Posts Tagged ‘hen harrier

10
Jul
18

Hen harrier satellite tag data to be presented in……Vancouver!

Natural England has been using tax payers’ money to fit satellite tags to young hen harriers in England for over ten years.

Since then, there has been a steady stream of reports of those tagged harriers ‘disappearing’ in suspicious circumstances on grouse moors, or being found illegally shot (often on grouse moors), or occasionally dying from natural causes.

We, and several others, have been asking Natural England to release the geographic data for several years because we believe the data will demonstrate a strong link between the locations of ‘disappearing’ hen harriers and land managed for driven grouse shooting (in exactly the same way ‘disappearing’ sat tagged golden eagles have been strongly linked to land managed for grouse shooting). These hen harrier data should be in the public domain, not just because we’ve paid for the data collection, but because these data could provide the evidence we need to apply badly needed pressure on the Government to take action against the criminals within the grouse shooting industry who continue to persecute this species.

However, Natural England has steadfastly refused to release the data, first telling us that the data were part of a PhD study and so couldn’t be released prior to the PhD submission. Then when we found out that the PhD had been abandoned after 11(!) years of ‘study’, NE told us last year that the data wouldn’t be released because an analysis was being undertaken by external academics and would be submitted for peer-review publication in 2018.

We have been highly critical of NE’s refusal to discuss these data and have suggested (here and here) that NE is involved in a massive cover-up to suppress these data to protect the interests of the grouse shooting industry; an industry NE is supporting through its ludicrous hen harrier brood meddling scheme.

Well, after another year of waiting for these data to emerge, it now appears that an analysis has been completed and the findings will be presented at a scientific conference in August……but you’ll have to go to Vancouver to find out the results!

The following is an abstract that has been accepted for presentation at the International Ornithological Congress on 25th August 2018:

Disappointingly, this abstract does not reveal any of the findings but it is interesting to note that Professor Stephen Redpath is listed as a co-author – that’ll be Stephen Redpath who is heavily involved in Natural England’s scandalous hen harrier brood meddling proposal (currently facing two legal challenges, from Mark Avery and the RSPB) and the proposed ‘reintroduction’ of hen harriers to southern England (more on this subject shortly).

If, as we fully expect, the results of this sat tag data analysis do implicate grouse moor management with the suspicious disappearance of hen harriers, that’ll lead to Natural England facing further awkward questions (and perhaps further legal challenges) about how its actions are failing to help the hen harrier (a species it has a statutory duty to protect) and instead how it’s actions are helping to shield the grouse shooting industry criminals from facing justice.

Unfortunately we won’t be in Vancouver to listen to Dr Arj Amar’s presentation (which undoubtedly will be very good), but we know a few who will and we’ll ask them to try and attend this talk and provide us with some details.

We’ll also be asking Natural England to release the findings of this analysis, even if they’re only preliminary results.

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03
Jul
18

Hen harriers breed on grouse moor in Peak District National Park

Press release from the National Trust, 3 July 2018:

Welcome return of the skydancer to the High Peak

One of Britain’s most threatened birds, the hen harrier, has bred on the National Trust’s High Peak Moors in the Peak District National Park, for the first time in four years.

The four chicks are said to be in a ‘healthy condition’ after hatching just a few days ago on land managed by the conservation charity.

[Photo of the 4 hen harrier chicks from National Trust website]


The hen harrier is one of the most special birds of the British uplands and is famed for the adult’s mesmerising and dramatic ‘sky dance’, which the male performs as it seeks to attract a female.

We’re delighted to learn of this nest” said Jon Stewart, the National Trust’s General Manager for the Peak District.

The hen harrier has been one of the most illegally persecuted birds of prey in Britain for many years and we have set out on a mission to work with others to create the conditions for the harrier and other birds of prey to thrive once again in the uplands.

We hope this will be a positive model for improving the fate of our birds of prey and providing the healthy natural environment that so many people care about and want to see”.

