Archive for the 'Opinion' Category

24
Apr
17

Evidence session: petition to introduce gamebird hunting licensing

Last week the Scottish Parliament’s Environment, Climate Change & Land Reform (ECCLR) Committee held an evidence session as part of their consideration of the Scottish Raptor Study Group’s petition calling for the introduction of state-regulated licensing for all game bird hunting in Scotland.

The archived video of the session can be viewed here

The official transcript can be read here: ECCLR transcript gamebird shooting licensing 18 April 2017

The evidence session was split in to two parts. The first part comprised evidence from the petitioners (Logan Steele & Andrea Hudspeth from the SRSG) and the second part comprised a panel of ‘stakeholders’ including Logan Steele, Duncan Orr-Ewing (RSPB Scotland), Robbie Kernahan (SNH), Andy Smith (Scottish Gamekeepers’ Assoc) and Lord David Johnstone (Scottish Land & Estates). (Photos from ECCLR webpage).

We’re not going to go through the transcript line by line because that would be tedious, but instead we wanted to comment on a few observations.

Unlike the evidence session held at Westminster last autumn, this was a civilised, unbiased hearing. That may be because, unlike the Westminster Environment Committee, none of the ECCLR Committee have a direct conflict of interest in the subject nor receive payment from any of the organisations represented by the witnesses. The Convenor of the ECCLR Committee (Graeme Dey MSP) was far more professional than his inexplicably rude Westminster counterpart, and although Mr Dey is known to support the propagandist Gift of Grouse campaign, his management of this evidence session was reasonably balanced and fair.

In the first part of the session, Logan and Andrea gave measured, thoughtful evidence about the continuing issue of illegal raptor persecution, supported by decades of scientific monitoring and peer-reviewed science. These two witnesses deserve much kudos. They are ‘ordinary’ members of the public, so exasperated by the failure of successive Governments to sort out this problem that they’ve been moved to exercise their right through the democratic process of petitioning the country’s decision-makers. As a result, they’ve been vilified on social media, exposed to a barrage of personal abuse from certain individuals within the game shooting sector, and yet here they were again, calmly and adeptly stating their case. We all owe them a massive vote of thanks.

The performance of the other witnesses was mixed. Andy Smith (SGA) is doubtless well intentioned but his ability to engage in the actual discussion is limited. He clearly had a list of points he wanted to get across, but blurting them out whenever he had an opportunity to speak, instead of listening to the question that was posed and reacting to that, didn’t help his cause.

Robbie Kernahan (SNH) didn’t say too much, and most of what he said was fairly standard SNH-speak (i.e. fence sitting), although he did make an important opening statement that should add some gravitas to the Committee’s future deliberations:

Generally, in Scotland, we have quite a positive message about the recovery of raptor populations from those all-time lows. It is certainly a national picture. However, that is not to say that there are not issues. Certainly, some of the concerns about the intensification of moorland management prompted our scientific advisory committee to have a review two years ago. Without wanting to go through that chapter and verse, I can say that there is no doubt that the on-going issue of raptor persecution is inhibiting the recovery of populations in some parts of the country“.

The evidence provided by Duncan Orr-Ewing (RSPB) and David Johnstone (SLE) was perhaps the most interesting. Duncan spoke with authority about the extent of illegal raptor persecution, saying the RSPB “thinks the situation is as bad as it has ever been“, while David flatly denied this, pointing to the annual ‘body count’ as his supporting evidence but completely ignoring the long-term population data, as published in peer-reviewed scientific papers. When asked by the Convener whether there was a possibility that culprits might now be better at hiding the evidence, in part pressured by measures such as the threat of vicarious liability, David’s response was “No“. No? Really? No possibility of that happening at all? Come on.

