Tuesday, 14 May 2013

Raptor Persecution in Somerset?

I have been sent this sequence of photographs of a 1st summer Marsh Harrier, taken at Greylake last weekend. The bird shows damage to its flight feathers and legs consistent with shotgun injuries that I have observed in Malta, where many migrant raptors are targeted by hunters.

This bird was first seen as a juvenile at Greylake last November and was suspected to be one of the offspring from successful nests on the Avalon Marshes. Back then it had outer primaries on the left wing snapped, a classic shotgun injury, and it has been seen at several sites around the area since then, it appears that one of the damaged primaries has since dropped off. When it was seen last weekend, it was also missing some inner primaries from its right wing, and one leg was dangling, again 'classic' shotgun injuries. This suggests that it has been shot at again recently, causing more damage.
The feather injury it sustained from the first incident clearly did not actually harm the bird that much, as it is still alive now, but this new injury to its leg could really impact its ability to hunt, and thus is potentially life threatening.

Large birds often have gaps showing in their wings as they moult and replace worn feathers, so this is not necessarily an indication of being shot. However feathers being snapped up, and missing feathers not being symmetrical on each wing, is something that is only likely to have occurred as a result of shooting.

I find it absolutely sickening that raptor persecution is possibly taking place in Somerset in this day and age, there is no excuse whatsoever for this. Thanks to a considerable conservation effort, Marsh Harriers are slowly returning to the Somerset Levels having been extirpated in the 20th century by a combination of habitat loss and persecution. With a naturally high mortality rate of young birds, the deliberate killing of even 1 bird a year will seriously slow re-colonisation. Aside from population level concerns, the suffering caused to individual birds is shocking and un-acceptable.

Obviously it is vey difficult to prove that raptor persecution is taking place, and even harder to catch who-ever is doing it. It is thus vital that all incidents are reported in the hope that a pattern can be established that could give some clues as to where shootings are taking place. The RSPB have a reporting form HERE on their website for reporting wildlife crime incidents. If you see a protected species showing injuries you suspect were caused by shooting, please report it to them. If you are not sure, or don't want to report it yourself, feel free to e-mail me at joe@avalonwildlife.co.uk If possible, a photograph showing a suspected injury would be incredibly useful.

I saw the same bird this morning at Ham Wall RSPB, so it is moving around a bit. It would be very interesting to hear of other sightings of this bird (it is quite distinctive!) in order to see if it is surviving its injuries.
A bit more distant here, but the dangling leg and feather damage is still visible

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