Quotas – has their time come?

Driven grouse shooting is not without its benefits to the economy and ecology of the uplands although we could argue for years (and have done!) over exactly what are those benefits.  The trouble with it is that it is based on the illegal killing of several protected raptor species (most notably, but not exclusively, golden eagle, hen harrier and peregrine falcon) and a fair bit of illegal killing of some mammals too.

But it is clear that these same protected raptors can, if left to their own devices, make the legal practising of driven grouse shooting impossible, because that is what happened at Langholm in the Joint Raptor Study (maybe it wouldn’t happen everywhere but who will promise that it won’t?).

So, grouse shooters say that they want a way out of this bind and they suggest a system of quotas of hen harriers.  This was  pretty well described by ‘Lazywell’ in a comment on Sunday’s blog but here is my version of it.

The quota system allows grouse moor owners to do something to hen harriers to limit their numbers on any given grouse moor once numbers exceed a quota.  Various ideas for the quota float around but let’s just imagine that one could be agreed.  If you get more hen harriers settling on your grouse moor in the spring than your quota then you can bump them off (the most extreme version), prick their eggs  or perhaps bundle up any hatching young and cart them off to somewhere else.  Any of these actions would prevent there being hungry harrier babies being fed on grouse during the summer.

These three options (there are others too) have different medium-term implications for harrier numbers – killing adults limits the population the most, pricking eggs the next and translocation of young harriers the least.  Each is ‘unnatural’ and time-consuming – the usual objections to diversionary feeding.  But each would allow harrier numbers to rise to the ceiling level (whatever it might be) on all those moors where harriers are mysteriously absent at the moment (thus proving that there was a lot of persecution going on).

With translocation, where would the young hen harriers go? Here, too, there are options – they could be released back where they were born, ‘down the road’ on another bit of moorland (maybe a grouse moor, maybe not) or shipped off somewhere far away like Dartmoor where there is no grouse shooting.

This scheme has a great deal of complexity in it – because there are so  many variants and things that would need sorting out.  And it has always struck me that it might not be that easy to sell within the shooting community anyway – seems like a lot of trouble to go to when you can carry on breaking the law and pretend that you aren’t – and that is one reason why I would require a statement from reputable shooting organisations that they ‘admit’ that there is an awful lot of illegal killing of raptors and that they agree that this limits raptor numbers.  Such a statement means that there is no going back.

So such a statement from shooting organisations, not from individual moor managers, is a necessary step, in my opinion, to being able to win over nature conservationists to this scheme.  All grouse moors benefit from the illegal killing of raptors – whether that killing is done by the few or the many – and it needs a collective, public admission of the problem to move things on and to gain the trust of nature conservationists.  Is this grouse moor managers making the first move? yes it is – but that’s where the criminality lies, that’s the industry with the problem and they get something in return a bit further down the line (an agreed quota system).

Some would say that any such quota scheme is simply ‘regularising’ a currently criminal activity – I’ve said that myself plenty of times.  But that could be dealt with by setting the quota at a sufficiently high level for there to be a real benefit to harriers from the intial stages of the scheme but a real benefit to grouse moor owners once the quota is exceeded.

So that is my three-point plan for moving things on:

  1. grouse shooters come together to acknowledge, publicly, through shooting-related organisations the scale of the problem of illegal raptor killing
  2. diversionary feeding to be used (completely voluntarily) to minimise within-year harrier impacts
  3. conservationists agree a quota system to be developed that leads to much higher harrier breeding numbers overall but limits their local densitites

This does mean that everybody has to move – but the criminal elements have to move first.  If harriers became commoner on grouse moors then nature conservationists could relax a bit about the issue – not just forget it and go way, but relax a little.  It is the almost complete eradication of harriers on grouse moors that makes it so difficult for nature conservationists to ignore this issue – why should they?

And my preference would be for chick translocation rather than egg, chick or adult killing but then that should also be the preferred route for the shooting community too if they want a publicly acceptable scheme.

I keep talking about harriers but some thought would have to be given to eagles and peregrines etc in all this too.

It must be time to move this issue on, it has become too bogged down and now is in danger of occupying too much nature conservation time for no real benefit on the ground.  And if there can’t be agreement on something along these lines fairly quickly (which is entirely possible) then nature conservation organisations should seriously consider Plan B – campaigning for an end to grouse shooting outright on the grounds that it is based on widespread illegal activity.

But what do you think?

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50 Replies to “Quotas – has their time come?”