In 2013 the Trust published its High Peak Moors Vision, which put at its heart restoring wildlife, including birds of prey, and involving people in the care of the moors.

The conservation charity leases much of its High Peak moorland for grouse shooting and all shooting tenants have signed up to actively supporting the Vision.  As well as the hen harrier, initial signs are promising this year for other species such as the peregrine falcon, merlin and short eared owl.

It is critical the birds are now given the space and security to rear their young without the threat of disturbance or worse.” Jon continued, “The Trust will be working with its partners and tenants to give the birds the best chance of success. We are also working with the RSPB EU-funded Hen Harrier LIFE project to fit satellite tags to the chicks so that we can monitor their movements and learn more to inform the conservation of this very special bird. There is a great sense from everyone closely involved that we want this to work not just for these birds now, but as a symbol for the whole future direction of our uplands.  Uplands that are richer in wildlife and beauty, widely enjoyed and providing huge public benefits.”

ENDS

This is very encouraging news indeed. It’s early days, of course, but the fact the harriers have been ‘allowed’ to settle for a breeding attempt is a vast improvement in this part of the Peak District National Park, where two years ago we reported on an armed gamekeeper using a decoy hen harrier in what was widely believed to be an attempt to attract in, and then shoot, any prospecting hen harriers (see here).

As a direct result of that video footage, the National Trust bowed to public pressure and pulled the lease from the shooting tenant (see here) and earlier this year new tenants were installed on several moors in the area (see here).

Let’s hope these chicks are ‘allowed’ to fledge, without any brood meddling from Natural England, without being stamped on by neighbouring gamekeepers, without the adult male being shot while away hunting, and without the nest receiving any disturbance from well-intentioned birdwatchers.

It’s also good to see that if they do fledge, the chicks will be satellite-tagged by the RSPB’s Hen Harrier LIFE Project and not by Natural England, so we might just get some information about their fate.

28
Jun
18

British Game Alliance: more greenwash from the shooting industry?

The UK gamebird-shooting industry is in crisis at the moment, with ever-increasing numbers of gamebirds being reared and released (estimated in the region of 50+ million pheasants & red-legged partridge each year) but supply is outstripping demand as game dealers struggle to sell the shot birds for human consumption. This has resulted in the widespread and illegal dumping of shot birds in the countryside (e.g. see here, here, here, here) which is causing serious damage to the reputation of the shooting industry.

Fearing enforced regulation, the shooting industry has come up with ‘the way forward’ and has established an organisation called the British Game Alliance, ‘the official marketing board for the UK game industry’, which, according to the Countryside Alliance, “aims to run a ‘British Game’ assurance scheme to ensure our game meets the highest standards“.

The British Game Alliance’s standards are quite high (see here for what is expected) and apparently compliance with these standards will be regulated and monitored by external auditors.

Sounds good, eh? In principle, yes, but our expectations were low in March 2018 when the Shooting Times revealed some of the individuals involved, including one name that made us laugh out loud given his links to estates with long histories of alleged (and sometimes proven) wildlife crime.

The British Game Alliance was launched with much fanfare and political support in May 2018 and we’ve been watching its website to find out which shoots (and sporting agents) have met the organisation’s ‘shoot standards’ to become listed as an ‘assured’ member. So far, the website hasn’t listed any of its assured members but promises that registered members will be ‘listed soon‘.

However, the British Game Alliance’s twitter feed (@BritishGame) has been more forthcoming. We were scrolling through this morning and were surprised to read this:

A police investigation took place at Wemmergill in 2015 after the discovery of two short-eared owls which had been shot and their corpses shoved inside a pothole (see here). There wasn’t a prosecution.

Another police investigation took place at Wemmergill in February this year following the sudden and explicable ‘disappearance’ of satellite-tagged hen harrier Marc (see here).

Even more surprising to read on the British Game Alliance’s twitter feed was this:

Edradynate Estate will be a familiar name to regular readers of this blog.

