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“The hen harrier…..this is a nasty bird of evil habits. It must be got rid of at all costs”

The hen harrier….this is a nasty bird of evil habits. It quarters the moor a few feet above the ground and pounces on grouse or chicks it catches unawares. It must be got rid of at all cost”.

This is a quote. You might think it’s attributable to Amanda Anderson (Director, Moorland Association). It’s not that far off her infamous quote last year:

If we let the harrier in, we will soon have nothing else. That is why we need this brood management plan“.

But our quote isn’t from Amanda. It’s from a book called Grouse: Shooting and Moor Management, first published in 1958 (er, four years after the Protection of Birds Act became law!) and written by Richard Waddington who had a grouse moor in what is now the eastern side of the Cairngorms National Park.

Obviously stuck in a Victorian time warp, another quote from the chapter called ‘Vermin on the Moor’:

Eagles can very easily be trapped…..They can also sometimes be shot. However, since they are vigorously protected throughout Scotland it is perhaps wisest to say nothing on this subject. But if you want a successful grouse shoot you must find some means of ridding yourself of eagles“.

[Thanks to the blog reader who drew this book to our attention, also quoted in Mark Avery’s book Inglorious].

And here we are, well over half a century later, and not much has changed, has it? A number of grouse shooting estates are quite clearly still ‘ridding themselves of eagles’, including some on the eastern side of the Cairngorms National Park (see here), while breeding hen harriers have been eradicated from many Scottish grouse moors (see here) and virtually every English grouse moor (we heard there was a pair this year on a grouse moor in the Yorkshire Dales but apparently, we’re told, it ‘disappeared’. Presumably this will be confirmed by Natural England at some point. But then again…).

The fight back continues though. For the fourth successive year, Hen Harrier Day events will be happening throughout the UK over the weekend of 4-5 August (and an event on the Isle of Mull on 29 July 2017). Full details of each event can be found on the Hen Harrier Day website HERE

Find one near to you (or find a distant one and have a road trip) and turn up, join in and show your support. We’ll be at the Tayside event (along with other speakers) on Saturday 5 August and also at the Highland event on Sunday 6th. We look forward to seeing some of you.


Another gas gun on Broomhead Estate grouse moor, Peak District National Park

Regular blog readers will know we’ve been banging on about the use of propane-powered gas guns (bird scarers) on grouse moors for a couple of years.

For those who don’t know, propane gas guns are routinely used for scaring birds (e.g. pigeons, geese) from agricultural crops – they are set up to deliver an intermittent booming noise and the audible bangs can apparently reach volumes in excess of 150 decibels. According to the Purdue University website, 150 decibels is the equivalent noise produced by a jet taking off from 25 metres away and can result in eardrum rupture. That’s quite loud!

We, and others, have blogged about them being deployed on various grouse moors in Scotland and England, and our suspicion that they are being used to deter certain raptor species from settling for a breeding attempt, especially hen harriers.

Last year (May 2016) we blogged about a gas gun that had been photographed on the Barnside Moor, which is part of the Broomhead Estate in the Peak District National Park. This estate is owned by Ben Rimington Wilson, a spokesman (see here) for the grouse-shooting industry’s lobby group the Moorland Association.

The gas gun was positioned right on the edge of the area designated as a SSSI (Site of Special Scientific Interest) and an SPA (Special Protection Area), both designated in part for breeding bird populations, particularly short-eared owls, merlin and golden plover. As such, we believed the gas gun would require consent from Natural England as it would fall under the list of ‘operations likely to damage the special interest of the site’. However, at that time Natural England still hadn’t published its long-awaited guidance on gas gun use so that particular enquiry didn’t go very far.

Fast forward a year, and one of our blog readers has sent us some photographs (thank you) of another gas gun on this moor (photos taken this week) and this time the gas gun is placed in a different position from last year.

