Hen Harriers surviving on grouse moors? Not a Chance in hell

hen-harrier Gordon LangsburyThe RSPB’s Hen Harrier team has today announced the ‘disappearance’ of yet another satellite-tagged hen harrier.

This time it’s a two-year old female called ‘Chance’, whose last sat tag signal came from a grouse moor in South Lanarkshire at the end of May. The RSPB’s Investigations team conducted a search for the body/tag but nothing was found.

Incidentally, this is the same area, dominated by grouse moors, where another sat-tagged hen harrier (Annie) was found shot last year (see here).

As always, this ‘disappearance’ leads to two standpoints. Without conclusive evidence of a carcass or a dropped satellite tag, the grouse-shooting industry can, and will, suggest that the bird hasn’t been killed but rather it’s just a sat tag failure and that Chance is probably still alive, and that it was just pure coincidence that the last sat tag signal came from a grouse moor.

Now that explanation might be plausible if it was the first or second time it had occurred, but the thing is, it isn’t the first or second time this has happened to a sat-tagged hen harrier. We know from past experience that an awful lot of young, sat-tagged hen harriers mysteriously ‘disappear’ when those birds have been visiting grouse moors. In fact, the majority ‘disappear’. According to Natural England data, we know that of 47 young hen harriers that were fitted with sat tags between 2007-2014, a staggering 78.7% of them ‘disappeared’.

And only a couple of weeks ago we were told of another sat-tagged harrier that had ‘disappeared’ – that was a bird named Highlander whose signal vanished when she was visiting a grouse moor in Durham earlier this spring (see here).

We’ve also learned, in recent weeks, that some of the methods employed to ‘help’ hen harriers ‘disappear’ on grouse moors are still very much in use (see here and here), even though the grouse-shooting industry is supposed to be signed up to DEFRA’s Hen Harrier Inaction Plan.

It has been blatantly obvious for some time what has been going on, and with the familiar, predictable news of yet another ‘disappearing’ harrier on a grouse moor, the picture becomes ever clearer. The Untouchables are still getting away with it.

In the same RSPB blog (here), it has been announced that there is currently a hen harrier breeding attempt at Geltsdale, bringing the total number of known, active hen harrier nests in England this year to three. You might think that’s good news, and indeed the RSPB are painting it as such, but let’s be honest, three hen harrier nests in the whole of England, where there’s suitable habitat for an estimated 330 nests, is appalling by anyone’s standard. It’s a less than 1% success rate and we don’t yet know whether these three nests are even going to be successful.

You might think that the hen harriers have made a safe choice by attempting to breed at Geltsdale – it’s an RSPB Reserve and so the birds can expect a very warm welcome from the wardens and volunteers who look after this site. But remember, there was a breeding attempt at Geltsdale last year but it failed after the adult male ‘disappeared’ while he was off hunting, away from the safety of the Reserve. He was one of five adult males that ‘disppeared’ from active nests in England last year (see here). And over the years there has been a catalogue of raptor persecution incidents, both on Geltsdale and on the neighbouring grouse moor estates. These incidents, dating back over the last 20 years, include shot hen harriers, shot peregrines, poisoned ravens, poisoned buzzards, poisoned peregrines, poisoned baits, and a poisoned hen harrier.

And even if, against all odds, these three active nests in England ARE successful this year, what chance do the young fledged birds have once they leave these heavily protected sites? Not a chance in hell while driven grouse shooting is allowed to continue and while the authorities continue to turn a blind eye to the criminal activities of the grouse-shooting industry.

If you want to put an end to this carnage, please join 46,000 concerned members of the public and sign this e-petition to ban driven grouse shooting: HERE

Photo of a hen harrier by Gordon Langsbury.


Moorland Association feeling the pressure

moorland association logoLast week the Moorland Association (MA) went in to full damage limitation mode and sent around an e-newsletter to its members about recent events (e.g. here and here) that, in its view, had damaged the MA’s reputation.

