Weekly Nature Watch

Keith Graham's weekly update on the nature of the Park.

Country View 7.9.16

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This week's topic is about two animals of relatively similar body size albeit that one has short, fat, hairy legs whilst the other is rather more 'leggy' and decidedly more agile. But they are animals, which may seem on the one hand to have contrasting fortunes, yet on the other, not dissimilar fates. One, in parts of England, has a death sentence hanging over its head while the other is apparently a candidate for resurrection!

Badgers have been with us for something in the region of half a million years, whilst lynx have been absent from these shores for around 1300 years. And badgers have a curmudgeonly reputation among wildlife enthusiasts and generations of children. They have often been cast by writers, usually of children's fiction, in this anthropomorphic role, as for instance in "Wind in the Willows". Of the lynx we know relatively little. Our lack of first hand experience, not least because it has been absent for so long, means it is something of an unknown quantity. It is thought that this bob-tailed wild cat became extinct in Britain through hunting and the loos of its natural habitat of forest and woodland, as our landscape was stripped of trees and farming developed.

Now of course, because of the spread of Bovine TB, the badger has become the target of marksmen in certain parts of England and seems to have become public enemy number one with cattle farmers. Suggestions that lynx should be re-introduced to parts of Northern England and Scotland, may yet set sheep farmers on course to become 'anti lynx'! Those supporting the re-introduction of lynx claim that they will help to control 'out of control' deer numbers and will largely feed on a diet of deer, animals such as hares and rodents and some birds, presumably among them game birds. Thus, their return may not necessarily be to everyone's liking. Sheep farmers will naturally be suspicious. If lynx are able to take animals as large as red deer, what price their sheep?

There is already conflict between modern day shooters and hunters on one hand and raptors and carnivores on the other as witness the recent disappearance of golden eagles and hen harriers under what can only be described as suspicious circumstances on an estate in the North of Scotland. War is constantly waged against foxes and even pine marten for the self-same reasons, despite laws to protect the latter. Sea Eagles are accused on the West Coast especially, of killing large numbers of lambs. There is no shortage of conflict. However, the war on badgers, declared by the Westminster Government, seems to defy all logic. Independent advisors to the Government are firm in their assertion that the cull began in parts of the West Country of England a couple of years ago, has had no effect on the incidence of a disease which by definition is a disease of cattle. Indeed, the slaughter of infected cattle continues to rise in and around areas where the cull is taking place.

The first evidence that badgers could also catch Bovine TB and perhaps, transmit it was discovered in the 1970s, although it is known that other wild animals may also transmit the disease. The disease has long been endemic in the South-West of England, which is where the cull is being carried out. However, the cost to the taxpayer of this killing spree has now been estimated at an incredible £7000 per animal. Several thousand badgers, young and old, have already been killed. Astonishingly not one of the slain badgers has been examined to see if it had TB so it can safely be assumed that many of them were entirely free of the disease. Furthermore there is growing evidence that many of the marksmen's victims die a lingering and thus cruel death.

Contrast this with the decision of the Welsh Government not to go down the badger killing route but instead to test all cattle on an annual basis and furthermore to impose much tigheter restrictions on the movement of cattle. The incidence of Bovine TB in the Principality has accordingly already fallen by some 14 per cent. In Wales, there is clearly recognition that the disease is inherently a disease of cattle and is most likely to be transmitted by cattle to cattle. Here in Scotland we are happily declared to be Bovine TB free. Thus, the only way it is likely to appear here would be through cattle from an infected herd, being transported into Scotland from elsewhere in the UK...unless an infected badger from say Cornwall, was to take a holiday in the Highlands!

Meanwhile, the proposed release site for a new generation of lynx in Britain is the Kielder Forest, an area, which of course straddles the border between Scotland and England. Lynx have been re-introduced to parts of France and there they are doing especially well in the eastern part of the country. They are also thought to have always been present in the Pyrenees, albeit that their numbers in that area are minuscule. However, there is some unrest among sheep farmers and some sheep have been killed resulting in the apparent shooting of lynx by unknown assassins in some places!

This is why I feel impelled to re-visit the whole question of re-wilding. Whilst I would love to see lynx in this country from a purely aesthetic point of view, one danger is that this could be the thin end of the re-wilding wedge. My goodness, Britain has changed beyond all recognition since lynx last stalked their prey in our forests, let alone when wolves roamed our forests and bears lumbered through them. Purists may allege that our landscape has not changed for the better and that man's incessant development is the culprit. That may be but nevertheless those changes are irreversible. You can't turn the clock back.