This year the gas gun is positioned well within the boundary of the SPA, the SAC (Special Area of Conservation) and the SSSI, as the following maps show:

What’s also different this year is we now have the ‘official guidance’ published by Natural England about gas gun use and whether the landowner has to apply for consent. According to the (not very impressive) flow chart that NE produced, it would appear that consent would be required for this particular gas gun as it sits well within the boundary of the SSSI:

At this stage we’re not suggesting that Mr Rimington-Wilson has acted unlawfully – he may well have applied for, and received, consent from Natural England. What we’re interested in finding out is DID he apply, and DID Natural England provide consent, and if so, on what grounds? How would Natural England ensure that the deployment of a gas gun would not disturb the breeding birds for which the site was designated for special protection?

Emails to:

We’re also interested in finding out how many raptor species bred successfully on this moor this year. The Broomhead Estate is part of the Peak District Birds of Prey Initiative, a project that failed to deliver its five-year targets but was set to continue in 2015 with “renewed commitment” and “new rigour and energy” from project partners, according to the Peak District National Park Authority (see here). Now, as it’s still only July, it’s unlikely that the raptor breeding data for 2017 have been analysed and submitted yet, but nevertheless, it’s worth lodging an interest in these data and asking the PDNPA to forward those results as soon as they become available, which should be later this year.

Emails to Sarah Fowler, Chief Exec of the PDNPA: 

And while we’re on the subject of the Peak District National Park, the PDNPA is currently consulting on its Management Plan and wants to know your views. See Mark Avery’s blog today (here) for some helpful hints on which issues you might want to raise. The consultation ends at the end of this month.


Meet the raptor scientists: series of public talks in Scotland, Sept 2017

Here’s an unusual opportunity to listen to a number of raptor scientists talking about their research, with subsequent panel discussions and audience debate.

Day one will be held in Edinburgh (Friday 22 September 2017) at the Royal Botanic Garden Lecture Theatre. Tickets cost £20 and this includes refreshments and lunch. Here’s the programme:

Day two will be held in Dumfries & Galloway (Saturday 23 September 2017) at St John’s Town of Dalry Town Hall. Tickets cost £10 and this includes refreshements but a sandwich lunch is to be paid separately. Here’s the programme:

Booking is essential. Download the booking form here: Watson Birds events September 2017 Booking form


Eight Scottish osprey chicks translocated to Poole Harbour, Dorset

Some welcome conservation news for a change:

Press release from charity Birds of Poole Harbour:

Eight Osprey chicks from Scotland have safely arrived in Poole Harbour as part of a five-year translocation project, aimed at re-establishing this species on its former breeding grounds on the south coast of England.

The project which is being run by Birds of Poole HarbourThe Roy Dennis Wildlife Foundationand local wildlife technology company Wildlife Windows, was given the go-ahead this spring and it is hoped that over the next 4-5 years Ospreys will adopt Poole Harbour as their new home and recolonise the south coast. Osprey pass through Poole Harbour every year on migration, attracted by the abundance of fish such as Mullet and flatfish. In late August, the harbour can host up to six Ospreys as birds fatten up before their long migration down to west Africa.

Photo: three of the eight osprey chicks (photo by Roy Dennis)

Paul Morton from Birds of Poole Harbour said, We’re so pleased to see the chicks finally arrive in Poole Harbour. It’s been a long few months waiting for this moment, so to see them in the pens has made the whole project very real now. The public support we’ve received has been over-whelming and the offer of help from Storm restaurant has been key to making this part of the process run smoothly and efficiently“.

Pete Miles, owner of Storm restaurant and local fisherman added,  “It’s a real privilege to be involved in the project and to help the Osprey team out. Anything that helps promote and educate local environmental stories is always good news. We’ve already got all the facilities to prep fresh fish so it made sense to offer help, plus I’m really looking forward to seeing these birds out flying around the harbour in years to come whilst I’m out on my fishing boat”.

Roy Dennis said, “We are delighted that this exciting and important project is underway. Establishing a population of Ospreys on the south coast will restore the species to an area where it was once common and also help to link expanding populations in central England, Wales and northern France. We are moving the birds to the best possible location given the abundance of fish found in Poole Harbour and the plethora of potential nest sites in the surrounding area. I’m particularly excited about this project because I was born in the New Forest”.

