27
Jul
17

RSPB statement on hen harrier reintroduction to southern England

Last week we wrote a series of blogs updating what we know about the proposed controversial ‘reintroduction’ of hen harriers to southern England.

In one of those blogs (here) we included an email from Jeff Knott (RSPB) to Simon Lees (Hen Harrier Southern Reintroduction Project Manager, Natural England) that included the following muddled sentence:

While we [RSPB] have said we don’t actively support the reintroduction project, nor are we opposed to it and of course we would want to see it be a success“.

We, and many others, didn’t have a clue what that meant. The RSPB has now published a clarification statement, posted on an RSPB community blog by Tony Whitehead, RSPB Public Affairs Manager, SW England region:

A consortium led by Natural England is currently looking at the feasibility of re-introducing hen harrier to southern England. The species is red listed, and has declined markedly over the past few decades with it’s continuing rarity due to ongoing illegal persecution on and around intensively managed grouse moors in northern England.

The current NE feasibility project aims to assess the opportunity of re-establishing a viable population away from the moors, and thus improve the bird’s prospects. Areas being looked at include Dartmoor, Exmoor and Wessex.

The RSPB has serious reservations about this approach to hen harrier conservation in England, and therefore is NOT supporting the project.

Firstly, the RSPB only advocates reintroduction in situations where natural re-colonisation is not possible through other measures. At present, we believe that this could be achieved if persecution in the uplands was stopped.

Secondly, the RSPB is concerned that if hen harriers were to be re-introduced to southern England, birds that disperse from their natal areas would be threatened by ongoing illegal persecution in the uplands. Therefore, again, persecution would need to stop entirely before any re-introduction would be viable.

However, the re-introduction project is still at the feasibility stage, and we have yet to see detailed proposals. Although we have serious doubts, to be fair, if the project can address these concerns, which we believe it would need to do in order to comply with IUCN re-introduction guidelines, then the RSPB would wish it every success.

Currently we don’t see how it can do this.

ENDS

This statement provides us with a much better understanding of the RSPB’s position (it DOESN’T support the project) but it’s not as unequivocal as it could/should be. The RSPB is suggesting that it is only ‘fair’ to wait and see a detailed proposal. Why? What possible detail could alleviate the legitimate concerns about ongoing illegal persecution? Why pretend that the grouse-shooting industry and Natural England might pull something out of the bag to change all our minds?

There’s a time for diplomacy, sure, but on the subject of the illegal killing of hen harriers, that time has long since passed. Drop the final paragraph, stop pandering to the criminals and stand up with the rest of us.

26
Jul
17

Mark Osborne on hen harriers, Mark Avery and Chris Packham

Some of you will be very familiar with the name of sporting agent Mark Osborne. He is feted within the grouse-shooting industry for his ability to turn a ‘poorly performing’ grouse moor in to “something beyond the moor owner’s wildest dreams” (e.g. see here).

Some of you may be more familiar with the names of some of the grouse-shooting estates where Mr Osborne was a shooting tenant (e.g. Leadhills [Hopetoun] Estate in South Lanarkshire), or whose management has been under the control of one of Mr Osborne’s sporting agencies, JM Osborne & Co and William Powell Sporting Ltd, (e.g. Glenogil Estate in the Angus Glens, Raeshaw Estate in the Scottish Borders, Snilesworth Estate in the North York Moors National Park, Park Hall & Hope Woodland in the Peak District National Park [the one where the National Trust pulled the shooting tenant’s lease after an armed man was filmed next to a decoy hen harrier]).

We always enjoy hearing raptor-loving Mark Osborne’s thoughts, especially about hen harriers. Here’s an excerpt from his July newsletter:

The big news in the Grouse world was the Parliamentary debate before Christmas following from Dr Mark Avery’s petition. This has woken many of us up and we now realise that we have got to get our act together if we are to see off the likes of Avery and Chris Packham who seem hell bent on curtailing or indeed banning driven Grouse shooting. I have absolutely no doubt that if they were at all successful in this, they would then turn their attentions to pheasant and partridge shooting. Guns who think otherwise are deluding themselves. We must all get behind this fight even if only a few of us are lucky enough to shoot Grouse. This leads onto the subject on Hen Harriers and it is good news indeed to see major efforts made in the Uplands to increase the number of breeding Hen Harriers on driven Grouse Moors. The Moorland Association who are leading this (alongside Natural England) are to be congratulated on this initiative and I am sure that over the next few years, there will be an increase in numbers, but I doubt that this will do much to satisfy the likes and Avery and Packham whose vitriolic hatred of Grouse Moors and Grouse shooting would seem to have much more to do with class, envy and little the real concern for the Hen Harriers themselves‘.

