Heads Up for Hen Harriers Project: total greenwashing propaganda

It’s that time of year again when the Heads Up for Hen Harriers Project trots out more propaganda in an attempt to greenwash the criminal activities of the driven grouse shooting industry.

This project began a few years ago and we’ve criticised it many times for being a partnership-working sham (e.g. see here, here, here, here, here). You won’t be surprised to learn we’re going to do so again.

The idea behind this project is that sporting estates agree to have cameras installed at hen harrier nests to identify the causes of nest failure. This is a flawed idea right from the off. We all know the main reason behind the declining hen harrier population – illegal persecution on intensively managed driven grouse moors – it has been documented time and time and time again, in scientific papers and government-funded reports. So, if you put an ‘official Project camera’ on a hen harrier nest situated on a driven grouse moor, the gamekeepers will know about it and won’t touch that nest (although they’re quite likely to try and bump off the young once they’ve left the nest but are hanging around the grouse drives, away from the nest camera). So if the nest then fails for natural reasons (e.g. poor weather, predation), the Project will only identify those issues as the cause of failure, and not the illegal persecution issue. The grouse-shooting industry will then use those (biased) results to shout about illegal persecution not being an issue. We’ve seen this many times already.

This year, once again, SNH put out a misleading press release that claimed a ‘bumper’ year for project success, with 37 hen harriers successfully fledging from 7 of the 21 participating estates.

Photograph from one of this year’s nest cameras:

Sounds great, doesn’t it? And it is, in a way. We have no problem recognising the efforts of these seven estates – they’ve all hosted successful hen harrier breeding attempts and they absolutely should be applauded for their efforts. But, and here’s the rub, not one of these estates is on our radar as being a raptor persecution hotspot and we question how many of them operates as an intensively managed driven grouse moor. Hen harriers would just as likely have nested on these seven estates even if they hadn’t signed up to be part of the Heads Up Project, so for the Heads Up Project to claim these breeding successes as a Project success is highly disingenuous.

Several of these estates are managed as re-wilding projects, some of them have low ground shooting/stalking or walked-up grouse shooting and at least one of them has no game shooting whatsoever. One that comes anywhere near being a driven grouse moor is Langholm, and given that this is a highly-scrutinsed demonstration project (i.e. no illegal raptor killing allowed), and they’re not shooting grouse there, it doesn’t qualify as an intensively managed driven grouse moor, nor an estate of (current) concern.

So while SNH and the driven grouse shooting industry are busily trumpeting this as a great partnership success and real hope for hen harrier population recovery, the reality is that illegal persecution on intensively managed driven grouse moors remains out of the spotlight.

In our opinion this is a total greenwashing propaganda exercise. We expect nothing else from the driven grouse shooting industry but for SNH to be heralding it as anything but a sham is an embarrassment.

Unfortunately, Hen Harrier Species Champion Mairi Gougeon MSP appears to have had the wool pulled over her eyes. We have a lot of time for Mairi, and appreciate her efforts in using her political status to draw attention to this species’ plight, but have a look at this recent Parliamentary motion, lodged by Mairi but with the Dark Side’s fingerprints all over it:

This motion acheived cross-party support (by no doubt similarly well-intentioned MSPs) and as such will result in a Members Debate in Holyrood a week today:

We look forward to watching this debate (it’ll be available on Scottish Parliament TV – we’ll add a link nearer the time) and we especially look forward to some well-informed MSPs asking some probing questions to expose the Heads Up for Hen Harriers Project for the greenwashing scam that it is.

23 Responses to “Heads Up for Hen Harriers Project: total greenwashing propaganda”

  1. 1 Alex Milne
    December 6, 2017 at 5:19 pm

    Whilst I agree that the results of the project don’t actually show a decrease in persecution, the SNH report does highlight a nest “on a grouse moor in the southern Angus Glens, an area that hasn’t recorded any hen harriers for some time. The Heads Up for Harriers project will be working with the estate again in 2018 and hope to see a nest successfully fledging some young harriers.”
    I don’t know about that grouse moor, but If we do get some intensive grouse shooting estates signed up, even if it is only as a hope to delay or prevent licencing, the outcome for hen harriers in areas of Scotland my well be improved by the project. Those estates may well remove any nests over and above the watched one, but that’s a lot more nests than at present (none I assume).
    It is greenwashing but is I prefer to be somewhat optimistic.
    I’m also sure the RSPB will monitor plenty more hen harrier nests (but without hope of prosecutions but better science than the project) and that is at least as important as Heads up for Hen Harriers.
    I’m also hopeful that the debate will be useful.

