Saturday 13 August 2016

Raptor Persecution © Anand Prasad

This is a letter I have sent to friends who I thought might be interested in the ‘Conflict in the Uplands‘.
Please feel free to copy and paste and send to as many UK citizens as possible before 20th September.

Without going into details:
The UK petition to ban driven grouse moors can be signed here (UK citizens or residents only). It needs you to click on the e-mail you will then receive to confirm your ‘vote.’
Going into details:
As I write the petition is approaching 75% of the 6 month time limit but only 70% of the necessary signatures to get a government debate, so it needs a boost. If this is passed around it could easily reach the 100,000 target. If everyone who signs can get one more person to sign it will happen.
It can be signed for the obvious reason, to support a ban on driven grouse shooting, but also as a way to get a parliamentary debate on this issue because to be realistic it isn’t going to happen any time soon. A debate would raise the possibility of a compromise such as licensing of grouse moors or all game shooting. The problem with licensing is that it would be as hard to police as the law is now, which is clearly not working but it would be a start.
There is another non-government petition asking for licensing in Scotland. Everyone can sign no matter where you live. Sign both if you care about birds of prey.
What is the problem?
The illegal killing of birds of prey on driven grouse moors is preventing the spread of re-introduced raptors (Red Kites and White-tailed Eagles) and is creating black holes where species such as Hen Harriers, Golden Eagles and Peregrines are virtually absent. This is restricting the overall population of Golden Eagles and decreasing the numbers of Hen Harriers to the point of near extinction in England. The only reason they haven’t been made extinct in England is because of the attempt at re-colonisation every year by Scottish birds. Peregrines are only doing well away from grouse moors.
It has been illegal, since 1954, to kill birds of prey but today it is still happening on a huge scale and if anything, is getting worse. Decades of talks and committees involving groups of conflicting parties have achieved nothing (this summary was written in 2010 – a flash of deja vu).
The fact is that birds of prey, particularly Hen Harriers which have large broods, will without persecution multiply and take the ‘surplus’ Red Grouse which the intensively managed grouse moor owners want for their shooting clients. Birds of prey and intensive grouse moors i.e. driven grouse moors can not co-exist. Non-intense i.e. walked up grouse shooting, especially with the aid of diversionary feeding, could but the grouse lobby are opposed to diversionary feeding. Their solution is to move Hen Harrier nests off the moors onto the lowlands. They don’t want any Hen Harriers on ‘their’ moors at all and the threat is implicit ‘let us move Hen Harriers off the moors or we will continue killing them’. This blackmail is working and is included in the hidden agenda of the government’s recently Hen Harrier Action Plan. That and introducing European Hen Harriers to the English lowlands even though we have a perfectly viable, although falling (due to persecution) population in Scotland which is constantly trying unsuccessfully to spread to England. How the Hen Harrier Action Plan is going to protect what remains of Peregrines, Goshawks, Red Kites, Golden Eagles and White-tailed Eagles in the uplands is ignored completely.
There is a multitude of evidence of the persecution on grouse moors. You only have to compare the Red Kite re-introduction scheme in the Chilterns with the one near the Black Isle. One is thriving and the other has not increased in numbers even though the breeding productivity of the Black Isle birds is high when they manage to breed.
The Black Isle is near driven grouse moors the Chilterns isn’t. It is the same in north-east England which is close to grouse shooting country and the population near Leeds/ Harrogate has had 10 Red Kites killed just this spring. The grouse moors in the Pennines and the North Yorkshire moors will not allow expansion. Presumably the same is happening with the introduced birds from Central Scotland, judging by these poisoning incidents here, here, here, here and here and those re-introduced in Dumfries and Galloway, judging by these poisoning incidents here, here and here.
Another proof is the Langholm experiment the most bizarre legally arranged experiment conducted. The object of the experiment was for gamekeepers on Langholm to stop killing raptors.
I still think I am Beelzebub’s grandson (or to be more contemporary, The Man Who Fell To Earth) when I even think about it but that is what happened and Hen Harrier numbers exploded.
Why ban driven grouse shooting, we have laws don’t we?
The criminals are almost impossible to catch as the killing and poisoning occurs in remote places and when the culprits are caught it is almost impossible to prosecute as the level of proof is extreme, e.g. video evidence can be deemed inadmissible. In Scotland the incident has to have been seen by two witnesses and even then a prosecution is not certain. If you have heard about the shooting of two Hen Harriers at Sandringham when a certain Mr. Windsor Jnr. was out shooting , you will see what I mean. It wasn’t even as though being a Windsor was any different to your average gamekeeper, it is almost impossible to get a prosecution. Behind every gamekeeper is a rich and powerful landowner. [Incidentally that Guardian article mentions Mr. Windsor’s shooting partner Van Cutsem. To peak down the rabbit hole search for that name and Glanusk estate in the search engine on Raptor Persecution UK or Mark Avery’s blog].
Even after a successful prosecution the penalties can be little more than a pat on the wrist (or may only result in warning), gamekeepers are unlikely to lose their jobs, whilst the real villains, the managers and landowners get off scot free (no pun).

