Archive for the 'News' Category


Hen harrier reintro to southern England: report of fieldtrip to France (potential donor country)

As many of you know, one of the six action points in DEFRA’s Hen Harrier Action Plan is to ‘reintroduce’ hen harriers to southern England.

As you’ll also know, over the last 12 months we’ve been trying to prise details out of Natural England about this ‘let’s divert attention from illegal persecution on driven grouse moors’ plan, and that has proved challenging to say the least.

[Hen harrier photo by Robin Newlin]

Here’s what we’ve learned so far from a year’s worth of FoI requests:

28 Nov 2016: Hen harrier reintroduction to southern England: an update (here)

3 Jan 2017: Hen harrier reintroduction to southern England: the feasibility/scoping report (here)

8 Jan 2017: Hen harrier reintroduction to southern England: the project group and their timeline (here)

9 Jan 2017: Hen harrier reintroduction to southern England: who’s funding it? (here)

9 Jan 2017: Hen harrier reintroduction to southern England: a bonkers proposal for Exmoor National Park (here)

12 Jan 2017: Hen harrier reintroduction to southern England: Wiltshire (here)

14 Feb 2017: Leaked email reveals Natural England’s views on Hen Harrier Action Plan (here)

23 Feb 2017: Hen harrier reintroduction to southern England: donor countries (here)

19 July 2017: Hen harrier reintroduction to southern England: new project manager appointed (here)

20 July 2017: Hen harrier reintroduction to southern England: Dartmoor as potential new release site (here)

20 July 2017: Hen harrier reintroduction to southern England: revised costs (here)

21 July 2017: Hen harrier reintroduction to southern England: project team visits France (here)

27 July 2017: RSPB statement on Hen Harrier reintroduction to southern England (here)

15 Aug 2017: Natural England Board making up justification for hen harrier southern reintroduction (here)

In early October 2017 we submitted another FoI request and Natural England asked for more time due to the “complexity and voluminous nature of the request” (it was neither complex nor voluminous, this was just another delaying tactic from NE).

That extra time has now expired and Natural England has released a limited amount of further information (although some has been withheld, for various reasons).

Part of the information NE released was a report from a fieldtrip to France (a potential hen harrier donor country) undertaken in June 2017 by two members of the Southern Reintroduction Project Team (Simon Lees from Natural England and Jemima Parry-Jones from the International Centre for Birds of Prey). Here’s the [redacted] report:

The two French researchers whose names are redacted from the above report are Dr Alexandre Millon and Dr Vincent Bretagnolle. Both of these guys have had long and productive careers studying various harrier species and both are highly respected within scientific conservation circles. Which kind of begs the question why they might be supportive of a plan to remove French hen harriers and take them to England where the species is on the verge of breeding extinction due to the continued & rampant illegal persecution of this species by gamekeepers?

What they should have told Natural England is, ‘Get the grouse moor managers to stop illegally killing English hen harriers and all your problems will be solved. Harriers will recolonise the southern lowlands all by themselves if they weren’t being illegally shot, poisoned, trapped and bludgeoned to death on the upland grouse moors’. Or words to that effect.

But anyway, it’s not their decision to make; that’s for the French statutory authorities to decide and you’ll note that Natural England recognises it could really do with support from the RSPB to present a ‘unified conservation case’. However, according to a statement issued by the RSPB in July this year:

The RSPB has serious reservations about this approach to hen harrier conservation in England, and therefore is NOT supporting the project“.

We’ll come back to Natural England’s need to get the RSPB on board for this project in another blog post (due shortly). Cooperation and support from the RSPB is something that Natural England has identified as a potential hurdle in getting this project off the ground.

More soon….

UPDATE 12 December 2017: 2018 start date for reintroduction of hen harrier to southern England? (here)


Scottish Government publishes 5th annual wildlife crime report

The Scottish Government has today published its latest Annual Wildlife Crime Report – the 5th one since it became a statutory obligation under the Wildlife and Natural Environment (Scotland) Act 2011. The current report is entitled the ‘2016’ report, but it actually refers to wildlife crimes recorded from April 2015 to March 2016.

Download the latest report here: Wildlife Crime in Scotland 2016 Report

In previous years we’ve been critical of the report’s findings, mainly due to the use of misleading headlines and Police Scotland’s on-going practice of withholding information about raptor persecution crimes (e.g. see here, here).

We haven’t had a chance to scrutinise this latest report but will probably have a closer look at it over the next few weeks.

In the meantime, here is the Scottish Government’s press statement about the 2016 report:

Offence numbers down on previous year.

Recorded wildlife crime has fallen by 8%, according to the latest official figures.

The annual wildlife crime report, published today, shows reported offences have dropped from 284 in 2014/15 to 261 the following year.

Fish poaching, which remains the most prolific wildlife crime, was down by 26% on the year before.

The report shows an increase in hunting with dogs offences to 44 – up 24 offences on the previous year and the highest number over the five-year recording period.

The report brings together data from the Scottish Government, the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service, Police Scotland and other sources – all members of the Partnership for Action Against Wildlife Crime Scotland (PAW Scotland).

