Too embarrassing for words

Following this morning’s news that satellite-tagged hen harrier Brian has ‘disappeared’ in the Cairngorms National Park just a few weeks after fledging (see here), we’ve been waiting to see what the Environment Secretary and the Cairngorms National Park Authority had to say about it, and more importantly, what they intended to do about it.

This won’t take long……they’ve said absolutely nothing at all.

All as silent as Brian’s satellite tag.

Nothing on the CNPA news website, nothing on their twitter feed, nothing on the PAW Scotland website, and nothing on the Environment Secretary’s twitter feed.

Sorry Brian, you’re just too embarrassing for words.



Satellite-tagged hen harrier ‘disappears’ in Cairngorms National Park

Another of this year’s hen harrier chicks has ‘disappeared’ just a few weeks after fledging, this time in the Cairngorms National Park.

This one was called Brian, after raptor worker Brian Etheridge, and he had hatched in a nest in Perthshire, within the National Park. After fledging, he stayed within the Park boundary until his signal, ‘suddenly and without warning‘, stopped abruptly on 22 August 2016 a few miles from Kingussie. Searches for his body and tag proved fruitless. The details of Brian’s short life can be read here on the RSPB Skydancer blog.



This is a photo of Brian taken at the nest in July with his newly-fitted satellite tag (photo by Jenny Weston).

Brian is the second of this year’s cohort to suddenly ‘disappear’ – in early August, hen harrier Elwood also vanished, in the grouse moor ridden Monadhliath mountains just to the NW of the Park (see here).

The area around Kingussie is also ridden with driven grouse moors. In fact, it wasn’t far from here where hen harrier Lad’s corpse was found in September 2015, suspected shot (see here).

So what now? A few weeks ago, following the ‘disappearance’ of eight satellite-tagged golden eagles, as well as hen harrier Elwood, in the Monadhliaths, Environment Secretary Roseanna Cunningham announced a review of the sat tag data of three raptor species – golden eagle, hen harrier, red kite – to ‘look for patterns of suspicious activity‘ (see here). That review is very welcome but the team working on the analysis is not expected to report until March 2017 at the earliest. That’s six months away. And then there’ll be further delays as the Government digests the review’s findings and thinks about how to respond, or not.

And to be frank, we don’t need to wait for the review to detect ‘patterns of suspicious activity’ – the pattern of illegal persecution has been known for years. The cause of these raptor disappearances is not unreliable sat tags (94% reliability in a recent study of Montagu’s harriers – see here), nor is it non-existent wind farms (see here), nor is it ‘bird activists’ killing the birds to smear the grouse shooting industry (see here).

We’ve said this before and we’ll say it again. Endless peer-reviewed scientific papers and government reports on golden eagles, hen harriers, red kites and peregrines have unequivocally linked the illegal killing of these raptors with intensively-managed driven grouse moors. Why pretend nobody knows what’s going on?

The ‘disappearance’ of Brian is bad enough, but for this ‘disappearance’ to take place in the Cairngorms National Park just adds to the ever-increasing catalogue of shame that the Park Authority needs to address. Cue expressions of ‘disappointment’ and more stalling tactics (futile partnership-working and discussions) from the CNPA.

Here’s that catalogue of shame, in full:


Apr: 3 x poisoned buzzards (Carbofuran) + 2 grey partridge baits. Kingussie, CNP

Jun: Attempted shooting of a hen harrier. Crannoch, CNP


May: 1 x poisoned buzzard (Carbofuran). Cuaich, CNP

Nov: 1 x poisoned red kite (Carbofuran). Cromdale, CNP

Dec: 1 x poisoned buzzard (Carbofuran). Cromdale, CNP


Feb: 1 x poisoned buzzard (Carbofuran). Cromdale, CNP

Feb: 1 x poisoned buzzard (Carbofuran). Cromdale, CNP

Mar: 3 x poisoned buzzards, 1 x poisoned raven (Carbofuran). Crathie, CNP


Jan: 1 x poisoned raven (Carbofuran). Dulnain Bridge, CNP

May: 1 x poisoned raven (Mevinphos). Grantown-on-Spey, CNP

May: 1 x poisoned golden eagle (Carbofuran). Morven [corbett], CNP

May: 1 x poisoned raven + 1 x poisoned common gull (Aldicarb) + egg bait. Glenbuchat, CNP

May: egg bait (Aldicarb). Glenbuchat, CNP

Jun: 1 x poisoned golden eagle (Carbofuran). Glenfeshie, CNP


Jan: 1 x poisoned red kite (Carbofuran). Glenshee, CNP

Apr: Illegally set spring trap. Grantown-on-Spey, CNP

May: Pole trap. Grantown-on-Spey, CNP

May: 1 x poisoned red kite (Carbofuran). Tomintoul, CNP

May: Illegally set spring trap. Grantown-on-Spey, CNP

Jun: 1 x poisoned buzzard (Carbofuran) + rabbit & hare baits. Grantown-on-Spey, CNP

