Heads Up for Harriers Project condemned as “greenwashing exercise” in Parliamentary debate

Yesterday evening saw a Members Debate in the Scottish Parliament as a result of MSP Mairi Gougeon’s recent motion in support of the Heads Up for Harriers Project and the Role of Species Champions.

The archive video of this debate can be watched here and the official report of the meeting can be read here:

Heads up for Harriers debate 13Dec2017

The debate centred on two topics: the role of the species champions and the Heads Up for Harriers Project (HuHP). For the purpose of this blog, we’ll just be focusing on the HuHP – that’s not to say the role of the species champion isn’t important – as we’ve blogged before, it’s an incredibly worthwhile initiative and one that we very much support. We are especially pleased that Mairi Gougeon used her position as the Hen Harrier Species Champion to secure this debate – all credit to her, well done.

A number of MSPs spoke specifically about the HuHP and all except one acknowledged that illegal persecution continues to be a threat to the hen harrier and to several other raptor species. The only one who didn’t acknowledge this fact was John Scott MSP (Conservative), who gave a bizarre speech about the lack of fox and “vermin” control on FCS land and suggested that this played a part in the decline of the hen harrier population. He obviously hasn’t been told that just across the Scottish border at Kielder, the ONLY successful breeding pairs (x 3) of hen harriers in England this year were on, er, FC land.

He went on to say, “Notwithstanding the alleged predation of hen harriers by land managers, I still believe that the safest place for hen harriers to raise chicks is on well-managed grouse moors“.  Dear God.

John Scott’s parliamentary colleague Donald Cameron (Conservative) (and the Species Champion for the Merlin) was far better informed, although he did say, “There has been much criticism of people in the grouse industry who actively persecute birds of prey. I think that we all acknowledge that grouse shooting is an important industry for the rural economy of our country. The vast majority of land managers, whether they are owners or employees, use sustainable environmental management practices to a high standard and operate within the law. It is important to note that many estates carry out measures to conserve and preserve raptor populations“.

We agree that some estates do “employ sustainable environmental management practices to a high standard and operate within the law“. We heaped praise on one of them quite recently (see here). But it’s quite clear from the scientific data on several raptor species (e.g. hen harrier, golden eagle, peregrine, red kite) that there are still a large number of estates that do NOT operate within the law, and those landholdings just happen to coincide with areas intensively managed as driven grouse moors.

We’re not talking about the odd nest failure here and there due to predation or poor weather – these are natural causes of failure that you’d expect from time to time, and everybody acknowledges this. What we’re talking about here is the persistent, long-term absence of these species in areas where they should be, and would be, thriving if they weren’t being routinely and systematically persecuted.

The speeches of two Parliamentary members were the most interesting to us – those given by Andy Wightman MSP (Scottish Greens) and Liam McArthur MSP (Lib Dem). You really do need to read them (and/or watch the video). Both of them pointed out that the HuHP does not address the fundamental issue of tackling illegal persecution because none of the participating estates that have had cameras deployed are known raptor persecution hotspots, nor are they operated as intensively managed driven grouse moors. Andy Wightman went further and said,

Indeed, I believe that the project is being used as a greenwashing exercise to hide the criminal activities that are undertaken by some in the driven grouse shooting industry and to promote the misleading impression that it is voluntarily cooperating to clean up its act“.


The claim that many of the estates with nest cameras on them are managed as driven grouse moors is an interesting one, and, we believe, is untrue.

According to the briefing paper from Scottish Land & Estates (SLE), provided to MSPs prior to the debate:

Up to two thirds of the estates where cameras were installed have been driven grouse moors, indicating a strong take-up where the issue of Hen Harrier decline is most relevant“.

See SLE’s briefing paper here: SLE briefing Heads Up for Harriers debate_13Dec2017

Why do we believe this statement to be untrue? Well, we could argue that any information from SLE on raptor conservation issues is quite likely to be misleading. We’ve seen many examples of outright propaganda from this organisation over the years (under it’s own name and also under the name of its subgroups, the Scottish Moorland Group and the Gift of Grouse), e.g. here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here and as a result we don’t trust a word they say.

