Archive for November, 2017


More on the grouse-shooting industry’s desire to kill Marsh harriers

Following on from yesterday’s blog where we reported that grouse moor owners want licences to kill Marsh harriers (see here), this news has obviously stirred up a lot of interest and commentary.

We just want to clarify something here. We were not at the RPPDG meeting where this conversation took place; we simply reported information that had been sent to us, by a number of different sources. Obviously, we did a lot of background research before we published and although we can’t be sure of the actual words that Amanda used (because we weren’t there), we are confident that the conversation about grouse moor owners wanting licences to lethally control Marsh harriers did take place. We are looking forward to seeing the minutes of the meeting (probably not available until they’ve been signed off at the next RPPDG meeting early in the New Year).

Seeing the official minutes (assuming they haven’t been doctored) is one of three ways this news can be verified.

Another way would be for the representatives of the various organisations who were in attendance to actually confirm or refute that the conversation took place. There are a lot of organisations who send representatives to these RPPDG meetings, in addition to the Moorland Association, such as the Countryside Alliance, BASC, Natural England, RSPB, National Gamekeepers Org, Welsh Government, DEFRA, NERF, NWCU, CLA, various police forces, and the meetings are currently chaired by the Police Superintendent of Greater Manchester Police.

It’s quite telling that none of them has issued a statement to deny the conversation took place, nor indeed has the RPPDG as a collective umbrella group.

If we were at a meeting and an outsider claimed that something as controversial as this was discussed, when it actually wasn’t discussed, we’d be making it very clear that as a meeting attendee, the conversation didn’t happen.

The other way the news can be verified would be for Amanda Anderson to clarify what was actually said. So far, her only public response has been on twitter, where she wrote:

Unfortunately, when asked to clarify which part of the news article she deemed to be “complete nonsense”, she has refused to comment further. This is quite unhelpful. Surely, if she didn’t tell the RPPDG meeting that grouse moor owners want to apply for licenses to kill Marsh harriers, she would take every opportunity to be crystal clear about that? We’d be more than happy to retract the information if it can be shown that the conversation didn’t take place and that our sources have provided misinformation. Her refusal to enter into a discussion looks more like a damage limitation exercise than a desire to clear up a supposedly inaccurate report. That’s a shame.

We’ll be coming back to this topic in the New Year once we have the official minutes of the meeting.

UPDATE 19 January 2018: Update on claim that grouse moor owners want licences to kill Marsh harriers (here)

UPDATE 12 November 2018: Licences to kill Marsh harriers on grouse moors – an update (here)


Grouse moor owners want licences to kill Marsh harriers

Yes, you did read the headline correctly.

We’ve received reports from a number of independent sources that at the November 2017 meeting of DEFRA’s Raptor Persecution Priority Delivery Group (RPPDG), the Director of the Moorland Association (the mouthpiece for grouse moor owners in England), Amanda Anderson, said that grouse moor managers would be submitting applications to Natural England for licences to kill Marsh harriers.

[Photo by Markus Varesuvo]

That’ll be the Marsh harriers that are Amber listed on the UK Birds of Conservation Concern.

The Marsh harriers that are recovering from a virtual population wipeout – down to one known breeding pair in 1971 thanks to a combination of illegal persecution, habitat loss and DDT and currently with an estimated breeding population of 400-450 pairs.

The Marsh harriers that are locally common in some areas such as East Anglia but still extremely rare or absent in many other areas.

The Marsh harriers that most commonly breed in lowland wetland habitat, particularly reedbeds but increasingly on farmland too.

The Marsh harriers that very rarely breed on upland grouse moors although when they do, they are illegally targeted by men dressed as gamekeepers.

[Photo by George Reszeter]

It’s hard to comprehend the news that grouse moor owners want licences to kill this species. It’s so utterly ludicrous to think that a handful of Marsh harriers would pose any serious threat to the hundreds of thousands of red grouse that are raised on grouse moors just to be shot, for fun.

And yet these are the grouse moor owners who claim to want breeding Hen harriers back on these moors!

This latest move makes it quite clear that the grouse-shooting industry is beyond redemption. There’s no reasoning with people who think that Marsh harriers need to be killed because they’re perceived to be a threat to the viability of an upland grouse shoot.

If you’ve managed to pick up your jaw off the floor, you might want to consider signing this e-petition calling for a ban on driven grouse shooting. It really is time to throw this filthy, regressive, Victorian ‘sport’ on to the bonfire of history.

UPDATE 30 November 2017: More on the grouse-shooting industry’s desire to kill Marsh harriers (here)

UPDATE 19 January 2018: Update on claim that grouse moor owners want licences to kill Marsh harriers (here)

UPDATE 12 November 2018: Licences to kill Marsh harriers on grouse moors – an update (here)


Natural England’s progress report on the Hen Harrier Action Plan (summer 2017)

In September this year, Natural England told blog reader Mike Whitehouse that “work on the six actions set out in the [2016] Joint Hen Harrier Action Plan is progressing as expected. Ultimately we believe these actions will result in an increase in the numbers of hen harriers breeding in England“.