How perceptive is he, eh? How stupid of us to think that the award-winning careers of Mark Avery & Chris Packham, spanning approx 40 years, have been all about ‘class envy’ and absolutely nothing to do with wildlife conservation.

That argument is about as convincing as the grouse-shooting industry’s commitment to seeing more hen harriers breeding successfully on driven grouse moors. In the two seasons since the launch of DEFRA’s Hen Harrier InAction Plan, how many hen harriers have fledged from driven grouse moors in England? (Clue: we won’t be congratulating the grouse shooting industry any time soon).

Mark Osborne can toast the Moorland Association and the other Action Plan stakeholders as much as he likes; for most of us, the reality looks a lot different (thanks to Gerard Hobley for the image):

26
Jul
17

SNH notifies two more estates of intention to restrict General Licence

The ability for SNH to impose a General Licence restriction order on land where there is evidence of raptor persecution taking place came in to force on 1 January 2014. This measure, based on a civil burden of proof, was introduced by then Environment Minister Paul Wheelhouse in response to the continuing difficulties of meeting a criminal burden of proof to facilitate a criminal prosecution.

Whilst these GL restrictions are not without their limitations (because estates can simply apply for an individual licence instead –  see here, but also see here where SNH recently revoked an individual licence for alleged non compliance), Wheelhouse argued that as the restriction notices will be made public, they should act as a ‘reputational driver‘ and to us, that’s still where their value lies.

Since 1 January 2014, SNH has imposed two GL restrictions: one for Raeshaw & Corsehope Estates, and one for Burnfoot & Wester Cringate estates in Stirlingshire. These restrictions began in November 2015 but as regular blog readers will know, Raeshaw & Corsehope made a legal challenge which ended up with a judicial review in January 2017. The court’s decision was announced in March 2017 and SNH was found to have acted properly and lawfully.

Since the findings of the judicial review were made public in March 2017, we’ve been waiting to see whether SNH would notify any further estates of an intention to restrict the use of the General Licence. We’re aware of many raptor persecution incidents that have been recorded since January 2014 that potentially would meet the criteria required for a restriction order.

Recently we submitted an FoI to SNH to ask about progress. Here is the response:

As we don’t yet know which estates have been notified, we’ll reserve comment until the final notification decisions have been made, but let’s just say we’re particularly interested in the Aberdeenshire case.

As per the SNH guidelines on restrictions (here), estates have 14 days in which to respond to a notice of intent from SNH. An estate has the right to challenge the decision, which then goes back to SNH for further consideration. If SNH decides to continue with the restriction order, the estate then has another opportunity to appeal, which will be considered by a more senior SNH staff member. The final decision on the appeal should be made within a four week period of SNH receiving notice of an estate’s appeal.

So it’s quite a convoluted process, and we don’t know when, exactly, SNH first notified the two estates of the intention to restrict the General Licence, so we don’t know how far along proceedings have moved. Hopefully we won’t have too long to wait and, as before, if the restriction notices are upheld, we expect SNH will publish the decisions on the SNH website.

26
Jul
17

Mountain hares killed and dumped in a bin on grouse moor in Peak District National Park

Earlier this month a group called the Hunt Investigation Team (HIT) released disturbing footage they’d filmed during the spring on a grouse-shooting estate in the Peak District National Park (see here). The footage included masked armed men, purportedly gamekeepers, snaring badgers and mountain hares. Derbyshire Constabulary is currently investigating the group’s claims.

HIT have since been releasing other photographs and video footage (see the HIT website here), including the following two photographs appearing to show a bin full of dead mountain hares (and at least one pheasant), presumably killed and now being used as a ‘stink pit’ (midden), where the odour of rotting corpses draws in predators which are subsequently snared, killed and added to the pile.

If you’re a UK tax payer, you are subsidising this gruesome activity (see here).

The mountain hare is listed as a UK Biodiversity Action Plan species (UKBAP), identified as threatened and requiring conservation action. The Peak District National Park Authority has the mountain hare listed as a priority species within the Park and say it is “a locally important species for which we’re taking action” (see here).

How does allowing them to be killed on a grouse moor within the National Park, and then dumped in a bin to be used as bait to catch and kill other wildlife, constitute conservation action?

Emails to Sarah Fowler, Chief Executive of the Peak District National Park Authority: sarah.fowler@peakdistrict.gov.uk

25
Jul
17

Scottish Raptor Study Group letter in response to estate licensing scaremongering claims

Earlier this month we blogged about two articles that were published in the Scottish Mail on Sunday about so-called ‘draconian’ proposals to introduce a licensing scheme for game shooting estates (see here).

