‘We must crack down on crime against raptors’ — calls to help bird-of-prey fly high

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A hen harrier swoops over moorland.

An Angus and Mearns politician is urging all sides of the debate to come together in 2018 to help a bird-of-prey flourish.

SNP MSP Mairi Gougeon spoke out after Police Scotland launched a probe when a hen harrier was found dead with “unexplained injuries” near Dunoon in Argyll and Bute.

The death of the satellite-tagged bird, named Kathy, is one of a number of high profile cases involving hen harriers this year.

One was shot in Leadhills earlier this year, while satellite-tagged raptor Calluna went missing near Braemar, Aberdeenshire, and a four-year court case over the alleged shooting of a hen harrier on Cabrach Estate in Moray was dismissed.

A recent survey also showed a decline in the hen harrier population down to just 460 pairs — a drop of 27% since 2004 — with illegal persecution of the bird considered a major factor in its decline.

But with 21 of Scotland’s estates signed up for the Heads Up for Harriers project — which reported 37 successfully fledged young hen harriers in 2017 — Mrs Gougeon is keen to bridge the gap between estates and conservationists next year.

The Angus North and Mearns MSP said: “I’m under no illusions how contentious this issue is. I know it won’t be resolved overnight but I take my role as a species champion very seriously.

“One of the main reasons why the hen harrier population hasn’t flourished is the fact there has been illegal persecution of this species over a long period.

“Across Scotland we have the habitat for the species to exist. Almost half of Scotland is capable of supporting a hen harrier population.

“There are a number of ongoing projects — including Heads Up for Harriers — geared toward trying to sustain and grow the hen harrier population in the future.

“Heads Up for Harriers is not without its critics and may not be the immediate panacea but it is a promising step in the right direction.

“More estates need to sign up to that project before we can assess whether or not it is successful. We also need to look at other potential solutions such as diversionary feeding proposed by the Langholm Moor Demonstration Project.

“We need to take every available measure to crack down on the serious crime that is committed against raptors and to tackle the illegal persecution that takes place.

“Only then we will have a hope of protecting and encouraging growth in the numbers of this magnificent species.”