Illegal killing associated with gamebird management accounts for up to three-quarters of annual mortality in Hen Harriers Circus cyaneus

Steven R. Ewing*, Cathleen E. Thomas, Nigel Butcher, Blánaid Denman, David J.T. Douglas, David I.K. Anderson, Guy Q.A. Anderson, James Bray, Steve Downing, Ronan Dugan, Brian Etheridge, Will Hayward, Fiona Howie, Staffan Roos, Mark Thomas, Jenny Weston, Jennifer Smart, Jeremy D. Wilson

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

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Abstract

Predators are frequently victims of wildlife crime due to conflicts with human interests. Where predators are protected, killing may occur covertly and novel methods, including satellite tracking, are often required to assess population consequences. Wildlife crime persists in the British uplands, where raptors are illegally killed on moorland managed for Red Grouse Lagopus lagopus scotica shooting. To understand impacts on one such species, the Hen Harrier Circus cyaneus, we analysed data from 148 individuals tracked across Britain between 2014 and 2021. Using remotely sensed land-use data and continuous-time survival methods, we quantified survival rates, contributions of natural causes and illegal killing to mortality, and spatial and temporal associations between mortality and land managed for grouse shooting. Annual survival was low, especially among first-year birds (males: 14 %; females: 30 %), with illegal killing accounting for 27–43 % and 75 % of mortality in first-year and subadult (1-2 years) harriers respectively. Illegal killing is likely attributable to grouse moor management because i) a 10 % increase in grouse moor use resulted in a 43 % increase in mortality risk; ii) a strong overlap existed between mortality and grouse moor extent in 20 km squares, identifying hotspots of illegal killing in northern England and northeast Scotland; iii) death due to natural causes showed different spatial and temporal patterns; and iv) timing of mortality peaked around the shooting season and during breeding territory establishment. Governments have failed to reduce illegal killing of Hen Harriers and other raptors in Britain and our results emphasise that further legislative reform is needed to tackle this enduring criminality.

Original languageEnglish
Article number110072
JournalBiological Conservation
Volume283
Early online date11 May 2023
DOIs
Publication statusPrint publication - Jul 2023

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
The authors would like to thank the private individuals and organisations that funded the tagging programme, particularly the European Commission's LIFE programme through the Hen Harrier LIFE project (LIFE13 NAT/UK/000258), Northern England Raptor Forum (NERF), Lothian and Borders Raptor Study Group, Lush Retail Limited, Natural Resources Wales, Scottish and Southern Energy and the Welsh Government. We thank past and present RSPB staff that were involved in the LIFE project, as well as the licenced raptor workers, taggers and members of NERF and the Scottish Raptor Study Groups (too many to name individually) who monitored harrier breeding attempts and facilitated our tagging efforts. We are also grateful to the many land managers and owners that permitted access to their land. We would like to thank the following organisations for advising the project in a technical capacity: BTO Special Methods Technical Panel, CLS France, Microwave Telemetry Inc. NatureScot, Pathtrack, and Scotland's Rural College. We appreciate the efforts of the UK Police Forces and the National Wildlife Crime Unit in following up birds that were suspected of being persecuted. Earlier versions of this manuscript were substantially improved by comments from Phil Whitfield, Mike Shurmer and Pat Thompson.

Funding Information:
The authors would like to thank the private individuals and organisations that funded the tagging programme, particularly the European Commission's LIFE programme through the Hen Harrier LIFE project ( LIFE13 NAT/UK/000258 ), Northern England Raptor Forum (NERF), Lothian and Borders Raptor Study Group , Lush Retail Limited , Natural Resources Wales , Scottish and Southern Energy and the Welsh Government . We thank past and present RSPB staff that were involved in the LIFE project, as well as the licenced raptor workers, taggers and members of NERF and the Scottish Raptor Study Groups (too many to name individually) who monitored harrier breeding attempts and facilitated our tagging efforts. We are also grateful to the many land managers and owners that permitted access to their land. We would like to thank the following organisations for advising the project in a technical capacity: BTO Special Methods Technical Panel, CLS France, Microwave Telemetry Inc., NatureScot, Pathtrack, and Scotland's Rural College. We appreciate the efforts of the UK Police Forces and the National Wildlife Crime Unit in following up birds that were suspected of being persecuted. Earlier versions of this manuscript were substantially improved by comments from Phil Whitfield, Mike Shurmer and Pat Thompson.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2023 The Authors

Keywords

  • Conservation conflict
  • Continuous time survival analysis
  • Raptors
  • Satellite tracking
  • Uplands

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