Earlier this month, in its response to Gavin Gamble’s e-petition calling for a ban on driven grouse shooting, DEFRA said this:

The [Hen Harrier] Action Plan was developed with senior representatives from organisations including Natural England, the Moorland Association, the National Gamekeepers’ Organisation, the Game & Wildlife Conservation Trust, National Parks England and formerly the RSPB. These organisations, led by Natural England, will monitor activities and report annually on progress to the Defra Uplands Stakeholder Forum and the UK Tasking and Co-ordinating group for Wildlife Crime’.

Naturally, we were curious about this ‘as expected progress’, nearly two years after the Hen Harrier Action Plan was launched, especially given the high number of dead or ‘missing’ satellite tagged hen harriers that have been reported since the Action Plan was launched.

[Photo of Hen Harrier Carroll, found dead in Northumberland in January 2017. A post mortem revealed she had died with a parasitic infection, but it also revealed two shotgun pellets lodged under healed wounds, one in the leg and one in the throat. Photo by Northumberland Police]

We were keen to see the annual report to which DEFRA referred in its response to Gavin Gamble – the one that had been submitted to the DEFRA Uplands Stakeholder Forum.

We’ve managed to get hold of a copy.

Here’s the report’s introductory blurb, highlighting the fact that no hen harriers bred on any English grouse moors in 2016, nor in 2017. Not a great start to a report about ‘progress’.

Now let’s examine the ‘progress’ that has been made on each of the six action points:


So, a number of hen harriers were satellite-tagged in 2016 and 2017. That is good, but this tagging effort started long before the launch of the Hen Harrier Action Plan and would have happened even if the Action Plan hadn’t been launched, so this can hardly be claimed as Action Plan ‘progress’. And most of these tagged birds (except two) have since been found shot dead or have ‘disappeared’ in suspicious circumstances.

Progress rating: 2/10 (and that’s being generous).


Progress rating: 0/10


The RPPDG might well have been ‘focusing its efforts on the production of poison maps‘, but as we pointed out the other day, this so-called ‘delivery group’ hasn’t managed to deliver a single thing since the publication of its 2007-2011 poisoning map.

And what’s this about ‘hen harriers do not feed on carrion so the poisons map is not directly applicable to this species‘? Er, aren’t there records of hen harriers being killed by ingesting illegal poison? Yes, there most certainly are – see here. And what’s diversionary feeding if it isn’t the provision of dead food (i.e. carrion)? Of course hen harriers feed on carrion! And here’s a photograph of one doing exactly that, caught on a camera trap by SRSG member Stuart Williams in Orkney in 2015:

Progress rating: 0/10


Again, roost and nest watches started long before the launch of the Hen Harrier Action Plan and would have happened even if the Action Plan hadn’t been launched, so this can hardly be claimed as Action Plan ‘progress’. However, the development of a roost monitoring scheme with the Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority seems to be a new thing, which is good, although this progress report doesn’t actually tell us whether it’s up and running yet.

Progress rating: 1/10


We’re not going to comment too much about this Action Point because we’ve got a more detailed blog planned for the very near future, based on some more information that has been dragged out of Natural England via FoI requests.

Nevertheless, ‘progress’ on this highly controversial Action Point has certainly been made (here’s what we know so far), even though we totally oppose this action.

Progress rating: 7/10


Again, we’re not going to comment too much on this Action Point because we’ve got a more detailed blog planned for the New Year, when Natural England will have finalised the brood meddling licence and thus will have to release it to the public for scrutiny. At the moment we know very little because NE has refused to tell us anything for a whole year.

Nevertheless, progress on this highly controversial Action Point has certainly been made, even though we totally oppose this action.

Progress rating: 5/10

So there we have it. Almost two years on from the launch of the Hen Harrier Action Plan, ‘progress’ has been made by the organisations already carrying out these so-called Action Points (e.g. RSPB, Natural England, Northern England Raptor Study Group, Forestry Commission), regardless of the Hen Harrier Action Plan. But there is absolutely no sign of ‘progress’ from the grouse-shooting industry on anything other than the two Action Points that are designed either to remove hen harriers from grouse moors (brood meddling) or to detract attention from the illegal killing of hen harriers on grouse moors (southern reintroduction).

Oh, and satellite-tagged hen harriers keep ‘disappearing’ or being found shot dead.

Perhaps this is what Natural England meant when they told Mike Whitehouse in September that progress is “as expected“.

Watch this space for further updates on brood meddling and the southern reintroduction, coming soon.


Parliamentary recognition for award-winning Scottish Raptor Study Group members

Following last week’s excellent news that three Scottish Raptor Study Group members had won top prizes in the RSPB’s Nature of Scotland Awards (here), further congratulations are due as an MSP has lodged a motion asking the Scottish Parliament to recognise the efforts of two of these raptor conservationists.