But in this case our suspicion is based on more than just a natural distrust of SLE; it’s based on some long-term and painstaking investigative research that we’ve been doing to identify the estates involved in this Heads Up for Harriers Project.

We are confident that we’ve identified the three estates that had cameras deployed in 2015, the three estates that had cameras deployed in 2016, and five of the six or seven estates (there seems to be uncertainty about the actual number) that had cameras deployed in 2017. We are also confident that NOT ONE of these areas where the actual cameras were deployed is a known raptor persecution hotspot and we questions how many of them are actually managed for driven grouse shooting.

But before we can publish our findings, we need to verify our conclusions. So we submitted an FoI request to SNH and this is what we got back:

FoI request to SNH: In each year, how many estates had successful nests and of those, how many estates were managed for driven grouse shooting?

SNH response: 2015 – 2 estates with successful nests, 2 of which were driven grouse moor. 1 additional successful nest 100m off the estate boundary of a driven grouse moor.

2016 – 3 estates with successful nests, 2 of which were driven grouse moor.

2017 – 6 estates with successful nests, 3 of which were driven grouse moor.

FoI request to SNH: Please provide the name of each estate, in each year, that signed up to participate.

SNH response: We have considered this part of your request very carefully, and we are unable to provide the estate names. Estates enter into the Heads Up For Harriers project voluntarily. The estate name information in this case was provided voluntarily, there are no other circumstances that entitle SNH to disclose it, and the estates have not consented to disclosure. Making the information publicly available would be likely to prejudice the interests of the estates, for example via negative publicity in the event of harriers not nesting on the estate or in the event of nest/s failing on the estate. We are therefore withholding the estate name details under EIRs Regulation 10(5)(f) (Interests of the individual providing the information).

The Heads Up for Harriers project members’ position is that estate wishes must be respected. Further, members agree the most important aspect of the project is to encourage cooperation and a positive working relationship ‘on the ground’ between estates, Project Officers and other project members to promote survival of hen harriers and enable monitoring if and when hen harriers return to breed. We have therefore concluded that, in this case, the public interest is best served by not releasing the estate names.

Interesting, isn’t it? As Andy Wightman pointed out in his speech, this is a publicy funded project and yet the names of the participating estates are being kept secret. Why is that, do you think?

Given the serious nature of our concern that inaccurate and misleading information is being spewed out, not only by SLE but significantly by SNH, to portray this project as a genuine attempt by the driven grouse shooting industry to support hen harriers, we’ll be challenging SNH about its refusal to release information that would either support or refute our suspicions that the Heads Up for Harriers Project is just a greenwashing exercise.

Watch this space.

22 Responses to “Heads Up for Harriers Project condemned as “greenwashing exercise” in Parliamentary debate”

  1. 1 Alex Milne
    December 14, 2017 at 6:18 pm

    I enjoyed the debate, and was astounded by John Scott MSP’s contribution.
    The issue of satellite tagging came up, We really do need to have all the young birds tagged, by an organisation who will release data about the birds, much as RSPB does and NE don’t.
    Please reveal any intensely managed driven grouse moors if you can extract the information.

    • December 14, 2017 at 10:27 pm

      Political Party Statements
      BASC Scotland has obtained the following statements from the main political parties.

      The Scottish Conservatives

      Stance on shooting
      By John Scott MSP (Shadow Cabinet Secretary for Rural Affairs & Environment)

      The Scottish Conservatives have always sought to protect and promote rural sports such a shooting and will continue to do. Shooting is of huge economic importance to rural communities across Scotland and it is therefore important that politicians do all they can to boost the sector. We are of course aware of concerns which are sometimes raised about the safety and the licensing of guns. It remains our view that the best means of encouraging safe gun ownership is to ensure existing laws are robustly enforced rather than increasing the regulatory burden upon those who participate in shooting.

