Archive for December, 2018

13
Dec
18

Countryside Alliance & GWCT comment on hen harrier brood meddling legal challenge

There was a reporter from The Times in court for day two of the hen harrier brood meddling legal challenge and he wrote a piece which appeared the next day:

It’s a very short but accurate account of what was going on in Court 18 of the Royal Courts of Justice.

However, this article has prompted two response letters, one from the Countryside Alliance and one from the Game & Wildlife Conservation Trust (GWCT) as follows:

It’s hard to tell whether these two are being deliberately disingenuous or simply don’t understand what’s going on. Perhaps it’s both.

Adrian Blackmore (Countryside Alliance) claims the article in The Times “misrepresented the [brood meddling] proposals“. Did it? Not from where we were sitting in court. According to Natural England’s own technical assessment of the licence application the main aims of the brood meddling trial are to (a) investigate the effect of brood management on the perceptions and behaviour of the [criminals within] the moorland community, and (b) to test the practicalities of brood management to investigate whether it can rear hen harriers in captivity and then release them to become successful breeding adults in the English uplands. That’s what The Times reported, so which bit, exactly, does Adrian Blackmore think was “misrepresented“?

Both Adrian Blackmore and Andrew Gilruth point to the RSPB’s use of brood management as a conservation technique for other species, but importantly, both fail to mention that in the case of hen harriers, the threat to their survival and the cause of their decline (illegal persecution by gamekeepers on grouse moors, which, incidentally, was fully accepted as fact by all sides in the court), would still be present.

Everybody knows that hen harriers aren’t just being killed prior to or during the grouse chick-rearing period, but they’re also being killed in the months following. Just look at the results from the satellite-tracked hen harriers from August to October (beyond the grouse chick-rearing period) this year – ten birds have all ‘disappeared’ in highly suspicious circumstances, all either on or next to a grouse moor:

[RPUK map showing the last known locations of ten satellite-tracked hen harriers, Aug – Oct 2018]

If these ten birds had all been brood meddled (i.e. removed from the grouse moor as eggs/chicks, raised in captivity and then released back to the uplands in July/August), would that have prevented them from being illegally killed on grouse moors between August and October? No, of course not.

Despite the grouse shooting industry’s rather pathetic attempts to portray themselves as the saviours of hen harriers (ahem) and the RSPB as ‘hypocritical’ (i.e. fake) conservationists, it’s worth noting that this judicial review isn’t about the merits of brood meddling per se, but is focused solely on whether Natural England’s decision to issue the brood meddling licence was lawful or unlawful. Although it’s worth mentioning a comment made by Ms Justice Lang when she learned about the widespread illegal persecution of this species on grouse moors and the authorities’ complete failure to enforce the law, which went along the lines of, “Well if this is a national wildlife crime priority god help the species which are not prioritised”!

Judging by their standard of correspondence, perhaps Messrs Blackmore and Gilruth should stick to their areas of expertise (i.e. the land of make believe) and just write letters to Santa instead.

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12
Dec
18

Hen harrier brood meddling legal challenge: day 2

Day two of the legal challenge against Natural England’s decision to licence hen harrier brood meddling took place in the Royal Courts of Justice on Thurs 6th Dec 2018.

For those who don’t know what hen harrier brood meddling is, please see here.

For info about day one of this judicial review please see here.

As before, this is not a definitive nor detailed report – merely just a summary from an interested observer.

Day two opened with Mark Avery’s barrister, David Wolfe QC, continuing to present his arguments about why NE’s licensing decision was unlawful.

There was some complicated legal argument about the various subsections of Section 16 of the Wildlife & Countryside Act and whether the licence had been issued for ‘scientific, research or educational purposes’ (which is apparently what NE is claiming) or whether there was an underlying conservation purpose, which David Wolfe contends NE has admitted to in its evidence but which NE contests. The distinction is important because NE claims it was not required to consider ‘other satisfactory solutions‘ for preventing or discouraging the illegal persecution of hen harriers, and thus conserving hen harriers, as the Act requires.