Well done, Logan & Andrea!


Law professor joins Scot Gov’s grouse moor management review group

Further to last Friday’s announcement on the establishment of the Scottish Government’s grouse moor management review group (see here), another member has joined the panel.

Professor Colin Reid (University of Dundee) specialises in Environmental Law and currently serves as Chair of the PAW Scotland Legislation, Regulation and Guidance Group. We’re delighted to see this appointment, especially as part of the review group’s remit is to advise on the establishment of a regulatory licensing scheme for grouse moors.

Colin’s appointment now brings the panel membership to four eminent professors and two moorland managers:

Professor Alan Werrity FRSE (Chair)

Professor Ian Newton OBE, FRS, FRSE

Professor Alison Hester FSB

Professor Colin Reid FRSA

Alexander Jameson BLE MRICS FAAV

Mark Oddy MRICS CEnV MIAagrM

Dr Calum Macdonald (SEPA), Professor Des Thompson (SNH), Dr Adam Smith (GWCT Scotland) and Susan Davies (SWT) will be specialist advisers to the group but are not on the panel.

[Photo: a landscape of driven grouse moors in the Cairngorms National Park. Photo by Ruth Tingay]


MSPs asking questions re: Police Scotland silence on masked gunman in public forest

A couple of weeks ago we blogged about how a masked gunman and his masked accomplice had been captured on camera close to a protected raptor nest in a public (Forestry Commission Scotland) forest (here). The incident was recorded in spring 2017 and was reported to Police Scotland.

There have been no public appeals for information from Police Scotland and no warnings to forest users (such as birdwatchers, cyclists, walkers, visiting families) about this serious threat to public safety.

We asked Justice Secretary Michael Matheson and the Minister for Community Safety & Legal Affairs, Annabelle Ewing, about this issue but neither bothered to respond.

A week later we blogged about how Police Scotland’s reluctance to publicise suspected raptor persecution crimes, such as this one, and others including the use of highly dangerous poisonous baits, was threatening public safety and we urged blog readers to contact their local MSPs and ask them to start asking questions.

We know that some of you have done this (well done and thank you) and we wanted to share some correspondence that one particular couple has received, if only to demonstrate how effective this approach can be.

Let’s call this couple Mr & Mrs Bloggs.

On 16 November 2017, Mr & Mrs Bloggs emailed Police Scotland’s General Enquiries Centre:

Police Scotland responded on the same day with this:

Not to be deterred, Mr & Mrs Bloggs wrote back to Police Scotland:

On the same day, Police Scotland responded with this:

The next day, local Police Wildlife Crime Officer Daniel Sutherland wrote to Mr & Mrs Bloggs:

Although Police Scotland should be commended for speedy responses, Mr & Mrs Bloggs were unimpressed with Police Scotland’s refusal to discuss this case so they wrote to their local MSPs to see if they could get anywhere with them.

It turns out to have been an inspired move. Three MSPs have responded, as follows:

This from David Stewart MSP (Labour, Highlands & Islands, & Shadow Minister for Environment):

This from John Finnie MSP (Scottish Greens, Highlands & Islands):

And this from Jamie Halcro Johnston MSP (Scottish Conservatives, Highlands & Islands):

Well done Mr & Mrs Bloggs! Cross-party political interest in under a week.

Let’s see where this goes.

UPDATE 30 December 2017: Masked gunmen at goshawk nest in Moy Forest (here)


GWCT & YFTB: it’s getting harder to differentiate between them

The Mail on Sunday ran a story yesterday suggesting that the RSPB was responsible for the catastrophic decline of the English hen harrier breeding population. It went like this:


You might think this article was the handiwork of the grouse shooting industry’s propaganda machine, You Forgot the Birds (YFTB). It’s got all the hallmarks – anti-RSPB rhetoric, dodgy use of science, published in the Mail etc. But there’s no quote from YFTB favourites, Ian ‘King of Bollocks‘ Botham or the equally scientifically-illiterate Ian Gregory.

Instead, there’s yet another idiotic quote from Andrew ‘More Crayons than Credibility‘ Gilruth of the Game & Wildlife Conservation Trust (GWCT), who suggests that the cause of the collapsing hen harrier population is the RSPB not killing enough predators. This disingenuous gibberish from Gilruth is akin to ivory poachers arguing that the loss of elephants in Kruger National Park is down to the failure of the National Park Authority to protect them – and nothing to do with illegal killing for profit.

So did this Mail on Sunday article originate from YFTB or from GWCT? It’s pretty hard to tell just from reading it, but what you might not know is that YFTB issued an embargoed press statement to journalists in late October 2017 (that wasn’t published) that went like this:

Gosh, spot the similarities?

Is the GWCT’s Andrew Gilruth now moonlighting for YFTB?

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