  1. In a past life I shot a fair bit. Mostly rough shooting and the occasional lowland driven game mostly, but never grouse. I've always regarded grouse shooting as rather elitist and have viewed it with a certain disdain, knowing exactly what illegality it involves. I personally believe driven grouse shooting should be banned, if the Hen Harrier continues to be mercifully persecuted. To hell with quotas, diversionary feeding, etc. If grouse keepers can't be bothered to find ways around the current mindless killing, then what makes us think that they're going to bother implementing new tactics.

    The question I'd like answered is "What was the state of our moorland before grouse shooting came along?"

  2. In the first Langholm project Steve Redpath claimed back in the 1990s that 98% of Red Grouse moor owners were removing birds of prey. It is now 2011 and that figure has increased. There is only one answer and that is to ban driven Red Grouse. Unless these words are used estates will not move. They are quite happy with the present situation. Only a keeper worries about being caught not the owner. Banning will also allow natural England and Scottish natural heritage to spend £millions in removing Red Grouse roads and bringing back this wilderness to what it is designated for not a motorway for a few weeks in the year. Remember on Natural England's new Upland Vision for 2060 not one road is shown on their image of the uplands.

  3. Being a newbie to raptor protection and being a bit green about the politics of it all, I have tried to look at this argument from both sides many times, I have always believed that there must be a compromise available.

    The trouble is it is becoming apparent that any Harrier, Peregrine, Goshawk (Golden Eagle) will never knowlingly be allowed to breed (or even reside unhindered) on or close to an active moor (at least that appears to be true of this area, The Dark Peak).

    Trust is one area that could be worked on, but trust is earned and there appears to be no moves coming from the shooting quarter to tried to build up any trust, indeed every gamekeeper caught/raptor found dead or nesting raptor that has failed in suspicious circumstances further drives the wedge between the two sides, and this seems to suit one side.

    The benefits of Red Grouse shooting on our uplands is something that is often banded around by the PR machines related to shooting but I have never seen a full break down of all the costs involved and all the tax benefits (away days for boys, EU grants, tax breaks on spending) vs the cost of the upkeep of the moor, what I mean is.... ignoring for now any benefits to the local economy are all these moors actually self sufficient?

    Another issue that I find abhorrent is the apparent links with the shooting industry protecting them from having the same culpability as other business would have for the actions of their employees, the law is clearly not protecting these protected birds but little if anything is done to change it, Mr Richard Benyon MP believes our birds of prey are adequately protected by existing wildlife legislation, why then is it that http://birdingfrontiers.files.wordpress.com/2011/02/peak_nestwatch_2010.pdf and many other examples are still going on?

  4. I forgot to mention that even with quotas the appearance of one of more raptors during a shoot could potentially drive the Red Grouse away from some butts, leaving some of those that had paid for a days shooting at very least disappointed and more likely irrate, how do you overcome this problem?

    Maybe the answer could be that shooting estates begin to tolerate
    a) a lower number of Red Grouse being available to be shot
    b) the likelyhood that a raptor may stray onto the shoot and spoil it for some members of the , it adds an element of chance.

  5. Many years ago I spent a day grouse beating. When a buzzard appeared overhead one of the younger gamekeepers ran to his landrover for his rifle. Before he could shoot the buzzard an older gamekeeper said No there are too many witnesses.This to me suggested that gamekeepers most probably do kill raptors.
    However the facts that there are no hen harriers on heather moors which should support a population is not positive evidence that says that the hen harriers are being killed by gamekeepers. It is a waste of time continuing this debate and instead energies should be concentrated on accumulating some positive evidence of illegal activities . Without evidence there is no good case for any change.

  6. Mark, I admire your attempt to propose to a solution on what seems to be an intractable problem. It would be good to hear the shooters view to this. The devil's in the detail and without thinking too hard about it I can see problems.

    Who decides the right numbers and on what basis? Do you start with what would be a natural population size assuming there was no persecution and then work backwards depending on the Grouse population desirable? Who pays for monitoring/trans location?

    Asking the grouse shooters to acknowledge illegal persecution is highly unrealistic in my view. They don't like us raptor hugging townies and to expect them to admit that this is going on and widespread isn't going to happen - I may be wrong, but again would be interested in their view.

    The other problem I see is getting the wider public to accept this. In an age where we are bombarded with the death and destruction of people, let alone wildlife, coupled with relentless news about wildlife extinctions, will the average member of the public be happy about legalized culling (albeit restricted) of such an iconic and scarce species, even if there is a possibility the population size overall may increase? That's a tough sell. Look at the reaction to the Badger cull. Also bearing in mind that great efforts have been made to do the opposite - reintroducing raptor species such as Red Kite, Sea Eagle etc etc. And will the quota system simply encourage quotas to be set for other species; Buzzard, Sparrowhawk, Red Kite, Peregrine... I can see Pigeon fanciers jumping on this band wagon & Songbird survival would I'm sure be delighted to have Sparrowhawk quotas!