It is currently serving a three-year General Licence restriction imposed by SNH following sufficient evidence (substantiated by Police Scotland) that raptor persecution has taken place but insufficient evidence to prosecute a named individual (see here).

Edradynate Estate has been at the centre of investigations for alleged wildlife crime for a very, very long time. It’s well worth reading an earlier summary we wrote (here) which includes some fascinating commentary about the estate by former RSPB Investigator Dave Dick, who claimed as far back as 2004 that the estate was “among the worst in Scotland for wildlife crime“, and commentary by former Police Wildlife Crime Officer Alan Stewart, who said in 2005, “Edraynate Estate has probably the worst record in Scotland for poisoning incidents, going back more than a decade“.

The details involve a disturbingly high number of poisoned birds and poisoned baits that were found over the years, as well as a number of dropped prosecution cases. The most recent dropped prosecution case came just last year, when the Crown Office refused to prosecute an Edradynate gamekeeper for alleged buzzard poisoning, despite Police Scotland urging otherwise (see here).

Despite at least 22 police investigations over several decades (according to Alan Stewart), nobody from Edradynate Estate has ever been successfully prosecuted for any of these alleged wildlife crimes.

And there lies the problem with the British Game Alliance’s shoot standards. If you look at shoot standard #19, ‘Where a shoot or its employees are successfully prosecuted for wildlife crimes, the shoot will be expelled from the BGA and their membership revoked‘.

Given the well-documented difficulties of securing a successful prosecution for wildlife crime, which is an issue even recognised by the Scottish Government, hence the recent introduction of General Licence restrictions, it’s quite clear that some undeserving estates will get the official seal of approval from the British Game Alliance, thus reducing any confidence the public may have had in this well-intentioned scheme.

31
May
18

Why we satellite tag raptors and why the grouse shooting industry wants to stop us

A year ago today saw the publication of the Government-commissioned Golden Eagle Satellite Tag Review, which showed how almost one-third of all satellite-tagged golden eagles in Scotland (41 of 131 eagles) had ‘disappeared’ in suspicious circumstances between 2004-2016, many of them vanishing in particular clusters on or close to driven grouse moors:

It seems timely then to undertake a review of how many more satellite-tagged raptors (not just golden eagles) have ‘disappeared’ since that damning analysis was undertaken (data cut off point 15 January 2017), a period of just 15 months between then and now.

An astonishing 14 sat-tagged raptors have vanished during this short period: 3 x golden eagles, 2 x white-tailed eagles, 8 x hen harriers, 1 x Montagu’s harrier. Eight of these ‘disappeared’ in Scotland, five in England and one in Wales. In addition to the missing 14, a further two satellite-tagged raptors (hen harriers) were found dead and post mortem results indicated illegal persecution.

Here’s the list:

January 2017: Hen harrier Carroll, Northumberland

March 2017: Golden eagle #338, Cairngorms National Park

August 2017: Hen harrier Calluna, Cairngorms National Park

August 2017: Montagu’s harrier Sally, Norfolk

October 2017: Hen harrier John, Yorkshire Dales National Park

October 2017: Hen harrier Manu, North Pennines

October 2017: Hen harrier Kathy, Argyll & Bute

December 2017: Golden eagle, Monadhliath Mountains

January 2018: Golden eagle Fred, Pentland Hills

February 2018: Hen harrier Aalin, Wales

February 2018: Hen harrier Marc, North Pennines

February 2018: Hen harrier Saorsa, Angus Glens

March 2018: White-tailed eagle Blue X, Strathbraan, Perthshire

March 2018: Hen harrier Finn, nr Moffat

March 2018: Hen harrier Blue, Cumbria

May 2018: White-tailed eagle Blue T, Cairngorms National Park

Of course, not one of these 14 recently ‘disappeared’ sat-tagged raptors will make it in to the ‘official’ wildlife crime stats (just as none of the 41 missing golden eagles and 60+ missing hen harriers have made it there) because, without a body, the police’s hands are tied. This suits the grouse-shooting industry because they can point to the ‘official’ crime stats and claim, disingenuously, that raptor persecution is in decline and argue that this is evidence that the industry has cleaned up its act.

