Monday 2 November 2009

Harriers again

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.


vicky said...

The British Trust for Ornithology seems to have a different outlook on birds to the RSPB- more....realistic. I recently read about their involvement in woodcock counts, working both with birdwatchers and with woodcock shooters, after all the better everyone understands thebird the better it will do allowing shooters to take a surplus and warning shooters when to leave the birds alone.

I'm as confused as you james on the hen harrier thing....if they like grouse moors and there isn't evidence of illegal persecution why aren't they doing well in a good grouse year? Maybe they don't really like grouse moors? Maybe 'right to roam' is disturbing them? There are factors at work here other than just 'shooters'- maybe if bird groups really looked at them then the harrier population could be better served?

Alan Tilmouth said...

James, you are right your not stupid you know exactly what cherry picking and spinning the data is about in fact you seem to have offered a masterclass in it with this post. I'll respond on my own blog and link back to your post rather than fill the comments box.

Meconopsis said...

I would love to see Siskins feeding on my bird table. I feed Niger seed, Oilseed rape and sunflower seeds. I have planted trees, wild teasels and leave thistles to seed but still no Siskins. The habitat is correct for them.

Maybe they just dont come to my area :-(