Westminster debate on driven grouse shooting – evidence of raptor persecution

ALMDWe’ve been reading through the written evidence presented to the Westminster debate on driven grouse shooting and naturally, we’re interested in the evidence relating specifically to illegal raptor persecution.

472 submissions have been published. Of these, 200 were against driven grouse shooting in its current form, while 270 were supportive of the status quo (a couple of submissions didn’t provide a clear response either way).

Of the 200 submissions against driven grouse shooting, 182 of them cited illegal raptor persecution as a concern. That’s a lot. The on-going killing of raptors has clearly motivated the majority of respondents to write in against driven grouse shooting.

Of those in favour of driven grouse shooting, many of them simply didn’t mention raptor persecution at all (this was also noted by Mark Avery yesterday). Perhaps they thought that by ignoring it, we’d all forget it was an issue. Move along, nothing to see.

However, some of those in favour of driven grouse shooting DID mention illegal raptor persecution, but not as an issue of concern. Instead, 21 of them claimed that raptor persecution is either rare or isn’t even happening. Here are some quotes:

The funny thing is that the raptors rely on us and our work as much as the grouse do. The do-gooders are wrong to point fingers. There isn’t persecution of predators anymore, has been so for a while. If anything the only reason raptors like buzzards and hen harriers are still around is because of us, the keepers“.

The argument that we persecute raptors has no ground to stand on. The opposite. Because they are ground-nesting birds by controlling the population of vermin like foxes we protect them. And if a keeper is even suspected of killing a raptor, it’s instant dismissal. If they’re lucky. No one would want to give up their career like that“.

The argument that we persecute birds of prey is a good few decades behind“.

The antis keep slinging mud at us but there’s no proof. They say we persecute raptors but there aren’t bodies“.

And regarding birds of prey, it’s ridiculous too, they are about, they are abundant. If anything, I’d say there are now even too many of them, they are wiping out the smaller songbirds and such“.

Opponents of grouse shooting often say that management of prey species includes the illegal killing of protected birds of prey such as Hen Harriers. In fact, illegal persecution is extremely rare“.

The keepers, and everyone really, all agree that shooting birds of prey is wrong and it hasn’t been done for decades round here“.

Predator persecution has not happened in decades. At least on the moors I work and know I can say that for certain. It’s just wrong to shoot a particular species of bird off, we all know this, and it’s ridiculous that people still claim we continue with it“.

I doubt there are even any ‘bad eggs’ left in the keeping community nowadays. We have huge biodiversity on the moors here and are all extremely proud of it. We have everything from little songbirds to large merlins and hen harriers“.

If they think there is still bird of prey persecution, they are very wrong. They are misinformed“.

I know of no instance on any of the estates visited where raptor persecution has occurred or has even been spoken about“.

There are more birds of prey in the countryside than I can ever remember, yet there are constant accusations of persecution principally towards gamekeepers.  Many of these accusations are unfound [sic] as there is often no evidence to support them“.

Game keepers on  high profile estates have well paid jobs and would be unemployable elsewhere if guilty of persecuting raptors. Equally, landowners in Scotland many of them high profile are subject to vicarious liability if protected species are killed. So they don’t  do it“.

The whole grouse shooting debate comes down to the lives of predator birds, doesn’t it? I think the argument is three decades behind if not more. It used to be the case that they were labelled vermin and were treated as such but now predator persecution round here is no more, not even a memory“.

A similarly absurd claim was made by Amanda Anderson during her oral evidence, who claimed the raptors are ‘there on the moors’ (she had ‘a picture in her head’ and said she ‘could see raptors from her kitchen window’). About as credible as Sarah Palin’s claim that she could see Russia from her back door.

In amongst all the written submissions is plenty of evidence of continuing raptor persecution: eg. see here, herehere, here, here, here, here, here and here. And then there’s this one, listing 252 persecution incidents on grouse moors over the last ten years. We’ve copied the data below.

We look forward to Monday’s debate in Westminster Hall and listening to MPs trying to defend this widespread and disgusting criminality that continues, largely without punishment, on UK driven grouse moors. If your MP needs a reminder of the scale of these crimes, it might be worth sending him/her a link to this blog post.


















Petition envy

We were amused to listen to Liam Stokes (Countryside Alliance) trying to tell the Parliamentary Petitions Committee (whose job it is, to er, assess petitions) that there is a need to be “very careful” when judging public perception on the basis of a petition (see oral evidence session here).

He, and others from the grouse-shooting industry, have gone to great lengths to try and discredit the successful petition to ban driven grouse shooting, signed by 123, 076 members of the public. For example, Mr Stokes said in a Countryside Alliance press statement issued at the end of last week’s evidence session:

“The manufactured support that led to the petition to ban driven grouse shooting being signed by 100,000 people is not reflective of the true priorities of the British public. It was achieved through the support of animal rights organisations and with the help of Mark Avery’s friend Chris Packham, who used the platform provided to him by the BBC to actively promote the petition.”