Once the chicks look ready and strong enough to fly, the Osprey monitoring team will open the pens, allowing the chicks to take to the wing for the first time and explore their new area. It is expected that the young Ospreys will remain in the harbour for a further 3-5 weeks after release before they begin their long migration to West Africa. The released Osprey will then remain in Africa during the summer and winter of 2018 and won’t think about flying north to the UK until late spring 2019. It is hoped that the first breeding will take place around 2021.


Photo of Poole Harbour by Michael Harpur


Police investigating footage of ‘gamekeepers’ shooting & snaring wildlife in Peak District National Park

The Mirror has just published an article entitled “Barbaric”: Wild animals trapped and shot in UK National Park to protect birds for shooting season and a by-line stating “Film taken in Peak District National Park shows gamekeepers shooting and trapping wild animals in a bid to stop them killing grouse as bird hunting season nears” (see here).

The article includes video footage and a number of photographs taken by a group called the Hunt Investigation Team. The video shows a masked man shooting off a snare around a badger’s neck (and the badger subsequently running off) and another masked man shooting dead a snared fox.

The video is graphic and makes for unpleasant viewing, but from what we can see, none of the filmed activity shows obvious illegal activity. Interesting, though, that the armed men are masked. That’d be quite a shock for any member of the public who happened to be walking in this National Park.

It is legal to snare foxes (as long as certain snaring conditions are met, and these conditions vary between England & Scotland) and then to shoot the snared fox. The snared fox in the video, which is obviously distressed, is dispatched quickly.

It is illegal to deliberately snare badgers, however, as snares are indiscriminate, badgers and other non-target species can often be caught by accident. When this happens, the badger must either be immediately released when found by the snare operator, or, if it is badly injured, it can be humanely killed. The masked man in the video uses his firearm to shoot through the snare and the badger is able to run free. The masked man makes no attempt to kill the badger, even though he had ample opportunity.

There are obvious welfare concerns about the badger being released with wire still around its neck, and by law, snares should not be set in areas where badgers are known to inhabit. The snare operator should be skilled at detecting badger signs and where seen, snares should not be set. Perhaps this is what the police are investigating? *see update at foot of blog

It’s also possible that there is further video evidence that has not been released to the media. One ominous photograph, that looks like it’s a screen grab from a video, shows a masked man approaching an apparently snared badger with a half-raised shovel. It’s impossible to judge from this photograph whether the masked man is about to use the shovel to protect himself as he frees the badger, or whether he is about to use the shovel to cave in the badger’s skull. Perhaps the full video sequence is more enlightening.

The Mirror article claims the two masked men are gamekeepers, working to protect grouse stocks. The ground that can be seen in the video doesn’t look like a grouse moor but of course this footage could have been filmed on land adjacent to a grouse moor. The name of the location has not been published. It’s highly likely that the two masked, armed men are gamekeepers, and perhaps the Hunt Investigation Team has further intelligence to support this. If they’re not gamekeepers, then the police will be investigating whether these two armed, masked men had landowner permission to be snaring and shooting wildlife here.

So although there may be more to this story than has been presented by the Mirror article, based on what’s been published this appears to show gamekeepers undertaking lawful gamekeeping activity. Nevertheless, it will be abhorrent to many, and probably an eye-opener to the average Mirror reader who perhaps is unaware that snaring is even legal in 21st Century Britain, and probably also unaware of the routine killing of wildlife that is allowed in this country all so a minority sector of society can shoot gamebirds for fun. That this is permitted within a National Park will also probably be shocking news to many. Good, this is exactly the sort of information that needs to be widely publicised.

UPDATE: Thanks to one of our Twitter followers for providing the following link to the Hunt Investigation Team website, which names the estate as the Moscar Estate (a known grouse-shooting estate within the Peak District National Park) and provides much more detail and further gruesome video evidence and commentary on what was filmed there earlier this spring. See HERE.


Natural England still refusing to release details of Hen Harrier brood meddling plans

Regular blog readers will know that we’ve taken a keen interest in DEFRA’s Hen Harrier Action Plan, which was published in January 2016.