Jun: 1 x poisoned buzzard (Carbofuran) + rabbit bait. Grantown-on-Spey, CNP

Jul: 1 x poisoned raven (Carbofuran). Ballater, CNP

Sep: 1 x shot buzzard. Newtonmore, CNP

Sep: 1 x shot buzzard. Grantown-on-Spey, CNP

Dec: 1 x poisoned buzzard (Alphachloralose). Grantown-on-Spey, CNP

Dec: 1 x poisoned buzzard (Carbofuran) + rabbit bait. Grantown-on-Spey, CNP


Jan: 1 x poisoned buzzard (Alphachloralose). Nr Grantown-on-Spey, CNP

Mar: 1 x poisoned buzzard (Carbofuran). Nr Grantown-on-Spey, CNP

Dec: 1 x poisoned buzzard (Alphachloralose). Nr Grantown-on-Spey, CNP


May: 2 x poisoned ravens (Mevinphos). Delnabo, CNP

Jun: rabbit bait (Mevinphos). nr Tomintoul, CNP

Jun: 1 x shot buzzard. Nr Strathdon, CNP

Jun: 1 x illegal crow trap. Nr Tomintoul, CNP


Apr: Pole trap. Nr Dalwhinnie, CNP

Jun: 1 x pole-trapped goshawk. Nr Dalwhinnie, CNP

Jun: Illegally set spring trap on tree stump. Nr Dalwhinnie, CNP

Sep: 2 x poisoned buzzards (Carbofuran) + rabbit bait. Glenlochy, CNP

Oct: 2 x poisoned buzzards (Carbofuran) + rabbit bait. Nr Boat of Garten, CNP


Jan: 1 x shot buzzard. Nr Bridge of Brown, CNP

Mar: 1 x poisoned golden eagle (Carbofuran). Glenbuchat, CNP

Apr: 1 x poisoned buzzard (Carbofuran & Aldicarb). Nr Bridge of Brown, CNP

May:  1 x poisoned buzzard (Carbofuran) + rabbit bait. Glenbuchat, CNP

May: 1 x shot short-eared owl, found stuffed under rock. Glenbuchat, CNP

Jun: 1 x shot peregrine. Pass of Ballater, CNP

Aug: grouse bait (Aldicarb). Glenlochy, CNP

Sep: Satellite-tagged golden eagle ‘disappears’. Nr Strathdon, CNP

Nov: Satellite-tagged golden eagle ‘disappears’. Nr Strathdon, CNP


Apr: 1 x shot short-eared owl. Nr Grantown-on-Spey, CNP

Apr: Peregrine nest site burnt out. Glenshee, CNP

May: Buzzard nest shot out. Nr Ballater, CNP


Jan: White-tailed eagle nest tree felled. Invermark, CNP

May: 1 x shot hen harrier. Glen Gairn, CNP

May: Satellite-tagged golden eagle ‘disappears’. Glenbuchat, CNP


Apr: Satellite-tagged white-tailed eagle ‘disappears’. Glenbuchat, CNP

May: Armed masked men shoot out a goshawk nest. Glen Nochty, CNP


Sep: Satellite-tagged hen harrier ‘Lad’ found dead, suspected shot. Newtonmore, CNP.


May: 1 x shot goshawk. Strathdon, CNP

Jun: Illegally set spring traps. Invercauld, CNP

Aug: Satellite-tagged hen harrier ‘Brian’ ‘disappears’, near Kingussie, CNP

In addition to the above list, two recent scientific publications have documented the long-term decline of breeding peregrines on grouse moors in the eastern side of the National Park (see here) and the catastrophic decline of breeding hen harriers, also on grouse moors in the eastern side of the Park (see here).

And let’s not forget the on-going massacre of mountain hares, taking place annually within the boundary of the National Park (e.g. see here, here).

Let’s see how the Environment Secretary and the Cairngorms National Park Authority respond this time. We’ll add links to any statements if/when they appear throughout the day.

UPDATE 18.40 hrs: Too embarrassing for words (here)


BBC Trust ruling: Chris Packham did not breach guidelines

A year ago, Tim Bonner, Chief Exec of the Countryside Alliance complained to the BBC (see here) about Chris Packham describing various ‘countryside’ organisations as “the nasty brigade” and accused him of other alleged breaches of the BBC’s editorial code.

Earlier this summer, just as the campaign to ban driven grouse shooting was gaining serious momentum, poor Timmy was furious to learn that the BBC Trust would not publish its decision until September. The Countryside Alliance clearly hoped that Chris’s participation in the highly successful ban driven grouse shooting campaign could be curtailed (see here) so they stamped their feet and pressed the BBC Trust to publish its decision without delay.