But the authorities need to get their act together. It is said that the Government's decision to expand the cull of badgers is a purely political expedient. If that is so, then it is a disgrace and a complete negation of the responsibility we have for the conservation of the wildlife with which we share this planet, let alone the respect we should surely show to our fellow creatures.

A curious tale then of two creatures, one of which, if the evidence is sound, we are persecuting unnecessarily; the other I suggest, representing a possibly perilous step into the unknown!

Country View 31.8.16

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If one set of early birds catch the worms then another also strips the rapidly ripening rowans with just as much enthusiasm. Already, as summer begins to ebb, there are subtle changes in colour influencing the landscape. Green is fading and rowan berries which provided an initially orange tone, have now turned to bright red. And although perhaps not yet fully ripe, these berries are nevertheless being enthusiastically exploited by the local starlings, blackbirds and thrushes.

Starlings are renowned as greedy feeders and of course, when they come they come in bustling flocks, their arrival, always somewhat frantic, signalled by rushes of air as they put the brakes on and land in a flurry on the branches. The blackbirds, inevitably now picking at the remains - the starlings having stripped some branches completely bare of their berries - are more anonymous, flying in singly and departing quietly when appetites are sated, without fuss, whilst the thrushes are equally covert.

Thus, Nature's harvest is almost upon us. As giant machines rumble into action to bring in man's harvest of grains during the next few weeks, much energy will be expended as all manner of creatures begin to prepare themselves for forthcoming winter. Although this may seem far enough away at this juncture for us not to worry unduly, animals and birds know only too well that this is the time to stock up, or indeed make preparations for those days when food is scarce. Some, of course, simply move on as most of the ospreys already have. Others will depart for southern climes when their breeding ambitions have been fully achieved. Some house martins for instance will still have chicks in the nest.

The most notorious and perhaps diligent collectors of food for that rainy, or indeed snowy day, are of course, the squirrels. Over the course of these next few weeks, they will collect the likes of nuts and beech-mast and stash them away in caches, the whereabouts of which, in most cases they will, surprisingly perhaps, remember at a later date. They store much more food that they may need in the knowledge that there are plenty of thieves around ready willing and able to exploit those food stores for their own benefit. For instance, mice and voles are always on the lookout for such supplies.

Surprisingly perhaps, there is a bird, which during these next few weeks will also join the 'collectors club' with even more enthusiasm than the squirrels. Jays, amongst the most colourful of our native birds and members of the crow family, will, during these next few weeks, collect and bury vast quantities of acorns. There are many country-folk who deeply distrust jays because during the spring they have a penchant for the chicks of other woodland birds and perhaps equally, because they are members of the hated crow clan. However, these birds turn out to be accidental conservationists for their 'planting' of acorns actually increases areas of much prized oak woodland.

Meanwhile, these are the weeks during which all thoughts of weight watching go out of the window...or burrow! Hedgehogs, along with bats, hibernate by sleeping their way through the winter months. However, hedgehogs in particular, must spend the next few weeks and months, gorging on as many invertebrates as possible. Although the metabolism of hibernating animals slows down to such an extent that both their breathing and heart rate become only just perceptible, nevertheless they must have sufficient stores of energy in their bodies to maintain life. This is achieved by laying down body fat. Indeed, there are two kinds of fat, brown fat, which is richer and accumulates in particular around the shoulders and may have insulating properties and white fat, which builds up round the animal's body organs.

Hedgehogs do not necessarily sleep right through the winter and indeed may wake on those winter days when the temperature soars well above normal. However such awakenings can be fatal for there is little or no food available and being awake obviously causes the metabolism to quicken and fat reserves as a consequence are more rapidly used up. I once found a hedgehog scuttling along the gutter of a busy road on a January morning, which I duly took into custody and kept for the rest of the winter, keeping it going with dog food!

Badgers too, although they don't hibernate, nevertheless can hole up for days on end during bad winter weather, relying on the fat they accumulate during bouts of heavy feeding during the autumn. Mind you, even on the bleakest of winter days - or rather nights - you may well find Brock's footprints in the snow, for snow doesn't necessarily deter them from exploration of their home territories.