Unfortunately for the shooting industry, the suspicious disappearance of satellite-tagged raptors still makes headline news because, quite obviously, in the vast majority of these cases there is no other plausible explanation other than illegal persecution. The authoritative golden eagle satellite tag review demonstrated 98% tag reliability (supported by robust statistical analyses) and showed that sat-tagged golden eagles were 25 times more likely to ‘disappear’ in Scotland than anywhere else in the world where golden eagle tagging studies, using identical tags, have taken place.

As Dr Hugh Webster said: “They can hide the tags. They can hide the bodies. But they can’t hide the pattern“.

[Satellite-tagged golden eagle Fred, who disappeared in suspicious circumstances in January. Photo: Ruth Tingay]

As a result of this ongoing publicity, the game-shooting industry has spent considerable time and effort trying to undermine the satellite-tagging of raptors, either by launching disgusting personal & abusive attacks against those involved in the projects or by arguing that raptor satellite-tagging should be banned because it’s ‘cruel’ and the tag data serve no purpose other than to try and entrap gamekeepers. The industry knows how incriminating these sat tag data are and so is trying to do everything in its power to corrode public and political confidence in (a) the tag data and (b) the justification for fitting sat tags to raptors.

As ever though, the game shooting industry hasn’t done its homework.

One of the latest claims being made by some in the industry is that there’s no need to fit sat tags to species like golden eagles because ‘we know all we need to know’ and ‘fitting tags doesn’t stop illegal persecution so why bother fitting them’? There are also repeated claims that tag data are ‘not shared’.

Let’s just nip this in the bud, shall we? The main reason for fitting sat tags to golden eagles is not to entrap gamekeepers; it’s to provide information for conservation and scientific research. Sure, if a tagged eagle then ‘disappears’ in suspicious circumstances of course that’s going to be publicised – why shouldn’t it be? But that is NOT the main objective of satellite-tagging eagles. And tag data ARE shared, just not with armed criminals intent on killing eagles, and who have a long track record of doing exactly that.

For those still struggling to understand the simple rationale behind golden eagle sat-tagging, below is a summary list of research & conservation studies in Scotland that are benefitting from golden eagle satellite tag data. As you can see, it’s all collaborative, there’s plenty of open data-sharing amongst research groups, and far from ‘knowing all we need to know about golden eagles’, the sat tag data are showing us exactly how little we actually did know prior to the availability of this new technology:

Peer-reviewed scientific paper: Weston, E.D., Whitfield, D.P., Travis, J.M.J. & Lambin, X. 2013. When do young birds disperse? Tests from studies of golden eagles in Scotland. BMC Ecology 13, 42. http://www.biomedcentral.com/1472-6785/13/42 [Co-authors: University of Aberdeen and Natural Research; tagging data from several institutions.]

Peer-reviewed scientific paper: Weston, E.D., Whitfield, D.P., Travis, J.M.J. & Lambin, X. 2018. The contribution of flight capability to the post-fledging dependence period of golden eagles. Journal of Avian Biology 49. [Co-authors: University of Aberdeen and Natural Research; funding contribution from SSE; tagging data from several institutions.]

Regional Eagle Conservation Management Plan (RECMP). A joint initiative to encourage the conservation of golden eagles in the Central Highlands Natural Heritage Zone (NHZ 10), involving SSE, The Highland Council, Natural Research, Haworth Conservation, RSPB, SNH, Roy Dennis Wildlife Foundation, and other contributors. Research funded by SSE. The RECMP research has produced data from 15 eagle nestlings tagged in or near to NHZ 10 which are pooled with other tagging research initiatives. Data from satellite tagged birds have also been contributed and are available as a resource for ongoing and future initiatives on education and community outreach also associated with RECMP.

