Major efforts are under way to protect a rare bird of prey in the hills behind Largs, writes David Carnduff It’s there, on the high heather moorland, that the hen harrier tries to breed. But it has a precarious existence, its chicks often falling prey to foxes or suffering other forms of disturbance.

The habitat in these secluded areas is ideal for the hen harrier, but its failure to become established as a breeding bird has disappointed naturalists in recent years.

While other birds of prey, such as the osprey and white tailed sea eagle, are thriving in other parts of Scotland, the harriers are struggling.

Now PAW Scotland (Partnership for Action Against Wildlife Crime) is running a project, Heads up for Harriers, in which members of the public are being invited to submit sightings of hen harriers to a Scottish Natural Heritage email address. (See below) The Scottish Ornithologists’ Club (SOC) is also actively involved.

A recent statement from the SOC says: “Harriers are currently suffering from severe persecution and harassment by some gamekeepers employed in the grouse shooting industry. It is probably our most persecuted bird of prey and consequently is far rarer than it should be. PAWS is determined to make every effort to prevent this wildlife crime, and to achieve this requires as much help as possible from the public.

“Scottish Raptor Study Groups are also heavily involved in monitoring hen harrier populations, and determining where breeding failure suggests persecution could be taking place. SOC bird recorders strive to work with raptor groups and the Scottish Raptor Monitoring Scheme to build a more complete picture of the status and distribution of harriers in Scotland.” The SOC Clyde branch is appealing to its members to report all sightings of hen harriers via the local recorder, Iain Gibson, who is active in monitoring harriers along with other volunteers on the Renfrewshire Heights Special Protection Area.

The male hen harrier is pale grey with black wing tips, while females and immatures are brown with a white rump and a long, barred tail. They fly with wings held in a shallow ‘V’, gliding low in search of food.

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