Last week we were treated to yet another ‘partnership-working’ charade, this time under the guise of PAW Scotland’s ‘Heads up for Hen Harriers’ project.
This project was established in 2013. It aims to ‘better understand the threats facing Scotland’s hen harriers –and ultimately promote recovery of the species – by working in partnership with land managers‘ (see here). The idea is that nobody knows why hen harrier nests are failing in certain areas (yes, really!) but by putting cameras on nests we might learn more about these ‘mystery issues’.
The whole project has been a farce right from the start (we blogged about it here), although, to be fair, it does seem that asking the public for hen harrier sightings has been fruitful in one or two cases. But the part of the project that relies on nest camera evidence is just absurd. It’s going to lead to a huge sampling bias because these cameras are only placed at nest sites with the landowner’s permission. Nobody in their right mind is going to illegally persecute those nesting hen harriers or their chicks with a camera pointing right at them, thus, any subsequent nesting failures documented by the project will be the result of natural causes, not illegal ones, allowing the grouse moor owners to proclaim that illegal persecution isn’t a problem.
Last year we criticised the project (here) because nest cameras were not deployed on any intensively driven grouse moors. Tim (Kim) Baynes, a spokesman for Scottish Land & Estates, disingenuously used those 2015 results (from non-driven grouse moors) to claim that nest failures ‘on grouse moors’ that year were due to the weather and fox predation. We argued that it was pointless, propaganda-fuelling bollocks to place cameras on nest sites in areas where persecution isn’t an issue (walked-up grouse moors) and then use those results to claim that persecution isn’t an issue on driven grouse moors.
Much the same has happened this year. In last week’s media releases (SNH press release here; Landward programme here [available for 27 days]; BBC news here [which is basically a shortened version of the Landward programme]), we were told that there was an increase in project uptake from estates this year (five estates in 2015, 13 this year) and this was seen as huge progress. However, only three estates had successful nests and none of those estates were intensively managed driven grouse moors. Well, one of them was Langholm and as they’re still not shooting grouse there and still not illegally killing hen harriers there, it can hardly be seen to be representative of driven grouse moors.
What was new this year was that some of those 13 signed-up estates ARE intensively managed driven grouse moors – notably some in the Angus Glens and further north in Aberdeenshire. But none of them had breeding hen harriers this year so they didn’t really actively ‘take part’ in the project, as is being claimed. It’s all very well signing up for the project and saying you’re part of it and how much you love hen harriers and want to understand what the issues are; it’s a lot like the grouse moor owners in northern England who claim to have signed up to DEFRA’s Hen Harrier Inaction Plan – it sounds great but has resulted in exactly zero breeding hen harriers on any driven grouse moors in England this year. It’s an easy PR stunt for these estates to pull but when hen harriers haven’t bred in these areas for ten years (Angus Glens – see here) or the hen harrier population has suffered a catastrophic population decline thanks to illegal persecution (Aberdeenshire -see here), and when you’re still deploying gas guns, banger ropes, and inflatable screeching scarecrows at the critical breeding time for hen harriers, it’s probably a safe bet that you’re not going to have breeding hen harriers this year but hey, you can still say you’re engaged in ‘partnership-working’ and thus score some brownie points.
Of the nests that were successful this year, much has been made of the weather and of fox predation. Again, this is all just another opportunity to hide the known impact of illegal persecution. Yes, weather will affect productivity (as it can for most species) and yes, natural predation will occur (as it does in any ecosystem), but so what? We all know these natural causes of nest failure will occur in places, but we also know that illegal persecution has been identified as the main threat to hen harriers on driven grouse moors across the UK.
These estates, and SNH, need to stop pretending otherwise.
UPDATE 3 October 2016: Heads up for Hen Harriers: the ‘partnership-working’ sham (here)