Archive for October, 2016


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


More moor burning at Moy – it’s simply perverse

The gamekeepers at Moy Estate are continuing to set the moor alight as part of their grouse moor management strategy. Here’s a photo taken from a train yesterday showing a fire on the Moy grouse moors.


This fire isn’t as extensive as the one at Moy we blogged about last week but it’s just as interesting.

Take a look at the right hand side of the photo and you’ll see some wind turbines. These are part of the 20-turbine Moy wind farm, built on the moors of Moy Estate, that became operational earlier this year.

The whole purpose of installing (publicly-subsidised) wind turbines is to create renewable energy and thus reduce the carbon emissions that would otherwise be created from burning fossil fuels.

Isn’t it a bit perverse, then, that the estate has also leased the moors to a shooting tenant whose (probably publicly subsidised) management techniques include the regular burning of heather? By burning the heather, the carbon-rich peaty soil is disturbed and exposed. As the soil dries out, the stored carbon decomposes and releases carbon dioxide in to the atmosphere, contributing to climate change.

Oh the irony.


New YouGov poll shows strong support for ban on driven grouse shooting

The message is definitely getting out there! A new YouGov poll, commissioned by Animal Aid, shows that 48% of those polled (2033 people) last month would support a ban on driven grouse shooting, compared to 28% who would oppose a ban.

When counting only those who expressed a view, those in support of a ban rose to 63%, with 37% opposed to a ban.


Some quotes in response to these results:

Mark Avery:

We’re leaving the EU on 52% of the vote – we should ban driven grouse shooting on 63% of views. Intensive grouse shooting damages our environment, depends on killing our protected species, and benefits from our taxes. We want it to end.

MPs will debate this issue later this autumn. They must rise to the challenge of ending wildlife crime and ending unsustainable moorland management”.

Mark McCormick, Head of Campaigns for the League Against Cruel Sports:

“The momentum to ban driven grouse shooting is growing and this polling is a clear indicator of this trajectory. The public are clearly becoming wise to the devastating impacts of this brutal industry. When you consider the potential benefits of wildlife and eco-tourism in contrast to the dubious and overstated economic benefits of driven grouse shooting it is absolutely clear that this is an industry only interested in protecting its own profits at the expense of wildlife and the environment. The uplands should be a place whereby nature and wildlife thrive free from persecution and destruction and can be of joy and benefit to everyone rather than just a few”.

Animal Aid Director, Isobel Hutchinson:

These latest poll results reflect the rising tide of opposition to grouse shooting. The public is becoming increasingly aware that this is a sport which inflicts appalling suffering on animals, and can have devastating consequences for the environment. It is high time that the barbaric bloodsport of grouse shooting was consigned to the history books”.

Raptor Persecution UK:

“It’s good to see an increased public awareness and condemnation of driven grouse shooting. Those who want it banned understand the immense environmental damage it causes and know that this industry has refused, point blank, to voluntarily put its house in order. Those who continue to support driven grouse shooting either have a vested interest or are yet to be made aware of its devastating impact on our upland habitat and wildlife”.

Read the full press release here

Photo: grouse butts on a North Yorkshire grouse moor (RPUK)


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.


Extensive fire damage from Moy grouse moor ‘hair cut’

The muirburn season has re-opened (1 Oct – 15 Apr) and it hasn’t taken long for the grouse moor hairdressers to splash around the fire accelerant and bring out the blow torches.

This is a photo of a fire on the Moy Estate grouse moor at 21.43hr on Wednesday night (5th October 2016). For perspective, the photo was taken from 5km away in Daviot. A pretty big fire then.


And here’s a photo taken the following day showing the extent of this fire. The area burned was huge and this image only shows part of it as the damage extends over the hill. Doesn’t look much like small ‘patch’ or ‘strip’ burning, does it? Perhaps it wasn’t muirburn after all?


The fire wasn’t properly extinguished and was left unattended. Isn’t that against the muirburn code?  This photo was taken on the afternoon of Thursday 6th Oct at 17.10hr. Here the fire has engulfed one of the estate’s middens (stink pits) where the rotting carcasses of dead wildlife are dumped and the area ring-fenced with snares to catch any animal that comes along to investigate the putrid remains.


This photo was taken at 17.35hr on Thursday 6 Oct. The fire was still unattended and creeping towards the FCS forestry block, 200m away.


It’s ok though, nothing to worry about because “burning heather is the same as getting your hair cut“.

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