Managing Britain’s uplands is more about managing media attacks these days. Bewildered grousemoor keepers and other estate staff are reeling from attacks by Chris Packham and other bird campaigners after he uncovered a surprisingly large number of birds he alleges the estates have killed.
All the estates say they are not responsible for the birds’ deaths. On 30 June, Packham released a video showing he was quite angry about two eagles found dead on the same morning in Perthshire. Then there was a hen harrier with a tracking device that mysteriously switched on after four months of not working, which was found dead with lead shot in it on an estate in North Yorkshire, and Packham released a video showing himself more angry. On 15 July, Packham shows himself at his angriest in a video over a hen harrier found caught in a leghold ‘fenn’ trap in Leadhills, Lanarkshire, which was later put down.
A statement by Leadhills Estate says the event on their moor is the latest in a series of suspicious activities on its land, much of which it has reported to the police. A spokesman for the estate says: “We condemn, in the strongest possible terms, all forms of persecution against birds of prey. The manner in which this hen harrier has died is sickening and we want the police to get to the truth of what has happened. We have provided the police with detailed evidence to support their inquiry including evidence of someone we consider to have acted suspiciously on the estate on the date in question.”
On the day the hen harrier was found, many estate traps, including fenn traps, were removed, stolen or vandalised by unknowns. Estate staff photographed the damage and reported the incidents to the police. This follows three separate incidents of theft, vandalism or interference to estate traps since April, all reported to police.
The spokesman continues: “On the day when the hen harrier was found, Saturday 11 May, legally set cages and traps were checked in the morning without incident. Some of the traps require to be checked on a 24 hour basis and when gamekeepers carried out further checks on Sunday 12 May, they discovered a number of fenn traps vandalised, a number of traps had been stolen and two crow cages had been damaged with the decoy birds let out. This was reported to the police and photographic evidence and grid point references were recorded by the estate.”
For years, Leadhills has been under intense scrutiny from antis over moorland management. “It is beyond belief that anyone associated with the estate would be both naïve and reckless enough to perpetrate a crime such as this,” says the spokesman “Over recent years, we have had at least three individuals working as raptor monitors on our land and our activity is scrutinised to an acute level by those who are not sympathetic to grouse moor management. This is in addition to the examination we receive from independent assessors who advise our staff on best practice within the sector. There has been no commercial grouse shooting on our land over the past two years and the moors are not being managed to achieve high bags of grouse, as has been claimed. There is no motive to act outside the law.
“We realise that there is a febrile atmosphere around moorland management.
“We believe that the film made by Chris Packham and others from the Revive coalition has been made with the primary aim of pressurising government to ban grouse shooting and this incident has been used to further that aim without it being subject to the due process of law or to independent scrutiny. It is yet another case of trial by media.”
The estate points out that evidence as to who killed the hen harrier was removed immediately after the incident, making it difficult for the police to investigate.