David Wolfe argued that NE has “misdirected itself” as the so-called ‘research’ element of the licence cannot be separated from the ‘conservation’ element because the purpose of the brood meddling trial is to test a potential conservation measure (i.e. the attitudinal response of criminal grouse moor owners and criminal gamekeepers to having hen harriers removed and later returned) and isn’t just a research test for the sake of doing a research test.

And even if it was, the research would be “pointless” anyway because NE has accepted (via the HH Joint Action Plan) that brood meddling could only potentially be rolled out if the hen harrier population “had reached a density at which they would impact significantly on grouse numbers” – clearly, the current population size in England would need to increase significantly for those conditions to be met. Thus, David Wolfe argued that running the current brood meddling ‘trial’ was “pointless” because (a) it would be tested under very different conditions to those of a roll-out (i.e. there’d be a higher population of breeding hen harriers so the attitudinal response of criminal grouse moor owners and gamekeepers to the current trial may well be different if there are more hen harriers) and (b) NE has already admitted that the hen harrier population will not recover sufficiently to justify a full roll-out of brood meddling without further interventions [against the criminals on the grouse moors], and none of those further interventions have even been planned, let alone trialled.

Natural England’s failure to consider ‘other satisfactory options’ [to brood meddling], as required by law, was central to David Wolfe’s case. He argued that brood meddling was an “invasive and risky conservation measure“, which would otherwise be illegal given the hen harrier’s protected status under EU law, and that NE should have considered a long list of alternative, less-invasive options first.

He told the court that the Natural England Scientific Advisory Committee (NESAC) had discussed a proposal for hen harrier brood meddling in September 2015. At that meeting, the NESAC had heard a presentation from Dr Steve Redpath who had advised a number of alternative options for tackling the continued illegal persecution of hen harriers on driven grouse moors. In addition to brood meddling, the NESAC was told about various other available options such as licensing grouse shooting, increasing enforcement, banning grouse shooting, financial compensation and increasing grouse numbers. However, despite these alternatives (and others), in November 2015 the NE Board decided to proceed to explore the brood meddling option and specifically did not consider any of the proposed alternatives.

It was argued that further alternatives to those suggested by Steve Redpath were also available, as currently operating in Scotland, i.e. General Licence restrictions and vicarious liability. David Wolfe suggested these were obvious alternatives to consider, let alone trial, to tackling the underlying problem of criminality on grouse moors. We heard that NE has apparently cited “difficulties” in enforcing the law against the criminal grouse moor owners and gamekeepers and thus it being “of limited effectiveness” as a hen harrier conservation measure (according to NE). David Wolfe was clear that under the Birds Directive, the UK authorities have a statutory duty to protect this species and for NE to simply say ‘it’s too difficult to enforce the law’ without demonstrating they’ve taken all reasonable measures to remove the incentive to kill hen harriers is insufficient to justify the derogation to permit brood meddling because then the illegal actions of the grouse moor owners and gamekeepers become ‘tolerated’ rather than criminalised.

[Mark Avery with his legal team outside the court at the end of day one. L-R: Lewis Hadler, Tessa Gregory, David Wolfe QC, Zoe Leventhal, Mark Avery. Photo by Ruth Tingay]

On the afternoon of day two barrister Paul Luckhurst opened the case for Natural England. We’re not going to comment on his arguments at this stage because the case will continue, unexpectedly, for at least a third day (next court date: 17 January 2019) and so the main substance of his arguments will be heard (and reported) then.

However, there was one point he made that raised eyebrows in the court and deserves a mention here:

In response to the RSPB’s claim that diversionary feeding was a low impact alternative to brood meddling that has been proven to reduce grouse predation and thus conflict, Paul Luckhurst argued that one reason why diversionary feeding hadn’t been taken up by grouse moor managers was because ‘it attracts too many predators’. However, a recent peer-reviewed scientific publication does not support this claim.

