might have had a hand in that? And perhaps our old friend DDT might just have been a tiny factor too?
I freely admit that I am no expert on harriers. But I'm not so stupid that I can't see when someone is cherry picking and spinning the data. Come on RSPB, tell us the whole truth.