Eyes to the skies for hen harriers: RSPB Scotland asks public for sightings

Press release from RSPB Scotland (14th April 2021)


Buzzard, kestrel… or hen harrier?

RSPB Scotland is asking everyone to keep their eyes peeled for one of the UK’s rarest birds of prey as they return to their breeding grounds this spring.

Hen harriers are medium-sized birds of prey, similar to a buzzard but with a slightly slimmer appearance, with long wings and a long tail. Female and young hen harriers are speckled brown and cream with horizontal stripes on their tails. The most striking feature is the patch of white at their rump. Males are slightly smaller and pale grey with black wingtips. Both have a round, owl-like face.

[Female hen harrier. Photo by Pete Morris]

[Male hen harrier. Photo by Richard Stonier]

As the weather warms up, these birds are becoming more visible as they start their long journeys away from their winter roosting grounds and up to the moors to breed. Hen harriers nest on the ground amongst heather or soft rush in upland areas. You maybe even lucky enough to encounter their skydancing display, a dizzying aerial show of rolls and dives, performed by either the male and female to mark their territory and demonstrate their vigour.

Hen harriers are the UK’s most persecuted bird of prey relative to its population size. Their Scottish population is of global importance, yet it remains far from stable largely as a result of illegal killing by humans.

The RSPB’s Jenni Burrell said: “We are calling on the public to email our Hen Harrier Hotline if they believe they’ve seen a hen harrier. This helps us build a picture of where these birds are. Please don’t hesitate to contact us if you see them – we welcome any sightings and appreciate your time.

Hen harriers are beautiful and elusive raptors and, unlike peregrines and kestrels, they are rarely seen in urban environments. So if it’s perched on your fence, it’s probably a sparrowhawk, if it’s in a tree by the roadside, it’s probably a kestrel or a buzzard… but if it’s over rough pasture or moorland, and matches the description above, then you might have seen a hen harrier.

Sadly hen harriers are a long way from reaching a healthy, self-sustaining population, and this is largely down to persecution by humans. Particularly where land is managed for the purpose of driven grouse shooting, natural predators like hen harriers can be viewed as pests and, despite being legally protected, the shooting, trapping and poisoning of hen harriers is a serious and ongoing problem.”

If you think you’ve seen a hen harrier, please email: henharriers@rspb.org.uk

Please include the date, time, location/grid reference and a description of the bird.



Scottish farmers & landowners join forces with NatureScot to fight judicial review on beaver killing

Beavers are slightly off topic for this blog, although they featured on here earlier this year when Scottish charity Trees for Life was crowdfunding to support an application for judicial review against NatureScot (formerly SNH) for allowing too many beavers to be killed under licence instead of exploring all other non-lethal avenues first (see here).

The Trees for Life crowdfunder was successful (here), helped along by many of this blog’s readers (thank you) and also by a £5K contribution from Wild Justice.

[Photo by Scotland: The Big Picture]

Trees for Life applied to the court for permission to proceed with their judicial review and the Scottish Court of Session granted that permission in February 2021, which means that a judge considered there was a valid legal challenge to be made with every chance of success (see here).

The case is due to be heard this year.

Meanwhile, on a slightly tangential note, the National Farmers Union Scotland (NFUS) has been whipping up hysteria about white-tailed eagles in western Scotland and the apparent ‘need’ to control them (which includes a proposal for ‘problem’ eagles to be shot) but I’ll be blogging about that separately.

The reason I raise that now, in this blog about beavers, is because the NFUS has written to its members about the Trees for Life judicial review on beavers, and it has announced it is joining forces with landowners’ lobby group Scottish Land & Estates (SLE) to help support NatureScot to try and defend the judicial review.

Why? Because according to the NFUS, if Trees for Life wins the judicial review, along with ‘uninformed pressure’ from conservationists, then there may be implications for the ‘control’ (killing) of other species including ‘sea eagles, badgers, geese and ravens’.

Here is a copy of the letter from the NFUS to its members, dated 7 April 2021 (thanks to the blog reader who sent me a copy):

It’ll be fascinating to read the NFUS / SLE legal argument for killing beavers as a first instead of a last resort; a legal argument that they ‘strongly believe is not understood by Trees for Life‘.

We’ll need to wait for court papers to emerge before any of this is made public.


NatureScot Chair Mike Cantlay writes puff piece for Scottish Gamekeepers’ rag

How come, if Scottish gamekeepers feel so downtrodden, unheard, overlooked, side-lined etc (e.g. see here), the Chair of Naturescot is writing puff pieces for their quarterly rag?

In the Spring 2021 edition of the Scottish Gamekeepers Association’s newsletter, Mike Cantlay blows some serious amounts of smoke up the SGA’s backside. It’s a shame his organisation isn’t as enthusiastic about revoking General Licences on shooting estates where there is strong evidence that raptor persecution continues.

