Another year, another Hen Harrier Day. And before I start, I would like to profusely apologise for taking over a week to write this article.
For this year’s Hen Harrier Day, on August 6th, I chose to go to the event on Eigg, this being the nearest from Arisaig. This was a more low-key event compared to Loch Leven’s event last year, or even the relatively low-key one at Glenturret before that, not to mention the demonstrations this year at Boat of Garten, Rainham Marshes or any of the other events across the country. But, large or small, we are all adding our voice.
The journey to Eigg on the Sheerwater was very rough indeed, with the fragile vessel rocking precariously from side to side. Surprisingly however, it was a very good day for seabirds. Guillemots and Manx shearwaters were to be expected, but there were also kittiwakes, a great skua and a flock of terns, including a little tern, which was a first for me.
I can’t remember whether I’ve mentioned Eigg before, so I’ll give a brief description of the island. Eigg is the second largest of the Hebrides’ “Small Isles”, at 12 square miles. It is in community ownership, having been bought by the Isle of Eigg Community Trust in 1997, and is home to five species of raptors, including two breeding pairs of hen harriers. This is excellent of course, but it makes for a sobering thought that a twelve-mile island has nearly as many breeding hen harriers as the whole of England. It’s a sign of widespread and unchecked criminality.
Christine Gibson, the seasonal ranger on Eigg, took us on a walk in hope of finding one of the hen harriers. This led us through areas of scrub and open birchwood, large areas of which are on blanket bog- insight into the habitat we could have more of in Britain if we weren’t consistently burning moorland.
Unfortunately, we didn’t see a hen harrier, but there was an interesting array of rare upland flora, including heath-spotted orchid, yellow saxifrage and sundew, as well as mating damselflies and singing willow warblers.
Of course, since I began this post, the Inglorious Twelfth has come and gone, and the guns now ring out on moors across the country. Just before the Twelfth, however, news concerning another species of harrier, namely the marsh harrier, surfaced, as footage of two men shooting at a marsh harrier nest on a North Yorkshire moor and then stealing the eggs was revealed by the RSPB. And although this isn’t in grouse shooting area, it’s also worth mentioning that soon after that, a Montagu’s harrier was also found shot in Bircham Tofts, Norfolk. Wildlife crime continues, despite increased awareness.
But we mustn’t despair, because our own actions against these criminals have been far greater. Aside from the demonstrations, the Inglorious Twelfth Thunderclap has sent our message to 11 million people on social media. People often deride social media and ‘slacktivism’, but it really is an incredibly powerful tool for any movement, as a means of spreading awareness quickly, as demonstrated by the Occupy movement, the Black Lives Matter movement, and our own movement.
The fight will continue, but it’s come a long way in a short space of time, and it’s going as strong as ever.