The BBC Trust gave the Countryside Alliance a metaphorical middle finger and stood firm. Today, the Trust has published its decision: Chris Packham did not breach any BBC guidelines – read the Trust’s full findings here: bbc-trust-ruling-on-chris-packham

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Meanwhile, as the appropriately named nasty brigade have been baying (braying?) for his blood, Chris has remained focused on more important issues. He’s just launched a new e-petition calling for a moratorium on shooting woodcock, snipe and golden plover until the cause of their population declines have been determined by independent scientific assessment – you can sign his petition here.

Oh, and one last thing. A few months ago, Chris was asked to choose a name for one of this year’s satellite tagged hen harriers as part of the Lush Skydancer Bathbomb campaign. Anyone recall the name he chose? Watch the video here and listen carefully! [Cue outraged complaint to the BBC….]

Don’t worry Countryside Alliance, next year, assuming there are some hen harrier chicks around to satellite tag, one can be called Olive and another Ridley, in honour of those marine turtles you know so much about.


Satellite tag reliability: compelling evidence from Montagu’s Harrier study

Satellite-tagged hen harriers regularly ‘disappear’ in the UK uplands, mostly in areas managed as driven grouse moors. Indeed, according to data from Natural England, of 47 hen harriers that were satellite-tagged between 2007-2014, a staggering 78.7% were listed as ‘missing’ (see here). That means a significant and suspiciously high proportion (37 tagged hen harriers) vanished without trace.

And of course it’s not just hen harriers. Last month we learned that eight satellite-tagged golden eagles had ‘disappeared’ on grouse moors in the Monadhliath mountains (see here).

Various unsubstantiated ‘explanations’ for these ‘disappearances’ are routinely trotted out by the persecution apologists, including claims that ‘bird activists’ are killing the birds to smear the grouse shooting industry (here) or that the birds have been killed at windfarms and their bodies removed to avert bad publicity….quite plausible until we discovered that the majority of the windfarms blamed for the disappearance of eight golden eagles hadn’t actually been built (see here).

And then we get the old familiar excuse that it must have been a technical failure with the satellite tag. Again, quite plausible if it happened every so often, but not if it’s happening with the frequency with which the grouse-shooting industry claims. Last month, the credibility of this excuse was blown apart when the Scottish Countryside Alliance published the following statement in response to the news about the eight ‘missing’ sat tagged golden eagles:

Contrary to claims that transmitters are reliable, research papers published in 2013 studied three decades of wildlife radio telemetry and concluded that failure rates could be as high as 49%“.

It turned out that the SCA was disingenuously using data from satellite-tagged Olive Ridley turtles in India where problems with a saltwater switch on the tag is a known and on-going issue and so the SCA’s claim of a 49% failure rate was actually based on a totally irrelevant study and as such was highly misleading (see here). You can make up your own minds about whether this was a case of the SCA’s inability to interpret simple scientific data or whether it was deliberate propaganda pushed out to divert attention from illegal killing in the hope that nobody would check the details.

Wouldn’t it be great if, instead of relying on misrepresentative data from marine turtles in the Indian Ocean, there was a relatively comparative study of satellite tag reliability on, say, a harrier species in western Europe.

Oh, hang on, there is!

Have a look at this blog that has just been published on the RSPB’s website. It’s written by Dr Raymond Klaassen of the Dutch Montagu’s Harrier Foundation. Raymond and his colleagues have been satellite-tagging Montagu’s harriers (67 of them since 2006), using the same make and model as the sat tags being fitted to hen harriers in the UK.


So what does Raymond say about satellite tag reliability in his study? Amongst other things, he says this:

Technical failures generally are rare. We have recorded a few throughout the years (6% of all cases), however failures have always been preceded by irregular transmission periods and, most importantly, a drop in battery voltage (another parameter monitored by the transmitter). This makes it relatively straightforward to distinguish between a likely mortality event and a likely transmitter failure“.

Wow. A six per cent technical failure rate over a ten year period. It turns out that these harrier satellite tags are actually highly reliable. Who knew? Compare that six per cent failure rate with the 78.7% rate of ‘disappearing’ hen harriers over a seven year period, supposedly the victims of satellite tag ‘technical failures’.

We trust this compelling evidence of satellite tag reliability will be included in the Scottish Government’s review of satellite tag data from three raptor species that routinely ‘disappear’ on grouse moors across Scotland (see here).

Photo of Raymond with a satellite-tagged Montagu’s harrier by Mark Thomas.


An open letter to Philip Merricks


There’s not much else to say, is there?

This letter was written before Philip’s incoherent presentation at the Sheffield raptor conference (here) and before Philip moved his, er, “immovable conditions” for participating in DEFRA’s Hen Harrier brood meddling plan (see here).