    I have to agree with a comment above, spend the money on tightening up the law, make land owners accountable for the actions of their employees, introduce tough licencing for shoots - those who are happy to work within the law won't object to this - if they do, they'll be showing their true colours very quickly.

    I don't subscribe to a Grouse shooting ban, it's why we live in a free country, but with this freedom comes some serious responsibility and that's what needs reinforcing.

    1. Gert - thanks for your thoughtful comments (as always). All the problems you identify are real - and there are others too. Worth airing here though, particularly as the status quo is not very satisfactory either.

  7. How can anyone justify or condone any industry, commercial or otherwise, which relies upon criminal activity to continue. Protected raptors have been persecuted throughout England’s uplands for well over a century and enough is enough.
    Shooting estates landowners have been given ample time already to get their affairs in order, but have failed miserably to do so. The persecution of birds of prey continues and in many respects is now getting much worst. A prime example is the hen harrier, how can we justify quotas when harrier numbers are at such a critical low level as a direct consequence of their continued persecution on Red Grouse moors.

    Diversionary feeding is only a temporary stop gap and like quotas provides no long term solution to the current situation. More importantly, no matter what concessions may be given to the grouse moor owners, it would be essential those concessions are accepted by all estates, clearly this would never happen.

    After being involved with raptor conservation for over forty years and having witnessed first hand the damage to England’s wildlife heritage game shooting has continued to cause, there is only one reliable and sensible solution to this on-going never ending debate, driven grouse shooting must be brought to an end.

    Terry Pickford

    North West Raptor Protection Group

  8. I think this idea is along the right lines. Being adversarial does not improve the situation and if there are considerable benefits to the ecosystem from Grouse shooting then this would enable it to .continue while improving raptor conservation. I am sure there are numerous other areas where a similarily constructive approach will pay dividends

  9. Personally I can’t see things changing even if the likes of SNH, Natural England and the RSPB lobby government for a complete ban on driven grouse shooting. Are shooting organisations really going to perform a mammoth U turn when they have previously vigorously denied that such wholesale persecution has taken place. Is a ban ever going to be forced through parliament when there will undoubtedly be significant support from MP’s to back their shooting chums in the upper echelons of society?

    In spite of the changes to the law in Scotland with the introduction of the recent WANE bill making vicarious liability for landowners a possible route for prosecution, it will be difficult to even bring a case to court and probably impossible to achieve a successful prosecution. Time will tell I suppose, but in the meantime birds of prey will continue to be shot, trapped and poisoned. Why? Because the current state of affairs let’s them get away with it. Landowners and gamekeepers know the system and how it works, and have no pressing reason to change. When gamekeepers are caught with huge amounts of illegal pesticides, and the rings from the legs of Golden Eagles in their possession, and face no charges in connection with killing of birds of prey then they aint going to!

  10. Having submitted my post above, I visited the Raptor Politics website and came across the following which seems fairly apt in the circumstances. It is also reported that Mr Benyon is a grouse shooter himself! The quotes are accurate and taken from Hansard.

    Quote from Richard Benyon (Parliamentary Under Secretary of State (Natural Environment and Fisheries), Environment, Food and Rural Affairs; Newbury, Conservative) on 30th June 2011, in response to this question raised by Angela Smith (Penistone and Stocksbridge, Labour)

    Angela Smith: - “Only two weeks ago, a gamekeeper was convicted for illegally killing birds of prey in my constituency. Is it not time to think about introducing a vicarious liability offence to ensure that landowners and estate managers supervise their gamekeepers more closely and more effectively?”

    Richard Benyon: - “There are very good laws in place to punish the illegal killing of any animal. If they are not being enforced, they must be and we will take steps to make sure that happens. However, this is also a good opportunity to applaud gamekeepers for the wonderful work they do in providing excellent biodiversity across our countryside.”

    It would almost be laughable if it wasn’t for the fact that it is our natural heritage that these idiots are in charge of!

  11. Looking back in time, it seems to me that to the detriment of the harrier, conservationists failed to act swiftly, following the publication of the original Langholm Report. How many wasted years were spent in denial?

    Frankly, as everyone is well aware the situation today couldn't really get much worse for the harrier on managed grouse moors. The debate rages on with the likes of DF, quota's, brood management schemes, translocation, etc.