What made David’s response even more incredible (in the literal sense) was that SLE, as members of the PAW Scotland Raptor Group, have been made aware of the recent flow of scientific papers (e.g. on red kite, golden eagle, hen harrier, peregrine), all clearly showing population-level impacts of illegal raptor persecution, and as PAW partners, are supposed to have been advising their members accordingly. So how come the Chairman of SLE hasn’t been informed?

And on the subject of ‘possibilities’, much was made of the possibility of estates being ‘set up’ (i.e. someone planting evidence) if a licensing system was introduced. Both Logan and Duncan accepted that this was a possibility and they were right to do so. Of course it is a possibility, although on previous experience, the probability of it happening seems quite low.

In January 2012, just after the introduction of vicarious liability, David Johnstone was cited as saying there was a risk of estates being set up in response to the new vicarious liability measure. Five years on, there hasn’t, as far as we are aware, been a single case of an estate being ‘set up’.

Similarly, in November 2013, the then Environment Minister Paul Wheelhouse was asked during a Parliamentary Committee whether estates being ‘set up’ was a legitimate concern for landowners and gamekeepers. Wheelhouse responded that yes, it was a possibility, but that there wasn’t currently any evidence to support such claims, although a new study on trap interference was due to assess the issue. The results of that study showed that the illegal tampering of traps was not as widespread as the gameshooting industry had claimed (see here) and when it had happened, the interference mostly related to trap ‘damage’ (rendering the trap inoperable) as opposed to setting an illegal trap to infer a guilty responsibility on the estate.

There was quite a lot of discussion about what a licensing system might look like, and it was argued by Logan and Duncan that it should be based on the civil burden of proof (much like the policy used for General Licence restrictions) and that this should be a tiered approach, so that a number of incidents would be required before a licensing penalty was applied. David Johnstone was totally opposed to this, saying that the use of the civil burden of proof would be too much of a business risk. There was quite an amusing discussion about this between him and Committee member Mark Ruskell MSP, who argued that if the business was already fully compliant with the law, as David claimed, then the risk should be very low.

All in all, it was a useful evidence session and the ECCLR Committee will be hard pressed to justify not taking things further. The Committee now has to consider the evidence presented and decide on its next move. We may well have to wait until after 8 June to find out what that move might be, because thanks to the forthcoming General Election, no political or sensitive announcements or decisions are permitted during election purdah.

05
Mar
17

Environment Secretary’s message to Scottish gamekeepers re: raptor persecution

roseanna-cunninghamLast week, Environment Cabinet Secretary Roseanna Cunningham gave a speech at the Scottish Raptor Study Group’s annual conference, where she described, with feeling, her ‘contempt‘ for the continued illegal persecution of birds of prey (see here).

Her speech was warmly welcomed by those in the audience and many were hoping she would deliver the same message when she spoke at the Scottish Gamekeepers’ Association AGM, six days later on 3 March.

It seems as though she did. According to this article in the Courier, her speech to the SGA was similarly-worded and hopefully it was delivered with the same strength of feeling she gave at the SRSG conference.

Here are some quotes from her SGA speech:

Not only are you valuable eyes and ears in the Scottish countryside, but you are stakeholders in the Partnership for Action Against Wildlife Crime, with a vital role to play.”

We also need to continue to work together to change attitudes and every person in this room can help“.

The successful reintroductions of red kite and white-tailed eagle, and the recent 15% increase – which is in real terms a recovery – in golden eagle numbers, from the results of the last national survey – is welcome progress“.

For many people seeing these magnificent birds is a rare event. Many of you here today are in the fortunate position of seeing them regularly and I envy you that“.

Unhappily however the illegal killing of raptors is still with us“.

I have no patience at all with old fashioned attitudes towards these birds that linger on in this day and age. We all have to abide by the law, and must do so every day“.

I have no truck with any excuse that raptors damage driven grouse shooting interests – such damage is a business risk that grouse moor owners have to live with, and manage for – and this has to be done within the law“.

I note and welcome your chairman Alex Hogg’s reiteration of the pledge to ensure SGA members only consider legal routes to conflict resolution and he has made it clear that those committing wildlife crime will be removed from the SGA.