  2. 3 michael gill
    December 14, 2017 at 6:20 pm

    Excellent work

  3. 4 Iain Gibson
    December 14, 2017 at 7:00 pm

    I find it intensely ironic that SNH refuses to disclose participating estates (or apparently even ask the estate owners their views on the issue), yet when my local Raptor Study Group was contracted by SNH to monitor harrier breeding performance on three SSSIs (potential SPAs), they INSISTED that we should allow them to provide precise details of nest sites to the grouse moor managers! This smacks of one law for them, another for us. The further irony is that SNH to all intents appear to be siding with the potential criminal element, against the wishes of those of us who have an honest and sincere desire to conserve the legally protected birds which are the victims. Yet there appears to be no need for this over-the-top secrecy. Little wonder that people are losing faith in SNH and accuse them of not being fit for purpose.

  4. 5 Loki
    December 14, 2017 at 7:08 pm

    Great work RPUK trying to prise open the clams that are SNH (and NE)!
    The lack of transparency is truly sickening. What the hell have they to hide?
    And surely any self-respecting estate (!?) would want their names to be in the public domain?

  5. 6 J .Coogan
    December 14, 2017 at 8:26 pm

    Much better than expected, thank god for Andy Wightman ,the man is a treasure, his contribution was incisive, relevant and much needed .As for that buffoon Scott ,well words fail me, he displayed the usual farmer ,gamekeeper (mis)understanding of basic ecology , shock horror a Tory land owner blames foxes for the ills of the countryside, lets kill things to bring the balance back.
    Beware that cuckoo in the nest Dey .
    As for the general level of debate its amazing how some people with absolutely nothing to contribute feel they have the right to take up valuable time to blether irrelevant nonsense.

  6. 7 Andy Wightman
    December 14, 2017 at 9:33 pm

    Thank you to those who helped me prepare for the debate. Members debates are usually fairly collegiate affairs with common interests drawing together MSPs from all parties to talk about an issue they are interested in. There is no vote and therefore no pressure to “win” a debate. As a consequence, members usually politely applaud each contribution and thus show some appreciation to the speaker for making the effort to attend and for supporting the member who had brought the debate. My contribution, however, as those who watch will note was met with utter silence.

    • 8 J .Coogan
      December 14, 2017 at 9:55 pm

      I would take that as badge of honour Andy. They cant stand the truth they prefer what they class as consensus politics which is really just an excuse for doing nothing much (see Mr Dey) . If you want to effect real change then that rattles them it makes them think they might have to make a decision and actually DO something.
      Thank you for your support.

    • December 14, 2017 at 9:55 pm

      Andy. The crucial issue here is the population decline of harriers due to persecution. All evidence points to that being the case, and yet the Heads up project is designed in such a way as to totally fail in it’s prime purpose, that being the identification of principal causes of harrier nest failures. Stressing that point obviously caused some discomfort among those that still seek a collaborative approach. Please be assured that I applauded you from my living room. (In England.)

    • 10 dave angel
      December 14, 2017 at 10:31 pm

      Yes, the response was very noticeable.

      They’re obviously happier with comforting lies than unpleasant truths.

      You have to wonder whether they are very naive or very cynical.

      Keep up the good work.

    • 11 lizzybusy
      December 15, 2017 at 6:08 pm

      Thank you so much for your everything you do. Your compassion and amazing work is very much appreciated.

    • 12 Les Wallace
      December 16, 2017 at 2:13 pm

      Andy you were brilliant, you didn’t get a reaction because you hit home simple as that. The constant references to a ‘minority’ of estates being responsible for persecution was nauseating and how many of the MSPs parroting that actually believe it? Thanks for countering the crap.

  7. 13 George M
    December 14, 2017 at 10:36 pm

    Thank you Andy Wightman and, it must be said, Mairi Gougeon. Andy, unlike some of the others, dispensed with irrelevancies and struck right at the heart of the matter. Heads up for Harriers appears to be in many ways a fledgling public relations exercise for driven grouse moors and all who profit from them. It is designed to illustrate to the public that the owners of driven grouse moors are striving to co-operate with those who seek to preserve and increase the number of hen harriers in our land. However the design of the exercise is heavily weighted to help those who would use this type of methodology to arrive at unjustified conclusions as Andy Wightman so precisely identified.