    What greatly worries me is that Langholm 2 has potentially another 7 years to run. Given what has gone before does anyone realistically see any progressive movements happening before 2018?

    While we pour much time and money into this very important issue, I personally feel we are forgetting about the most important factor in this whole equation - the habitat. Year by year we are losing this beautiful, unique man-made habitat to the likes of bracken, over-burning/grazing, forestry, windfarms, etc.

    To our peril we may find that in the distant future we do find a solution/compromise to the harrier/grouse conflict. However by that time most of the suitable habitat may well be gone.

    On a lighter note, personally I would much rather spend my free time monitoring raptors on a law abiding, highly bidiverse estate rather than count fox scat on unmanaged moors.

  12. Like several of the above comments in many ways I feel no more and that driven grouse shooting should go, its history of predator persecution is absolutely appalling and as Terry Pickford says getting worse.

    But, and there is a but we have them at the table through the Environment Council, yes painful and so slow but they are there. This in itself is an admission they have a problem.

    Like Mark I wish they would in unison publicly admit what has been and continues to go on, I think that will not happen. I'd settle for them ceasing to deny it when we publicly raise the issue.

    Brood management is a better term for what is proposed than quota it might work anything is better than what we have now and probably easier than going for a ban.

    My own view is we need to try this and THEY need to Accept in the interim DF as a gesture of good will. So next season is the real test, we want any harriers that have the temerity to settle on a grouse moor (and there really are few enough of them) to be left alone and if the estate think they need to supplimentary feed do it at their cost.

    If the brood manipulation with no lethal control works lets roll it out.

    If the killing then still continues and remember most of it happens outside the breeding season and the tiny population stays ungrowing then we go for a ban. We tell them that NOW so they are under no illusion that as far as we are concerned they are very much in the last chance saloon.

    Going for a ban will be hard and difficult and long( it will not happen with this complexion of government to start) but we can point out that they have been offered two mitigations to the problem that are legal and they choose not to use them. Thats good solid ground from which to start

  13. Mark, I'm not sure I can contribute much to the debate - you and other commenters have made the case for ending the charade of 'sportsmen' (a euphemism in this case for people who enjoy killing) ignoring the law of the land more than enough times and always with restraint and patience - but as an ordinary birder who has never held a position in any conservation organisation, has no 'rules of engagement' to comply with, and who will likely never be in a position to have a meaningful dialogue with a grouse-moor owner, I would just like to say that I am utterly sick of hearing people (especially those hiding behind aliases) turn a blind eye to (or condone by not condemning) the illegal persecution of raptors on the grounds that it diminishes their fun or that people like me somehow don't understand 'countryfolk'. What a complete load of BS. I understand full well the arrogance of people who think they are either above the law or far enough removed from it to not suffer its effect. People who kill Hen Harriers are criminals, criminals who no doubt would immediately turn the law on me were I even to trespass on their land let alone interfere with their fun. And as criminals I wouldn't for a second offer them quotas. They have been stonewalling reform for decades and enough is enough.
    As I said, I'm just an ordinary birder - but I'm absolutely convinced that I'm one of thousands who feel exactly the same way.

    1. Charlie - thanks for the comment which, I am sure, does speak for many ordinary birders. And we did touch on this subject in the interview you did with me on www.talking-naturally.co.uk which shows that you are far from ordinary.

  14. Mark, I am pleased that you yourself seem to be tending towards some kind of quota scheme as a solution to the conflict. At the same time I am very disappointed by the strident calls from some of your contributors for an outright ban on driven grouse shooting. I trust they are just the noisy minority.

    Yes, there is widespread persecution in some areas, but banning driven grouse shooting in response would be totally disproportionate and would have really devastating consequences, both on broader conservation as well as economic grounds. I won’t rehearse the arguments I have set out here before.

    But those who are thinking in terms of a blanket ban should reflect on what they would be losing as a result. Without the incentive of driven grouse shooting, private moor owners would no longer have any reason to invest in upland management to the extent that they currently do. Huge tracts of precious moorland habitat would doubtless be lost to forestry; whole communities would be adversely affected; and wader populations, to take one example, would decline in the same chronic way that they have in Wales, where many moors which used to be managed for grouse shooting are now little more than conservation deserts.

    So please let’s not throw the baby out with the bath water. Instead let’s hope that the combination of the Environment Council conflict resolution process – which is addressing all the issues that Gert quite fairly raises – together with the positive work being done at Langholm (which itself had become a wildlife desert not so long ago) can contribute to a management solution of the sort that Mark proposes. Contrary to some of the gloomy comments here, I really do believe that the shooting and moor owning community would buy into such a scheme. I know that the majority of senior raptor ecologists would support it.