From Ludwig et al (2018) which reports on diversionary feeding of hen harriers at the Langholm study:

As hen harriers defend the immediate surroundings of their nest (Hardey et al. 2013), scavenging by other species, largely Ravens, was infrequent and almost entirely after fledging. Observations in previous years indicated occasional visits by Carrion Crows, Rooks and Short-eared Owls, while mammalian predators, gulls or other raptors were not observed‘.

Presumably the lawyers for the RSPB and Mark Avery will argue this point when they are given the opportunity to respond to Natural England’s arguments at the next court hearing in January.

UPDATE: 13/12/18 Countryside Alliance and GWCT comment on hen harrier brood meddling legal challenge (here)

12
Dec
18

Obituary: Ricky Gladwell Snr

We’re saddened to report the passing of Ricky Gladwell Snr, a long-standing member of the Scottish Raptor Study Group, a field expert in hen harrier ecology and a familiar smiling face at the annual conferences of the SRSG and Northern England Raptor Forum.

A lovely, lovely man who will be dearly missed.

Below is an obituary written by his friend and colleague Chris Rollie:

[Photo of Ricky Gladwell Snr by George Christie]

Richard Gladwell Snr

On 16 November 2018 Richard Gladwell died in Crosshouse Hospital, Kilmarnock, of lung failure following recent diagnosis of Motor Neurone Disease, and so Scottish raptor groups lost one of their unsung heroes of dedicated observational fieldwork.

Ricky was born in Darvel, Ayrshire, on 12 February 1945 and, apart from several years in Yorkshire, lived most of his life in Galston near Kilmarnock, where he worked as an engineer with Glazier Metals and latterly Johnnie Walker Whisky. Although he always had a love of walking in the hills and local moors, it was a chance meeting with Dick Roxburgh on the upper Avon Water around 1980 that inspired him to intensively study and record some of the scarcer raptors he encountered in the area. His friendly nature, steady approach and experience of abseiling soon made him a key member of Dick’s developing network of raptor workers. He quickly gained field expertise with breeding peregrines, golden eagles and merlins, but hen harriers became his passion and he studied them intensively throughout the year, becoming a world expert on the species – christened by Dick `the Jock Stein of harriers’.

A meticulous recorder, Ricky was a founding member of the Southwest Scotland Raptor Study Group, becoming Secretary-Treasurer of the South Strathclyde group for many years and a regular attender of Dumfries & Galloway group meetings and national conferences. However, it was his observational skills and fieldcraft that elevated his work on breeding and roosting hen harriers to a level that attracted fellow enthusiasts including Donald Watson and Roger Clarke, who became firm friends. A recurring question in the late 1980s was whether some breeding birds stayed on to overwinter in the same area, resulting in the Southwest group embarking on a wing-tagging programme that attracted the RSPB, who employed Brian Etheridge to successfully broaden this work to other areas of Scotland. Brian, of course, became a close friend and harrier expert in his own right, with a deep appreciation of and respect for Ricky’s advice and deep knowledge of the species.

Ricky’s fieldwork and data gathering over many years made a huge contribution to the designation of Special Protection Areas for breeding and wintering hen harriers and other raptors at Muirkirk and North Lowther Uplands, and for breeding hen harriers at Glen App and Galloway Moors. His friendly and engaging manner impressed farmers, estate owners and even some gamekeepers, whilst his attention to detail in recording greatly facilitated the difficult work of SNH in the successful designation of these impressive moorland areas, which otherwise might well have been lost to forestry or developed as wind farms.

He carried his love of harriers to Auvergne, France annually over some fifteen years, where he watched both hen and Montagu’s harriers enjoying freedom from persecution or even attention from local people, they were so part of the scene, but where increasing silage production reduced their respective populations to a small fraction of their former glory.

Never one for the limelight, sadly Ricky never published his various behavioural findings, but his passion, experience and knowledge of hen harriers is both undoubted and unsurpassed by anyone in the field of hen harrier study in the UK. He recorded important territorial behaviour related to food supply by hen harriers in winter, and his knowledge of roosting behaviour was on a par with his dear friend Donald Watson, who died in 2005. He was also one of nicest, most hospitable, intelligent and helpful people you could hope to know, a dear friend and inspiration to all who knew him in the Southwest of Scotland and beyond. He is survived by his daughter Mary and sons Richard Jnr, Ian and Jim.

