Sir, – In response to Harry Mead’s observations (D&S letters, Dec 11) on the scarcity of the hen harrier, I would agree with his sentiments in hoping that this decline is not due to shooting interests.

I wouldn’t hold my breath on this, thinking back to the death of the North Yorkshire eagle owl some two or three years ago, and the shooting of three black grouse by some trigger-happy troops on exercise in the same area.

Having recently returned from our third visit to our daughter and family in New Zealand, I have noted for the second time a dramatic increase in the population of New Zealand’s largest bird of prey, the Australian Harrier. I can drive the 15 miles or so from our daughter’s at Picton to Blenheim and see anywhere from six to 15 of these magnificent birds hovering and hunting.

They are similar in size to our harrier and have a distinctive white rump and tail. They are not shy and may be frequently seen close to suburban areas. In fact, we spotted one lifting out of a roadside ditch clutching its prey (either a feral cat or a rabbit) right on the edge of Blenheim (a town of about 20,000 inhabitants).

Our daughter is a vet and has not infrequently had to treat one of these birds for a broken wing etc. Perhaps the reason for their non-persecution is that apart from wild pig hunting and deer stalking there seems to little organised shooting in New Zealand, the only really common game bird being the crested quail which also seems to be quite happy in suburban gardens as well as forests and mountains.

M T WALTON Ronaldshay Drive, Richmond.