YOU highlighted the campaign by the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds to protect birds of prey which are being illegally persecuted (Echo, Apr 22).

In particular your report noted that only 14 pairs of hen harriers bred successfully last year in the UK.

What then are we to make of the claim in the letter from A Mitchell, writing on behalf of the National Gamekeepers' Association (HAS, Apr 16), which states that there are 800 breeding pairs of hen harriers in this country? One can only wonder as to where these figures came from.

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What is undoubtedly true is that gamekeepers are still being prosecuted for the killing of birds of prey on grouse moors (and how much more killing remains unreported?).

The gamekeeper, of course, is in an invidious position, being told by the moor owner to maximise his moor's grouse population without doing anything illegal, but at the same time is probably given "a nod and a wink" to remove the birds of prey by any means he can.

It should be the grouse moor owners who are fined for encouraging the actions of their employees.

Eric Gendle, Nunthorpe, Middlesbrough.