    • December 6, 2017 at 5:27 pm

      Hi Alex,

      That nest in the southern Angus Glens was not on one of the infamous Angus Glens driven grouse moors.

      It could well be argued that having a nest on one of the dodgier estates would be good for the HH population, but you don’t honestly think that if harriers were allowed to fledge (under the glare of the nest camera) that they’d then be left alone once away from the camera’s field of view, do you?

      • 3 Alex Milne
        December 6, 2017 at 7:41 pm

        I’d hope that the young birds would all be tagged, and would like to know why (and be suspicious) if they are not. If tagged, I’d be delighted that the fate of other birds would be known.
        This should calm somewhat your fears for the birds from Heads up for Harriers, would it not?
        Whether all this year’s young were tagged, I’m not aware.
        I’m sure the public would contribute to tagging next year’s birds, if that is an issue.
        Perhaps an MSP question in the debate?

        • December 6, 2017 at 8:54 pm

          Hi Alex,

          As far as we’re aware, the 37 successfully fledged hen harriers have not been fitted with satellite tags as part of the Heads Up Project.

          That’s not to say that some might have been tagged as part of the RSPB’s Hen Harrier LIFE Project, but we don’t know that.

  2. December 6, 2017 at 5:54 pm

    Three interesting things. Only a third of the participating estates had nests. I wonder why? The SNH press release very cleverly does not mention how many nests there were IN TOTAL on the 7 estates that had nests, only how many were monitored. Finally Tim Baynes says “The survival pressures will naturally vary between land uses” You bet they will!!!!

  3. 6 Al Woodcock
    December 6, 2017 at 6:01 pm

    ‘Supported by: Jenny Gilruth’ – any relation to the GWCT’s Anrew Gilruth?

  4. 7 WTFoster
    December 6, 2017 at 6:24 pm

    This project, whatever you may think, appears to making some in roads towards increasing HH numbers, but the very fact that it doesn’t fit your agenda, means you’ll slag it off. I’m not sure that you really care about HHs, but rather you’re hell bent on crushing grouse shooting.

    • December 6, 2017 at 6:40 pm

      “Appears to be making some in roads towards increasing HH numbers”.

      Really? Can you provide some examples? The HH population is in long-term decline, as demonstrated by the last two national surveys, and has suffered a “catastrophic decline” on grouse moors in NE Scotland.

      This project is being used to greenwash the criminal activities of the driven grouse shooting industry, just as the proposed brood meddling and the proposed southern reintro is being used to do the same further south, that’s quite clear.

    • 9 J .Coogan
      December 6, 2017 at 8:02 pm

      We don’t need to waste money, time and effort to any “projects” to increase HH numbers, its much simpler , cheaper and straightforward , just stop killing them.

    • 10 BSA
      December 6, 2017 at 8:04 pm

      With due respect to those less intensive estates which have participated in good faith, a few more successful nests will not address the problem. These successes may make a few raptor enthusiasts happy to see harriers back in their area but we are not looking for marginal concessions on a criminal industry’s terms designed to improve its image. That is not a sustainable solution. Society’s terms are that they all operate legally and that is the fundamental issue here.

  5. 11 George M
    December 6, 2017 at 8:22 pm

    I’ve been a wee bit doubtful of Mairi Gougeon and whether or not she should have been chosen as Hen Harrier Champion due to her long standing links and relationships with supporters of driven grouse moors in the Angus Glens. I hasten to add that I am not questioning her integrity but is possibly not as alert to the manipulations of the grouse lobby as others. In the ten days since Mairi lodged her Parliamentary motion photographs or both Golden and Sea Eagles have appeared on the Angus Glens Moorland Group FB page, lodged by a supporter of driven grouse shooting and his friend. It would appear to be a co-ordinated occurence. MSP Gugeon has served on the Community Council and is a personal friend of this man on FB. Now all this might simply be co-incidence but given the state of affairs that exists between the Raptor Lobby and the Driven Grouse Moor supporters I feel that MSP Gougeon should not have volunteered to be the Hen Harrier Champion and should not be posting Parliamentary motions which, on inspection, carry misleading information which is in desperate need to the clarity and context you have thrown on to the “Heads Up for Harriers Project.”