Ongoing research projects under RECMP (projects involve several collaborators from different institutions; analyses involve tagging data shared by several institutions):

  • A simple topographic model to predict golden eagle space use [Golden Eagle Ridge Model: GERM]. Manuscript to be submitted shortly to ornithological journal.
  • Displacement of young golden eagles from wind farms in Scotland.
  • Age of first breeding and natal dispersal distance in Scottish golden eagles.
  • Use of settlement areas by dispersing golden eagles in Scotland.
  • Variation in dispersal behaviour of young golden eagles in Scotland.

Raptors and Forestry Joint Working Group. Current membership involves SNH, FCS, FES, RSPB, Haworth Conservation, CONFOR, Borders Forest Trust, Natural Research and Scottish Raptor Study Group. Evidence base for use of forestry by golden eagles is being supported by research derived from satellite tagged birds, to lead to guidance for practitioners. Preliminary research work, involving eagle satellite tagging data (including GERM: model development also supported by SNH and FCS), presented at a Sharing Good Practice event organised by FCS and SNH, 14 May 2018.

Scottish Natural Heritage, with assistance from Natural Research. Programme of tagging young eagles in National Nature Reserves (NNRs) to increase knowledge of connectivity with wider environment.

Scottish Raptor Study Group. Data used by several regional SRSG workers to identify ‘new’ territories if dispersing birds occupy a territory; and used to identify any gaps between known territories. Data improve efficiency of survey and monitoring.

Novel proposals for development and forestry. Data from satellite tagged eagles supplied and available to SNH, private/independent forestry consultants and Forestry Commission Scotland (forestry proposals); and SNH and ornithological consultants for EIA (e.g. wind farm or power line planning proposals). Data improve assessments of new proposals.

SNH Commissioned Report 982, funded by Scottish Government and SNH, included analyses which apart from the priority of analysing the ‘suddenly disappeared tags and birds with these tags’ also led to results on survival of dispersing young and lack of any evidence of tagging causing ‘harm’, for example.

As you can see, there’s a hell of a lot of scientific research going on to help inform conservation strategies for golden eagles in Scotland (some of which will also be applicable elsewhere in the world), and most of this research would be virtually impossible to achieve without satellite tag data. The gamekeepers, ridiculously, think it’s all about them; it clearly isn’t, although the criminal activities of some of them is certainly impacting on the conservation of golden eagles in some parts of Scotland, as has been well documented. For that reason, we, and others, will continue to highlight and publicise the illegal persecution of golden eagles (and other raptors) for as long as it takes to force the authorities to take meaningful action against the criminals responsible.

24
May
18

Laughable statement from SGA on missing satellite-tagged hen harriers

Following Tuesday’s news that three more satellite-tagged hen harriers have ‘disappeared’ in suspicious circumstances (here), the Scottish Gamekeepers Association has issued a statement about the two that vanished in Scotland (one in the Angus Glens and one near Moffat).

So according to the SGA, these suspicious disappearances ‘merit further, independent, investigation‘. Note the use of the word ‘independent’. Does the SGA not accept these harriers have disappeared in suspicious circumstances? Does the SGA not consider Police Scotland’s investigation ‘independent’? Police Scotland will have had full access to the satellite tag data to make an independent assessment of whether the harrier’s disappearance was suspicious or not, and presumably the Police agreed with the RSPB that the disappearance was indeed suspicious, not least because the circumstances mirrored the circumstances of 41 sat-tagged golden eagles, revealed by a Government-commissioned independent report to have disappeared in suspicious circumstances, several of them in, er, the Angus Glens:

The SGA statement looks like the usual well-rehearsed dig at the RSPB – indeed ex-SGA Director Bert Burnett wrote on social media in reference to the hen harrier that vanished in the Angus Glens: “I think I’m justified in claiming that the area was searched by people involved in the tagging and the bird was found and as it died naturally and was of no publicity value it was secreted away”.

Is he seriously suggesting the RSPB have perverted the course of justice? That’s a very serious allegation. Is this view shared by the SGA?

