Natural England to issue guidance on deployment of gas guns on grouse moors

Bird scarer 1 - Copy

Here’s some excellent news….

In early September we encouraged blog readers to contact SNH and Natural England to ask whether they would provide urgent guidance on the deployment of gas gun bird scarers, particularly on grouse moors where we believe these devices have been used illegally to disturb hen harrier breeding attempts (see here).

SNH responded quickly in mid-September and said they would investigate the deployment of gas guns with regard to the law and may provide guidance on their use if it was deemed appropriate (see here).

Natural England has gone further. Their response (from Alan Law, Chief Officer of Strategy and Reform) confirms that the use of gas guns near Schedule 1 breeding birds is unlawful and that their use in Special Protection Areas would likely require written consent from Natural England, depending on the specific feature(s) for which the site has been designated.

Natural England says it is in the process of drafting guidance, which will be available prior to the start of the 2016 breeding season.

That’s brilliant news – well done to everyone who took the time to contact NE about this issue. The grouse shooting industry will be thrilled and will no doubt be wishing to thank us all for our help. No need, it was our pleasure. They’ll be even more thrilled if, come the next breeding season, anybody spots any gas guns being used on grouse moors and reports it to the police. Even better, report it to the RSPB Investigations Team who are more likely to follow up.

Here’s one of several responses we’ve seen from Natural England:

Thank you for your recent email relating to the use of gas guns within Special Protection Areas (SPAs) and expressing your concerns around the potential impact of the use of gas guns upon Schedule 1 birds.

For Schedule 1 species, it is an offence for any person to disturb any wild bird included while it is building a nest or is in, on or near a nest containing eggs or young. As a result, the use of gas guns outside the bird breeding season is not unlawful.

With respect to the use of gas guns within a SPA, depending on the specifics of what interest features the site is notified for, the land manager may be obliged to seek Natural England’s written consent prior to locating and using gas guns. Landowners and managers of SPA land are provided with specific guidance on what activities require a consent and we issue this on a site by site basis.

We have recognised that there is a need for some general guidance on the use of gas guns and are in the process of drafting this in collaboration with the relevant partners. I will arrange for you to be sent this guidance as soon as it becomes available, which will be in advance of next year’s breeding season.

Many thanks again for your interest in this matter.

Your sincerely

Alan Law

Chief Officer, Strategy and Reform

Natural England

17 Responses to “Natural England to issue guidance on deployment of gas guns on grouse moors”

  1. 1 Rob Sheldon
    September 23, 2015 at 4:49 pm

    Well done RPS and everyone who contacted SNH & NE. Potentially a small victory, but another step forward.

  2. 2 Ian rogerson
    September 23, 2015 at 4:58 pm

    Well done to those that got in touch about gas guns.but the work you do on this site is unbelievable bloody great work keep it up

  3. September 23, 2015 at 5:35 pm

    Same sentiments from me. Well done everybody. Where would we be without RPS? You are simply fantastic.

  4. 4 George
    September 23, 2015 at 6:30 pm

    Yes, well done to all concerned and TY RPS for all your continuing good work.

  5. September 23, 2015 at 8:39 pm

    Actually I’m a bit disappointed that they didnt come out and say that the use of gas guns to disrupt breeding wild birds was illegal.

    It cannot be considered as a method of deterrence that can be targeted only at the the species on the general licence. It will disrupt all species of birds. Therefore illegal.

  6. September 24, 2015 at 7:39 am

    Thank you for this encouraging news, and for all the dedicated, campaigning, etc, from RPS,

    It’s a beginning that must now be built upon.

  7. 7 steve macsweeney
    September 24, 2015 at 10:35 am

    One more significant victory in the war…..

  8. 8 Les Wallace
    September 24, 2015 at 11:15 am

    Yes must pass on thank you to RPS, many of us can take it or leave it re what we do to protect our raptors – but running this site, which is rightly VERY highly respected, is a personal commitment few could give. I would imagine it’s not easy at times in various regards. The number of times it’s quoted by the opposition shows how effective it is. Well done and thanks.