Chris Rollie, December 2018

12
Dec
18

Glasgow school kids learn golden eagle persecution still a thing in their country

How poignant are these?

‘Missing’ posters drawn by P4 school children (aged 7-8 years old) from Sunnyside Primary School in Glasgow after learning of the suspicious ‘disappearance’ of golden eagle Fred earlier this year.

11
Dec
18

Continued inertia from grouse shooting industry reps on illegal raptor persecution

Last week we blogged about two owls (a short-eared and a tawny owl) that had been found shot on moorland in the Peak District National Park (here). West Yorkshire Police and the RSPB issued a joint statement appealing for information.

[Photo of the shot short-eared owl from RSPB]

As usual, the Northern England Raptor Forum (NERF) has issued an official response statement on its website (see here).

But what about the other members of the Raptor Persecution Priority Delivery Group (RPPDG), you know, that so-called ‘partnership’ whose main objective includes raising awareness of illegal raptor persecution? How many other ‘partners’ have also issued a statement of condemnation and an appeal for information on their websites?

As we’ve come to expect…… there are no public statements about these two crimes on the websites of the Moorland Association, National Gamekeepers Organisation, BASC or the Countryside Alliance.

There was also silence from the continually failing Peak District Birds of Prey Initiative (of which the Moorland Association is a supposed ‘partner’). This so-called ‘partnership’ is already in the last chance saloon so perhaps the absence of a joint partnership statement is because the Peak District National Park Authority is about to announce the termination of this pointless useless scheme?

Similarly, there are no public statements on the websites of the grouse shooting industry ‘partners’ about the discovery of a shot red kite found on a grouse moor in the Nidderdale AONB at the end of October – one of the worst places for red kite and hen harrier persecution in the entire country but apparently not significant enough to warrant a mention.

Perhaps they’re sleeping partners?

Or perhaps they’re not genuine partners at all, but are just using their membership of the RPPDG as a convenient cover to portray themselves in the media as ‘concerned conservationists’.

It’ll be interesting to see how long Police Supt Nick Lyall (the new RPPDG chair) will tolerate this long-standing inertia before he starts to put his words in to action and boots out from the ‘partnership’ those who are not contributing to tackling this filthy organised criminality.

11
Dec
18

FoIs reveal mass slaughter of ravens in Scotland, authorised by SNH

If you thought Scottish Natural Heritage’s decision to licence the killing of 69 ravens in Strathbraan was bad…….

Research by Dr Rob Sheldon has now revealed that from Jan 2015 -July 2018, SNH issued 621 licences permitting the killing of over 4,000 ravens in Scotland.

The shocking details can be found on Rob’s blog (here).

[Raven photo by Dieter Schaeffer]

10
Dec
18

Back to Life: new report on alternative visions for Scotland’s grouse moors

Revive: the coalition for grouse moor reform has published its second report.

Revive commissioned Common Weal and Lateral North to examine alternative futures for Scotland’s driven grouse moors, an area covering almost one fifth of Scotland where the current focus is on maximising the number of red grouse to be killed for sport; an environmentally damaging and unsustainable land use underpinned by wildlife crime (here).

The grouse shooting industry’s main argument against any kind of grouse moor reform is that there are no other alternatives that would contribute as much to the economy and employment as driven grouse moor management.

The new report ‘Back to Life’ looks at other potential land use options and concludes that of all the possible uses of this land, grouse shooting is not only the least moral, it is by far the least economically effective. The authors argue that in fact, almost any other use will create more value and more jobs per hectare.

There’s an article on this in today’s edition of The National (here) with the headline ‘Grouse shooting is ‘least effective’ use of Scotland’s land‘.

Download the Back to Life report here

Download a printable map of alternative uses here




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