A year ago in May 2015, someone sent us some photographs of three propane gas gun bird scarers that had been deployed on the grouse moor at Leadhills Estate, South Lanarkshire (see here).
These gas guns are routinely used for bird scaring on agricultural fields – they are set up to produce a periodic booming noise to scare pigeons, geese etc away from crops. The audible bang can reach volumes in excess of 150 decibels. We wondered why they were being used on grouse moors in the height of the breeding season?
A month later in June 2015, Mark Avery published photographs of gas guns that had also been deployed in the Peak District National Park and on an unnamed grouse moor in the Scottish Borders (see here).
We were interested in the deployment of these bird scarers in relation to (a) their proximity to Schedule 1 (and in Scotland, Schedule 1A) bird species [and thus any potential disturbance to these specially protected species] and (b) their use in designated Special Protection Areas [and thus any potential disturbance caused].
We assumed that the deployment of these gas guns would be subject to guidance and rigorous licensing controls by SNH and Natural England (as they are the licensing authorities for the Wildlife & Countryside Act (as amended)), particularly in relation to the hen harrier, which, as a Schedule 1A species (in Scotland only), is “protected from harassment [including disturbance] at any time“, not just when it’s trying to breed (see here).
So an FoI was sent to SNH to find out if anyone had requested a licence to use a gas gun on a grouse moor in the previous two years. It turned out nobody had.
An FoI was also sent to Natural England – no licence applications there either. It also emerged that NE had received a report in June 2015 of a gas gun being deployed on a SSSI on an estate in the North Pennines, without formal consent. In July 2015 a warning letter was sent to the estate asking them to remove the gas gun. The estate apparently complied and no further action was taken.
In September 2015, we encouraged blog readers to contact SNH and Natural England to ask for urgent guidance to be issued on the use of gas guns in protected areas and in close proximity breeding birds, particularly raptors (see here).
SNH responded quickly and said they would investigate, and depending on their findings, they may provide guidance (see here).
Natural England responded a short time later and said they recognised the need for guidance and that they were in the middle of drafting such guidance, which would be made available prior to the start of the 2016 breeding season (see here). In fact, Alan Law, Chief Strategy & Reform Officer at Natural England said: “I will arrange for you to be sent this guidance as soon as it becomes available, which will be in advance of next year’s breeding season“.
Well, the 2016 breeding season is already underway but we haven’t seen any formal guidance. Have you?
Let’s remind SNH and Natural England of their stated commitments and ask them to produce the following:
Andrew Bachell, Director of Policy & Advice, SNH: Andrew.Bachell@snh.gov.uk
Dear Andrew, Last September you said SNH would investigate the deployment of propane gas gun scarers with regard to the law, and specifically with regard to the recent guidance you issued on Schedule A1 and 1A species under the Wildlife & Countryside Act. You also said, depending on your findings, SNH would issue guidance if it was felt appropriate to do so. Please can you provide the results of your investigation and advise whether you intend to issue any formal guidance or not? Thanks.
Alan Law, Chief Strategy & Reform Officer, Natural Engand: firstname.lastname@example.org
Dear Alan, Last September you said Natural England was drafting formal guidance on the deployment of gas gun bird scarers within Special Protection Areas and their potential impact upon Schedule 1 birds. You also said this guidance would be available in advance of the 2016 breeding season. Please can you direct me to the location of this guidance document, or better still, please send me a copy, as you said you would. Thanks.