It’s amusing that the MA still thinks it has a reputation to damage. Newsflash for the MA: your reputation has been in tatters for some considerable time (e.g. see here).

Anyway, back to the newsletter. Mark Avery blogged about it (here) and it’s well worth reading his thoughts.

What Mark didn’t do was publish the actual newsletter, so we thought we’d do that here: Moorland Association Newsletter June 2016

It’s interesting to read just how worried the MA is about all the adverse publicity, especially that generated on social media. For all its public spin and denials and propaganda, behind closed doors the MA is certainly feeling the pressure like never before.

Let’s help bring down the curtain on their absurd pantomime – please join 45,000+ people and sign the e-petition to ban driven grouse shooting HERE


Goshawks still under threat in Peak District National Park

An interesting blog (here) has just been posted about the tentative success of goshawks this year in the Peak District National Park.

Written by Mark Thomas of the RSPB Investigations Team, the blog documents the appalling persecution of goshawks that has taken place within the boundary of this National Park over the years. It discusses how several active goshawk nests have been visited at night by masked, armed men (an identical tactic has been used to persecute goshawks within the Cairngorms National Park – e.g. see here) resulting in nest failures.

This year, four active goshawk nests have been discovered in the Upper Derwent Valley within the Peak District National Park and three of those are still active, now with recently-fledged young. Another goshawk nest within the NP is known to have failed with all the evidence pointing towards the adults being shot (see here).

Now, some might/undoubtedly will jump on these results (i.e. the three ‘successful’ nests) and use them to claim that raptor persecution is on the decline within the Park. They’d be fools to do so.

Just because these nests have successfully fledged young, it doesn’t mean that those young birds are now safe. Far from it. Cast your minds back to 2010 and another apparently ‘successful’ goshawk nest in the Peak District National Park. Here is what happened to them:

3 dead gos

The above is an excerpt from the Peak Nest Watch 2010 end of season report, which is a(nother) sorry catalogue of raptor persecution involving goshawks and other raptor species within this National Park. The full report can be downloaded here: peak_nestwatch_2010

The RSPB Investigations Team are no fools and their latest blog mentions that their cameras will remain in place at these 2016 nests and monitoring will continue for some considerable time, to find out whether these young birds will be left alone.

As they say, time will tell.


Hands off our Hen Harriers: Picnic at Grimwith Reservoir, Yorkshire Dales National Park

We’re told that the picnic/stroll/chat about the lack of Hen Harriers in England this year – ‘a tiny handful’ (RSPB) – will be held at Grimwith Reservoir car park at midday on Saturday (this Saturday! Saturday 25 June).
It will be nice to meet up with many friends and register our anger at the lack of Hen Harriers in the Yorkshire Dales National Park and elsewhere in the English uplands, and in many parts of the UK uplands.
Grimwith Reservoir car park is large and ideally placed for a stroll around the reservoir to take a look at the grouse butts set into the wall on the far side and the line of butts at the eastern end of the reservoir.  There is a clear view (if the weather is OK – surely it will be) across the characteristic chequerboard-pattern of burned heather patches.
Grimwith Reservoir is on the western side of OS Explorer map 298, Nidderdale, at 063641.
See you there perhaps?

Natural England issues impotent gas gun guidance

Last September we asked the statutory conservation agencies Scottish Natural Heritage and Natural England to issue urgent guidance about the use of propane gas guns in the uplands (here). We, and others, were concerned that these devices were being used to prevent hen harriers from nesting on grouse moors.

Bird scarer 1 - Copy

Both organisations committed to investigating this issue (see here and here) and Natural England promised it would publish this guidance before the start of the 2016 breeding season. It failed to do so.

Meanwhile, further evidence of the (mis)-use of gas guns on grouse moors emerged, this time within a National Park (e.g. see here and here).

