Time to stop demonising the Langholm buzzards

buzzard 3Raptors have long been accused of ‘eating too many’ red grouse, and none more so than at Langholm.

Sure, we all know that some raptors can eat a lot of grouse – during the Langholm 1 study it was shown that raptor predation reduced the autumn grouse abundance by 50%, leading to the cessation of driven grouse shooting (here). In other words, the ‘surplus’ birds from an artificially-high red grouse population were no longer available to be shot and the red grouse population dropped back to normal (natural) density. But we also know, through the work completed during the recent Langholm 2 study, that diversionary feeding of hen harriers has shown that the proportion of red grouse in the diet of diversionary-fed hen harriers was a negligible 0-4% (see here).

Seeing as (diversionary-fed) hen harriers could no longer be blamed, attention switched to blaming the buzzards. Simon Lester, the now former Head Keeper at Langholm is quoted in a 2014 book A Sparrowhawk’s Lament as follows:

I can put my hand on my heart and say that harriers aren’t a problem. Harriers aren’t limiting grouse at Langholm because diversionary feeding works. What’s stopping us shooting grouse is Buzzard predation“.

Unfortunately (for Simon), this claim of buzzard predation causing problems at Langholm is wholly unsupported by the scientific evidence. Research undertaken during three breeding seasons at Langholm 2 (2011-2013) showed the proportion of red grouse in the diet of buzzards was just 1-6% (see here and here).

‘Ah, but what about buzzard predation during the winter?’, cried the grouse shooting community. Well, that question has just been answered by the latest study, published last week. It turns out that not only aren’t Langholm buzzards taking many grouse during the breeding season, they’re also taking bugger all during the winter. Over a period of two years, red grouse formed 1.1% and 0.6% of prey items, and occurred in 3% and 2% of pellets from each winter, respectively. Small mammals were the main prey in both years, comprising 60–67% of items and occurring in 88–92% of pellets.

Despite such robust and compelling evidence, there are some who still want to pin the blame on the buzzards. Last November, Mark Oddy (Buccleuch Estates – one of the Langholm 2 project partners) suggested, “We now have to grasp the nettle and try and put forward a case, which probably in the first instance under licence, will allow some type of lethal control, ‘cos I don’t see what the future alternative is” (see here).

And in July this year, Tim (Kim) Baynes of Scottish Land & Estates wrote: “The confounding factor seems to have been the overall impact of buzzards, ravens and other raptor species predating adult grouse all year round, with harriers starting to overwinter on the moor, too“. He went on: “There were 80 pairs of raptors from seven species nesting on and around the moor at the last count, excluding ravens. Everyone involved now agrees that this level of multi-species raptor predation makes grouse-shooting unviable. Demonstrating this is a vital step in making the case for action to resolve it.

Eh? Can these people not understand simple scientific data? Or are they just choosing to ignore the evidence?

Give it up guys, Langholm buzzard dietary studies have been done to death: they’re not really in to eating red grouse.

29 Responses to “Time to stop demonising the Langholm buzzards”

  1. 1 JW4926
    October 9, 2016 at 11:39 am

    Evidence- based knowledge has no place in their small worlds ……. they choose to believe what they wish …… whether or not their beliefs fit the event is a completely different matter ….. Let’s face it – they make the stories up as they go along …….

  2. 3 Nigel Raby
    October 9, 2016 at 11:48 am

    Unfortunately the mindset of these people is about killing, it doesn’t really matter what it is they just want to kill it!

  3. 5 George M
    October 9, 2016 at 12:20 pm

    What about factoring in climatic variations and the need to obey the law due to the spotlight that has focused on Langholm. Would this increase in scrutiny result in less foxes, stoats and other birds/animals that are blamed for predating on grouse? If a pattern of late, cold, wet springs reduces the numbers of grouse in NE Scotland, even without the added scrutiny of the intensive management techniques, then it appears logical that these climatic changes should have some effect in SE Scotland too.

  4. 6 Dylanben
    October 9, 2016 at 12:26 pm

    The situation described by Tim Baynes may well be typical of what might have been found in such areas 200 years or so ago. This was before the DGS lobby arrived on the scene and commandeered the naturally-occurring surplus of grouse for its own nefarious purposes. An admission that DGS is not currently viable in such circumstances begs the question as to what happens in those places where it is considered viable. There is a straightforward solution to their problem, ban DGS and let nature look after itself.

  5. 7 Brian Robertson
    October 9, 2016 at 12:53 pm

    The comment by Baynes, “with harriers starting to overwinter on the moor” is so telling of what used to happen on these moors over the winter months!

