I recently visited the KWT reserve at Sevenoaks. I always have a look at the donated second-hand books for sale and on this occasion found that they were selling 50+ bound volumes of the journal “British Birds”. I like reading old natural history journals so I bought the lot! And, now that I have also bought another bookcase to put them on, reading can commence.
So this evening I opened Volume I for 1907 – 08 and discovered an article on hen harriers breeding in Surrey by Bentham and Mouritz. In 1907 the two birdwatchers found a male and a female hen harrier in Surrey. The previous year they had noted adults and young at the same site and hoped the birds would breed. An exceptional event, for as they wrote
” [the hen harrier] at the present time, is almost entirely restricted, as a nesting species, to a few of the wildest and most extensive moorland districts”.
On March 27th 1907 they saw a male and female together. In April the “female met with the usual fate, being shot by a gamekeeper..”. The male bird stayed on site and mated with another female and our two birdwatchers found the nest with eggs on May 21st. They continued to watch the birds and in July “we had the pleasure of witnessing the rare sight of adults and young on the wing together”. It must have been brilliant bird watching! They last saw the birds on August 5th.
“Shortly after this both adults were shot by a gamekeeper…There is also some reason to fear that at least one of the young birds also perished.”
The final comment from Bentham and Mouritz says it all really.
“It is deeply to be deplored that, after having safely reared their young without molestation, these magnificent birds should have been ruthlessly slaughtered in the interests of game-preserving”.
112 years later Bentham and Mouritz might have expected us to have made more progress. See the RSPB Website for more information on hen harrier conservation or search google for Hen Harrier Day.