Somerset Ornithological Society - Bird News
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Catcott Lows

A rather quiet afternoon which, along with the usual dabbling ducks, only produced one great white egret, two ravens, two buzzards and a distant sparrow hawk, started to liven up after sunset when a single marsh harrier appeared along with peregrine and merlin. The feisty merlin obviously took exception to the peregrine and proceeded to dive bomb it repeatedly, forcing the larger falcon to roll over and present talons. This attack went on for some time with both birds eventually moving out of sight. (It's not the first time I have witnessed this behaviour, having seen merlin take on both peregrine and marsh harrier on past occasions.)
I assume the shooter operating along the Black Ditch at the eastern end of the reserve was legally entitled to be there, though given the proximity to both Canada Lake and The Lows, I do wonder!?

Re: Catcott Lows

Dear Sandra,

An interesting Merlin sighting - thanks for sharing it.

Concerning the shooter you witnessed, I'm wondering if he was operating in the area of the red dot on the following map:

I observed two wildfowlers in that location at dusk (and long after) a few years ago. On returning home I raised concerns with the Somerset Trust who pointed out that the small rectangular area of land (surrounding the red dot on the map) is outside the boundary Nature Reserve and is privately owned (including the shooting rights) by someone else.

I was also convinced that they were shooting long after it was safe and reasonable to do so. The light had faded so much that it was impossible to identify any species with certainty before shooting at it. Identification could only have been achieved once the dog had retrieved the victim - too late if it turned out to be a protected species! I approached BASC and they promised to look into the case but unfortunately failed to follow through.

Legal shooting is one thing but prowling around on the border of a Nature Reserve seems distastefully unsportsmanlike. And then to hang around well into darkness and blast away at unidentifiable flying silhouettes is surely both unethical and irresponsible.

Best regards,


Re: Catcott Lows

Hi Nick
Yes, I know there is a small area of private land adjacent to the reserve and, like yourself, it is not the first time I've witnessed this activity in the area. It's been going on for years and is probably why there are few duck to be seen on Canada Lake at this time of year. I must confess to mentioning it 'tongue in cheek', because to me it represents yet another failure to properly protect some of our nature reserves. Just because someone owns a few yards along a site boundary does not give them the legal right to shoot there, the law , as I understand it is more complex, especially in relation to SSSIs. However, night shooting is not illegal and no conservation agency in this country has ever been prepared to address the issue, even though, as you say, protected species obviously risk being shot by accident.