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Suspected marsh harrier shooting prompts disgust and scepticism

PUBLISHED: 16:06 03 July 2019 | UPDATED: 16:06 03 July 2019

A male marsh harrier in the mist at Sculthorpe Moor. Picture: Andrew Parkinson

A male marsh harrier in the mist at Sculthorpe Moor. Picture: Andrew Parkinson

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A report that a marsh harrier was fatally shot near a Norfolk nature reserve has prompted horror and disgust, but also some scepticism from members of the public.

The shot male marsh harrier found on the boundary of the Sculthorpe Moor Nature Reserve, near Fakenham. Picture: Hawk and Owl TrustThe shot male marsh harrier found on the boundary of the Sculthorpe Moor Nature Reserve, near Fakenham. Picture: Hawk and Owl Trust

The Hawk and Owl Trust said the male bird of prey was found near the boundary of its Sculthorpe Moor Nature Reserve, near Fakenham, on June 21, by a dog walker.

The dog walker was unable to rescue the marsh harrier, but a photograph he took showed the bird had been shot.

The incident was reported to staff at the reserve, but a search failed to find the marsh harrier - the vegetation was all broken down with only a few feathers left.

Su Gough, spokesperson for the trust, said: "We've had a lot of public support and a lot of reaction - most of it has been pretty horrified.

Nigel Middleton at Sculthorpe Moor Nature Reserve. Picture: Ian BurtNigel Middleton at Sculthorpe Moor Nature Reserve. Picture: Ian Burt

"The photo shows the kind of injuries that are consistent with and highly suggestive of a gunshot would but unless there's an x-ray we cannot prove it. We are almost completely convinced it was shot. It has happened before and we are used to seeing birds with gunshot wounds."

Ms Gough said there was a breeding pair of marsh harriers at the reserve several years ago, but one day the female came back from a hunting trip with a suspected gunshot wound. A new pair started breeding there last year, and now the male has gone missing.

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Ms Gough said the new pair's chicks would have hatched by now, and they would be at risk.

She said: "We cannot guarantee it is our male, but it is hard to think otherwise.

"You need both adults to provide food. It is possible one will survive but it definitely puts the brood in jeopardy."

Ms Gough said there was some opposition to allowing birds of prey to breed.

She said: "Some members of the public don't agree with having predators in the countryside."

Commenting on the story on this newspaper's website, one reader said: "Norfolk has a pretty poor record for this form of criminal activity. The perp needs identifying and an exemplary sentence applied."

But other readers were more sceptical. One commented: "There's not a shred of evidence to prove that this poor bird has been shot. All we have is a picture of a bird with a compound fracture of its wing."

Anyone with information about the incident should report it to the police on 101.

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