A wildlife crime drama is unfolding in Britain, as harriers go missing on the increasingly perilous moors.
October 30, 2015
You’d be hard-pressed to find a bird that beats the Hen Harrier for sheer eeriness (as you can read all about in this week’s Sketch). In the U.K., the raptor is known as the “ghost of the moor” for its habit of appearing and disappearing in the mist that shrouds the hilly landscape running through Northern England, Wales, Northern Ireland and Scotland. Lately, though, the “disappearing” part has become a major problem: In recent years, Britain's Hen Harriers have been vanishing at an unprecedented rate, especially in England, where declining numbers and failed nests have left the birds teetering on the brink of regional extinction.
The saga of the vanishing Hen Harriers has all the makings of an English country mystery—except that it isn’t such a mystery after all. Conservation groups say they know, for the most part, what’s happening to the harriers: They’re being killed off by humans who see these birds as unwanted competition. That’s because Hen Harriers hunt grouse, which places them in direct conflict with landowners who cultivate the plump birds for the purposes of grouse hunting, an expensive sport that rakes in millions each year.