Mike Cantlay isn’t the SGA’s only friend at NatureScot.

The recently-updated list of Board Members includes one David Johnstone, former CEO of Scottish Land & Estates whose responses to raptor persecution incidents leave a lot to be desired (e.g. see here and here) as does his view on vicarious liability (see here) and grouse moor licensing (e.g. see here and here).

Ah, nothing like a modernising, forward-thinking progressive to join the NatureScot Board, eh? Which Scottish Government Ministers approved the current intake of Board Members and how many candidates with expertise in wildlife, science and nature conservation were overlooked in favour of landowning Lord Johnstone?


Langholm Moor Community Buyout: re-advertising for an Estate Manager

In November last year the largest community buyout in south Scotland realised its ambitious goal by raising enough money to buy some moorland from Buccleuch Estates in Langholm with the intention of turning it from a former grouse moor in to a thriving nature reserve for the benefit of the local community, the environment and for visitors from further afield (see here).

The buy-out was officially completed in March this year (see here).

[Langholm Moor. Photo by David Lintern]

The Langholm Initiative, the organisation behind the buyout, is re-advertising a vacancy for an Estate Manager. This position was previously advertised in January but for whatever reason it’s now available again.

Here is the job advert:


Salary: £35,000

Full-time, permanent

Closing date: 30th April 2021

This role is being re-advertised.

We are seeking to recruit an experienced and enthusiastic Estate Manager who has the skills and passion to help create the new Tarras Valley Nature Reserve, as well as over-seeing the day-to-day running of the first large-scale comunity owned estate in the south of Scotland.

This is a fantastic opportunity to be part of an ambitious project, and the post-holder will work closely with the appointed Development Manager.

This post is funded by the Esmee Fairburn Foundation. For more information on the role and application process, please click here to download the job pack from the Langholm Initiative website.


This ‘downtrodden gamekeeper’ act is fooling no-one

As campaigning for the forthcoming Scottish election gets in to full swing, I’ve been reading more and more about poor ‘downtrodden’ gamekeepers, how they’re not listened to, how hard done by they are, how they’ve been ‘vilified’ etc etc.

This article in last week’s Herald is a classic example, although pay close attention to who wrote it – Clare Taylor, Political Affairs Editor at The Scottish Farmer – her reference to farmers being “plagued” by the return of White-tailed eagles and commentary about “a growing obsession with rewilding” gives you a good idea about her environmental aspirations.

The truth is, rural affairs already have a very loud voice in the Scottish Parliament, in the shape of Fergus Ewing, Minister for Tourism and the Rural Economy who called himself “a friend in Government” to the Scottish Gamekeepers Association recently. Such a good friend in fact that he’s auctioning off a Holyrood tour (that should be free) to help the SGA’s fundraising activities (see here).

Clare Taylor’s tweet, promoting her biased article in the Herald, made me laugh:

After proclaiming that the Scottish Government ‘must stamp out the vilifying of individuals’, what does she think the accompanying photograph shows? Er, could it be a bunch of Scottish gamekeepers vilifying Chris Packham outside Perth Concert Hall, protesting about him having a job?

And are these the same gamekeepers who routinely vilify and abuse those of us campaigning against environmentally-damaging, unlawful and unsustainable grouse moor management (see here and here)?

And are these the same gamekeepers who continue to shoot, trap and poison birds of prey in the Scottish countryside?

Clare’s article includes a quote from the co-ordinator of Scotland’s Moorland Groups. That’ll be Tim (Kim) Baynes then, a Director of the landowners’ lobby group Scottish Land & Estates – hardly someone without connections to politicians and civil servants, is he? Yet another influential voice speaking to power on behalf of gamekeepers.

Although according to Scottish Land & Estates’ CEO, Sarah-Jane Laing, who was on here last week claiming that ‘The Regional Moorland Groups which exist across Scotland are not part of the SLE structure‘.

Really? Well why then does Tim Baynes’s job description, on the SLE website, say that he’s the co-ordinator of those seven moorland groups??

And what about those seven regional moorland groups? They’re an interesting bunch. Grouse moors in five of those seven regions have been in the last three years, or currently are, under police investigation for alleged raptor persecution crimes (grouse moors in the regions covered by the Angus Glens Moorland Group, Grampian Moorland Group, Tomatin Moorland Group, Tayside & Central Moorland Group and the Southern Uplands Moorland Group).

And there are more ongoing police investigations linked to grouse moor management and raptor persecution that are yet to be publicised. Believe me, the public will be appalled when the news comes out and it’ll be a bloody brave (or desperate) politician that puts their name down to support this continued criminality.


Police investigate as dead buzzard is found tied & hanging from a tree in Fife

This is a bit bizarre – there’s an article in today’s National about a police investigation, triggered by the discovery of a dead buzzard that had been tied to a tree and found hanging.

Police Scotland say that their enquiries show the buzzard had died of natural causes before being tied to the tree.