The forthcoming Hawk & Owl Trust AGM should be interesting….


Illegal raptor killing is PR disaster for Cairngorms National Park, says Convener

strathspey-badenoch-herald-park-talk-15th-sept-2016Illegal raptor killing is a PR disaster for the Cairngorms National Park, says Peter Argyle, the current Convener of the Cairngorms National Park Authority.

He’s not wrong.

Since the Cairngorms National Park was established in 2003, there have been over 60 recorded incidents of illegal persecution (see here) and these are only the ones that have reported. There are likely to have been many, many more that have gone undiscovered.

Writing in a blog published on the CNPA website (here), and also published in the Strathspey and Badenoch Herald last week (see photo), Peter follows in the footsteps of his predecessor Duncan Bryden, who, two years ago, wrote to the then Environment Minister Paul Wheelhouse about how raptor persecution “threatens to undermine the reputation of the National Park as a high quality wildlife tourism destination” (see here).

Peter’s blog is fairly balanced; he acknowledges that there are some estates within the National Park who are engaged in on-going conservation efforts (Glenfeshie would be a good example) but he also recognises that illegal raptor persecution is undertaken by those seeking to maximise grouse numbers. And therein lies the problem.

Peter says, “Properly managed, grouse moors can deliver massive environmental and public benefits, be it around climate change, biodiversity, habitat creation or in flood management“. But what does “properly managed” actually mean? Presumably not the intensive management regimes currently in use on many grouse moor estates within the Park which most definitely are not delivering ‘massive environmental and public benefits’ – in fact the exact opposite (see here).

Peter also says, “I nail my colours firmly to the mast when I say that I support the continuation of grouse shooting but this support is not unconditional“. He wants to have “a full and frank dialogue over all of the issues so that both public and private interests can be met“. He doesn’t seem to have grasped the fact that years of dialogue have proven futile, resulting in Golden eagles poisoned, golden eagles ‘disappearing’, chronic golden eagle survival rates (here), white-tailed eagles ‘disappearing’, white-tailed eagle nests felled, hen harriers shot, breeding hen harriers in catastrophic decline (here), goshawks shot, goshawk nests being attacked, peregrines shot, peregrine nest sites burnt out, breeding peregrines in long-term decline (here), buzzards poisoned, buzzards shot, red kites poisoned, short-eared owls shot, poisoned baits laid out, illegally-set traps, and mountain hares massacred.

We’ve blogged before about how the Cairngorms National Park Authority can take steps to stop the illegal persecution of raptors within the Park boundary (here) and we’d remind Peter, not that he needs it as Park Convener, of the CNPA’s four aims, set out by Parliament:

  1. To conserve and enhance the natural and cultural heritage of the CNP;
  2. To promote sustainable use of the natural resources of the CNP;
  3. To promote understanding and enjoyment (including enjoyment in the form of recreation) of the special qualities of the CNP by the public;
  4. To promote sustainable economic and social development of the CNP’s communities.

These aims are to be pursued collectively. However, if there is conflict between the first aim and any of the others then greater weight must be given to the first aim (section 9.6 of the National Parks (Scotland) Act).

If you haven’t already, please consider participating in the CNPA’s current consultation process on the Park’s five-year management plan. This plan will help guide the CNPA’s work on the most pressing issues, one of which has been identified as grouse moor management. Let the CNPA know of your concerns about intensive grouse moor management within the Park boundary, about the environmental damage it is causing and how self-regulation has failed, repeatedly, since the Park was first established back in 2003. The consultation closes on 30 Sept and the documents can be accessed here.


The real price of grouse: episode 8

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Here’s episode 8 in a series of videos hosted by Chris Packham about the #NotSoGlorious damaging management practices associated with the driven grouse shooting industry. Episode one (an introduction to driven grouse shooting) can be watched here.  Episode 2 (the damaging environmental effects of heather burning) can be watched here. Episode 3 (traps) can be watched here. Episode 4 (parasites, medication and the mass killing of mountain hares) can be watched here. Episode 5 (flooding) can be watched here. Episode 6 (how your taxes are helping to subsidise driven grouse shooting) can be watched here. Episode 7 (Chris Packham interviews raptor monitoring expert Paul Irving about black holes for Hen Harriers in the north of England) can be watched here.

Here’s episode 8, where Chris interviews Mark Avery about why driven grouse shooting should be banned:

Over 122,000 people have joined Chris and signed the e-petition to ban driven grouse shooting. We’ve passed the 100,000 signatures needed to trigger a Westminster debate and we’re currently waiting to hear when that debate will take place. In the meantime, this petition is open until 20th September and the more signatures, the better. Please join us and sign HERE 

Thank you!

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