In much the same way, these are vital feeding days for those birds destined to fly thousands of miles to warmer African climes. Migrating birds crossing vast deserts and oceans, also need to accumulate lots of body fat, for that is the fuel that will keep them going. Any migrating bird that fails to put on the 'beef' simply won't make it! Indeed, this year's crop of young migrants enter this first major event of their young lives perhaps without realising that the odds of survival are against them.

For many of the more sedentary birds, survival may depend upon their ability to establish themselves in a food rich territory. This year's crop of young owls for instance, will find this to be the biggest challenges of their young lives. During the next few weeks, you may hear plenty of hooting and screeching as they try to find their way in the world. Furthermore, their fate may be determined by the success or otherwise of the prey they depend upon. Is this a good or a bad vole year? The fate of many a young owl may well be determined by the answer to that question.

A few weeks ago, I suggested that this had been the year of the thrush. This suggestion was made simply because of the volume of song thrush music heard during spring and summer. As a consequence, there has been much mavis activity to witness on my lawn as this year's youngsters have exploited what is clearly a healthy population of worms. Typically they rush to and fro' in sort sharp bursts of energy before enthusiastically delving for the said worms. Being omnivorous like blackbirds, they are equally adept at sneaking on to the rowans and grabbing a few berries. The rowans are indeed bright red and seemingly prolific so there will probably be enough of them left when the ravening hordes of Scandinavian thrushes descend upon us in a few weeks time.

Country View 24.8.16

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Although temperatures remain relatively high, nevertheless there is a feeling that a time of change is approaching. The leaves on many of the trees are losing their summer lustre and looking increasingly tired, with some even hinting of forthcoming colour change. There is also a stirring among those birds soon destined to launch themselves on incredible journeys to the Dark Continent. One wonders how aware they are of the miles they must soon travel and the hazards they will inevitably face during these forthcoming weeks. Such immense journeys, however, are their certain destiny.

As far as I can see, this has been a highly productive year for two of the most spectacular, if very different summer birds. Swallows seem to have relished a warm and insect ridden sojourn here and the result is plain to see locally, veritable swarms of them switch-backing through our skies, scooping up thousands of flying insects in gaping beaks. No other bird in my mind brings quite as much zest to our summer. And yet, in their very own and specialised way, our growing population of ospreys also provides incredible and magnificent spectacle. Majestically, they course over our lochs, ready to take that dramatic plunge which, in this Olympic Year, would surely earn medals galore if they were competitors. Not every osprey dive yields a scaly victim so they must literally try and try again but when they are successful, their prizes are not medals but the succulent, fresh fish on which they depend for sustenance.

The flow of migrants heading back to Africa actually began a good few weeks ago. Adult cuckoos, having deposited their eggs in the nests of carefully chosen and suitable foster parents, do not hang around waiting for the resultant new generation of cuckoos to emerge and grow. Instead, having satisfied their urge to procreate, without a further thought they take their leave of us as early as in July. Their off-spring follow in their wake much later, without so much as a thank you to what by now will be exhausted foster parents. And, the rooftops of many a town inhabited by the 'devil screechers' fell silent a couple of weeks ago when en masse, our swifts, with their new crop of youngsters, departed as suddenly as they arrived back in May.

Whilst swallows may rear as many as three families of young during their stay, cuckoos and swifts stick with one. It will come as no surprise to readers that ospreys also stick to a single brood, for the raising of this brood requires them to dedicate their entire lives to that particular enterprise during their stay here. The process is long and drawn out beginning from almost the moment in late March or early April that they arrive here.

The first task is to refurbish their eyrie, or in the case of new pairs, either build from scratch or repair an eyrie perhaps constructed in the previous year. Then comes courtship and copulation, followed by the laying of a clutch and the five weeks of patient incubation, mostly provided by the female. After hatching, at first it is the male that takes on most of the responsibility as the food provider but as the chicks grow, both parents share the increasing demand placed upon them by their fast growing young. It is some seven to eight weeks before at last the youngsters take to the wing. It is during this vital period, when the parent birds are nurturing their young that ospreys display a remarkable degree of tenderness and devotion, far beyond what might be expected from birds dedicated to killing in order to survive.

Yet, when the time comes, without warning, those erstwhile utterly devoted parents suddenly depart. Indeed, by now most parent ospreys will have taken their leave and headed south, leaving their youngsters to fend entirely for themselves. They have at best a month to hone their fish hunting skills before they too, impelled entirely by instinct, will be up, up and away on their first journey of around three thousand miles to Africa. Furthermore, each young bird will undertake that journey entirely alone. If ever there was a journey into the unknown this is it!

