Guidance for deployment of gas guns on grouse moors – still waiting

A year ago in May 2015, someone sent us some photographs of three propane gas gun bird scarers that had been deployed on the grouse moor at Leadhills Estate, South Lanarkshire (see here).

Bird scarer 1 - Copy

These gas guns are routinely used for bird scaring on agricultural fields – they are set up to produce a periodic booming noise to scare pigeons, geese etc away from crops. The audible bang can reach volumes in excess of 150 decibels. We wondered why they were being used on grouse moors in the height of the breeding season?

A month later in June 2015, Mark Avery published photographs of gas guns that had also been deployed in the Peak District National Park and on an unnamed grouse moor in the Scottish Borders (see here).

We were interested in the deployment of these bird scarers in relation to (a) their proximity to Schedule 1 (and in Scotland, Schedule 1A) bird species [and thus any potential disturbance to these specially protected species] and (b) their use in designated Special Protection Areas [and thus any potential disturbance caused].

We assumed that the deployment of these gas guns would be subject to guidance and rigorous licensing controls by SNH and Natural England (as they are the licensing authorities for the Wildlife & Countryside Act (as amended)), particularly in relation to the hen harrier, which, as a Schedule 1A species (in Scotland only), is “protected from harassment [including disturbance] at any time“, not just when it’s trying to breed (see here).

So an FoI was sent to SNH to find out if anyone had requested a licence to use a gas gun on a grouse moor in the previous two years. It turned out nobody had.

An FoI was also sent to Natural England – no licence applications there either. It also emerged that NE had received a report in June 2015 of a gas gun being deployed on a SSSI on an estate in the North Pennines, without formal consent. In July 2015 a warning letter was sent to the estate asking them to remove the gas gun. The estate apparently complied and no further action was taken.

In September 2015, we encouraged blog readers to contact SNH and Natural England to ask for urgent guidance to be issued on the use of gas guns in protected areas and in close proximity breeding birds, particularly raptors (see here).

SNH responded quickly and said they would investigate, and depending on their findings, they may provide guidance (see here).

Natural England responded a short time later and said they recognised the need for guidance and that they were in the middle of drafting such guidance, which would be made available prior to the start of the 2016 breeding season (see here). In fact, Alan Law, Chief Strategy & Reform Officer at Natural England said: “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“.

Well, the 2016 breeding season is already underway but we haven’t seen any formal guidance. Have you?

Let’s remind SNH and Natural England of their stated commitments and ask them to produce the following:

Emails to:

Andrew Bachell, Director of Policy & Advice, SNH: Andrew.Bachell@snh.gov.uk

Dear Andrew, Last September you said SNH would investigate the deployment of propane gas gun scarers with regard to the law, and specifically with regard to the recent guidance you issued on Schedule A1 and 1A species under the Wildlife & Countryside Act. You also said, depending on your findings, SNH would issue guidance if it was felt appropriate to do so. Please can you provide the results of your investigation and advise whether you intend to issue any formal guidance or not? Thanks.


Emails to:

Alan Law, Chief Strategy & Reform Officer, Natural Engand: alan.law@naturalengland.org.uk

Dear Alan, Last September you said Natural England was drafting formal guidance on the deployment of gas gun bird scarers within Special Protection Areas and their potential impact upon Schedule 1 birds. You also said this guidance would be available in advance of the 2016 breeding season. Please can you direct me to the location of this guidance document, or better still, please send me a copy, as you said you would. Thanks.

11 Responses to “Guidance for deployment of gas guns on grouse moors – still waiting”

  1. May 9, 2016 at 7:24 am

    How about….

    Dear Andrew
    Why have you apparently done nothing about this issue? Did Dolittle tell you to do nothing? As independent advisers to ministers did the minister tell you not to advise her?
    It would be interesting to know the extent of your information gathering. Did staff visit sites to inspect the guns in situations? Was there any lobbying on this issue from SLE or any of the shooting organisations?
    Were you busy doing something else, if so, what activity was more demanding of your organisations time than preventing wildlife crime?

  2. 2 steve macsweeney
    May 9, 2016 at 9:19 am


  3. 3 Helen Smith
    May 9, 2016 at 9:45 am

    Have emailed him today.

  4. 4 Simon Tucker
    May 9, 2016 at 4:49 pm

    E-mailed just now

  5. 5 Kevin Rush
    May 10, 2016 at 2:11 pm

    Had this reply:
    Good morning,

    Thank you for your email.

    I note your concerns about the use of propane gas guns, which may have the potential for disturbance of protected bird species. We are not in receipt of specific evidence of an impact on breeding or nesting birds but we would welcome any information you may have regarding this or any related concerns of improper use of gas guns. This information should be forwarded to andy.turner@snh.gov.uk. Intentional or reckless disturbance of Schedule 1 nesting birds is an offence, and any suspected incidents of this through gas gun use should be reported directly to Police Scotland on 101.

