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Against a backdrop of plantation etched hills and vacant fields swamped with reeds and glowing yellow buttercups, Gill and I stood, two metres apart, two cameras before us, on a small hillock next to Loch Eil.
When I was asked to be involved in Hen Harrier Day, an event which has taken place every year since 2014, I immediately leapt at the opportunity to have a conversation with author and conservationist, Gill Lewis, whose books I have loved throughout my childhood. This year it will be taking place online on August 8, so the initial plan was to have our conversation using Zoom, but when it turned out that Gill was actually coming to Fort William, we decided to meet face to face.
I had my pre-written questions, my plan in my head of what was going to happen. I took my copy of Sky Dancer, my favourite of Gill’s books, in case it could be used during filming. And when I climbed out of the car at our agreed meeting spot and met Gill for the first time, I was so excited.
As a young person who wants to be a writer, it is thrilling to talk to someone who actually writes for a living and Gill was lovely, approachable and so knowledgeable about hen harriers and the natural world.
We set up the voice recorders, the cameras, planned out how and where we wanted this conversation to go. But the best part was listening to Gill effortlessly answer the many questions I threw her way. What needs to be done in the UK to prevent the persecution of wild animals such as hen harriers? When did you first become aware of driven grouse shooting and all the different issues that surround it? Would licensing, instead of banning the sport outright, work?
The more grouse there are on a grouse moor, the more successful it is considered. To maximise the number of grouse on the moor, predators such as foxes, stoats and crows are slaughtered in their thousands, and on many grouse estates, birds of prey such as hen harriers are illegally shot and trapped.
If there is one environmentally damaging practice that I hate most of all, it has to be driven grouse shooting. The cruelty, the destruction, the sheer ridiculousness of it is mind-blowing. A 2019 government-commissioned study found that almost three-quarters of satellite-tagged hen harriers are likely to have been killed on or next to grouse moors, despite being a protected species. In England in the same year, only a dozen nests were successful.
Hen Harrier Day is a celebration of this iconic and declining bird, and a day in which we raise our voices against its biggest threat – illegal persecution.
Find out more about Hen Harrier Day Online at henharrierday.uk/online, and join us in two days time to learn more about this magnificent bird.