The data in the report refers to recorded wildlife crime. It does not, for example, include satellite-tagged tagged birds which may have disappeared in suspicious circumstances, as without a carcass or other hard evidence of criminal activity, Police Scotland are not able to record these incidents as crimes.

Cabinet Secretary for Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform, Roseanna Cunningham said:

This fifth wildlife crime annual report provides useful data on the issues we face trying to protect Scotland’s wildlife from illegal activity.

It shows a decrease in overall recorded wildlife crime which is welcome.

However there is no room for complacency. We know from the report published earlier this year, that it is very likely that golden eagles and other raptors are being illegally killed every year, but where there is no body or tag to be found, these losses do not make it into the recorded crime figures.

I have set out some measures to tackle the issue of missing raptors, including setting up an independent group to examine grouse moor management practices and a new pilot scheme to use special constables to tackle wildlife crime in the Cairngorms Park. I am determined to put an end to raptor killing and all other types of wildlife crime”.

Scottish SPCA Chief Superintendent Mike Flynn said: “Although we are pleased to see the 8% decrease in wildlife crime reports, wildlife crime continues to cause us great concern.

The increase in hunting with dogs is very worrying and we will work with Police Scotland in any way to tackle wildlife crime in Scotland.”


And here is RSPB Scotland’s press statement:

RSPB Scotland welcomes wildlife crime report

The Scottish Government has today released its annual wildlife crime report. In response, Duncan Orr-Ewing, Head of Species and Land Management for RSPB Scotland, said: “We welcome the publication of the Wildlife Crime in Scotland Report for 2016, and the continued scrutiny by the Scottish Government of this issue. Sadly, wildlife crime, including the illegal killing of our of native birds of prey, remains a blight on the international reputation of Scotland, and in our view stronger sanctions are urgently required to act as a deterrent.

At the end of May 2017, an official report into the fate of satellite tagged golden eagles showed that many of these birds were disappearing in suspicious circumstances, primarily on land managed for driven grouse shooting. As a result, an independent enquiry has now been launched by the Scottish Government into how grouse moors can be managed sustainably and within the law, including consideration of options for a licensing system.

We believe that an effective licensing system for driven grouse shooting, including sanctions to remove licences to operate where illegal activity is confirmed, could help tackle persistent criminality, and promote the required culture change in this sector. It would of course also provide safeguards for those land managers who operate responsibly. We look forward to giving evidence to this independent enquiry in due course.

The disappearing satellite tagged golden eagles, along with other similar occurrences to hen harriers, give a strong indication that the wildlife criminals have not stopped their activities, and instead may have changed their methods in order to avoid detection. This context needs to be taken into account when interpreting the data presented in the Wildlife Crime in Scotland Report.



Yorkshire Water agrees to hen harrier brood meddling on its landholdings

Further to Tuesday’s blog about Natural England inviting the Ministry of Defence and Yorkshire Water to participate in the highly controversial hen harrier brood meddling plan (see here), we’ve heard back from Andrew Walker, Catchment Strategy Manager at Yorkshire Water (and we thank him for his prompt & courteous correspondence).

Natural England asked YWS to support the trial of a Hen Harrier recovery plan which comprises a six point plan. The last of these was to scope out feasibility for trialling brood management for which we sought further explanation from Natural England. The explanation we received was that a group, chaired by Natural England, was currently working up a licence application for this trial. The proposal, we understand, is that all nests in the English uplands  – where the land is included within the geographical scope of the licence – could contribute to the density figure (generally expressed as 10km between nests) but that landowners will make the decision as to whether or not they wish a particular nest to be brood managed in this way.

We support hen harrier conservation and, on balance, decided to support the plan because we think that a multi stakeholder approach is more likely to be effective because we don’t see the population we may expect at this moment in time“.

It’s not clear how the temporary removal of protected hen harriers, for the sole benefit of the grouse-shooting industry, fits in with Yorkshire Water’s Biodiversity Action Plan. Nor how the later release of those brood meddled birds back to the same general area will help increase the harrier population, especially as their release will coincide with the peak period of the grouse shooting season (August, September & October) and we know from far too many examples that young harriers are ruthlessly (and illegally) targeted on grouse moors during this period, presumably as they might ‘disrupt’ the grouse drives and so reduce the number of grouse available to be shot.

It’s bad enough that Yorkshire Water permits driven grouse shooting (with highly toxic lead ammunition) on its landholdings, knowing full well the proven links between driven grouse shooting and the criminal persecution of birds of prey, especially in Yorkshire, the raptor killing capital of the UK. But to then sign up to the legal persecution of hen harriers (because effectively that’s what brood meddling amounts to) to appease the grouse shooting industry? Sorry, Yorkshire Water, your environmental credentials have just been flushed down the toilet.


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 not one 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. The only 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.


Update on our shedload of satellite-tagged golden eagles

Earlier this year we satellite-tagged a shedload of golden eagles in Scotland as part of a joint initiative with Chris Packham, funded by two very generous philanthropists (see here for project background).

Our eagles are doing well, all of them still hanging out in their natal territories although a few have started to make some short exploratory excursions beyond these local areas. For obvious reasons, we will not be providing location information until the young birds have dispersed far from their parents’ territories.