Meanwhile the swallows too must be preparing themselves for an even longer journey. Their destination is South Africa - the southern most part of the African Countinent. The ospreys' journey's end will be West Africa to countries such as The Gambia and Senegal. Furthermore, swallows are much more corporate in their approach to migration, travelling together in family groups or in larger flocks comprising of many small family groups. However, they do spread out in order that they can feed. Migrating birds do not generally fly along straight routes rather do they follow valleys and coasts. Whilst swallows, dependent entirely on insects of course, are able to feed almost anywhere and may use familiar places to roost overnight - often in reed beds - ospreys clearly have to follow routes along which they are able to regularly fish.

This is perhaps why the osprey migration therefore takes on a very different dimension. For young ospreys, once they are up and flying, first they must, by observing their parents, understand the arts and the techniques necessary for successful fishing. However not only must they absorb what they see, they must also put that into practice and catch fish for themselves. Remember, unlike the swallows, which migrate together, each individual newly fledged osprey is utterly on its own for the entire length of this amazing journey. The fact that the young ospreys, which successfully complete their journeys, remain in West Africa for the next two or three years of their lives in order to hone their fishing skills in the fish-rich waters of those places, fully illustrates the potential deficiencies in technique they may initially experience. Yet food - fish - is the essential fuel for that extraordinarily long journey and thus each youngster must catch sufficient fish in order to survive. Can anyone doubt that these first few months of osprey life are extremely challenging, to say the least?

Given a likely osprey life-span of say ten years, albeit that one well known osprey called Lady exceeded that by far, it suggests that a human equivalent faced by the same challenge would be around two years old!

Alas, there will be those among these travelling hordes, for which this will be the first and sadly the last great adventure of their lives. However, for most they are setting out on a great adventure that will be repeated many times during their lifetimes. Bon voyage!

Country View 18.8.16

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No bread, no cheese, no devil to tak me; not a yellow yite in sight? Usually - I'm pretty sure in every one of the forty odd years I have lived here - the loud, unmistakable voice of the yellowhammer has echoed around the hedgerows during August, standing out simply because it was the lone avian voice to be heard during these otherwise silent days. Yellowhammers are in trouble, having been placed on the red alert list as a result of rapdily dwindling numbers. And yet there was a present here among the crowds of feasting birds during the last days of winter, a gaggle of these attractive wee birds, the majority of them males resplendent in their full breeding plumage, bright yellow heads fairly glowing, almost reminiscent of Hi-Viz clothing. But extensive investigation has failed to find them offering their cheerful little ditties anywhere hereabouts in these past few weeks.

 

Has this distinctively hedgerow bird suffered in particular I wonder, from the destruction of their natural habitat, our hedgerows, in the cause of maximising food production? Certainly not in this airt for there is an abundance of hedgerows. Indeed these are the hedges where I normally see and hear them and in the inner depths of which, in previous times, they have nested with enthusiasm. Yellowhammers are largely seed-eaters albeit that when raising their families they rely quite heavily upon insects due to the extra protein they provide for fast growing youngsters. They are usually prolific breeders, often raising three families during a summer season, the third and last usually being the cause of those late bursts of song. Cock yellowhammers like nothing more than perching atop their 'home hedge' and pronouncing to the world the arrival of yet another family!

 

In every way, the yellowhammer is unremarkable. It generally prefers the seeds of weeds and hedgerow plants to those that gardeners assiduously plant and guard. Its consumption of insects during the summer months is I'm sure nothing but a benefit to everyone. So, as far as most of us are concerned, these are utterly harmless birds, yet in the north of Scotland there are traditions which for reasons largely unknown, they are said to have a drop of the devil's blood in their veins or in some cases, upon their tongues! Indeed, one legend declared that yellowhammers actually drank a drop of the devil's blood every May morning. There's even a verse which declares:

 

"The brock and toad and the yellow yorling

Tak a drop o' the Devil's blood ilka May morning."

 

Thus the badger and presumably the toad along with the poor old yellowhammer became the victims of cruel persecution in some parts. Strangely enough there was a similar belief in distant Czechoslovakia, around Prague, where yellowhammers were also harried, albeit that no-one as far as I know has ever been able to make a connection between Scotland and Prague in this respect. It is difficult for us, in this ever-evolving world of technological progress, to understand where some of these beliefs sprang from. One suggestion however relates to the strange reddish 'scribble-like' markings on the yellowhammer's eggs.

