National peregrine survey results: illegal persecution on grouse moors affecting distribution

Periodically there are synchronised national surveys for a number of raptor species in the UK, which help to build a picture of national and regional population trends.

In 2014 a national peregrine survey was undertaken, to follow up on the previous survey completed in 2002. The results of the 2014 survey were published yesterday in the journal Bird Study.

The full paper can be read here

A press release from the BTO (whose scientists led the study) can be read here

If you read beyond the superficial headline (‘World’s fastest bird making a comeback’) you’ll see that although peregrines are doing fantastically well in the lowlands and in many urban environments, all is not well for peregrines in the uplands, and particularly in areas intensively managed for driven grouse shooting.

This will come as no surprise to regular blog readers. It’s not exactly news to learn that illegal persecution on driven grouse moors is affecting the distribution and abundance of peregrines on a national scale, just as it is affecting the national popuation of golden eagles and hen harriers.

Photo of a dead peregrine that was found shot next to a grouse moor in the Peak District National Park in 2016 [RSPB photo]

An excellent paper by Arjun Amar and colleagues, published in 2011, examined 1081 peregrine nest histories across northern England between 1980-2006 and found that productivity of peregrines on grouse moors was 50% lower than pairs breeding on non-grouse moor habitat. This was attributed to illegal persecution rather than to prey constraints.

Another paper by the North East Scotland Raptor Study Group, published in 2014, demonstrated an on-going decline in the breeding population of peregrines on driven grouse moors on the eastern side of the Cairngorms National Park, a trend that has persisted since 1991.

Anecdotal information suggests a continuing decline in the number of breeding peregrines on the driven grouse moors of Bowland in Lancashire.

And last year, further information was published by the Peak District Bird of Prey Initiative documenting the continuing decline of breeding peregrines in the Dark Peak area of the Peak District National Park, an area dominated by driven grouse moors.

The results of the 2014 national peregrine survey don’t tell us anything we didn’t already know, they simply confirm what has been known for years.

The question is, what, if anything, will the statutory authorities do about it? Continued wilful blindness is no longer an option.


16 Responses to “National peregrine survey results: illegal persecution on grouse moors affecting distribution”

  1. 1 Jeremy Greenwood
    March 7, 2018 at 1:30 pm

    “The results of the 2014 national peregrine survey don’t tell us anything we didn’t already know, they simply confirm what has been known for years.” Perhaps that is true in terms of understanding the levels and areas of persecution (though confirmation is always useful in any scientific endeavour, particularly one that is relevant to controversial matters of public interest). But the statement is not true in terms of us knowing about the continued increase of the UK population, the geographic variation in the increase and the use of new types of nest-site. The long-term increase since the use of organo-chlorine pesticides was restricted (and eventually banned) proved that the great Derek Ratcliffe was right to argue that the crash in the 50s and 60s was probably caused by organochlorinre poisoning, that those who (in the face of abuse from the agrochemical industry) argued for the restrictions to be imposed were also right and that data provided by volunteers can be important in changing public policy. It also shows us that we have so far avoided a repetition of the events of the 50s and 60s: monitoring has to be continued to be of any real use. We still have to win the battle with the criminals who persecute raptors but let’s not underestimate what has been and continues to be achieved.

    • March 7, 2018 at 1:37 pm

      Thanks, Jeremy, and fair points made.

      The blog wasn’t intended to be dismissive of the study (apologies if that’s how it came across) – on the contrary, it’s another important contribution to the growing library of peer-reviewed science that documents the effects of continued illegal raptor persecution.

      The point we were trying to make is, here’s yet another piece of evidence, as if any more were needed, so how will the Ministers responsible respond?

      • March 7, 2018 at 2:40 pm

        It was pretty obvious to a regular reader like me that RPUK was only referring to the the persecution in the uplands aspect and not the paper as a whole.

        No doubt though, the grousers will repeat the BTO headline ‘World’s fastest bird making a comeback’ ad nauseum. No doubt about that at all as that has been their meme even before this paper. That and ‘waders’ and ‘rural economy’ are the mating calls of the endangered species the Lesser grouse-crime Denier.

    • March 7, 2018 at 2:57 pm

      I do take issue with this though.

      Eileen Stuart Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) Head of Policy and Advice, said….., “it’s disappointing to see a decline in the uplands – particularly when the UK overall picture is positive. In the northwest, there has been a longer term decline with changes to food supply and exposure to environmental pollutants likely still to be affecting these birds. In some other areas, illegal persecution has been an issue, which we, along with our partners in PAW Scotland (Protection Against Wildlife Crime Scotland), have been working hard to combat. As part of this the Scottish Government has also set up the working group to review all aspects of grouse moor management.”

      The BTO makes a lot of claims of being apolitical and i’m sure they are to a large extent but this quote from Eileen Stuart is just self serving political grandstanding. It makes persecution sound secondary and insinuates that she has got it all under control. As i see it, it is grass root pressure on a responsive Scottish government which has made a difference. Correct me if i’m wrong but what has SNH done to be crowing about?

      • 5 Dylanben
        March 7, 2018 at 3:51 pm

        And so do I! Is there any evidence of ‘the changes in food supply and exposure to environmental pollutants likely still to be affecting these birds’. If so, maybe SNH would kindly point it out to us.

      • 7 Simon Tucker
        March 9, 2018 at 11:29 pm

        The BTO is apolitical and your sneery insinuation does you no credit – unless you want to come across as being of the same mindset as Louise Mensch.

