Wildlife cham­pion

We ask Mark Con­stan­tine OBE, a keen birder and co-founder of cos­met­ics com­pany Lush, why he’s so pas­sion­ate about Mon­tagu’s har­ri­ers.

BBC Wildlife Magazine - - CONTENTS - In­ter­view Ben Hoare

The co-founder of beauty brand Lush dis­cusses his pas­sion for Mon­tagu’s har­ri­ers

Why the Mon­tagu’s har­rier?

In the early 1990s, there were 15 pairs breed­ing in Bri­tain. Five years ago, there were five. Now there’s only one pair, mak­ing this grace­ful rap­tor one of the rarest of all Bri­tish breed­ing birds. Habitat loss is of­ten blamed for the de­cline but, through re­search us­ing satel­lite-track­ing tech­nol­ogy, it’s now known that these beau­ti­ful birds of prey are ‘dis­ap­pear­ing’ on rogue shoot­ing es­tates in the same way that hen har­ri­ers, goshawks, red kites and golden ea­gles do.

Tell us about your best ‘ Monty’ sight­ing…

While trav­el­ling in Spain with the ex­pert Fin­nish or­nithol­o­gist Dick Fors­man, we came across a field with no fewer than seven Mon­tagu’s har­ri­ers per­form­ing the species’ stun­ning courtship dis­play. I set up my record­ing equip­ment, and Dick pho­tographed them. Af­ter­wards, when lis­ten­ing to my record­ing of a ‘male’ bird, he ex­plained to me that it was ac­tu­ally an older fe­male – as some fe­males age, they adopt male-like plumage and be­come greyer. There I was, try­ing to be all sci­en­tific with my record­ings, and I’m de­ceived by plumage!

Why are Mon­tagu’s har­ri­ers so rare in the UK?

As a breed­ing bird, they’re right on the edge of their range here – most Mon­tagu’s har­ri­ers nest across South­ern, Cen­tral and Eastern Europe. My wife

Mo and I paid for sev­eral in­di­vid­u­als to be satel­lite-tagged as part of a UK re­search pro­gramme, so that their move­ments could be mon­i­tored. The re­searchers named one of them Mark, and an­other Mo. Sadly, Mo dis­ap­peared on a shoot­ing es­tate – prob­a­bly shot, in the way that many hen har­ri­ers are. Killing any bird of prey is il­le­gal in Bri­tain, but Mon­tagu’s har­ri­ers look very sim­i­lar to hen har­ri­ers. So, it’s as­sumed that they are killed by ac­ci­dent by some game­keep­ers.

There I was, try­ing to be all sci­en­tific with record­ings, and I’m de­ceived by plumage!

Will rap­tor per­se­cu­tion ever end?

Yes. Many landown­ers are now far more for­ward think­ing, as they see bird num­bers col­laps­ing. To­day’s more thought­ful landown­ers quite rightly un­der­stand that they don’t own the life of ev­ery­thing that passes over their land. Rewil­d­ing and ‘re-bird­ing’ are land­scape-scale con­ser­va­tion con­cepts that are fast gain­ing re­spect.

You’ve amassed one of the largest ar­chives of bird­song and calls. Tell us more.

Vis­ually, bird iden­ti­fi­ca­tion has come along in leaps and bounds – but that’s not been the case with sound. Mod­ern vis­ual bird ID of­ten sep­a­rates male from fe­male, young from old. Books like the Collins Bird Guide ex­plain in de­tail who is what and what is who. When it comes to sounds, how­ever, a bird is as­sumed to have one song, one call. I wanted to col­lect the full va­ri­ety of vo­cal­i­sa­tions and make it avail­able so that peo­ple could en­joy it all.

Which bird­song do you par­tic­u­larly like?

Black­bird. It’s in­fin­itely vari­able, and the bird will even sing it through your bed­room win­dow on a spring morn­ing – the per­fect way to start the day. MARK CON­STAN­TINE is an en­tre­pre­neur who co-founded The Sound Ap­proach – a ma­jor col­lec­tion of bird­song: soundap­proach.co.uk

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