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

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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



Bright future for white-tailed eagles in western Scotland

wte-on-mull-from-ebirder-netIt’s not often that we can report good news stories for raptor populations in Scotland, and it’s equally rare to find a raptor-related SNH press release that hasn’t been coated in a thick layer of varnished, propaganda-fuelled tosh. But yesterday we had both a good news story AND an accompanying unvarnished SNH press release!

SNH has published a new report: Population and future range modelling of reintroduced Scottish white-tailed eagles (Haliaeetus albicilla), authored by Sansom, A., Evans, R. and Roos, S. (2016), SNH Commissioned Report No. 898.

This is a comprehensive piece of research using predictive modelling to forecast the short and long-term population growth of re-introduced sea eagles in Scotland. In a nutshell, the population is doing very well and is predicted to continue to do well in the coming years as the population grows and re-occupies its former range. The quality of this research looks very good so all credit to the authors, including the late and much-missed Richard Evans. The full report can be read here: wte-population-modelling_snh_2016

wte-core-breeding-areaSome new blog readers may be surprised by this raptor conservation success story, especially as the UK’s reputation for illegal raptor persecution is such a constant embarrassment, but the reason for the sea eagle’s success is pretty clear when you look at this map (copied from the report) of the eagle’s current core breeding area. These raptors are doing really really well because they’re mostly breeding far away from the intensively-managed grouse moor areas of central, eastern and southern Scotland, all well-known raptor persecution hotspots. Sure, the eagles also have their enemies in the west and there’s an on-going battle there with some sheep farmers and crofters (and this morning there’s an article in the Scotsman about the perceived threat to hill farming from an increasing sea eagle population) but clearly a lot of people in western Scotland have welcomed these eagles with open arms and many are benefiting from the millions of pounds worth of tourism money brought in by visitors who come to see these incredible birds.

Sea eagle population growth in eastern Scotland, following the more recent re-introduction there, remains to be seen. It’s still fairly early days but so far a number of young satellite-tagged sea eagles have either ‘disappeared’ or have been found poisoned on nearby driven grouse moors. And of course there was the now infamous felling of a sea eagle nest tree on a grouse moor in the Cairngorms National Park a few years ago. According to the new report, persecution (and wind-farm related mortality) shouldn’t now affect the overall stability  of the Scottish sea eagle population but obviously persecution has the potential for local and perhaps regional effects, as we’ve seen with golden eagles, peregrines, hen harriers and red kites.

The publication of this latest report attracted a lot of media attention yesterday (see links below) but surprisingly we’ve yet to see the usual hysteria from certain quarters, warning people to lock up their toddlers in case a big bad sea eagle mistakes one for prey.

SNH press release here

RSPB Scotland press release here

Scotsman article here

BBC news here


Public consultation on future of grouse shooting on Ilkley Moor

Bradford Council is consulting on a draft management plan for Ilkley Moor, which includes the future of grouse shooting after the current licence expires in 2018.

Local campaign group Ban Bloodsports on Ilkley Moor has been lobbying for an end to driven grouse shooting on this public land for several years and they are now calling on the public to take this opportunity to urge the council to bring it to an end.

The public consultation is open for six weeks until Sunday 20 November 2016. Your comments may be emailed to: row.consultations@bradford.gov.uk 

Bradford Council’s draft management plan can be read here

Ban Bloodsports on Ilkley Moor’s press release can be read here

A sample letter from Ban Bloodsports on Ilkley Moor can be found here


Photo of the famous Cow & Calf Rocks at the edge of Ilkley Moor, overlooking the town of Ilkley (RPUK)

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