Although it looks like she didn’t go as far as directly pointing the finger at the SGA, it is to be hoped that the sub-text was clear enough to have some people squirming in their seats.

As several commentators have mentioned on this blog, although the Environment Secretary’s words were welcome, we have heard them all before, not only from her but also from three previous Environment Ministers, and yet raptor persecution continues. For now though, we’re cautiously giving Roseanna Cunningham the benefit of the doubt.

Yes, her words to the SGA are a big improvement on the words her predecessor gave to the SGA (see here) and yes, she’s bought herself and the Scottish Government a bit more time with these two speeches, but society’s patience is not limitless. We expect to see further measures enacted, and soon. There will be a lot of attention placed on the Cabinet Secretary’s response to the recently-published game bird licensing review, the forthcoming review of satellite tagged raptors, and the decision on whether to give increased investigatory powers to the SSPCA.

There’ll also be a great deal of attention paid this year to whether SNH grants licences to gamekeepers allowing them to kill protected raptors and if so, on what grounds? Roseanna has been clear that any perceived damage by raptors to grouse moor management should be a ‘business risk’ that has to be ‘managed within the law’. The SGA will no doubt argue that applying for licences to kill raptors would be ‘managing the business risk within the law’ and technically, they’d be correct, in as much as the provision is there to apply for such licences but whether protecting artificially high numbers of game birds is justification for legally killing protected raptors, especially when illegal raptor persecution continues, is an argument that will dominate MSPs’ inboxes if licences are given this year.

Interesting times ahead.

27
Feb
17

Scottish Gamekeepers chairman attacks Raptor Study Group

hogg-shiteAlex Hogg, Chairman of the Scottish Gamekeepers’ Association, has a long track record of talking out of his backside.

Previous missives directly attributable to the SGA’s esteemed leader have included lines such as, “Professional gamekeepers do not poison raptors” (here), “It is unfair to accuse gamekeepers of wildlife crime” (here), “In the last ten years we have stamped out poisoning” (here), “We kill animals because probably we’re the doctors and nurses of the countryside” (here) and, when asked whether gamekeepers are involved in the poisoning, shooting and trapping of raptors: “No they aren’t. We would dispute that” (here).

In the latest edition of the Shooting Times, he accuses the Scottish Raptor Study Group of ‘driving [gamekeepers’] wives, children and grandchildren from their homes‘. Here’s part of the article to provide the context to his claim:

One of the reasons the SGA was set up was to stop the police raiding our houses without proper evidence of wrongdoing. Wives and children were being subjected to dawn raids, houses were being pulled to pieces; in some cases children’s cough mixture was confiscated in case poison was being hidden in the bottle.

Hopefully these bad old days are gone. The SGA has worked extremely hard with our members to drive the poisoning incidents almost off the map. We have been very successful and last year it looks as if we had only two incidents of poisoning that involved a raptor. If the police had these results in any other form of crime it would be in all the news media for months.

Still, all we hear from the RSPB is that this can only be the tip of the iceberg. The Scottish Raptor Study Group, along with the RSPB, has launched a petition calling for the licensing of Scottish shooting estates. This group has been publicly funded since inception and has taken access on estates for years without even having to inform the keeper or landowner. In this regard it is unaccountable as it can log whatever it wishes, with little or no checks or balances on the process or the effects of its monitoring.

It seems strange that a group lacking in accountability is calling for shoots to be licensed. We will not stand by and allow double standards to drive wives, children and grandchildren from their homes. Everybody who works and lives in the countryside must now be wary that compliance with such organisations, sadly, is compliance with people who are attacking our jobs and way of life. It should never have got to this stage.

If the SGA had not been formed 20 years ago, what we live for would have been swallowed up by different government bodies. Some people hate the truth, but we will always tell it. It is that honesty which has gained us the respect that we have’.