      • March 10, 2018 at 12:52 pm

        Eileen Stuart managed to spin the report in several ways in one short statement.
        In the paper it shows that Peregrines have declined overall in Scotland by (according to my calculations) 8% in 12 years.
        She has totally ignored this overall decline in Scotland and instead hung onto coat-tails of the English increases. The results are very clear in the preliminary results (-11%) but in the final paper there has been a lot of adjustment and the country totals are not easy to see. It might be forgiven in an elected politician who may find the paper difficult to understand but the SNH co-authored the paper and it is her job too understand and highlight these country by country differences, at the very least in order to point out where further research is needed. .

        The preliminary results as given by RPUK:
        Scotland 2002 (571) 2014 (509) -11%
        Wales 2002 (283) 2014 (249) -12%
        IOM 2002 (31) 2014 (23) -26%

        From the final paper i calculate:
        Scotland: 2002 (574), 2014 (527) -8%
        Wales: 2002 (283) 2014 (280) -1%
        Isle of Man 2002 (31) 2014 (22) -29%

  2. March 7, 2018 at 1:33 pm

    It will be interesting to see the response from the CA, Moorland Association, GWCT et al … or a telling lack of one. I suspect that the reaction may well be to set Beefy and his chums lose on the BTO particularly after the reaction to their invitation to Mark Avery.

    • 10 Kevinj
      March 7, 2018 at 2:28 pm

      No need to attack the BTO. A bit of selective quoting from the report is all that is needed eg use that headline and summarise the figures so the moorland persecution is hidden amongst the urban increase.
      Could even quote RPUK saying ” peregrines are doing fantastically well” and hope no one goes back to the source and reads the rest of the line.

  3. March 7, 2018 at 2:46 pm

    Clearly they are not doing well on the moors as the ‘keepers’ are still in Victoriana and anything with a hooked beak is killed no matter what it is.

  4. 12 Northern Diver
    March 7, 2018 at 5:34 pm

    The survey was done in 2014. Does it normally take about 4 years for BTO to publish?

  5. 13 Homer Simpson
    March 7, 2018 at 10:46 pm

    Maybe it takes 4 years to try to bury the issues of persecution that seem to have been largely ignored

  6. March 8, 2018 at 3:43 pm

    I think this is the most serious evidence there is of the scale of the illegal persecution of raptors on grouse moors. This is because unlike Hen Harriers, Peregrines nest in a far wider variety of landscape, and they are thriving away from grouse moors. It’s very difficult for the usual suspects to use the tired old sophistry about Fox predation, inclement weather. This distribution pattern can only be down to illegal persecution. And on grouse moors it’s rampant. It’s not the odd bad apple, it’s like this on virtually all grouse moors managed for driven grouse shooting.

    • March 8, 2018 at 6:39 pm

      Absolutely right.
      They still have an excuse though. Gilruth and co. trot out the argument that Peregrines are also doing poorly in Western Scotland away from grouse moors. Until we get hard evidence as to why they will continue the denial (and probably even then).
      It is thought that the reason Peregrines are doing badly in Western Scotland is prey availability. Perhaps it is tied to seabird declines. Gilruth etc. don’t like anything that a three year old can’t grasp (unless it is in their favour) so the fact that there is no prey shortage on grouse moors is brushed under the carpet.
      Another clue is that according to the paper Peregrines declines have been greatest in Western Scotland and the Isle of Man whilst in Northeast Scotland the low Peregrine numbers are unchanged. It is reasonable to assume that the recent declines in Western Scotland are natural but the persistently low levels in Northeast Scotland are due to ongoing persecution.

  7. 16 Keith Maxwell Morton
    March 8, 2018 at 4:55 pm

    I think RPUK’s summary, “The results of the 2014 national peregrine survey don’t tell us anything we didn’t already know, they simply confirm what has been known for years”, is perfectly reasonable, certainly for the big picture.

    That picture is: (1) Poor/declining breeding performance in the further north and west areas, reason(s) unknown but presumably a wider environmental issue; (2) rampant persecution and v low breeding success in upland game shooting areas – the more intensive the game management, the worse it is; (3) slow but steady increases in southerly lowland and/or urban/industrial sites, possibly just more and more birds learning to tolerate and function in areas of high human activity and population but, again, we don’t really know. And while Jeremy is also correct in pointing out that the survey/paper brings us more up-to-date with the more detailed picture and so, yes, this genuinely is new information, I still don’t see that this adds anything new to the known broader picture outlined above (which is not to say that is isn’t extremely useful to know).

    There is no getting away from the fact that PE breeding performance in the further north and west areas of its range remains very poor in areas where there is little evidence of persecution. Ignoring, or worse, denying this doesn’t help deal with the persecution issue, although I would have more respect for the SNH statement if they were also offering to fund a research effort to find out what is actually going on up North with PEs (and, yes, you do rather suspect, don’t you, that they welcome any distraction from the grouse moor issues!).

    The broad picture of decline has been known since at least the 1990s (e.g. Pete Ellis and Dave Okill documented the steady long-term decline of Shetland’s peregrines as long ago as 1993 – Scottish Birds 17(1) – and this stuff wasn’t just happening up in the Northern Isles).

    Yes, of course, the element of the PE’s overall status that is best understood – its consistently poor performance on and around intensive grouse areas – is the only part of that big picture where there is a huge body of high quality evidence explaining exactly what is happening, namely systematic, deliberate persecution of PEs and other BoPs on and around grouse moors. So asking the question, why the hell hasn’t this been fixed yet, is fair enough.

    The BTO’s publicity headline, ‘World’s fastest bird making a comeback’, is partly misleading and politically naïve, but the paper itself is perfectly sound and will remain a very useful document. Slagging it off – which RPUK were not doing but some commentators seem to be – won’t help sort persecution.

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