    • 12 J .Coogan
      December 6, 2017 at 11:25 pm

      This is worrying , George M , this man and his friend are a dangerous combination, they have rather bizarre views , but could appear to be very knowledgeable and persuasive to some one with only a basic understanding of the situation.

    • December 7, 2017 at 2:20 pm


      That seems a bit unfair on Mairi Gougeon. Whoever took on the role of HH Species Champion would find themselves in a difficult position, given the polarity of views.

      Not sure you can use her Facebook ‘friendship’ contacts as an indicator of anything. People use Facebook in different ways; some people use it explicitly for keeping in touch with actual friends to the exclusion of all others, while some people, politicians included, use it to keep in touch with the views of their constituents.

      She deserves credit for speaking up for the HH (watch the video of her speech at HH Day 2017) and for using her role as Species Champion to secure this Members Debate. This debate will enable a number of views to be expressed, some of which will probably be better informed than others, but the debate keeps this issue on the political agenda and that is to be welcomed.

      • 14 George M
        December 7, 2017 at 5:39 pm

        They are friends RPUK, and not only on FB. I’ve been following this for some time as I live in the Tayside area and knew one of the parties involved well enough to have shared trips in the hills with the individual. If you notice I did not malign her integrity. I was at HH and heard the speech as it was delivered. However loaded, biased and technical arguments delivered by a friend will have an impact, as I feel was shown in the motion she introduced. It would appear, to me anyway, that she was not given the wider context in which the data sat therefore completely altering the message. I also feel it is behove on a representative to make themselves aware of the full facts concerning an issue before pronouncing on it.
        There is also the issue of the fact that the SNP did poorly in the Angus Glens area and lost some representatives in the last election. The local press, and the Readers Letter pages in particular, have been heavily attacking the SNP since the referendum. Seats might be at stake and the only real alternative here is Tory. How high does hen harrier welfare rate when it comes to influencing the electorate?
        I’ll finish by saying I have no problem with MSP Mairi Gugeon at this time other than what I have said in my posts. J. Coogan is correct in his comment above.

  6. 15 Greengrass
    December 6, 2017 at 8:50 pm

    Until SNH can prove hen harriers nesting successfully on intensively managed grouse moors and the young fledge with satellite tags fitted for continued monitoring, we will treat them with the contempt that a pathetic, shamefully deceitful, unfit tor purpose, shambles its become in recent years. Their dispicable deceit is nothing less than a coverup for the eradication of hen harriers on grouse moors.

  7. December 6, 2017 at 11:04 pm

    I have got to wonder how many grouse estates there are? If there are 25 then 21 participants would be a great achievement… however my guess is that the participation rate is probably embarrassingly low.
    There are two main ways the estates can participate…. they can open their doors to cameras and they can supply information on harrier movements etc. It is bleeding obvious when you consider the way that the estates have been so reluctant to either host cameras or supply data that there is absolutely no sincerity behind their claimed support.
    On the other hand the charities are bending over backwards to service the project and being completely taken for a free ride in the process.
    SLE.. if you can brigade all of your members..you have no function- you should resign from the project and resort to writing press releases which truly reflect the opinions of your membership.

  8. 17 Greengrass
    December 7, 2017 at 11:21 am

    That’s SNH trying to show they are doing something positive for HH when in fact they are making it easier for the criminals, by deflecting away from the true picture of increased persecution against HH.

  9. 18 Simon
    December 7, 2017 at 11:46 am

    Sit back and watch the sat tags go down and disappear on grouse moors. Listen to the barefaced lies,deceit and spin coming up with no end of reasons why the birds were not shot.
    Cosy little partnership groups will sit round the table and have circular debates and nothing will change.

    This exactly what the dark side want. No change.

  10. 20 Loki
    December 7, 2017 at 3:52 pm

    The shooters infiltrating Chris Packham’s FB page are making reference to this, which appears to be accommodating shooting bias. A bit depressing when an ornithological community appears to be taken in by them:


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

Enter your email address to follow this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Blog Stats

  • 6,672,216 hits


Our recent blog visitors