ENDS

It seems that Alex hasn’t read the Scottish Moorland Group’s recently proposed ‘four point plan‘ for eradicating illegal raptor persecution, as presented to the Scottish Parliament’s Environment Committee last December. Point four was, “We would very much like to see greater cooperation between ourselves, the Raptor Study Groups and the RSPB“. Oops.

A few other points for Alex to consider:

  1. The police are not allowed to raid houses on a whim. They first have to apply for a search warrant from a Sheriff (via the Crown Office) and this will only be granted if there are reasonable grounds to assume that evidence of criminal activity may be uncovered during a search.
  2. It’s no surprise if children’s cough mixture has been confiscated during a raid. It has not been uncommon to find illegal poison stored in everyday household containers (particularly coffee jars!) and on at least one search a banned, highly toxic poison was found in a container on a shelf within a child’s reach.
  3. Raptor persecution has not stopped. Poisoning reports may have dropped, but other methods (particularly shooting and trapping) have not. Stop pretending otherwise.
  4. Members of the Scottish Raptor Study Group, just like every other member of the public, are entitled to access land without having to inform the keeper or landowner. Get over it.
  5. Members of the Scottish Raptor Study Group are individually licensed to visit the nests of Schedule 1 birds. They are accountable for their actions as they have to submit data returns to the Government’s licensing authority on an annual basis as a condition of the licence. If you want to discuss unaccountability, contrast this licensing regime with that of gamekeepers, who are not individually licensed and do not have to submit annual returns detailing any of their activities, which mostly involves killing wildlife.
  6. It’s not clear to us how launching a petition calling for a licensing scheme for gamebird shooting is going to ‘drive wives, children and grandchildren from their homes’. What will drive them from their homes is if gamekeepers get caught illegally killing raptors and lose their jobs (and tied house) as a result of a conviction.
  7. The SGA is supposedly a partner organisation in the Partnership Against Wildlife Crime (PAW), and notably, the PAW Raptor Group. Quite how publicly slagging off and warning SGA members to be wary of cooperating with another PAW partner (the Scottish Raptor Study Group) is evidence of good partnership working is beyond us. Perhaps the SGA will be asked to explain this at the next PAW Raptor Group meeting.

Alex’s article also touched on some other issues, including how the SGA is this year going to push for the Scottish Government to issue licences to ‘control’ (kill) protected species such as badgers, buzzards and ravens. He mentions that Environment Cabinet Secretary Roseanna Cunningham will be a guest speaker at the SGA’s annual conference in March and how staff members from SNH’s licensing team will also be in attendance to answer questions about this issue.

Interestingly, this subject was raised during Roseanna Cunningham’s address to the Scottish Raptor Study Group’s annual conference last Saturday. If she tells the SGA conference what she told the SRSG conference, there’ll be tears at bedtime for Alex and his wildlife-killing colleagues. (We’ll be blogging about the Cabinet Secretary’s speech to SRSG members in the next day or so, highlighting several points she made about raptor persecution and her full endorsement and gratitude for the “dedicated high quality fieldwork” of the SRSG).

Here is a copy of the Shooting Times article in full: alex-hogg-article_shooting-times_23feb2017

24
Jan
17

ECCLR session 2: the SGA and their ‘alternative facts’

Two weeks ago the Scottish Parliament’s Environment, Climate Change & Land Reform (ECCLR) Committee held an evidence session to scrutinise the Government’s 2015 annual wildlife crime report.

The evidence session was divided in to two parts – we’ve blogged about session 1 [evidence from Police Scotland and the Crown Office] here.

This blog is about session 2, where witnesses from RSPB Scotland, Scottish Gamekeepers’ Association (SGA), Scottish Badgers and the Bat Conservation Trust were invited to speak.

The video of the session can be watched here and the full transcript can be read here.