Scotland is finding ways of hitting the negligent landowners in the purse by cutting the tax-payer funded subsidies and by new laws to prosecute the landowners where gamekeepers have been persecuted (Vicarious Liability) but even in Scotland the killing continues and for example Hen Harriers are in decline.

It can’t be all bad can it?
There are three arguments which the shooting lobby fall back on to justify driven grouse shooting.
1. Money and employment in the rural economy.
2. Grouse moors are good for other birds and even use the word biodiversity.
3. Grouse moors are a special habitat.
These might be valid points but, I would argue, need closer scrutiny.
1. The facts brandied around about the money involved and the employment generated are from the grouse lobby themselves and as far as I know there has been no independent research. I have never seen any research done to compare driven grouse shooting moors with other moors which have walked up grouse shooting which is far less intense or with moors which mix walked up shooting with genuine wildlife tourism or the tourism from moors managed purely for wildlife. The grouse lobby likes to think in binary, either-or without examining all the other possible forms of income from eco-tourism. The National Trust who own lots of moorland could set up an experimental moorland to demonstrate other alternatives.
I would like to see how much of the profit goes into the local community or even Scotland. One vicarious liability case could not be prosecuted because the owners were hidden in off-shore businesses. That wouldn’t be for tax purposes would it?
I would also like to know if those so called profits included all the costs to the tax-payer in the form of subsidies and lack of licensing of guns and shooting etc. I would also like to see the hidden costs to the public in the form of increase in carbon emissions from muirburn, increase in flooding, purification of water and the loss of re-introduced raptors and habitats. More important to me is not the monetary loss but the loss to ourselves, to which I can’t find a proper word. Spiritual comes as close as I can think of.
I am also not sure if the employment of gamekeepers, a certain percentage of whom are criminals, is high on my list of human rights priorities.
2. There has been good evidence that grouse moors are beneficial for certain wader species (Golden Plover and Lapwings) but it is by no means all waders. Again the grouse lobby is thinking or rather trying to get the public to think in binary. Their statistics compare keepered grouse moorland with non-keepered moorland. They have not taken into account moorland specially managed for wildlife, including waders, which would be the case on some moorland if shooting was banned. There is nothing to stop a non-grouse moor hiring a keeper. They haven’t taken into account the possibility of new legislation to protect waders. They have not taken into account the fact that Golden Plovers are actually a game bird and are shot. They have not considered all the other ways that waders can be protected. These birds are not exclusive to grouse moorland. Lapwings are mowed down during silage cutting in the valleys below the Forest of Bowland so excuse me, grouse lobby, if I don’t get too upset if a fox takes some on the moorland above.
Personally I would prefer to see Stoats, Foxes, Mountain Hares, Ravens, Hooded Crows and birds of prey flying freely on the uplands even if the population of waders and even Hen Harriers does have to find a new more natural balance rather than a sterile heather monoculture.
When the grouse lobby talk about biodiversity for some reason that does not include any predators and that is surely not going to include Lynx.
3. Grouse moors are not a special habitat. They are special for grouse, yes but this is not a natural habitat by any means. We spent 10 days walking from nut to hut on Hardangervidda, Norway, which was so beautiful it made me realise how brain-washed we are about our so called wilderness, I was ashamed of Scotland. True we did only see one brace of Willow Grouse but this was real nature not grouse farming…. and Norwegians are really very pro hunting.
The beauty of the moors is also used as a pro-shooting argument but since visiting similar habitats in Norway I realized there is very little beautiful or biodiverse about a driven grouse moor. If you look at photos of the patchwork of muirburn you will see what I mean. I have seen some beautiful spots of what appear to be un-burnt heather monoculture. I presume they still exist but I admit I don’t fully understand why some areas are like war zones and some have real charm. One of the places that used to be beautiful is on the north side of The Forest of Bowland but now I see there is a new tarmac road from Roeburndale right across to the west of the Forest of Bowland with car parks in the middle of the moor for shooters visiting the grouse butts. Then of course there are the grouse butts themselves, the new idea of hare-proof fences and ditches. No sorry definite beauty-fail on that one.
Another aspect which needs investigating is a comparison with other countries. The UK is one of the most lax (if not the most) country as regards licensing of hunting. No other country has our level of moorland game-keepering (if they have any at all) or monocultural moor management and our penalties are paltry and here compared with the Spanish deterrent.
All in all, the only thing unique about the UK moorlands is in their level of crime, lack of biodiversity, lack of effective law enforcement and complete mismanagement. Nothing to by proud of.