  9. 9 Giles
    September 24, 2015 at 1:13 pm

    Well done indeed. Another victory on a long road. I also see on Mark Avery’s blog that the English CLA Game Fair won’t be happening again soon. Won’t be missed…….Perhaps they’d all like to come to Hen Harrier Day 2016 instead?!

  10. 10 Jack Snipe
    September 26, 2015 at 4:28 am

    Let’s wait and see what the guidance says. I wouldn’t disagree that RPS is doing an excellent job, but I wish I could share your optimism on this one. As someone with considerable experience working in local government, I am familiar with civil service speak and the example shown here fills me with despair. I’ll be very surprised if the guidance arising from this exercise is realistic and workable. The statement leaves their options far too wide open and once consultation with the “relevant partners” is completed, we could be sold a pup. One of the most obvious loopholes is that they appear to be indicating an active nest would have to exist before scaring harriers with gas guns becomes illegal. Yet the keepers have clearly cottoned on to their use to prevent harriers settling and nesting in the first place. In this respect the Natural England interpretation of existing legislation is liberal to say the least. Even should the disturbance commence after nest construction has started, it could prove extremely difficult to prove, or the keeper could deny knowledge of its existence. As much as a month can elapse between a male harrier settling on a nesting territory and nest building starting. It will be too easy for the keepers to use an excuse such as “scaring off flocks of juvenile Ravens,” when any ornithologist worth their salt knows that Ravens pose no significant threat to grouse populations.

  11. 11 Anand Prasad
    September 27, 2015 at 3:16 pm

    Ok i am confused by this quote
    ‘For Schedule 1 species, it is an offence for any person to disturb any wild bird included while it is building a nest or is in, on or near a nest containing eggs or young. As a result, the use of gas guns outside the bird breeding season is not unlawful.’
    The conclusion appears to be contradictory and simply wrong. According to the snh website it is illegal to harass any schedule 1A species even outside the breeding season.
    ‘It is an offence to intentionally or recklessly: harass any wild bird listed on Schedule 1A’

    Please anyone correct me if i’m wrong (Marco McGinty made the same point on a previous thread and wasn’t corrected)

    • 12 Anand Prasad
      September 27, 2015 at 3:33 pm

      I should add is this an English v Scotland difference?
      I couldn’t find anything obvious on Natural England website

      • 13 Jack Snipe
        September 28, 2015 at 3:52 am

        This is the contradiction I was referring to earlier. The Wildlife & Countryside Act (UK) was amended in Scotland by the Nature Conservation (Scotland) Act 2004, and afforded better protection to nesting birds in general. For exampIe, in Scotland it is an offence to “recklessly” damage or take the nest or contents of ANY wild bird, or to prevent any wild bird from gaining access to its nest. I haven’t checked the former recently, but my understanding was that it was to be amended and brought into line with the Scottish legislation. Whether that has actually happened yet requires clarification.

        • 14 Anand Prasad
          September 28, 2015 at 10:35 am

          Thanks. By the former i presume you mean in England?

          I still don’t understand the word ‘included’ which Alan Law uses as in ‘For Schedule 1 species, it is an offence for any person to disturb any wild bird included while it is building a nest or is in, on or near a nest containing eggs or young’. That word ‘included’ implies that it is illegal to disturb schedule 1 species at any time but then his next line says the opposite ‘As a result, the use of gas guns outside the bird breeding season is not unlawful’.
          That was the contradiction i was referring to or am i being thick?

          But from what i gather the law in Scotland is clear that it is illegal to ‘harass’ a schedule 1a species at any time or place irrespective of whether it is near the nest or not. That is my and Marco McGinty’s understanding of the wording on the SNH website linked to above. In which case gas-gun use is illegal anywhere near a Schedule 1a species.

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