Hera flew for her life, the wind buffeting her wings as they carried her through the upland air. Terrified, confused, sad, angry, she was a mess of jumbled emotions as she fled the scene.
Returning to her chicks in the nest she’d made for them, she discovered they were all dead. They had been squashed and trampled beneath the boots of a gamekeeper. She’d screamed in anguish, looking at the bloodied bodies of her tiny brood, then had taken to the sky to get away, fast.
Her heart pounding, she flew in fury at this desecration of her family. Hadn’t her mate, Rowan, suddenly disappeared, failing to return after a hunting foray? He who had been tagged with a satellite to protect their persecuted species? He was murdered, illegally shot dead in cold blood, far colder than the icy winds that whipped across the upland moors.
Why? Hera had no idea why her kind were so persecuted, shot from the skies as they flew, caught in evil traps fixed to poles where they perched, the eggs they’d laid smashed and ruined in their nests. Her kind are the dancers of the sky – why would anyone want to kill a dancer?
She knew the uplands, the moors, the places Hen Harriers love and inhabit are no longer safe. Gamekeepers burn the heather and grass, raise grouse chicks (how, Hera wondered, do men do that when they can’t fly and don’t lay eggs? Something very unnatural must be at work there….). They feed and rear the chicks until they are adult size – and this was the strangest and most puzzling thing of all – then they shoot them dead.
Hera had seen large numbers of humans with guns arrive at many of the upland sites on one specific day each summer, when they’d begin shooting and killing the grouse. These innocent birds would be scared into flying upwards into the sky by yet more men beating the heather while those with guns hid behind an enclosure shooting at them. The sky would be full of fluttering, scared grouse flying upwards then dropping back to earth, dead. It was a weird, perverted way of life, out of touch with the raw energy of the real environment.
What Hera didn’t know was that people paid a lot of money to shoot birds out of the sky. The birds that would eventually die were protected from the likes of Hera, a Hen Harrier whose very nature, as a raptor and a part of the web of life, was to predate other birds. But never, ever would a Hen Harrier catch as many grouse as the shooters would kill. So Hen Harriers and other birds of prey, foxes and even hares – because they can transmit a parasite to the unnaturally raised grouse chicks – are persecuted, hounded, destroyed and sacrificed on the altar of the vast amounts of money paid by a small number of wealthy people so they can pursue what is referred to as “sport”.
Hera flew on in anguish. Alone.
I’m lucky enough to have seen a Hen Harrier – their numbers are dwindling because they are illegally persecuted. Seeing one of these magnificent birds is thrilling, uplifting, and for me, an emotional experience. I would never have expected seeing a bird could raise the hair on the back of my neck and bring tears to my eyes. I’ve tried to condense my feeings about the illegal persecution of this bird, and other associated wildlife, into a short fictional story about Hera. The name just came to me; I gather Hera, in Greek mythology, was the wife of Zeus and is associated generally with Nature. That seems fitting.
Suggested reading: “Conflict in the Uplands” by Mark Avery. All the facts about driven grouse shooting are there.
Image: Female Hen Harrier alarming at nest site – Kositoes, Wikimedia Commons