SNH then managed to issue some contradictory advice (see here) which left us none the wiser.

Now Natural England has finally responded with this:

Thank you for your email, and my apologies for the delay in replying. I am conscious of the concerns that have been expressed around the use of gas guns on some moorlands in England and we have been keen to clarify the legal position around their use.

In doing this, we have found that their use is much wider than solely in the uplands. As a result, we have worked with Scottish Natural Heritage to develop some guidance, setting out the circumstances when permissions may be required for the deployment of gas guns. This is attached for your information.

We are also in discussion with the grouse shooting industry, to develop some best practice principles for the use of gas guns. The aim is to provide simple advice on their deployment, and help to avoid disturbance to birds nesting on protected sites.

I hope this information is helpful. If you have any further queries, please contact John Barrett at john.barrett@naturalengland.org.uk, and he will be happy to provide further information.

Yours sincerely

Alan Law


Are you ready to see the ‘guidance’ that has taken Natural England and SNH nine months to produce? Hold on to your seats, here it is:

Gas gun guidance NE - Copy

In a nutshell, the ‘guidance’ is: make sure your gas gun doesn’t disturb breeding Schedule 1 birds. Oh, and if your grouse moor is part of a SSSI designation, you’ll need to ask permission first.

Yep, that’s it.


Vicarious liability prosecution: Andrew Duncan (Newlands Estate) part 7

scales-of-justiceCriminal proceedings continued on 17th June against landowner Andrew Walter Bryce Duncan, who is alleged to be vicariously liable for the crimes committed by gamekeeper William (Billy) Dick in April 2014.

Gamekeeper Dick was convicted in August 2015 of killing a buzzard on the Newlands Estate, Dumfriesshire by striking it with rocks and repeatedly stamping on it (see here). Dick was sentenced in September 2015 and was given a £2000 fine (see here), although he is appealing his conviction.

Here’s a quick review of the proceedings against Andrew Duncan so far:

Hearing #1 (18th August 2015): Trial date set for 23rd Nov 2015, with an intermediate diet scheduled for 20th Oct 2015.

Hearing #2 (20th October 2015): Case adjourned. November trial date dumped. Notional diet hearing (where a trial date may be set) scheduled for 18th January 2016.

Hearing #3 (18th January 2016): Case adjourned. Another notional diet & debate scheduled for 11th March 2016.

Hearing #4 (11th March 2016): Case adjourned, pending the result of gamekeeper Billy Dick’s appeal. Another notional diet scheduled for 4th April 2016.

Hearing #5 (4th April 2016): Case adjourned, pending the result of gamekeeper Billy Dick’s appeal. Another notional diet scheduled for 3rd June 2016.

Hearing #6 (3rd June 2016): Case adjourned, pending the result of gamekeeper Billy Dick’s appeal. Another notional diet scheduled for 17th June 2016.

Hearing #7 (17th June 2016): Case adjourned, pending the result of gamekeeper Billy Dick’s appeal. Another notional diet scheduled for 15th July 2016.

For those interested in gamekeeper Billy Dick’s appeal, we blogged about it here.

Vicarious liability in relation to the persecution of raptors in Scotland (where one person may potentially be legally responsible for the criminal actions of another person working under their supervision) came in to force four and a half years ago on 1st January 2012. To date there have been two successful convictions: one in December 2014 (see here) and one in December 2015 (see here).  One further case did not reach the prosecution stage due, we believe, to the difficulties associated with identifying the management structure on the estate where the crimes were committed (see here).


Henry’s picnic Sat 25 June: Yorkshire Dales National Park

HowMany (2)
Next week, on Saturday 25 June, whether we have voted Brexit or Remain, there will be a Hen Harrier rally to mark this year’s virtual absence of nesting Hen Harriers from the English uplands.
Full details will appear here and elsewhere next Wednesday but we have now been told by the organisers that it will be in the Yorkshire Dales National Park.  Watch this space.

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