WHERE TO WATCH?
One of the UK’S larger birds of prey, the Hen Harrier is typically found on high ground and can be seen gliding low on raised wings while searching for food. Populations are mainly confined to the high moorlands of Wales, the Scottish Highlands and the Isles – chiefly due to intensive grazing, land drainage and conflict with the grouse hunting industry. Excluding their white rumps, the sexes are entirely different in colour and were frequently thought to be of different species by early ornithologists. The male Hen Harrier is arguably our most beautiful bird of prey
Foxes are still killed (legally) for their impact on released/ introduced Pheasants, as well as ‘wild’ Red Grouse
were so unreliable that many on the battlefield resorted to swords. By the 1700s, however, shotguns evolved, becoming works of art and precision. By 1674, we have an account of our first ‘modern’ shoot. Sir John Mcgill, in County Down, invited 64 ‘guns’, from each of Ireland’s 32 counties, to a hunt. They bagged 300 Pheasants in just one day. Having declined in the 1700s with reductions in woodland, the 1800s saw the Pheasant bounce back. With the Enclosures Act, squires acquired local woods and stocked them with game. The now familiar ring-necked variety of Pheasant was imported from China in 1768. By the 1790s, Lord Mccarthy had pioneered artificial incubation. By the 1850s, the one-time sport of kings was fast becoming a profitable industry. By the third quarter of the 19th Century, the ‘driven’ aspects of Pheasant shooting really kicked off. The Prince Consort at the time, and his trendy son, Edward Albert, were the first to popularise the idea of beaters and dogs. Beaters are teams of men who flush birds towards ‘guns’, or concealed shooters. Birds are flushed, and retrieved, using spaniels or similar breeds. By 1900, Pheasants were released in their millions. Today, they are released in tens of millions. By late summer, many calculate that the Pheasant, a non-native species, is the commonest bird in the English countryside. At the same time as Pheasant hunts were evolving, a variety of other shooting forms were changing, too. As the Industrial Revolution took hold, so did the wealth of individuals. With the railways came the increased ability to travel north. In 1852, Queen Victoria, gave deer-stalking the royal seal of approval. This sport, which had evolved, like Pheasant shooting, with the evolution of the gun, rocketed in popularity. It became fashionable to buy Highland estates – and build lodges. Affluent Englishmen, captivated by the Romanticism of the Scottish Highlands, travelled north to hunt stags. This legacy can be seen across Scotland today. A visit to the Cairngorm Hotel, in Aviemore, with its paintings and trophies, will draw you into that era.