This session was fascinating and we’d really encourage you to read the transcript – and even better, watch the video. There’s too much to blog about here so we’ll just focus on the SGA’s ‘evidence’, which turned out to be a series of ‘alternative facts’, which perhaps isn’t all that surprising although it is of concern when you realise Andy Smith, the SGA rep, was a former police officer for 30 years and so he should be well versed in dealing with actual facts, not made-up ones.

Here are some of the SGA’s alternative facts. This is not an exhaustive list, just the ones that amused us the most:

Alternative Fact #1

According to Andy Smith, the SGA doesn’t support the proposal that the SSPCA should be given increased powers to help investigate wildlife crime because he was told that the SSPCA’s Chief Superintendent traveled to London to listen to the Westminster debate on driven grouse shooting, which, according to Andy Smith, means the SSPCA has an anti-shooting agenda.

The logic Andy Smith used to reach this conclusion is, well, illogical, because plenty of people attended the Westminster debate, including GWCT staff members, who most definitely are not anti-shooting. Anyway, as it turns out, the SSPCA’s Chief Superintendent did NOT travel to London to attend the debate, as he clearly explains in a recent letter to the ECCLR Committee that has been published on the Scottish Parliament’s website:  20170111_mike_flynn_to_convener_regarding_ecclr_meeting_10_january_2017

Alternative Fact #2

According to Andy Smith, “There are places in this country that should have birds of prey – raptors – but do not have them. That includes some RSPB reserves that have the perfect conditions. For example, I do not think that there are very many in Abernethy“.

Oops. There are at least eight species of breeding raptors at the RSPB’s Abernethy Reserve (perhaps more, we haven’t checked), including, er, the world famous ospreys at Loch Garten.

Alternative Fact #3

According to Andy Smith, “We should remember that the Cairngorms National Park has the highest density of eagles in the world“. [Interruption]. “Am I not right in thinking that?“.

Ian Thomson (RSPB Scotland): “No, you are not“.

Andy Smith: “It is certainly where the highest density of eagles is in the UK“.

Ian Thomson: “Harris has the highest density of golden eagles“.

Another commonly repeated myth from Andy Smith. It’s nothing new (e.g. see here, and it was also repeated in the SGA’s most recent edition of its in-house rag Scottish Gamekeeper), but it doesn’t matter how many times it’s repeated, it doesn’t make it factual. The Cairngorms National Park does NOT have the highest density of eagles in the world, nor in the UK. As Ian Thomson correctly pointed out, golden eagle density in the Western Isles (i.e. nowhere near a driven grouse moor) is among the highest recorded, although a few populations in North America have an equally high density.

The truth is that golden eagles in the Cairngorms National Park have one of the lowest rates of site occupancy in the whole of Scotland. Sure, there are breeding golden eagles in the CNP, but as was described in the authoritative Golden Eagle Conservation Framework, the vast majority of those sites are associated with open woodland (i.e. deer forest) where they are generally left alone; they are, with a handful of exceptions, absent from the extensive areas of open moorland managed for driven grouse shooting.

ge-vacant-territories-2003The data in the above table were derived from the 2003 national golden eagle survey. Since then, a 2015 national survey has been undertaken and we await publication of the detailed results, although the preliminary findings have shown that there have been improvements in occupancy in some regions, but not, unfortunately, in the Eastern Highlands, which includes large parts of the Cairngorms National Park and North East Glens, where intensively managed moorland for driven grouse shooting remains the dominant land practice and where illegal persecution continues to constrain the golden eagle population, as well as a number of other raptor populations including peregrine and hen harrier.

The SGA should watch out. With a performance like Andy Smith’s, the Trump administration may well try to headhunt him to join The White House press team.

03
Jan
17

Hen harrier ‘reintroduction’ to southern England: the feasibility/scoping report

Back in November we blogged (here) about DEFRA’s proposed ‘reintroduction’ of hen harriers to southern England, which is part of DEFRA’s Hen Harrier InAction Plan.

