Royal bird conservation society concerned over hawk shooting at royal estate

.LONDON (AP) – The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, whose patron is Queen Elizabeth II, expressed concern Wednesday about an investigation into the killing of two threatened hawks on a royal estate.

Elizabeth’s grandson, Prince Harry, was questioned by police after a member of the public reported the shooting of two hen harriers last week near the edge of the royal country retreat in Sandringham, about 110 miles north of London.

Harry and a friend, who were in the area at the time of the alleged shooting, were questioned by police but knew nothing about the incident, according to Buckingham Palace.

Norfolk Constabulary, which is investigating the hawks’ deaths, said Wednesday they questioned three people in connection with the incident.

The police have refused to say who they questioned and no arrests have been made, but the British media have focused on the royal link to the investigation. Television crews deployed to the densely wooded estate and Sky News television titled its bulletin: “Harry and the Harrier.”

Harry, who is third in line to the British throne, is seldom far from the front pages of Britain’s tabloid newspapers. The British media have aggressively covered his party-going lifestyle at glitzy London nightclubs, his frequent gaffes, including his wearing of a Nazi uniform to a costume party, and the decision not to deploy the 23-year-old prince to Iraq.

Conservation officials, meanwhile, were at pains to emphasize that killing the birds was a criminal offense.

Hen harriers are rare in England and classified as globally threatened by the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds. There are only about 20 breeding pairs left in England, and killing the birds brings a maximum fine of $10,300 or a six-month prison sentence, the society said.

“This is crime, if you get caught by the police persecuting a hen harrier it is likely that you are going to go to prison,” North Wales Police Chief Constable Richard Brunstrom said in an interview posted to the society’s Web site. “The courts have made it fairly clear that (for) these sorts of offenses, imprisonment is a reasonable proposition.”

Harrier hens are often targeted by hunters because they prey on grouse, a type of game bird.