    Although we do not have specific information, we are working with Natural England to provide best practice guidance on the use of this equipment to minimise the likelihood or potential of disturbance in the vicinity of protected species. We currently expect to make this available later this month. The use of gas gun equipment is regulated by Local Authorities under the Environment Act and we are not currently considering separate licensing under the Wildlife & Countryside Act. We will, however, continue to assess on a case-by-case basis any licence application to disturb scheduled birds.

    Thank you for your concern.

    Andrew Bachell
    Director of Policy & Advice

    [Ed: thanks Kevin. We’ll be blogging about this response shortly]

  6. 6 George M
    May 10, 2016 at 7:41 pm

    I had the same reply at 10.47 this morning.

  7. 7 Andrew
    May 13, 2016 at 9:46 pm

    Had same reply so replied:

    Dear Mr Bachell

    Thank you for your reply.

    On 10/05/2016 10:48, Andrew Bachell wrote:
    > We are not in receipt of specific evidence of an impact on breeding or nesting birds
    This statement may well be accurate when phrased like that. However, you are aware of the problem, it is why you are working on guidance on their use. Even a half witted politician, having done a little research, would find no good substantiated reason to use these devices on grouse moors to keep corvids away from nesting grouse. Talk of keeping crows and ravens away is pathetic as they so quickly learn there is no actual danger.

    If you were serious about proving their worth or otherwise a week spent observing corvid reactions to a gas gun would be enough. Hardly a big price to pay to allow considered guidance to be issued. As far as I am aware deployment of these devices always seems to be very localised on moors and if you were seriously targeting corvids on a moor would need gas guns spread in a matrix across the moor with a density of at least one per hundred acres. I would suspect a lowland farmer trying to protect crops would consider at least one unit to be required in a 50 acre field.

    Additional to that it should have been obvious to anyone in a paid position dealing with this project that the guidance should have been issued before the nesting season started.

    Can you tell me why this guidance was not produced in advance of the breeding season.


    and got this in response:

    Dear Mr Blake,

    SNH develops guidance based upon available evidence and current knowledge. We do not consider that guidance would be useful to practitioners were it to be based on anything less robust.

    To date SNH have received a total of 3 reports of incidents (date, location, circumstances) where gas guns have been deployed on high grouse moor, where there is a potential to impact on breeding birds. In our view this is not sufficient to warrant the production of guidance on gas guns ahead of the 2016 bird breeding season, independent to that already available via the NFU https://www.nfuonline.com/assets/4662

    However in recent discussion with colleagues in Natural England we have decided to develop generic guidance on the use of gas guns, to ensure a consistent approach in both Scotland and England.

    If you are aware of any specific incidents to help direct our guidance, please can you send them to andy.turner@snh.gov.uk

    Lastly, it is worth bearing in mind that while SNH guidance can be used to help promote accepted best practice, it is not enforceable by law should an individual decide not to adhere to it.

    Kind regards,

    Andrew Bachell

    and I responded

    Dear Mr Bachell

    Thanks for your reply.

    The NFU guidance is based on crop protection, does not mention potential disturbance to breeding birds and is geared to advising on effective use (acknowledging that effectiveness rapidly diminishes with familiarity) so I see that paper as being irrelevant to the current problem.

    As you say you can only issue guidance so given the ample evidence of gas guns being ineffective for corvids, and corvid control being the reason given for deployment on grouse moors, guidance to the effect that SNH can see no good reason for deployment in the run up and through the breeding season would have been quite reasonable.

    To have failed to respond to this recent development seems to add to the impression that SNH treats the shooting industry with far too much deference.

    Please don’t bother to respond to this email with further platitudes and just use your time to do a bit of simple research into gas guns / corvid control.


  8. 8 dunc4kites
    May 15, 2016 at 1:27 pm

    I was on Coignafearn Estate just last Monday and there was the regular sound of gunfire from the upper grouse moors on that estate. I can only assume that it was the use of these propane guns that I was hearing. The y wouldn’t be after Mountain Hares at this time of year, would they? And surely not on Coignafearn Estate?

    • 9 Andrew
      May 17, 2016 at 5:45 pm

      Shotguns tend to be used as a single shot (got it or missed it) or two barrels in very quick succession (missed,try again quickly or it’s out of range) On a driven shoot(not happening at this time of year) you get an irregular scatter of shots some in quite quick succession.
      Gas guns tend to be two or three bangs separated by 4 to 8 or more seconds. This tends to be repeated every 10 to 20 minutes.

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