His boss, Tim Bonner, said in another Countryside Alliance press statement:

How many of the signatories know what a grouse is has not been revealed, but as the rule stands 100,000 electronic clicks trigger such a process even if, as in this case, it has taken three years and three petitions to reach that figure“.

Funny, Mr Bonner didn’t question how many of the 5, 015 signatories on the grouse shooting industry’s counter petition (to protect grouse shooting) knew that stone curlews don’t live on grouse moors! (The wording of this petition was subsequently revised to remove the false information – oh to have friends in Westminster who can facilitate such amendments to an already up-and-running petition, eh?).


Tim (Kim) Baynes of the Scottish Moorland Group said in his written evidence:

The previous petitions by Mark Avery to ban driven grouse shooting attracted many less signatures and this one has only exceeded 100,000 because of aggressive marketing to the public in the last two months, for instance distribution of leaflets to households in Edinburgh and to festival goers in the street. This shows that it is the support of the wider animal right [sic] movement rather than people with experience of moorland management which has generated the necessary number of signatures for a debate, and the Petition needs to be seen in that light. This needs to be closely questioned“.

Crikey! Festival-goers asked to sign a petition? The shame of it. Everybody knows that attending a festival precludes your right to an opinion on anything. And as for that aggressive pushing of leaflets through letterboxes, it just shouldn’t be allowed. Come on, MPs, you need to “closely question” this behaviour.

How these people can possibly know what motivated every one of those 123,076 signatories is beyond us. Yes, of course some will have been motivated by concerns over animal rights, just as others will have been motivated by concerns over illegal raptor persecution, the burning of moorlands, the exacerbation of downstream flooding, the use of tax-payers’ money to support a rich man’s hobby etc etc. The reason the petition was so successful was precisely because of the wide variety of concerns arising from driven grouse shooting! We’re all perfectly entitled to our individual views because we live in a democracy where people are allowed to voice their opinion. Trying to paint a picture that we’re all ‘extremists’ is just another PR ploy to discredit a successful campaign. And it’s kind of ironic that we’re labelled extremists when Mr Stokes served as Secretary of the Traditional Britain Group – a right-wing outfit with homophobic, racist views that, when told that Doreen Lawrence (mother of murdered Stephen) was to receive a peerage, called for her to return to her ‘natural homeland’. Hmm, not extremist at all.

It seems though that all this whining about petitions being ‘unrepresentative’ of public opinion is simply a case of petition envy. The grouse-shooting industry knows all too well the impact of over 100,000 people signing a public petition to ban driven grouse shooting, when their own counter petition to protect grouse shooting has reached a mere 23,000. Indeed, this very point was raised by the Petitions Committee Chair at the beginning of Mr Stokes’s oral evidence. Mr Stokes tried (failed) to justify the difference in numbers by claiming the counter petition had been started by a gamekeeping student “with no support”. A bit like Mark Avery’s petition then, also started by an individual ‘with no support’ (from the mainstream environmental organisations).

Mr Stokes also suggested the numbers were still low on the counter petition because it hadn’t been running for as long (just two months), and compared it with Mark’s first petition that had reached a similar number of signatures over a period of one year. What he didn’t say was that this counter petition has received much more publicity than Mark’s first petition because the issue of driven grouse shooting is far more prominent now than it was when Mark first started his campaign two years ago.

He also forgot to mention the widespread support of the game-shooting industry that has been vigorously promoting this counter petition for at least a month. Here are some examples:

The Countryside Alliance on twitter:


An e-newsletter from Guns on Pegs (a company selling shooting days):


An e-newsletter from William Powell (a shooting company owned by Mark Osborne):


And this little gem from the Fieldsports magazine e-newsletter:


You’ll notice in this Fieldsports ‘Call to arms’ that they are pleading with pheasant shooters, partridge shooters, deer stalkers and anglers to sign this petition. Hmm, do you think that’s what Mr Stokes meant when he mentioned “manufactured support”?

And yet, even with all this industry promotion, the counter petition still stands at a pathetic 23, 445. Not exactly an indication of widespread public support, eh?


Westminster debate on driven grouse shooting – the evidence session

img_2495 As you’ll be well aware, in August Mark Avery’s petition to ban driven grouse shooting successfully passed the 100,000 signatures needed to trigger a Parliamentary debate, which is due to take place in Westminster Hall on Monday 31 October 2016.