The official SGA statement also states: ‘There has been a commitment in Angus over the last few years to changing past reputations‘ (and therefore by inference this hen harrier couldn’t possible have been illegally killed).

We’re very interested in this phrase, ‘commitment to changing past reputations’. What does that mean, exactly? Does it mean the SGA is finally acknowledging that gamekeepers in the Angus Glens have been involved in illegal raptor persecution? If that is what the SGA means, perhaps it could elaborate on which raptor persecution incidents it now accepts had gamekeeper involvement? We’d be fascinated to know, because for as long as we’ve been writing this blog the SGA has consistently denied the extent of raptor persecution on grouse moors in the Angus Glens, despite all the evidence to the contrary (see here for an extensive list of raptor persecution incidents uncovered in the Angus Glens).

A classic example of SGA denial was the case of the sat-tagged golden eagle that was caught in a spring trap on an Angus Glens grouse moor in 2012, suffering two broken legs. The eagle was then driven through the night to be dumped in a Deeside layby where it lay in agony for a further four days before it died. Despite being given access to the eagle’s sat tag data and the findings of the official post-mortem report, the SGA concocted the most far-fetched explanation possible for this eagle’s injuries – see here.

Here is that dead golden eagle [photo by RSPB Scotland]

The other interesting part of the SGA’s official statement was this: ‘We know talks have been held between sporting estates regarding translocating a pair of breeding harriers…..‘. Talk, as they say, is cheap. There should be no need to translocate hen harriers to the Angus Glens. We know, thanks to satellite tag data, that young hen harriers regularly visit the Angus Glens – and why wouldn’t they? The habitat is good, there’s a plentiful food supply, and there aren’t any resident territorial adults to chase them away. And this last bit is the telling part. Not one successful hen harrier breeding attempt in the Angus Glens since 2006. Why is that? It’s pretty obvious.

The estates also presumably know that there isn’t a cat in hell’s chance that anyone would authorise the translocation of hen harriers to the Angus Glens. The golden rule, as laid out by the IUCN, is that translocations can only take place if the cause of the species’ decline has been identified and rectified. We know what the cause is, and we also know that it hasn’t been addressed.

The estates can talk about their supposed desire to undertake translocations all they want (and they will because they think it makes them look like conservationists) but as long as these satellite-tagged raptors keep ‘disappearing’ in the area, and for as long as the breeding territories remain suspiciously vacant, their words are hollow.

22
May
18

Three more satellite-tagged hen harriers ‘disappear’ in suspicious circumstances

RSPB press release, 22 May 2018:

THREE HEN HARRIERS DISAPPEAR IN SUSPICIOUS CIRCUMSTANCES

Police and the RSPB are appealing for information following the disappearance of three protected, satellite-tagged hen harriers in Scotland and Cumbria.

After monitoring her progress since she fledged last June, a hen harrier named Saorsa suddenly ceased sending transmissions in February 2018 whilst located in the Angus Glens, Scotland. She has not been seen or heard of since.

A male bird, named Blue, then raised concerns in March this year when his tag, which had also been functioning perfectly, suddenly and inexplicably cut out near Longsleddale, Cumbria.

In the same month, a tagged bird named Finn – after young conservationist Findlay Wilde – vanished near Moffat, Scotland. Finn was tagged as a chick in 2016 from a nest in Northumberland, one of only three hen harrier nests to fledge young in the whole of England that year.

[RPUK map]:

RSPB Investigations staff conducted a search for all three birds, but no tags or bodies were found. Where tagged hen harriers have died of natural causes in the past, the tags and bodies have generally been recovered. Cumbria Police and Police Scotland are making local enquiries.

Hen harriers are one of the UK’s rarest birds of prey with just three successful nests recorded in England in 2017. There is a slightly larger population in Scotland. These slight, agile birds of prey nest on the ground, often on moorland. Like all wild birds, they are protected by law under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981. But, despite full legal protection, studies show that their declining population is largely associated with human persecution.