Some facts:
There has been a catastrophic decline of Hen Harriers on grouse-moors in north-east Scotland
There have been no breeding Hen Harriers on Angus Glens since 2006
In 2016 in England there are only 3 pairs of breeding Hen Harriers (none of which were on grouse moors) and which is on the brink of extinction there. Whereas in Wales, which has virtually no grouse shooting, the population is increasing and was, at the last survey, 57 pairs.
The path to extinction is shown in this graph from the government’s Natural England report The Hen Harrier in England
It is only the recruitment of Scottish Hen Harriers to the non grouse moors in England which is giving the ‘English’ Hen Harriers a very precarious life-line and, so far, preventing total extinction in England.

This study proved that ‘On average, 55-74 females were killed each year, 11-15% of the total population of breeding females in Scotland, excluding Orkney’ and that does not include males or immatures. According to this government report the population of Hen Harriers should be about 2,600 pairs, it is actually about 580. Even the grouse lobby in their own paper (Potts 1998) calculate ‘If all potential habitats were occupied, present numbers could more than double, to an estimated 1660 nesting females’.
There is no doubt that is loss is due to persecution and it is not just a few ‘bad apples’ perpetuating these crimes. Here is a list of estates where crimes have occurred.
Maps of these crimes can be found on RSPB and PAWS Scottish crime reports.
This situation is the same with Golden Eagles and Peregrines.
This Scottish government SNH study on Golden Eagles states ‘A number of lines of evidence indicated that illegal persecution of eagles, principally associated with grouse moor management in the central and eastern Highlands, is the most severe constraint on Scottish golden eagles….Records of illegal persecution of golden eagles (including poisoning, trapping, shooting) were also more common in those regions where grouse moor management predominated…There was no consistent or strong evidence of associations between territory vacancies and constraints other than persecution in these regions’.
And for the most recent data on Peregrines ‘Illegal persecution continues to restrict numbers and productivity of breeding Peregrines in some regions, particularly where pigeon racing is practiced and where there is intensive management for red grouse shooting
and ‘Low occupancy of nesting ranges, with more singletons than pairs, was associated with intensive management for driven grouse shooting.’
and ‘The illegal killing of birds of prey is an important form of wildlife crime, which in the UK, is often associated with land managed for the recreational shooting of red grouse….Population models [of Peregrines] suggested source-sink dynamics, with populations on grouse moors unable to sustain themselves without immigration. Population data confirmed that growth rates were indeed lower on grouse moors than on non-grouse moor sites
Unbelievably, although the persecution of birds of prey has been illegal since 1954 and continues, the driven grouse moor owners and managers have found loopholes with which to persecute raptors within the law. So far the law hasn’t caught up with these methods and it is doubtful that they will in the near future given the amount of trust and self-regulation given to the grouse lobby. The only thing that can change this situation is public awareness.
Disturbing or preventing raptors from breeding is illegal. But if gamekeepers can prevent the birds from even attempting to breed it is very difficult to prove. The methods with which the driven grouse moors ‘legally’ persecute raptors includes a staggering array of weaponry.
1. Inflatable screaming and bowing scare-men
2. gas guns
3. delayed fire-crackers
4. What’s next?
If the illegal persecution is not enough there is also the damage to the ecosystem in the form of drainage, burning, lead poisoning, veterinary drugs, flood damage, the ‘self-regulated’ slaughter of mammalian predators and Mountain Hares. These are all subjects which go beyond a single e-mail and with more information daily, more can be found on Raptor Persecution UK, Mark Avery’s blog and the updated edition of Inglorious by Mark Avery.
Potts, G.R., 1998: Global dispersion of nesting hen harriers Circus cyaneus; implications for grouse moors in the UK. Ibis, 1998. 140(1): p. 76-88.
 August 2, 2016