We had received information, via an FoI request, that Natural England had identified two potential areas for the reintroduction – Exmoor and Wiltshire.

These two areas had been identified from a ‘project scoping’ (feasibility) report, dated 2012 and cited in DEFRA’s InAction Plan as being ‘unpublished’. We were very keen to see this scoping report and we’ve now got hold of a copy, via another FoI.

The report is called The Feasibility of Translocating Hen Harriers to Southern England, and Prioritisation of Potential Translocation Sites and Strategies. It is authored by D.J. Hodgson [Exeter University], W. Schuett [Exeter University], S.M. Redpath (Aberdeen University], S.C.F. Palmer [Aberdeen University], J.P. Heinonen [Aberdeen University], J.M.J. Travis [Aberdeen University] and R. Saunders [Natural England]. The report was written in 2012, was funded by Natural England, but for unknown reasons has never been published, which seems a bit odd for a report paid for with taxpayers’ money.

You can download it here: draft-hh-reintro-to-southern-england-feasibility-study

It makes for an interesting read. It identifies four potential release areas (Exmoor, Dartmoor, Dorset Heaths and Wiltshire), based on a series of ecological data, with the highest scoring areas being Exmoor & Wiltshire. There is also mention that Scottish birds would be the most suitable for a translocation to Exmoor (based on habitat similarities) whereas birds from the Continent would be more suitable for release in Wiltshire. (Remember, we already know that hen harriers that have been removed from grouse moors as part of the brood meddling scheme cannot be used for the southern England reintroduction project (see here) and so other donor populations need to be identified).

What is most surprising about this report is how dated the reference material is that has been used to justify the project’s feasibility, and, more pertinently, the apparent exclusion of more recent data that would throw a different light on the project’s feasibility, and we wonder whether that exclusion is deliberate. Let us explain….

The whole (presumed) premise of this project is to establish a self-sustaining population of hen harriers in southern England; a population that will be unaffected by the continued persecution of hen harriers on the grouse moors of northern England/Scotland. For this to be achievable, DEFRA/Natural England would need to be sure that the hen harriers released in southern England wouldn’t disperse to the grouse moor badlands in the north, where undoubtedly they’d be killed (illegally) and thus the southern reintroduction project would fail.

So in this feasibility report, the authors have discussed the natal dispersal of hen harriers (i.e. the distance dispersed from the natal nest to the nest of the first breeding attempt). It’s a reasonable subject to include, especially if, as in the case of this project, DEFRA/Natural England are trying to show that hen harriers will attempt to breed relatively close to any proposed release (substitute natal) site. The authors of this feasibility report have cited very short natal dispersal distances, based on the findings of Etheridge et al (1997), although they do acknowledge that there is limited evidence of greater natal dispersal distances based on more recent data. The Etheridge et al paper reported on fieldwork undertaken in Scotland between 1988 – 1995 and natal dispersal distances were assessed from wing tag re-sightings. None of the birds had been radio or satellite-tagged. Natal dispersal distances for males generally fell between 14-150km and for females, 9.5-51km. So, if you’re trying to argue that reintroduced hen harriers are likely to attempt to breed close to the release site, the Etheridge et al paper is a good one to cite.

However, since that 1997 paper was published, many, many more hen harriers have been radio and satellite-tagged (99 radio tagged 2002-2006; 47 satellite tagged 2007-2015 by Natural England according to Stephen Murphy’s presentation in Sheffield last Sept) but the RSPB has also been satellite tagging hen harriers in recent years so the totals will be higher. Natural England has yet to publish the full findings of the hen harrier tagging project (well, it’s only been 15 years since it started) but seeing as though one of the authors of the feasibility report is a Natural England employee (Richard Saunders), surely those more recent data should have been available to include in the feasibility report?