Several birds have been fitted with a lightweight satellite tag as part of the EU-funded Hen Harrier LIFE project to help build a better understanding of hen harriers, their movements and the threats they face. Since the project began in 2014, a number of tagged hen harriers have disappeared in similarly inexplicable circumstances.

Cathleen Thomas, Hen Harrier LIFE Project Manager, said “The UK population of hen harriers is really hanging in the balance and the disappearance of these three birds is extremely troubling. These tags are over 90% reliable and capable of transmitting long after a bird has died. If these birds had died of natural causes we would expect to recover both the tag and the body. But this has not been the case.

Findlay Wilde said “In the short time we followed Finn, we went through every emotion possible; from the excitement of knowing she had safely fledged to the nagging worries that she was settling in high-risk areas; and then of course to the worst news of all. Finn isn’t just another statistic in growing listing of missing hen harriers. Her life mattered, and she mattered to me.”

If you have any information relating to any of these incidents, call police on 101. Or to speak to RSPB investigations in confidence, call the Raptor Crime Hotline on 0300 999 0101.

ENDS

Dr Cathleen Thomas of the RSPB’s Hen Harrier LIFE Project has written a blog which provides more details of each of the missing harriers – here.

Finn Wilde has also written a blog about the loss of ‘his’ hen harrier – here

The news of these three suspicious disappearances will come as absolutely no surprise to anybody. And neither will the responses of the game-shooting industry, as it trots out the usual, well-rehearsed denials and fake concerns. We’ve seen it time and time again, whether it be about vanishing hen harriers or vanishing golden eagles, and we’ll doubtless see it many more times again. That it’s allowed to continue without sanction is a bloody scandal.

The two young hen harriers that disappeared in Scotland are very interesting.

Saorsa hatched on the Balnagown Estate in Sutherland in 2017. She disappeared in the Angus Glens – a well-known blackspot for illegal raptor persecution and, ironically, in the consituency of Mairi Gougeon MSP, the Hen Harrier Species Champion.

[Photo of Saorsa in the nest, by Brian Etheridge]

We believe the Balnagown Estate was one of several participating in the controversial Heads Up for Hen Harriers Project, whereby estates agree to have cameras installed at hen harrier nest sites to identify the cause of nest failure and help understand the species’ on-going population decline. We’ve blogged about this greenwashing scam many times, and we’ll be doing so again in the very near future, but for now, the fate of Hen Harrier Saorsa is a good demonstration of how futile the project is. She was raised on an estate where there are absolutely no concerns about illegal raptor persecution whatsoever (there’s no driven grouse shooting on the Balnagown Estate) but once she dispersed from the relative safety of that estate, she was at risk. Heading for the Angus Glens, where successfully breeding hen harriers have been absent since 2006, was a seemingly fatal mistake.

Hen Harrier Finn, named after young conservationist Findlay Wilde, hatched on protected Forestry Commission land in Northumberland, 2016. Finn’s last tag transmission came from near Moffat, SW Scotland, which is the location of the controversial golden eagle translocation project, due to start this year.

[Photo of Finn by Martin Davison]

Now, let’s assume that DEFRA’s outrageous hen harrier brood meddling plan had been in place in 2016, and that the Forestry Commission had agreed to participate, then Finn and her three siblings would have been removed from the nest, reared in captivity and then released back to the wild in mid-August, close to their natal territory. This brood meddling plan is purported to ‘protect’ young hen harriers, and DEFRA / Natural England / the grouse-shooting industry all claim that this technique will help increase the population of hen harriers. It’s another greenwashing scam.

Would brood meddling have saved Finn? No, of course not, because Finn ‘disappeared’ in suspicious circumstances (presumed to have been illegally killed) in March, several months after she would have been returned to the wild post-brood meddling. So as many of us have been arguing for years, brood meddling will not help hen harriers because it doesn’t address the fundamental issue of illegal raptor persecution, year-round, that has brought this species to its knees.

Brood meddling is due to begin in England this year, but there are two on-going legal challenges, via judicial review, from Mark Avery and the RSPB. We await further news on these cases.

