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Hens fall foul of hungry wildlife

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08 January 2009 - BBC News

Sub-zero temperatures and a lack of traditional food sources are driving wildlife to prey on livestock, according to a Highlands crofter. Marina Dennis said she has lost hens to birds of prey and badgers. She said rules prohibiting dead sheep being left where they die had denied buzzards and other scavengers food. Ms Dennis said her family had kept hens on their croft in Badenoch for generations, but had never before seen buzzards preying on the fowl.

She said: "Last week a buzzard killed one of my hens. Buzzards here are starving to death because of the lack of food, mainly rabbits. The bird had been sitting on top of the henhouse roof all week and had made two previous attempts that I know of to kill a hen. Hens are easily panicked and I heard the hen hysteria from my house as it tried to grab a hen."

The crofter has also found badgers in her henhouse, one she disturbed while it was eating eggs in a nest box.

Badgers are omnivores feeding mainly on earthworms, but can also take young rabbits, small mammals, frogs, slugs, and snails. Meanwhile, buzzards prey on worms, small rodents and large insects but also feed on carrion.

Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) said laws on carcases could be having an effect, but they were needed to counter the risk of spreading animal diseases. SNH policy director Colin Galbraith said from an animal health point of view, sheep could not "simply be left to rot away into the countryside" and had to be dealt with. However, he added a side effect of this could be a poorer breeding success for some birds of prey.

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