Now, it’s likely that there aren’t that many hen harriers that were radio or sat-tagged since 2002 that have survived for long enough to start a first breeding attempt, so there aren’t that many more recent data on natal dispersal that the authors could have used (there are a few birds that have survived for long enough, but not that many because most radio/sat tagged birds have been killed within the first year or so of leaving the nest (e.g. see here)).

But what we do know from the hen harriers tagged since 2002 is that juvenile dispersal  (i.e. the movements made by the young birds before they settle to breed), as opposed to natal dispersal, involves huge distances of hundreds of miles across large parts of the country, with some birds even dispersing to the Continent. It is these distances that need to be taken into account in the feasibility study, not just natal dispersal distances, because the chances are, any young birds released in to southern England will travel far and wide during the period of juvenile dispersal (probably to the grouse moors of northern England and Scotland) and so the probability of them still being alive to return to breed in southern England has to be seen as pretty slim, to say the least.

It’s all very well for the authors of the feasibility report to cite short natal dispersal distances, but to ignore the period of dispersal between fledging and first breeding attempt seems a fairly fundamental flaw, especially when the report authors have acknowledged throughout that persecution in the uplands continues to be a major issue. The authors did consider juvenile dispersal distances when they modeled population spread from southern England, but again, this was flawed because, if we’ve correctly understood the feasibility report, they only used dispersal distances from the Etheridge paper AND they assumed ‘no illegal activity’ in their modelling variables!

And it’s not just the information on dispersal that is so outdated in this feasibility report. The rest is pretty old too – the most recent reference cited in the reference list is from 2009. Sure, the feasibility report was written in 2012 but there are a lot more recent data they could have used, including the Hen Harrier Conservation Framework that was published in 2011. That Framework Report (written by Fielding et al) is the most comprehensive review on the ecological requirements and status of hen harriers (if you exclude the updated HH Framework Report that was submitted to SNH in 2013 but remains unpublished, four years on, because SNH wants to keep it a secret) so why weren’t the findings of the 2011 Framework Report incorporated in to this 2012 feasibility report?

It’s possible, of course, that we’ve misunderstood the feasibility report (and we’d be very keen to hear others opinions once you’ve had a chance to read it) but if we haven’t misunderstood it, and the feasibility report is flawed, then where does that leave DEFRA’s planned hen harrier reintroduction? It surely can’t proceed if the science used to justify the project’s feasibility is so flaky and unpublished?

We’ll be blogging more about the planned hen harrier reintroduction to southern England over the coming days, including further information about specific release sites, funding, and potential hen harrier donor populations that have been revealed via FoI.

Photo of satellite-tagged hen harrier Elwood, by Adam Fraser. Elwood ‘disappeared’ last year on a grouse moor in the Monadhliaths just a few weeks after fledging (see here).

12
Sep
16

Philip Merricks moves his “immoveable conditions”

Back in June, we blogged about the Hawk & Owl Trust’s supposed “immoveable provisos and conditions” that had been set, by them, as part of their agreement for taking part in DEFRA’s brood meddling plan (see here).

Here they are, as a reminder:

HOT2

We were interested to hear whether the setting of three illegal pole traps on the Mossdale Estate grouse moor would cause the Hawk & Owl Trust to pull out of the brood meddling scheme because it seemed that one of their “immoveable provisos and conditions” had been broken. The Hawk & Owl Trust didn’t respond.

But now they have, in a comment written by Philip Merricks (Hawk & Owl Trust Chair) on Mark Avery’s blog today (see here), and the response is astonishing.

merricks-response

According to Philip, those “immovable conditions” only apply “when all actions of the DEFRA Hen Harrier Recovery Plan are underway“. As two elements of the Plan have yet to begin (brood meddling and the southern reintroduction), apparently the “immovable conditions” are not yet applicable.

But that’s not what the Hawk & Owl Trust said in their original statement about those “immoveable conditions“. Have another look at the Hawk & Owl Trust’s original statement (top image above). The first line reads:

‘Before agreeing to talk with DEFRA about the details of a trial, the Trust created three immoveable provisos and conditions for taking part in a brood management scheme trial’.