 

One old story apparently speculated upon the presence of a yellowhammer flying close to the cross but not apparently in the same spirit of the swallow or indeed the robin, whose bronze and red markings are respectively believed to signify the blood of Christ. But in the case of the yellowhammer, reputedly its presence was deemed for reasons unknown, to be malignant rather than benign reasons! Stretching the imagination even further, beliefs seem to have been ingrained that the erratic egg markings were indicative of some strange, evil and demonic, secret signs. However, as is so often the case with many of these ancient saws, it was also, more kindly believed that the name of a future lover could be discerned among these strange scribbles! One was or another little boys were encouraged to take the eggs of yellowhammers although what they were supposed to do with them I'm afraid is not apparent! Another contradictory tradition suggested that just to look at a yellowhammer was enough to cure jaundice! One of the nicknames for the yellow hammer is 'scribble lark'.

 

The yellowhammer, along with other seed eating birds such as the tree sparrow, linnet and skylark, has declined even more seriously in Northern Ireland. There the yellowhammer population plunged by a massive sixty five per cent over the course of just half a dozen years in the 1990s. It is thought that changes to agricultural practices during that time were at the root of this worrying decline. It was conjectured that the switch to winter sown cereal crops and the consequent loss of stubble fields which were previously an important source of food during the winter months, might have been a primary cause for the sudden decline.

 

With a suriving population now down to some five thousand pairs in the Province, the RSPB in company with the Northern Ireland Environment Agency launched an ambitious recovery project early in the twenty-first century. Twenty-two farms are involved and they have made the necessary alterations to the way they manage and use the land, with the return of spring-sown cereals ensuring the return of stubble during the winter months. The results have been extremely encouraging with some startling results showing an immediate rise of 50 per cent in yellowhammer numbers on the farms involved. Furthermore there was also a rise elsewhere of 21 per cent demonstrating the scale of improvement resulting from these changes.

 

These findings demonstrate only too well that sudden changes in farming practices can have a deleterious influence on wildlife. I know farming is currently under something of a cloud despite the fact that the UK Government has promised that the subsidies lost through the Brexit decision will be guaranteed by Westminster. Most farmers of my acquaintance are sympathetic towards wildlife. Most of them have spent their lives in the countryside, working and living cheek by jowl with the birds and animals with which they share this environment. Thus most I'm sure would look kindly upon the relatively small adjustments to their farming programmes in order to ensure the survival of those species that are under pressure. Who for instance does not rejoice at the towering voice of the lark or laverock...or indeed that repetitive yet joyous declaration of the yellowhammer?

 

Our world would be a much poorer place should birds such as the yellow yite, as the yellowhammer is known in most parts of Scotland, disappear. I have missed those silence-breaking declarations of bread and cheese, the lack of proclamations that the devil may tak me and I have missed those canary headed little birds, embellishing the hedgerows and gorse bushes this August. I hope I may hear and see them next year and that they may once again brighten up forthcoming darker winter days with their bright yellow presence beneath my bird-table.

Country View 10.8.16

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Utter madness! The decision by Natural England to issue a licence to kill buzzards on a sporting estate in England is surely a decision that could turn out to be a massive can of worms. Bizarrely, the explanation for this incongruous decision is to protect young pheasants which will eventually become targets for the guns! This folly surely flies in the face of reason and is a negation of the very ethic of conservation for which Natural England surely has responsibility – at least south of the Border. But it surely leaves a door dangerously ajar for those who would wage war against all raptors!

Even worse is that such a decision is made at a time when there has been additional focus placed upon the introduction of alien species to Britain. The pheasant, let us remind ourselves, is not native to these islands. It is an Asian species. Yet some thirty-five million of them are released into the British countryside each and every year! The most populace of wild British birds is the house sparrow. It is thought to number in the region of ten and a half million - less than a third of the annual pheasant release! I’d say that was disproportionate! At the peak of the pheasant shooting season it is thought that 100,000 birds are shot …daily!

On the very same day that I learned of the licence to kill some buzzards, I also read that in parts of Britain, rabbits are once more, running riot. The rabbit too, it may be argued, is an alien species, although it has been here in Britain, for an awfully long time, perhaps for a thousand years or more. It is said that these familiar animals, the darlings of authors such as Beatrix Potter, were first introduced to Britain by the conquering Normans, They were brought here partly as a food source and partly for the sport they provided and initially they were kept in warrens. Hunting was of course, an obsession of the Normans. Rabbits are naturally domiciled along the Mediterranean coasts of France and Spain.