  6. 8 Thomas David Dick
    October 9, 2016 at 3:45 pm

    Tired of all these quibbling arguments…some of which at least only serve to prolong the status quo…”more research needed”…”were waiting for the results of further study etc etc”. Driven grouse shooting on “managed” moors was invented and refined during the Victorian era when they could kill any predator from wild cats to golden eagles with impunity and were expected to do so. It runs on total predator killing. The rest of society wants predators protected…so..Ban Driven Grouse Shooting…or continue to count the angels dancing on the head of a pin.

  7. October 9, 2016 at 5:59 pm

    Everyone is overlooking the fact that the grouse become so depressed at being the focus of such a love hate relationship they are turning to suicide…or worse still… cannibalism!!

  8. 10 Chris Roberts
    October 9, 2016 at 6:20 pm

    Please send any surplus Buzzards to the Eastern Cairngorms as we don’t appear to have any.!!

  9. 11 Jack Snipe
    October 9, 2016 at 6:27 pm

    There are so many rumours abounding in private about unethical aspects of the Langholm research, in my considered opinion certain aspects of the results are not worth the papers they’re written in. If RPS in doing their excellent work is willing to accept a bit of criticism, perhaps they should call for a investigation into the credibility of these rumours. Otherwise the arguments we use in criticising gamekeepers and the grouse shooting industry are fundamentally flawed.

    Unfortunately because we rely on science to back up our case, which is entirely appropriate, there is a degree of reluctance on the part of genuine conservation scientists to slate the results of various studies carried out by scientists who are being paid by clients with vested interests. I am also becoming increasingly suspicious of government conservation agencies being either consciously or unconsciously complicit, by not being sceptical of some of the claims made. The comparison with scientists working for the tobacco industry can’t be avoided. This applies, in my experience, to some wind farm studies as well as those associated with grouse shooting.

    This latest attack on Buzzards is part of an incremental campaign which has lasted at least 25 years in my experience, but has accelerated greatly in recent years due to the exposing of what goes on behind the scenes, it has to be said with RPUK leading the field in terms of public exposure. Certainly more so than the RSPB, for example, despite the excellent work carried out by their own Investigations Department (under-staffed and under-funded). The ultimate objective of the game shooting bodies is to rewrite the legislation protecting birds of prey. They are currently cock-a-hoop about the success of the Northumberland estate who were granted licence to kill up to ten Buzzards – a dangerous precedent.

    Without going into detail at this stage, it is fairly well known in scientific circles that some of the work promoted by the shooting industry and occasionally referenced by RPUK is almost certainly false or at least seriously flawed by varying degrees of corruption (I use this term advisedly). This applies in particular to the “success” of diversionary feeding, and the numbers of young grouse being fed by adults to the nestlings. Most experienced harrier workers with whom I am familiar express doubts about the truth of the degree of predation on Red Grouse, and personally I am sceptical of many of the studies which Mark Avery relies upon to continue stating that harriers eat “a lot” of Red Grouse. My own research into breeding Hen Harriers has involved the installation of CCTV cameras at six different nests, as part of over 100 nests monitored by inspections over a 17-year period. The camera evidence indicated prey items were 98% pipits and voles, with not a single grouse chick provided. A team of five participating in this particular study of harriers recorded only one incident of a (female) harrier catching an adult Red Grouse, and none was observed taking a grouse chick. Several wader chicks were taken, so admittedly it seems likely that grouse will feature occasionally as a prey item.

    My point is that the scientific knowledge of Hen Harrier (and now Buzzard) ecology is potentially in a bit of a mess due to less than robust scientific research sponsored by the shooting interests. One only needs to scour the media produced by various allegedly scientific bodies with a vested interest, to discover that the lies perpetuated in their propaganda is founded upon so-called research which in itself is highly dubious. Their not-so-hidden agenda is there for all to see by those capable of discriminating. Sadly it is inevitably the case that some perfectly good scientists might achieve a degree of notoriety by association. This makes it very difficult to achieve open discussion of the fundamental problem.

  10. 12 Les Wallace
    October 9, 2016 at 6:34 pm

    Says it all re why they wanted the ‘Understanding Predation’ initiative to give as much credence to the observations of people in the field (i.e gamekeepers) as to scientific research. The latter didn’t tally with what the keepers said so obviously science must be in the wrong. A great pity the Upland Exposure fb page seems to have disappeared we could do with more along those lines to challenge the patronising crap and outright lies the estates are doling out.