What a total bloody cop out! Philip has demonstrated that the Hawk & Owl Trust’s intentions are just as disingenuous as those claimed by the grouse-shooting industry at the beginning of the year when they professed tolerance to a limited number of hen harriers on their moors. Philip knows and accepts that since the DEFRA plan was launched in January 2016 (here), illegal hen harrier persecution has taken place – he acknowledged this throughout his presentation in Sheffield at the weekend (see here), and yet here he is, suggesting that this year’s persecution incidents ‘don’t count’ because the full plan has yet to be launched.

This isn’t conflict resolution, this is the Hawk & Owl Trust acting as apologists for an industry which relies upon the illegal killing of birds of prey. It’s shameful.

27
Jul
16

Bowland Brewery subjected to hate campaign for supporting hen harriers

Bowland brewery HHEarlier this year, the Bowland Brewery in Lancashire committed to donate a proportion of the proceeds from the sale of its Hen Harrier beer to the RSPB’s hen harrier conservation projects (see press statement here).

James Warburton, owner of Bowland Brewery said: “The hen harrier is a living symbol of Bowland Brewery’s intimate connection with the landscape where we produce our beers.

The very real prospect that this beautiful bird of prey may disappear from the skies above the Forest of Bowland is unthinkable. That’s why we are committing to donate a significant sum of money each year to safeguard the future of one of Bowland’s most iconic residents.

As the harriers return to the Bowland Fells to nest this spring, we hope to see nature-lovers visiting the area to marvel at their amazing skydance and celebrate with a pint of the beer these rare and precious birds inspired.

By buying Hen Harrier by the pint or in bottles, locals and visitors alike will be making a positive contribution to hen harrier conservation in Bowland – and ultimately helping the population to grow.”

bowland breweryRecently, this photograph of Chris Packham and Mark Avery enjoying a pint of Bowland Brewery’s Hen Harrier beer, was posted on the Bowland Brewery’s social media platforms (twitter and facebook). As a result, some individuals from the grouse-shooting industry have launched a hate campaign aimed directly at the Bowland Brewery.

Bowland Brewery’s facebook page was targeted with a torrent of fake reviews, resulting in a drop in their overall review rating. Comments posted on facebook by the grouse-shooting trolls included:

“Get this off tomorrow or we will hound you”.

“They drink with the devil. Destroy the business!”

“Side with Packham and the knife comes out”

“They thought going with Packham was good. Now they must feel the pain”

“Shut them down. Anti shooting”.

“You can run but not hide. Hammer em!”

“Shut down the business. Shut down, boycott, whatever. Get Bowland Brewery outed”.

“Get hold of the boss and tell him to mend his ways. Otherwise we will crush em”.

Nice guys, eh? Wonder how many of them making threats have a shotgun/firearms certificate? There are some known gamekeepers involved in this hate campaign, including the Head Gamekeeper of Millden Estate in the Angus Glens, Bert Burnett from the Scottish Gamekeepers’ Association (who wrote “Well done everyone”) and some of the comments have been ‘liked’ by the official facebook page of the National Gamekeepers’ Organisation.

All slightly ironic from an industry that has recently accused Chris Packham of ‘celebrity bullying’ (see here) just because he’s politely asking Marks and Spencer to be transparent about their claims that their red grouse are produced ethically and sustainably (see here).

It’s also ironic that this hate campaign against the brewery comes from an industry that purports to be interested in protecting rural jobs. The Bowland Brewery is a small business, employing local people, in a rural community.

If you want to show your support for the Bowland Brewery and their ethical and charitable support of hen harrier conservation, please consider buying their beer. It’s available in various local outlets (see here) and can also be bought online (see here).

If you want to support the campaign to ban driven grouse shooting, because it’s the only way hen harriers will be allowed to thrive in the English uplands, then please join 65,000 others and sign THIS PETITION.




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