History suggests that the armies of the Roman Empire had ‘discovered’ the rabbit during their conquest of the Iberian Peninsular and that it became a favourite dish of none other than Julius Caesar. Thus, it is surprising that there is no evidence of rabbits being introduced to Britain by the marching legions.  However, because most of Britain was still naturally wooded when the Normans swarmed across England and Wales, many centuries later – they didn’t really invade Scotland instead they peacefully infiltrated Scottish society - their introduction of rabbits to these shores, had very little initial impact. Indeed, rabbit populations remained relatively small and obscure over the course of succeeding centuries, until agricultural improvements began to radically change the British landscape.

Improved agriculture meant more land under the plough and accordingly more food produced, not only for a growing human population but also, as an unintentional side effect for rabbits. The subsequent explosion of rabbit numbers, by the time the Second World War had begun, was said to be costing the farming industry many millions of pounds a year in crops devoured by the said rabbits. Indeed, such was the urgency to produce food for our war-torn society during the 1940’s, that the Government actively encouraged the establishment of rabbit control societies.

Introduced in the mid-1950s, Myxomatosis of course saw millions of rabbits perish, with an estimated ninety five per cent reduction in their numbers from a post war peak of over 100 million of them! But now there is a wealth of evidence which suggests that modern generations of rabbits have developed a resistance to this and other diseases and that their numbers are once more, booming. The latest estimate is that there are now some sixty million rabbits currently resident in Britain – thus, they are once more reaching pest proportions.  I must say that to date, there has been little evidence hereabouts to suggest this new wave of rabbits has reached this far!

However, there does seem to be an irony in that rabbits, at least in some parts, are reaching a point where their numbers need to be controlled, whilst at the same time Natural England is advocating control of buzzards, albeit in only one situation. It does, worryingly, suggest a thin end of a wedge! It also suggests some addled thinking when you consider that one of the most natural controllers of rabbit numbers happens to be – yes you’ve guessed it – buzzards! Buzzards prosper mightily when there are large populations of rabbits, as do the new generations of kites. . .

Such seems to be the divisive nature of our politics and indeed so many elements of our everyday lives, that there are times when our society seems to be extremely splintered. But beyond the reach of Holyrood or Westminster, life in our countryside, for instance, seems to be suffering from the same divisive disease. Perhaps it is standard practice for the rapidly increasing hordes of those, who hold the ethos of conservation dear, to find themselves at considerable variance with those for whom shooting is either a pleasure or in the case of keepers, a means of earning a living.

Now it seems, on our heather-clad moors on this very day – the glorious twelfth – further splits are widening between grouse moor enthusiasts and conservationists. The main reason for these hostilities is a continuing concern regarding the unusually low numbers of hen harriers in our upland landscapes. It is estimated that there are in the region of 500 breeding pairs of these iconic moorland raptors in Scotland but relatively few in England where some of our best grouse moors are situated. Yet surveys of the British landscape suggest that the current numbers are less than a third of the population of harriers our moors might be expected to support.

Even some of those, who support the ethos of grouse shooting, admit that there has been long standing conflict and persecution, not only of hen harriers but also of eagles and red kites. However, it has been the harrier that has suffered most at the hands (more often perhaps, the feet) of those who persistently destroy their eggs simply because as ground nesters they are accordingly so much more vulnerable. I do not deny that harriers take young grouse and that the untimely presence of raptors on a moor can interfere with the shooting. I also recognise that grouse moors are a valuable source of rural income. But obviously there is no intent on the part of the harriers of destroying the sport of grouse shooting. They are raptors and they must kill what is available in order to survive. Experiments are on-going to see if diversionary feeding can deflect them from the grouse.  I have said before that this is a complex issue with many strands but some moors are undoubtedly managed in such a way as to reduce the presence of other creatures, which might form alternative parts of the diet of harriers.

It strikes me that the volleys of gunfire to be heard on the moors this morning are not signalling glory so much as strife! Perhaps there are not too many buzzards, rather could there be too many pheasants and even grouse? There can be no doubt at all that numbers of both pheasants and grouse are artificially, exceptionally high?

Any natural place contains an infinite reservoir of information, and therefore the potential for inexhaustible new discoveries.

Richard Louv, Last Child in the Woods