Meanwhile, across the grouse moors of northern England and Scotland, it’s business as usual for the hen harrier killers.

[Cartoon by Mr Carbo]

UPDATE 24 May 2018: Laughable statement from SGA on missing satellite-tagged hen harriers (here)

15
May
18

Missing sea eagle Blue T: statement from Cairngorms National Park Authority

Following last week’s news that a young satellite-tagged sea eagle (Blue T) had ‘disappeared’ on Invercauld Estate, the Cairngorms National Park Authority’s CEO, Grant Moir, has published a statement:

The frustration is evident and it’s clear that a great deal of thought has gone in to this statement, which is a huge improvement on previous CNPA statements about ‘disappearing’ satellite-tagged raptors in the National Park (e.g. see here), but we wanted to pick up on a few things.

The news that SNH will shortly be launching the next phase of its raptor tracker project is great – any technological developments that might provide more detail about the fate of ‘missing’ satellite-tagged raptors will be warmly welcomed by most (but probably not by the criminals within the grouse-shooting industry).

However, Grant seems to think that knowing exactly where and when a tagged bird was killed will “take the ambiguity away from the situation“. It won’t.

As we’ve blogged before, if the tag/raptor is destroyed on an estate that employs multiple gamekeepers, the issue of identifying the individual culprit(s) will remain, especially if all the staff give the standard ‘no comment’ police interview. There will also be the sometimes plausible argument that the raptor had been shot/poisoned on a neighbouring estate and died just over the boundary of the estate under scrutiny. And as we’ve seen in recent years, even with clear video evidence of an individually identifiable gamekeeper killing a raptor, a successful prosecution is highly unlikely because the Crown Office will declare the evidence inadmissible or will claim it’s not in the public interest to proceed.

Sorry, Grant, but the so-called ‘ambiguity’ will remain – although there’s nothing ambiguous about the robust & statistically significant findings of the golden eagle satellite tag review, which demonstrated a clear relationship between suspicious raptor disappearances and land managed for intensive driven grouse shooting in and around the Cairngorms National Park:

One other thing in Grant’s statement that we wanted to pick up on –

Invercauld Estate is part of the East Cairngorms Moorland Partnership and I genuinely do believe that progress has started to be made across a wide range of subjects with the Estates involved……”

Really? What progress is that, then? Any progress on stopping the illegal persecution of raptors?

The East Cairngorms Moorland Partnership was established in December 2015 and comprises six estates working in ‘partnership’ with the CNPA.

The Partnership’s statement of purpose can be read here.

Here are the estates (boundaries sourced from Andy Wightman’s Who Owns Scotland website):

  1. Glenlivet Estate. 2. Glenavon Estate. 3. Mar Lodge Estate (National Trust for Scotland). 4. Invercauld Estate. 5. Mar Estate. 6. Balmoral & Birkhall Estate.

Last October, almost two years after this Partnership was established, we wanted to find out what progress had been achieved. We submitted an FoI to the CNPA asking for copies of all correspondence relating to the East Cairngorms Moorland Partnership since 1 January 2016.

Here’s the reply we received in November 2017:

We have searched our Corporate Drives for the period as above and we hold no information‘.

Impressive amount of progress, eh?

We do know that in February this year the CNPA was advertising for a part-time East Cairngorms Moorland Partnership Officer, on a decent salary of £28,770 – £34,633 pro rata.

Assuming someone has now been employed in this new position, they’ve certainly got their work cut out in delivering the objectives set out in the Cairngorms National Park Management Plan 2017-2022, which includes improving raptor populations in the National Park. Recent peer-reviewed science has revealed that the local hen harrier population has crashed (here) as has the local peregrine population (here).

Oh, and satellite-tagged hen harriers keep going ‘missing’ in highly suspicious circumstances inside the National Park, just like hen harrier Calluna, as do satellite-tagged eagles such as sea eagle Blue T and golden eagle #338.

National Park or National Disgrace?




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