In the run up to that debate, the Petitions Committee (along with the Environment, Food & Rural Affairs Committee) held an evidence session last Tuesday (18 Oct) at Portcullis House – the ugly looking building across the road from Big Ben – where oral evidence was given by Mark Avery, Jeff Knott (RSPB), Amanda Anderson (Moorland Association) and Liam Stokes (Countryside Alliance).

The evidence session was recorded and is available to watch on Parliamentary tv here. A transcript of the evidence session is available to read here.

In addition to the oral evidence, approximately 500 pieces of written evidence were submitted to the Petitions Committee’s inquiry. These are just beginning to be posted on the Parliamentary website (see here). So far, 104 submissions have been published and presumably the remainder will be published over the next few days.

We’ll be blogging about the oral evidence and the written evidence over the coming week. It’s also worth keeping an eye on Mark Avery’s blog as he too is examining the written evidence (e.g. see here, here [this one is priceless], here).


SNH’s General Licence restriction on Raeshaw Estate is “farcical”, says RSPB

It’s good to see environmental journalist Rob Edwards following up on SNH’s pointless General Licence restriction imposed on a grouse moor estate in the Scottish Borders for alleged raptor persecution crimes.

Read his article in today’s Sunday Herald here


We’ve blogged extensively (see here) about the General Licence restriction on Raeshaw Estate, near Heriot, which is currently subject to a judicial review (see here). We’ve argued that SNH’s subsequent issue of ‘individual’ licences, which permit the estate to continue the activities supposedly blocked by the General Licence restriction, is utterly ridiculous (see here). In Rob’s article, RSPB Scotland agrees with our view and calls the whole affair “farcical”.

SNH has responded by claiming this is “robust regulation”. Mark Avery has an amusing interpretation of ‘robust’ on his blog this morning (see here).

SNH has also told Rob that its staff has so far carried out two unannounced visits to check that Raeshaw has not breached its specific individual licences. We’re very interested in this. When did those visits take place, how long was each visit, and what actually happened during the visits? Are we expected to believe that SNH staff searched the whole 9,000 acre estate (and the neighbouring Corsehope Farm), twice, to look for unlicensed traps? Or did they just call in for a quick coffee and a chat? We’ll be asking SNH about the ‘robustness’ of these checks.

Rob’s article includes a quote from Raeshaw Estate (owned by an offshore company registered in Jersey and managed under the direction of Mark Osborne) which includes the line:

“Responsible game management practices are at the heart of what Raeshaw and its staff do”.

Here’s a reminder of some of the raptor persecution crimes that been uncovered in this part of the Scottish Borders over the last 15 years, none of which have ever been attributed to anyone.

Photo of Raeshaw Estate (RPUK)


Stop killing mountain hares! Protest at Scottish Parliament, 17 November 2016

As many of you will know, thousands of mountain hares are massacred on Scottish grouse moors every year, including inside the Cairngorms National Park. These killing sprees are unmonitored, unregulated and uncontrolled.


The grouse shooting industry justifies the slaughter on the following grounds:

Hares can affect fragile habitats through grazing pressure

Mountain hares can cause the failure of tree-planting schemes

Mountain hares can spread sheep tick which also affects red grouse

Shooting mountain hares is a legitimate sport

Hares_Lecht_25Feb2016 (2) - Copy

Conservationists have long raised concerns about the legality and sustainability of these culls, but all to no avail (see links to our earlier blogs on this issue below). Well now’s your chance to send a strong message to the Scottish Government that enough is enough.

The charity OneKind is organising a protest event at Holyrood on Thursday 17 November 2016, between 12 and 2pm.

Some background info about their mountain hare campaign can be read here.

To join the protest, you need to register here.

You might also want to sign their petition to stop the mountain hare massacres (here).

hares_AngusGlens_Feb2015_113 hares killed driven shooting

If you want to find out more about mountain hare massacres, the following blogs will help:

10 November 2013: Massive declines of mountain hares on Scottish grouse moors (here)

11 November 2013: The gruesome fate of mountain hares on Scottish grouse moors (here)

22 November 2013: MSP wants answers about mountain hare culling (here)

11 December 2013: SNH still licensing mountain hare culls (here)

28 September 2014: Mountain hares massacred on Lammermuir grouse moors (here)

21 October 2014: CEH scientist claims gamekeepers “protect” hen harriers and mountain hares (here)

30 December 2014: Pointless call for ‘voluntary restraint’ on Scottish grouse moor mountain hare massacres (here)

10 January 2015: New petition puts more pressure on SNH to protect mountain hares (here)

17 January 2015: “The eradication of mountain hares in eastern and southern Scotland is disgraceful” (here)

23 March 2015: Hare-brained propaganda from the grouse shooting industry (here)

14 April 2015: Ten conservation groups call for 3-year ban on grouse moor mountain hare slaughter (here)

15 February 2016: More mountain hares slaughtered in the Angus Glens (here)

13 March 2016: More mountain hares massacred in Cairngorms National Park (here)

14 March 2016: Cairngorms National Park Authority responds to mountain hare slaughter (here)

20 March 2016: Queen’s Balmoral Estate accused of mountain hare massacre (here)

30 March 2016: ‘Sustainable’ mountain hare culls – where’s the evidence? (here)

28 May 2016: Mountain hare slaughter set to continue in breach of EU regulations (here)

14 June 2016: Mountain hare massacres on Scottish grouse moors: no planned monitoring (here)

hares_AngusGlens_Feb2015_133 killed driven shoot

mountain-hare-cull-angus-glens-large - Copy


Outstanding Achievement award for Chris Packham

Yesterday Chris Packham was awarded a Wildscreen Panda Award for Outstanding Achievement at the 2016 Wildscreen Festival.

The Panda Awards, dubbed the ‘Green Oscars’, celebrate and honour the very best in wildlife filmmaking and tv presenting. David Attenborough presented the award which Chris received to a standing ovation. His award was given in recognition of his significant contribution to wildlife filmmaking, conservation and increasing the public’s understanding of the environment.

Had we been there, we would have stood and cheered and applauded as loudly as everyone else, not just for his professional achievements, which are many, but more for the personal commitment he has given to wildlife conservation campaigns, and especially his work on raising awareness about raptor persecution.

Many of us first met Chris in 2014 when he joined the #sodden570, standing all day in torrential rain in the Derbyshire Peak District at the very first Hen Harrier Day. He wasn’t paid to be there, he didn’t have to be there, but he was there, because he cared as passionately as the rest of us about hen harrier persecution. And he didn’t just flit in to say a few words and then clear off to the comfort of a warm, dry hotel room, as some ‘celebrities’ might have done. No. He stayed for the entire event and spent hours and hours and hours, soaked to the skin, talking to people, having his photograph taken, signing souvenirs, and ensuring that everyone who wanted to meet him was given that opportunity. He was one of the last to leave that day.


Since then he has been at the forefront of this campaign, on social media, at public events, and at further Hen Harrier Day rallies in 2015 and 2016. Perhaps most significantly, he also put his name to the latest petition to ban driven grouse shooting in March this year. But he didn’t just put his name to it and then forget about it, he campaigned for it, working tirelessly to promote the issue and raise awareness.

When, with Mark Avery, we told him we wanted to make some videos to help the public understand the environmental damage caused by driven grouse shooting, he jumped at the chance to help. Unbeknownst to many, he turned up the evening before we were due to start filming with a chronic back injury that rendered him virtually unable to walk. Did he cry off? Did he hell. He got himself an emergency medical appointment early the next morning, got dosed up on pain killers and joined us for two days of filming out on the moors without complaint or excuse. Again, he wasn’t paid to make those films, he didn’t have to be there, in agony, but he (and his film crew, who also volunteered their time and expertise) was there because he cared.



There is no doubt that Chris’s involvement in this campaign helped the petition to reach the required 100,000 signatures and why the issue of driven grouse shooting is heading for Westminster this month. He has an outspoken passion but it is delivered with integrity and professionalism, and the general public responds to these qualities. And that’s why the grouse shooting industry targeted him with their (unsuccessful) campaigns to get him sacked from the BBC. They could see how much the public valued his opinion and they could see how his advocacy was helping the campaign gain momentum. For all the personal abuse they’ve hurled at Chris, whether it be on social media or in the national press, his dignity and resoluteness has been astonishing.

Massive congratulations, Chris, for a well-deserved award.

Photos of Hen Harrier Day 2014 and film work on a North Yorkshire grouse moor, July 2016 (RPUK)


When a satellite-tagged hen harrier dies of natural causes


When a satellite-tagged hen harrier dies of natural causes, what happens next?


The satellite tag continues to transmit, leading investigators to find the dead bird and determine the cause of death. The tag doesn’t suddenly stop transmitting and the bird’s corpse doesn’t suddenly vanish in to thin air, even several days after death.

– – – – – – –

One of this year’s young satellite-tagged hen harriers, Hermione, has been found dead on the Isle of Mull. She died of natural causes in late September and her body (and sat tag) has been retrieved, just a few kilometres from where she’d fledged in August. Full story on the RSPB Skydancer blog here.

No driven grouse moors on Mull. No mysterious disappearance of Hermione. No sudden cessation of signals from her satellite tag. No suspicious circumstances. Just a straightforward natural death and a straightforward recovery of her body, aided by the signals from her still-fully-functional satellite tag. Amazing, eh?

Photo of Hermione in July by Paul Haworth


Enter your email address to follow this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Join 1,391 other followers

Blog Stats

  • 2,431,397 hits

Our recent blog visitors