One piece was just a review of various organisations’ positions and the other one was a fairly lengthy comment piece written by Carrieanne Conaghan, a gamekeeper’s wife and coordinator of the Speyside Moorland Group. Carrieanne claimed that the introduction of estate licensing would ‘penalise‘ law-abiding estates, although she didn’t explain how she thought this would work.

Logan Steele, the estate licensing petitioner (on behalf of the Scottish Raptor Study Group) contacted the Mail on Sunday and asked for the opportunity to provide a comment piece in response, especially as Carrieanne had made a number of unsubstantiated (and inaccurate) claims about his motivation for launching the petition. The Mail on Sunday refused (surprise!) but did say he could write a 150-word letter, an option Logan described in a comment on this blog as “a pretty second rate alternative“.

Nevertheless, Logan did submit a letter and it appeared at the weekend. He says it’s been “butchered” (the published version is only 89 words) and they couldn’t even spell his name correctly. Even so, he makes his points well:

A quick bit of background research has led us to believe that Carrieanne’s husband is employed as a gamekeeper at Glenlochy, near Grantown-on-Spey in the Cairngorms National Park. This estate is no stranger to police investigations into alleged raptor persecution (e.g. see here) although nobody has ever been prosecuted. This history, perhaps well before her husband’s employment, might help explain Carrieanne’s concerns about the introduction of an estate licensing scheme.

25
Jul
17

National Trust to receive petition calling for cessation of grouse shooting

Today (Tuesday 25 July 2017) the National Trust will receive a petition calling for the cessation of grouse shooting on one of their moors in the Peak District National Park.

The petition was launched last year by a newly-formed group called Moorland Vision (see website here). It was triggered by a video we posted on this blog in April 2016 showing an armed man sitting close to a decoy hen harrier on a National Trust-owned moor within the National Park (see here). The National Trust had leased the moor to a tenant for grouse shooting and the moor was supposedly one of several within the Peak District Bird of Prey Initiative – an ambitious partnership plan to restore raptor populations in the region, which unsurprisingly has so far failed to meet its targets.

That video, filmed by two birdwatchers who had the presence of mind to record their observations, led to a police investigation but unfortunately there was insufficient evidence for a prosecution. Many readers of this blog (and others) were infuriated by the content of that video and were frustrated by the lack of criminal proceedings. As a result, the National Trust was inundated with emails calling for the Trust to take action.

A few months later, in June 2016, the National Trust surprised us all by announcing it was to terminate the grouse shooting lease four years early (see here). The tenant was given 22 months notice and is due to leave in April 2018. We viewed this as a significant and welcome move by the National Trust, especially as the decision wasn’t based on the outcome of a criminal prosecution, but rather that the Trust had lost faith in the shooting tenant’s commitment to the National Trust’s upland vision, including the restoration of raptor populations. It was a fantastic example of how public opinion and pressure can effect change.

However, other campaigners didn’t think the National Trust had gone far enough. They wanted to see the removal of the shooting tenancy altogether, rather than the Trust’s idea that a new, more enlightened shooting tenant would be installed in 2018.  This is when the campaign group, Moorland Vision, was formed.

For the last year, members of Moorland Vision have run a local campaign to secure petition signatures calling on the National Trust to remove the grouse shooting tenancy from this moor. They’ve collected nearly 5,000 signatures and have the support of fifteen local organisations:

Derbyshire Ornithological Society, Dark Peak Fell Runners, Darley & Nutwood LNR Management Group, Pleasley Pit Nature Study Group, Sutton-in-Ashfield and District Rambling Club, Ogston Bird Club, Derbyshire Mammal Group, Carsington Bird Club, Wessington Green LNR Management Group, Bakewell Bird Study Group, Buxton Ramblers, Derbyshire Amphibian & Reptile Group, Derbyshire Bat Conservation Group, Stanfree Valley Preservation Group, Derby Natural History Society.

Nick Moyes, the founder of Moorland Vision said: “The National Trust is a major conservation organisation and normally does brilliant work in protecting and enhancing our environment. But with clear evidence that moorland management for grouse shooting leads to the killing of birds of prey and almost every other predator – and especially here on its doorstep – you would think the National Trust would have decided immediately that enough is enough. The fact that it did not immediately recognise the opportunity this provides us with to re-wild and restore these moorlands without the well-documented problems associated with grouse moor management is really disappointing. Hence our petition“.