We’re getting fantastic data from the tags. These are different tags to those used to track hen harriers so there’s none of this, say, ‘on for a few hours/off for 48 hours’ cycle – our tags are providing positional data around the clock, sometimes at just a few minutes’ interval, so we know EXACTLY where our eagles are at all hours of the day, and night.

Here’s one of our eagles (#929) caught on camera a few weeks ago coming in to feed on a carcass, along with her Mum! (Our field team tell us 929’s Dad has also visited this carcass but is not photographed here).

More updates in due course.


Natural England invites MoD and Yorkshire Water to get involved with hen harrier brood meddling plan

Brood meddling is one of the six action points in DEFRA’s Hen Harrier Action Plan, launched in January 2016.

Regular blog readers will know that we initially got some information out of Natural England about this controversial action point (see here, here, here, here), but for the last year all our requests have been refused for one reason or another, but mainly because NE considered the release of information would “prejudice” the internal licence application. This is, of course, complete nonsense.

In early October 2017 we submitted yet another FoI request, only to be told by Natural England that more time was needed to gather the requested information “because of the complexity/voluminous nature of the request“.

Natural England has now had the extra time it requested and the information it has released was neither “complex” nor “voluminous”. Once again, requested information has been withheld (for “confidentiality” purposes this time) but some info has been released.

The Hen Harrier Brood Meddling Group held its sixth meeting in June 2017 and here are the notes from that gathering:

Unfortunately these notes provide little information, mainly because much of the discussion was centred on the Brood Meddling Draft Project Plan, which has not been made publicly available.

We have submitted another FoI to ask for a copy.

The only other bit of information that NE released as part of this “complex and voluminous” request was a couple of letters to the Ministry of Defence and to Yorkshire Water, inviting them to get on board with the hen harrier brood meddling plan. Here is a copy of the letter to the MoD (the letter to Yorkshire Water was virtually identical so we won’t reproduce it here):

We have no idea whether the MoD or Yorkshire Water has agreed to sign up to the hen harrier brood meddling plan (i.e. to permit the removal of hen harrier eggs/chicks from their land).

Despite a thoughtful (but some might argue naive) position (see here), Yorkshire Water does permit grouse shooting on its land.

So does the MoD – here are a couple of photos of grouse butts photographed on a military firing range in North Yorkshire [photos by Ruth Tingay].

We await the Brood Meddling Draft Project Plan with interest.

UPDATE 7 December 2017: Yorkshire Water agrees to hen harrier brood meddling on its landholdings (here)


Grouse shooting industry’s histrionics over proposed estate licensing

Following on from Saturday’s news that the SNP’s National Council has voted to adopt an official policy of grouse moor licensing (see here), the grouse shooting industry has responded with a fine display of histrionics.

A quick look on social media shows the usual buffoons shrieking about potential job losses and how everyone should get together for a march/demonstration, which would probably result in about four quad bikes being parked on the new Queensferry Bridge for an hour or so.

BASC has issued a press statement claiming the SNP’s new policy would “harm rural Scotland“, The Sunday Times ran with an article yesterday with the headline, ‘SNP votes to curb fox hunting and grouse shooting‘, and an article in today’s Daily Mail headlined with ‘War on the Countryside‘. They’re good at amateur dramatics, this lot.

There’s also a comment piece in the Mail by Lord David Johnstone, Chairman of Scottish Land & Estates, who argues (as he has before) that there is no need for estate licensing and everything would be just fine if only we’d all work with the shooting industry because, he says, “this does deliver results“. No, Dave, it doesn’t deliver results, unless you consider the never-ending news of poisoned, shot, trapped & bludegeoned raptors a ‘result’.

What we’re really struggling to understand is why the grouse shooting industry is so certain that estate licensing would result in the loss of jobs. Why would it? Unless this is a tacit admission that the grouse shooting industry does in fact rely on the illegal killing of birds of prey in order for shooting estates to remain viable and so the loss of a shooting licence (and possible subsequent closure of an estate) would be inevitable?

If driven grouse shooting is lawful and sustainable, as the industry so often claims, what on earth is there to worry about? There’d be no loss of licences for lawful or sustainable practices, so why is this industry so fearful of the scrutiny and regulation that the rest of us accept as part of our daily lives? Not got something to hide, surely?

There are the usual claims that ‘activists’ will ‘set-up’ estates by planting poisoned or shot raptors on grouse moors in an attempt to implicate the landowner and/or gamekeepers. Lord Johnstone used this excuse way back in 2012 when objecting to the introduction of vicarious liability for raptor persecution offences (see here). Five years on, we’re not aware of a single case where this has been shown to have happened, but we’ve seen plenty of cases where gamekeepers have been caught committing criminal offences as part of their daily routine.

The grouse shooting industry needs to face facts. Estate licensing is on its way and the industry only has itself to blame. It’s been given hundreds of chances to reform, and has received repeated warnings from the Scottish Government that further action would be taken if the industry didn’t clean up its act.

And if/when estate licensing is shown not to work, the grouse shooting industry should know what to expect next.

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