  11. 15 hector
    October 9, 2016 at 7:59 pm

    Nice to see Jack Snipe on fine form this evening with the usual mixture of tall tales and hints at studies that no one ever gets to see or are still being written up. I start to wonder if Mr Snipe is not a pretendy character to generate hits on this site given some of his more outlandish claims. I am still waitiiing for his grounbreakng raven research . In the last few months Mr Snipe has had a pop at the RSPB , Hawk and Owl trust , The langholm project , today Mark Avery and of course the Natonal parks and all keepers and shooters that ever drew breath. He maintains he hides behind his avatar for safety reasons which iif true I respect but given the claims of being shot at on a regular basis I suspect it is all in his mind . To re-state my own position I do not condone the killing of birds of prey outside of the law or for that matter inside the law with the flawed waste of eagle chicks sent to IreIand to starve.

    • 16 Jack Snipe
      October 9, 2016 at 8:53 pm

      What a load of rambling nonsense. Much of my harrier work has been written up in contract reports available on the SNH website, although I’m still working on the Raven paper and attempting to put together a more complex paper on Hen Harrier population dynamics on two Special Protection Areas in southern Scotland. Unfortunately this latter work is being hindered by a key fieldworker being unwilling for me to use his data, for reasons unknown to myself. Just for the record, your diatribe is a fine example of your sort distorting the truth – I’m not alone in “having a pop” at RSPB for not supporting Mark’s petition to ban driven grouse shooting, as for the Hawk & Owl Trust I don’t think many contributors to RPUK would disagree with me, and I did not criticise Mark Avery – if you care to read my comment carefully you’ll see I was expressing concern that he may have been misled by biased research. I’m not aware of me having any more of a pop at the National Parks than RPUK themselves or many other commenters, and I did not claim to have been shot at “on a regular basis.” It’s happened three or four times in 50+ years! Get your facts right, and a new pair of reading glasses. I have no idea why I might want to generate hits on this site. Your snide remarks appear to be personal rather than objective, so I presume I’ve touched a raw nerve?

      • 17 hector
        October 9, 2016 at 9:09 pm

        Still think you are just a troll Jack but f you want to list your work and it is real i will read it . Until then you will allways be Trolly Jack to me. Publsh away.

        • 18 Jack Snipe
          October 9, 2016 at 9:46 pm

          Your definition of a troll is not only self-referential, it is as accurate as your definition of avatar. It’s very easy to throw insults and make irrational accusations of dishonesty, but I’d be more interested if you could put forward any constructive argument against my views, or justify discounting my long term experience and knowledge of harrier ecology. As to Mr Carbo’s statement that I was “rumbled” a while back, I can assure you I am no troll and nothing I have ever written is untrue or intended to deceive. I can only assume the truth makes you uncomfortable for some reason. I have published lots of work, not under my pseudonym of course, but I refuse to enter into any petty bickering or respond to what amounts to libel. Do you really expect me to go into detailed results of my work on a blog? Get real. Some might say my comments are already too lengthy! Hopefully others will realise I’m sincere in what I do and say. If you want to challenge my views, go ahead, but spare the trolling insults.

          • 19 hector
            October 9, 2016 at 10:31 pm

            No libel Jack I reported my experience with ravens and was called a liar for my trouble. That is what happens when I venture onto sites that don’t like what I say. You seem to make a point of sneering at and talking down quite a few posters on this site using your ” research ” to back you up yet none of your work seems to see the light of day. For all you now Mr Carbo could be in a chair of applied Ecology at a major university but still you sneer. Still no mention of the raven research and as to “discounting your long term experience and knowledge of harrier ecology ” still remain to see any of it. No insults Jack publish and we can put this behind us and you will have my apology. Must dash as am working on my Higgs Bosom research for Cern if the pesky fieldworkers will let me see their data.

            • 20 Jack Snipe
              October 11, 2016 at 1:05 am

              You haven’t a clue.

            • 21 Carol
              October 11, 2016 at 6:06 am

              I think you have cracked Jack

              • 22 Jack Snipe
                October 12, 2016 at 12:24 am

                I’m not quite sure what you mean by that Carol, partly because I don’t know to whom your response is directed! It seems fairly clear that hector (appropriately named) has a bee in his bonnet because he reckons I called him a liar regarding his Raven “observations.” I doubt if I was as blatant as that, and my normal response to his bizarre claims would be to suggest some degree of misinterpretation of the birds’ behaviour. His taunting of me to publish my results (which I fully intend to do) is merely a psychological ploy, possibly even to get me to reveal my true identity. I don’t think that matters because I don’t have an overblown sense of self-importance. Who cares? Professionals reading these blogs and knowing my work, including fellow co-workers, are fully aware of my identity. Incidentally, I have also worked on the real Jack Snipe, which has led to several publications.