We’ve been particularly interested in two of the six action points of this plan: brood meddling and the southern reintroduction.

On brood meddling, through a series of FoIs last year, we were able to find out what was being planned (here), a bit more about what was being planned (here), who was likely to be involved in the practicalities of brood meddling (here), and a bit about an even more bonkers social science survey that was to run parallel with the bonkers brood meddling scheme (here).

However, since November 2016, it all went a bit quiet so on 23 February 2017 we submitted another FoI asking for copies of all recent correspondence on brood meddling and the southern reintroduction. Natural England responded on 21 March 2017 telling us that information was being withheld “as it would prejudice the process of determining the licence application and potentially the quality of that licence”. They also told us, “The discussions are confidential up until the point the licence application has been determined. Once this has happened then details of the licence are available to the public”. 

We knew that this licence application was being submitted (by Natural England, to Natural England!) in either February or March 2017, so we left it a while before we submitted another FoI.

Our second FoI asking for information was submitted on 29 May 2017. Natural England responded on 31 May 2017 with this:

The application you refer to is still being determined. I’m afraid that we do not have an estimate of when it will be”.

We then learned, from reading the minutes of the Natural England Board meeting held on 22 March 2017 that the brood meddling licence application had been submitted (by Natural England, to Natural England!). We also learned that the Natural England Science Advisory Committee “needed to sanction the work behind the data” but that’s about all we’ve been able to find out.

So on 2 July 2017 we put in a third FoI to Natural England, again asking for copies of all correspondence relating to the brood meddling scheme. Last Thursday (6 July 2017) Natural England responded:

I can confirm that the licence application is still being determined and we do not have an estimate of when it will be“.

We’re finding this all quite hard to believe and suspect that Natural England is just using this as an excuse not to release any more information about their plans for brood meddling because they don’t like the criticism those plans have attracted. How would releasing notes from the brood meddling team meetings ‘prejudice the process of determining the licence application and potentially the quality of that licence‘? All this secrecy, over a highly controversial project, doesn’t inspire confidence.

On the southern reintroduction action point (although it’s not really a ‘reintroduction’ because harriers are still present in southern England), last year, again through a series of FoIs, we were able to find out about the feasibility/scoping report (here), the project group and its planned work timetable (here), potential funding options (here), Exmoor National Park as a proposed release site (here), Wiltshire as a proposed release site (here), and potential donor countries from where NE will source hen harriers (here).

Since the end of 2016, Natural England has refused to release any further information on the southern reintroduction, again, using the brood meddling licensing application to hide behind. We’ve now submitted another FoI (2 July 2017) asking for this information to be released, as this information has nothing to do with the brood meddling licence application and should therefore be available for scrutiny.

We do know, from the minutes of that NE Board meeting on 22 March 2017, that the NE Board has “considered the overall objective of the southern reintroduction and agreed this was to help relic upland populations in respect of the genetic diversity and the overall favourable conservation status of the species“.

So has the NE Board seen any scientific evidence that has assessed the genetic diversity of the UK hen harrier population and determined that its genetic diversity is in need of “help”? Have the potential donor populations been screened to assess their genetic diversity? And how will releasing hen harriers, that are likely to disperse to the uplands where this species is still routinely shot on sight, help the species achieve favourable conservation status?



Protest march to Downing Street, 12th August 2017

A coalition of wildlife campaigners will be marching to Downing Street on the Inglorious 12th August 2017 to protest about the on-going cruelty and criminality against badgers, foxes and hen harriers in the UK countryside.

Key issues of this protest include the Government’s ineffective and costly badger cull policy, strengthening rather than appealing the Hunting Act, raising awareness of barbaric fox-cub hunting, and calling for a ban on driven grouse shooting.

Supported by all the major wildlife protection charities (including Badger Trust, LACS, IFAW, Born Free), the march will begin at Cavendish Square at 1.30pm before heading down Regents St, Pall Mall, around Trafalgar Square and down Whitehall, ending at Richmond Terrace opposite Downing Street.

Speakers will include Chris Packham, Dominic Dyer, Mark Avery and others.

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