Bob Berzins from the Dark Peak Fell Runners said: “I and my club members see so much harm done by mis-management on the Peak District moorlands. The worst excesses are definitely on privately-owned shooting estates, where intensive burning, track building, predator snaring and shooting is particularly rife. But this is a one off opportunity for the National Trust to say ‘no more’ to management purely for one hobby and to show its true conservation credentials by establishing a proper rewilding project over 8,000 hectares of iconic moorland which would be far better for biodiversity and would create more natural landscapes – just as the Trust is helping to do on the Eastern Moors where the Peak Park banned shooting many decades ago“.

Congratulations to Moorland Vision for all their hard work over the last year. This is a fantastic grass-roots effort and has done much to increase awareness in the local community and beyond. It’ll be interesting to see how the National Trust responds.

Photo of some of the local campaigners (by Moorland Vision)

24
Jul
17

Gas gun on Broomhead Estate: an update

Ten days ago we blogged about a gas gun that had been photographed on the Broomhead Estate in the Peak District National Park (see here). This moor is designated as a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI), Special Protection Area (SPA) and Special Area of Conservation (SAC).

The SSSI and SPA designations are, in part, to provide protection for nationally important breeding bird populations, particularly short-eared owls, merlin and golden plover. As such, we believed the use of a gas gun would require consent from Natural England so we asked NE a couple of questions: (a) did the landowner apply for consent?; (b) did NE approve consent and if so, on what grounds? We also asked NE for a copy of the ‘appropriate assessment’.

Many of you also wrote to Natural England (thank you) and NE has now replied with this generic response:

Many thanks for getting in touch; In the case that prompted your enquiry I can confirm that a consent was issued for the use of gas guns to deal with a persistent problem of ravens attacking young lambs. We have contacted the estate who confirmed that although set up the guns have not been used this year. We have asked the estate to remove them as the consent has now expired.

You are right that the use of gas guns in the Peak District within the Protected Site (SSSI) could require Natural England’s consent depending on the specific species notified for that site. As a general rule consent is likely to be required where the following ‘operations requiring Natural England’s consent’ are listed in the notification papers:

  • Erection of permanent or temporary structures
  • Recreational or other activities likely to damage features of biological interest
  • Game management and hunting practice and changes in game management and hunting practice

The use of gas guns within, or immediately adjacent to Protected Sites, notified for their importance for birds requires careful consideration during sensitive periods, for example during the breeding season or where roosting birds are present. Where protected sites form part of the Natura 2000 network a Habitats Regulation Assessment is completed.

In the Peak District consent for gas guns limits use to when they are required, on a reactionary, rather than precautionary approach to deter large groups of juvenile ravens from predating on lambs. Their use is restricted to defined areas and use controlled within those areas to minimise the impact on the notified features. Such restrictions include numbers of gas guns to be used, time which they can be used, buffer zones around nest sites and regular third party monitoring (by the Birds of Prey Initiative for example). The timing of deployment is also restricted to ensure breeding ravens are not disturbed.

Natural England is committed to working with land owners to seek solutions that can both deliver the land owners objectives whilst at the same time protecting important wildlife on the protected site.

Jim

Natural England Enquiries Team

ENDS

 So, this response answers our first question: Did the landowner apply for consent? Yes, he did.
The response attempts to answer our second question: Did Natural England approve consent (yes) and if so, on what grounds?
The response failed to provide a copy of the appropriate assessment.
The idea that Natural England gave consent for the use of gas guns ‘to deal with a persistent problem of ravens attacking young lambs’ is fascinating. According to our local sources, the Dark Peak “is largely raven free”. Indeed, if you look at the latest report from the Northern England Raptor Forum (Annual Review 2015), it says this:
Peak District Raptor Monitoring Group
Extent of coverage: Part upland and part lowland areas
Level of monitoring: Excellent coverage; all or most sites receive annual coverage. Breeding ravens appear to be seriously under-represented in the PDRMG study area. Just two pairs were recorded breeding successfully in the Dark Peak area in 2015. One pair failed at the egg stage. A number of new nests were recorded but there were no birds in attendance and all appear to have failed early. One pair failed at the small young stage in the south west of the Peak District for reasons unknown. However, a further successful pair was recorded by the Group away from the Dark Peak in Cheshire.
We’ve written again to Natural England and asked them, again, to provide a copy of the ‘appropriate assessment’ and/or any other assessment that Natural England staff completed when they approved consent for gas guns on this moor.



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

Blog Stats

  • 3,123,129 hits

Archives

Our recent blog visitors