                I’d like Messrs hector and Carbo to explain what possible difference it makes to their credibility of my observations (of Ravens or Hen Harriers) by publishing anyway. They can continue to libel me by implying that it’s all made up. This is perhaps because they suspect me of playing them at their own game, but some of us hold our integrity as scientists to be paramount. Despite their claims, I am not arrogant and am perfectly willing to have my research work challenged by other experts or anyone who pleases. I provide summaries on this blog intended to help interested people to understand some of the intricacies of Raven and Hen Harrier ecology, with a bit of Buzzard and Kestrel natural history thrown in, because it’s all relevant to the whole purpose of RPUK.

                I’d suggest critics try to be more objective and constructive in future. To throw insults and attack someone else’s character and integrity are signs of true trolls. It reassures me that no harrier experts appear to disagree with most of my findings and conclusions, except perhaps for my opinions on the proportion of Red Grouse in the harriers’ diet. However I have provided empirical evidence of that, albeit relating to one site.

                At least it’s gratifying to see the results of the latest YouGov poll.

  12. 23 Mr Carbo
    October 9, 2016 at 9:09 pm

    Come on , Jack snipe does say ” without going into detail at this stage ” so I am sure he will want to enlighten us at a later stage. To be honest Jack Snipe was rumbled a while back and his credibility is now open to question. Come on Jack prove us wrong ! I also am unhappy at the disappearance of ” upland exposure” .They seemed well informed. There is a massive charm offensive on the go just now with Tim Baynes of Angus glens moorland group spouting his usual bullshit about how great our Angus glens are and how( yawn) there look after our uplands.This is the start of muirburn season.I will photograph the before and after for future reference.

    • 24 Mike
      October 9, 2016 at 11:53 pm

      Well Messers Carbo and Hector it seems pretty plain to me, and I suspect many of the readers of this blog, that Jack Snipe speaks from a background of long and wide experience and that his credibility stands. He offers insight and wisdom which few of us can match and knows the importance of integrity and objectivity in the work he does. There are several powerful reasons to justify remaining as Jack Snipe. Long may he contribute to the discussion.
      Unfortunately non of the above seems to be applicable to your contributions which seem offensive and lack the justification for anonymity which Jack Snipe holds.

  13. 25 Doug Malpus
    October 9, 2016 at 11:33 pm

    All, ok, maybe, a large proportion, of the shooting estates are run by raptor hating thugs.

    Their belief is that a curved beak is sufficient proof of eating their gun fodder.

    Studying and accepting natural history is not part of their job description. Belief in Victorian ideals is all that matters. To them vermin includes raptors, crows, fox, stoat, weasel, stray cats, pine marten and anything else that may have a taste for eggs, chicks or adult game.

    Of course natural predation cannot be accepted because the game are grown to be SHOT and die a honourable death pumped full of lead.

    A sick part of society these factory killers.

  14. 26 Merlin
    October 9, 2016 at 11:41 pm

    So Simon Lester, the head gamekeeper no less, finally realises and discloses that diversionary fed harriers have no impact on grouse numbers, the following year he then produces a harvestable population of grouse with several nesting harriers as well, for the first time since he’s been in charge. I bet he could not wait for the shooting days and the chance to show the shooting guests what he had achieved only to have the carpet pulled from beneath his feet by the management team at Langholm who decided to leave that harvestable surplus out on the moors, 6 or 7 years work down the drain, this is something that puzzled me when I first heard about it, did Simon resign or was he sacked? did he break confidentiality or did he realise he was wasting his time and being used as he was never going to achieve the ever increasing targets set by the shooting management?

  15. 27 Carol
    October 10, 2016 at 6:06 am

    I think it is important to raise the point that what is moorland in Liddesdale now was not always so. My own family told me of the remains of a huge tree discovered when cutting peat on their turf patch on the Holm Hill, on the edge of this moor. Liddesdale used to be an area heavily wooded, and also with very much more cultivated land , supporting a far greater population than it has today in centuries past
    A quote from a booklet on the area published in the 1890’s is also relevant-it stated that nobody in all the village (Newcastlon, the other end of the Moor from Langholm) can remember so much as a penny ever coming to the village from the shooting. Buccleuch’s surprise visit to the village one day in the 1950’s ,when he was seen to take a short walk then leave, was the first time even those in their 80’s had known a Duke of Buccleuch to visit in their lifetime. I think these points are relevant for anyone arguing with those who try to say the shooting brings much needed income. The very opposite was argued to be the case

  16. 28 dave angel
    October 10, 2016 at 10:24 am

    Are they hoping that by reintroducing Golden Eagles the number of Buzzards will be reduced?

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