WHERE TO WATCH?

Bird Watching (UK) - - Conservation Hen Harrier -

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.

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