Friday 5 August 2016

Hen Harrier Day © Raptor Persecution UK

Hen Harrier Day: Sunday August 10th 2014


Hen Harrier Day was initiated by Birders Against Wildlife Crime (BAWC), and organised and coordinated by a coalition of BAWC, former RSPB Conservation Director and leading activist Mark Avery, broadcaster and conservationist Chris Packham, the country’s leading wildlife charity the RSPB, and the North West Raptor Protection Group.

Hen Harrier Day attracted support from a wide selection of organisations and activists, including the Wildlife Trusts, the National Trust, the Hawk and Owl Trust, the League Against Cruel Sports, the Peak District National Park, South West Peregrine Group, Birdwatch magazine, Rare Bird Alert, Bird Information, Birdguides, Welsh Ornithological Society and Quaker Concern for Animals.
And of course we can also add a huge following of supporters on Twitter and Facebook. Our thanks go to everyone who – like us – wants to see an end to the illegal persecution of this beautiful bird

Hen Harrier Day 2014c Just a few hundred years ago the Hen Harrier was a common and widespread bird of prey. Massive changes in land use meant they lost many lowland breeding sites, and they retreated to breed on upland moorland. Relentless persecution by gamekeepers employed on shooting estates followed. Numbers have declined markedly in recent years as intensification of grouse moors has stepped up, and Hen Harriers have been identified as a priority species by the UK Government in terms of combating wildlife crime.
Peer-reviewed research suggests that good habitat remains for Hen Harriers, but there are 962-1285 breeding pairs of Hen Harrier ‘missing’ from Scotland and 322-339 pairs ‘missing’ from England. A 2011 report clearly stated that in England illegal persecution is “such a constraint that the Hen Harrier is threatened with extinction as a breeding species”.
In 2013 – for the first time since records began – no Hen Harriers fledged young in England.
In 2014 just three pairs have bred – all have required 24 hour protection. No-one knows what might happen to their young when they leave the natal areas.
On the 10th of August – when the media’s attention was turning towards grouse moors and the start of the ‘Inglorious 12th’ – we highlighted the scandal of the widespread illegal persecution of Hen Harriers on upland grouse moors and celebrated one of our most iconic birds of prey.
For BAWC, Hen Harrier Day was primarily about raising awareness of wildlife crime – the persecution of a protected bird of prey. We felt then (and still do) that to move on from the current situation, there has to first be a full and clear acknowledgement from the shooting industry that illegal persecution has been widespread and is a limiting factor on Hen Harrier populations. Next there needs to be a commitment from the industry to ensure that all legislation protecting our wildlife is rigorously enforced, and that lawbreakers – current and historic – are reported to the proper authorities immediately.

A selection of external news/posts published in the run-up to Hen Harrier Day