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Hen Harrier suffers savage brutality of an illegally-set trap on a Scottish grouse moor.

July 15, 2019

An adult male hen harrier has suffered appalling injuries after being caught in a spring trap that had been illegally-set next to its nest on a Scottish grouse moor.

His lower leg was almost severed by the jaws of the trap and despite valiant attempts by a specialist veterinary surgeon to save him, his injuries were too severe and he was later euthanised.

The harrier had been found caught in the trap and in great distress by members of the Scottish Raptor Study Group who were undertaking routine raptor monitoring on the Leadhills Estate in South Lanarkshire on 11th May 2019. A second trap, also illegally-set, had been placed on the harrier’s nearby nest. The nest contained two eggs but there was no sign of the breeding female.

The raptor workers rang the Scottish SPCA for help and the police were informed. The male hen harrier was collected immediately by the SSPCA and taken for veterinary attention. They also removed the traps and the eggs were transferred to an experienced falconer to see if they could be saved.

Specialist veterinary surgeon Romain Pizzi of the Scottish SPCA’s National Wildlife Rescue Centre conducted an intricate operation to reconstruct the harrier’s shattered leg but it had been too badly damaged by the trap so a decision was made to end his suffering and he was put to sleep.

Unfortunately the eggs that had been rescued from the nest didn’t survive either.

Seven weeks later on 4th July Police Scotland led a multi-agency search of Leadhills Estate but found no evidence to connect anyone from the estate with this latest wildlife crime.

This area of South Lanarkshire has been identified as a wildlife crime hotspot for many years. Since 2003 the RSPB has recorded at least 50 confirmed raptor persecution crimes on and close to a number of grouse moors in the region but only two have ever resulted in a successful prosecution; one gamekeeper was convicted in 2004 for shooting an owl and one was convicted in 2009 for setting out poisoned baits.

In 2015 a satellite-tagged hen harrier called Annie was found shot dead on a grouse moor in the area. In 2016 a satellite-tagged hen harrier called Chance disappeared in suspicious circumstances in the area, as did another one called ‘Skylar’ earlier this year.

In 2017 witnesses reported seeing an armed masked man shoot a hen harrier on a grouse moor in this area but the suspect escaped on a quad bike before the police arrived. The bird wasn’t found but a few weeks later witnesses observed an unidentified man shooting a short-eared owl on a grouse moor in the area. The man escaped across the moor in a four-wheel drive vehicle but the owl’s corpse was later retrieved from the heather and a post-mortem confirmed it had been shot. There were no prosecutions.

Following ongoing concerns about the scale of raptor persecution on some driven grouse moors in Scotland, in 2017 the Government commissioned a review of grouse moor management with a view to bringing in a regulatory licensing scheme. The review’s author, Professor Alan Werritty, is due to report within the next few weeks.

Chris Packham with dead hen harrier

Chris Packham with dead hen harrier. Photo by Ruth Tingay.

Prominent campaigners Chris Packham CBE and Dr Ruth Tingay who writes the Raptor Persecution UK blog have joined forces with other leading experts to produce a video about the savage brutality of this latest incident.

Chris Packham CBE said: “This despicable crime marks a most depressing day for raptor conservation in the UK and undoubtedly the darkest day for the whole shooting industry. It’s out of control, obviously beyond any form of self-regulation, and is tolerant of an utter contempt for the laws which are meant to protect our wildlife. This woeful death zone in South Lanarkshire needs cleaning up and clearing out now. This is 2019, not 1860 and this sickening spectacle has to consign driven grouse shooting to the dustbin”.

Dr Ruth Tingay said: “To be perfectly frank, what has happened here transcends the need to wait for the Werritty Review to report. This is brazen criminality, in broad daylight, conducted by someone secure in the knowledge that a prosecution is highly unlikely. The Scottish Government cannot continue to prevaricate on this issue while our wildlife suffers such barbaric acts. We know what’s going on, we know where it’s going on and the Government has a duty to act. Now.”

Anyone with information about the illegally-set traps found on Leadhills Estate is urged to contact Police Scotland on 101, or the RSPB’s confidential raptor crime hotline 0300 999 0101.