Here’s the article, written by Laura Webster:

POLICE have launched an investigation after a dead buzzard was discovered hanging from a tree.

According to investigating officers, the bird, found in Fife, died from natural causes before being strung up.

A member of the public spotted the buzzard close to the cycle path from Tayport to Newport on Monday.

Fife’s wildlife crimes liaison officer, Constable Ben Pacholek, said:

Our enquiries show that the buzzard died from natural causes before being tied to the tree. But this was a reckless and needless act, leaving a dead bird hanging in a public place that has caused distress within the local community.

I would urge members of the public to be respectful and considerate towards wildlife at all times. All wild birds are protected under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981.

If anyone knows anything about what happened or saw anything suspicious, then please contact us on 101.”



Scottish Minister Fergus Ewing under fire for auctioning Holyrood tour for Scottish Gamekeepers’ fundraiser

Cabinet Secretary Fergus Ewing has been accused of breaching Parliamentary rules by ‘flogging’ access to Holyrood in a silent auction organised by the Scottish Gamekeepers Association (SGA).

Lot #59 in the SGA’s annual auction, donated by Fergus Ewing MSP, is squeezed in between a week’s holiday in a cottage in Strathbraan (a well-known raptor persecution hot-spot) and an offer of a smock and half a pig. Here’s what Fergus Ewing is offering (closing date 7th May 2021):

Amusingly, one of the people who has questioned whether the Minister’s actions are appropriate is Edward Mountain MSP, a Conservative candidate who will be challenging Fergus Ewing for the Inverness and Nairn constituency in the May election.

Along with Fergus Ewing, Ed Mountain is also a long-time supporter of the SGA, and is even a “proud” SGA member (see here).

It isn’t clear who went to the press about this (although as an SGA member, Ed Mountain would certainly have had access to the silent auction lots because the auction booklet was included in the mail out of the SGA’s most recent quarterly rag) but today the Scottish Daily Mail was running a story on it:

‘That tour has not taken place’, says the SNP spokesman. No, because the auction doesn’t close until 7th May!

To be honest, there are much bigger fish to fry than this but the reason I’m blogging about it is because the SGA has been wailing quite a lot recently about how it has been ‘overlooked’ by the Scottish Parliament. In my opinion this is completely untrue – the SGA has just as much access to politicians as any other organisation, illustrated quite well by the players in this latest tale.

I plan to blog a bit more about that shortly.


Peregrine shot & killed in North Wales

North Wales Police have published a tweet about a peregrine that was found dying on Tuesday lunchtime near the Osprey Centre at Porthmadog, North Wales.

It was taken to the RSPCA’s Stapeley Grange Wildlife Centre for a veterinary examination.

According to the Police, the vets said it had ‘probably been shot’ as there was an entry and exit wound. There are no further details.

Unfortunately this young peregrine died of its injuries.

If you have any information that could help this investigation, please contact North Wales Police and quote reference 21000222577.


Reintroduction & Rewilding Summit – this Saturday

The exciting Reintroduction & Rewilding Summit takes place this Saturday (10th April), launching online from 10am.

Co-hosted by the Birds of Poole Harbour and the Self isolating Bird Club, the day-long event will be hosted by Chris Packham and Megan McCubbin with a wide variety of guests and speakers.

For more details and to register for this free event, please click here

It’s a packed programme and the schedule has now been released:


Horror for wildlife on a burnt Scottish grouse moor

The environmentally damaging consequences of setting fire to upland heather moorlands as part of the routine ‘management’ for grouse shooting are well documented, with some of these fires leading to increased carbon emissions, increased flood risk, increased air pollution and threats to other ecosystem services.

With the intensification of grouse moor management in some areas of Scotland comes an increase in the extent and intensity of rotational heather burning. These fires have even been lit on areas of deep peat (forbidden by the voluntary Muirburn Code, which many land managers seem to simply ignore) causing damage to protected blanket bog habitat – in fact 40% of the area of land burned for grouse moor management in Scotland is on deep peat (see here).

In November 2020, in response to the Werritty Review on grouse moor management, then Environment Minister Mairi Gougeon announced there would be a statutory ban on burning on peatland except under licence for strictly limited purposes such as habitat restoration. She also said that the Government would revisit the definition of ‘peatland’ and consider whether a tighter and stricter definition was required.

This was an excellent result and we are now all waiting to see the election results in May in the hope that the new Scottish Government can get on with these and other commitments it made, notably the introduction of a licensing scheme for grouse shooting.

Meanwhile, the horror of grouse moor burning continues apace. These photographs were taken four days ago on a grouse shooting estate in the Angus Glens on 1st April 2021.

I would encourage Scottish readers to send a copy of the photo of the lizard with its singed tail and the photo of the devastated moorland habitat to your local political candidate and ask them whether they support this kind of environmental Armageddon.

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