    Co-operation between conservationists and those with financial interests in driven grouse moors has been tried previously and always failed due to bad spirit on behalf of the latter. Those who own the grouse moors must always know to the smallest detail where the conservationists are and what they are doing … while there seems to be no or little consideration from the other party. Indeed, there is hardly a month goes by without a well known game keepers site urging harassment of raptor or RSPB workers should they travel on to estates unannounced. Lets not forget how many years it has been illegal to persecute birds of prey and how often the grouse lobby has used all the influence it has with media outlets to pretend that it has nade efforts in that direction. After listening to MSP John Scott and, to a lesser but equally worrying level, MSP Graeme Dey who has been conveniently placed as the CONVENER of the committee, there is little doubt in my mind that this is simply a Machiavellian strategy to learn as much about those whose concerns might “harm” their income and then to go on to undermine them.

    Unless the methodology is overhauled and the estates who are participating are named then there appears little to be gained. Having the odd “model estate” around where they take people on “Wildlife Safari’s” is simply a part of the larger strategy as the owners know fine well that when harriers, peregrines or eagles stray beyond the estates boundaries they will be killed. Concentration should also be focused on ensuring that licensing will be put on the stature book and pressure brought to bear for more effective policing and prosecution. We need people in authority trying to stop these criminal acts and not simply striving for a long lease on a nice wee cottage, some sort of gong or simply some free fishing and shooting. And SNH? :)

    • 14 Les Wallace
      December 16, 2017 at 2:19 pm

      Aye George Graeme Day was soft soaping it for the estates, not entirely unexpected, but disappointing none the less – he showed his real colours.

  8. 15 Alister J Clunas
    December 15, 2017 at 12:11 am

    Well done to Mairi Goudgeon, MSP for initiating the debate but what I really enjoyed was Andy Wightman’s contribution which cut through the “green wash” crap and got straight to the point. The issue is illegal persecution. Well done Andy. Loud applause in our house.

  9. December 15, 2017 at 12:05 pm

    I don’t disagree with any of the comments but feel I should put in a good word for “my” MSP, Liam MacArthur, who also pointed out the flaws in the project. I was amazed by two things, having never watched a live bit of Holyrood in this way.

    1. That isn’t what I would call a debate! A debate is folk being passionate, banging desks, emphasising key points with a jab of the finger! This was more like a bible reading, even from Andy Wightman who was very good otherwise, obviously.
    2. The level of ignorance about the subject, a few obvious examples excepted. I realise, of course, that MSPs can’t be an expert on every subject but why get up and talk nonsense in public (effectively) on something you know nothing about? A prime example was the MSP (can’t remember who, but my bias tells me it was the Tory who said it was the all Forestry Commission’s fault for sheltering foxes) who kept on about “grouse chickens”.
    I suppose it has aired the subject and raised awareness but probably only amongst those MSPs who have an interest already, on either “side”. I’m not sure it has moved us much further forward. Am I being too negative?

  10. 17 Mike Mills
    December 15, 2017 at 1:34 pm

    Thank you Andy Wightman, to have a voice like yours present in the debate is greatly appreciated.

  11. 18 Macgee
    December 15, 2017 at 10:30 pm

    Andy Whiteman a very bright light shining deep into some very dark places.
    Well done and thank you.

  12. 19 Les Wallace
    December 16, 2017 at 2:26 pm

    John Scott really made a play for forestry being good for foxes and crows and thereby bad for ground nesting birds (which happens to include grouse of course) – the grouse moors don’t like trees of course. Funny then that the FC/FE along with the RSPB carried out a very successful project to help the nightjar in Dumfrieshire re habitat management work within and alongside forestry blocks, and when I checked with the RSPB they told me that there had not been one iota of predator control carried out to their knowledge, all down to habitat management – the nightjar is of course a ground nesting bird. http://scotland.forestry.gov.uk/news/1636-modern-forestry-benefits-the-nightjar

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