A Clear And Present Bias – The Sculthorpe Marsh Harrier


Please take a look at the screenshot above then allow me tell you a little more about the story.

A dog walker took this picture close to boundary of a Hawk & Owl Trust nature reserve in Sculthorpe, Norfolk. Twenty miles from where I live. A beautiful place. The marsh harrier is an iconic Norfolk bird, symbolic of the Broads with their vast acreages of wetland and reedbeds. They nest on the ground, amongst the reeds. If you visit Sculthorpe, Cley, Strumpshaw Fen, Buckenham Fen or Hickling Broad you will see these majestic raptors soaring across the wetlands in search of food. Food being small mammals, ducklings and goslings. Their territorial, aerial dog-fights are spectacular. Male on male, defending a loosely marked boundaries. Skilled in the air, they are vulnerable on the ground. Wonderful raptors.

Back to the belatedly reported news piece. I say belatedly because the photograph was taken on June 21st 2019. Which begs the question on why the incident was reported nearly a fortnight later. Originally in the Eastern Daily Press, then subsequently by the BBC, as shown above. Please note the rhetoric in both. “Shot and critically injured”. “Found to be shot”. The evidence of an illegal shooting? That poor photograph above, apparently … because subsequent searches failed to find the stricken bird. No corpse. No examination. No X-rays. Yet the media choose to point a finger at the shooting community. Not helped by the comments of the Sculthorpe Reserve manager who (despite the lack of evidence) used words like “horrifying”, “inexcusable” and “killed illegally”.

Now I am a keen wildlife observer, photographer and conservational shooter. Yes, there is such a thing. I voluntarily help to control pest species that prey on vulnerable species. How many of the EDP / BBC readers are aware that the wildlife charities use us to help control predators, under the blanket of ‘non-disclosure agreements’. They don’t want their subscribers to know that they cull one creature to preserve another. Yes … RSPB badge wearer … you help pay to kill foxes too. As a nationally known writer / author on shooting and conservation, I have a vast network of shooting contacts. All of which abhorr the tiny minority of our community who do undertake illegal raptor killing. Our movement, is committed to reporting … ‘dobbing-in’ … anyone known to be doing this. None of us like to see headlines like this but let’s just stop and analyse these reports again, can we? There are three types of ‘raptor kill’ case. Which type is this?

The first is the ‘irrefutable’ evidence incident. A recovered carcass, forensically examined and X-rayed and proven to have been shot. Someone has committed a crime against wildlife and all of us shooters would like to see them brought to court. Or perhaps left in a small closed room with one of us, which would probably have a far more permanent effect.

The second type is the ‘missing in action’ incident. We have seen many of these recently. Tagged raptor disappears off the tracker maps. The immediate reaction (as with the current Golden Eagle incident in Perthshire – note the BBC rhetoric again) is to accuse shooting or shooting estates. Yet many times, the birds have turned up again, safe and well. The GPS trackers failed. Apologies to the shooting community are never offered, of course.

The third, most despicable, type of report is the ’speculative’ one. You’ve just seen one above. A mixture of poor evidence, equally poor assumptions and accusatory reporting. The BBC are good at this as evidenced above. Sadly for me, the EDP (in the heart of a shooting county) have become as biased too. Which is interesting as their masters (Archant) produce a number of specialist shooting publications. I know, because I have written for most of them.

So, back to the victim. The stricken marsh harrier. Nature, as we know, is red in tooth and claw. Open the BBC report and scroll to the bottom. “Marsh Harriers eat animals found/caught on the ground”.
I’m sure that Nigel Middleton, Sculthorpe reserve manager, knows as well as I do that a Marsh Harrier that sees it’s nest / eggs/ mate / chicks under threat would attack a skulking fox ferociously. An event far more likely than a Norfolk shooter pointing a gun at a Marsh Harrier.

As for the BBC, they probably just saw the ’Sculthorpe Moor’ label. I can assure you there are very few grouse butts on the flat wetlands near Fakenham, Norfolk.

Copyright, Ian Barnett, Wildscribbler, July 2019

This article is available for reproduction by negotiation only.
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