    1. Lazywell - thank you for coming back with comments, I appreciate it.

      I think that your most important comment is that you think that the shooting and moor owning community would buy into such a scheme, but your most important omission is whether you think that they would buy into the upfront statement that there is widespread persecution of raptors (unless you meant that that was included in the scheme?). You can see from some of the comments here how strong are the feelings amongst birders that there must be less hypocrisy on this subject from the shooting community. What do you think on that subject?

      And I am not getting at you when I point out that it is easier for you to say what you have said on this blog (for which I thank you) under the pseudonym of Lazywell than under your real name (which I am not asking you to reveal).

      On a more detailed point, it would be very difficult for most grouse moor managers to plant up with forestry as most English and many Scottish moors are SPAs and/or SACs. You'd never get permission. Ironically, of course, they were designated partly for their previously healthy harrier populations which are now lacking.

      1. Thanks Mark. I'm not actively involved in other shooting organisations, so I honestly can't say whether they would provide the sort of upfront admission you seek. But by participating in the Environment Council process they are going a long way towards tacitly acknowledging as much. And I could imagine that as part of a concluded package they would admit publicly what I assume they will have acknowledged to you privately when you were negotiating on behalf of the RSPB.

        I have often compared this whole wretched business to the Northern Ireland peace process, which was effectively pursued on a twin track basis: a combination of public hypocrisy and private trust. My understanding is that there is a comparable atmosphere of trust at the Environment Council.

        This is a very useful forum (at the risk of undue flattery I praised your last blog in similar terms), but it is not private and it cannot pretend to be an exercise in mediation. That said, I have been pretty candid, and yes, using a pseudonym helps in that regard. Mind you, I use it on various other websites, including the real lion’s den that is Raptor Persecution Scotland. But I frankly don’t think my identity would add much to the arguments I have expressed.

        I take your point about forestry, but I know from my own area in Scotland that there are large areas of moorland that are not so designated. But in the alternative, I’m happy to adopt my new friend Birdseye’s comments about the increase in foxes, crows and stoats (although I seem to remember that contrary to all the science you don’t regard the latter as a threat to ground nesting birds…)

  15. why dont people mind their own business ?! grouse shooting is somebodys job and people are saying ban it therefore the keeper will end up jobless and on benefits after theyve lost everything all this raptor killing stuff is nonsense!! all of you moaning bunch need to seriously get a life and mind your own business!!!
    BAN BAN BAN!!!! thats all this friggin country's interested in these days! too many townies that need to understand the countryside before they criticise!!!!

  16. This blog is more than just a little depressing. The predominant focus is on the persecution of raptors and the illegality that goes with it. Hidden in the many words blogged is something much more sinister - a selective amnesia by the bloggers, who choose not to admit what wildlife is present on the grouse moors rather that the species they apparently want on the grouse moors ie raptors. They choose to assume that if the grouse moor management was not present, that all would be well and the raptors would return in numbers. Science shows that is untrue and harriers would be subject to predation. Mr Hutchins asks a good question, [ What was the state of our moorland before grouse shooting came along?], which is a matter for conjecture but it would not be a teeming with what you all seem to want. It would be really admirable if those who wish to ban grouse shooting would pause for a moment and consider what is there on grouse moors now and ask themselves, if raptor myopia is a useful ailment. I suggest sheep, overgrazing and bracken would abound. Foxes, stoats, crows, and others would be plentiful and there would be very little else of interest – look at the Otterburn project [GWCT] in detail. Suggest banning grouse shooting if you wish, but as conservationists, you are biting off your nose to spite your face; there would be nothing, as opposed to an alleged lack of raptors. No moor owner would manage the moor, if grouse shooting was banned [nor would NE or SNH, they could not afford it and I doubt you would offer to pay?].

    1. Birdseye - hello again! Thank you for your comments here.

      There would not be fewer raptors if grouse moor management ceased to exist - practically all harriers and golden eagles live in moorland areas away from grouse moors. For both species their ranges peter out almost as soon as the patchwork of burning starts. And I hope you aren't thinking that harriers only live where foxes are absent of controlled - that old chestnut. There is a published paper which shows that not to be the case.

      But what is more likely to be the case, supported by both the Otterburn study (which, of course, suggests that raptors are not much of a problem) and the rather old joint RSPB/GCT study, is that moorland management for red grouse is also good for wader species. So there may well be a bit of a choice to be made between raptors and waders, because management for driven grouse shooting disadvantages the one and benefits the other. I wouldn't argue with that.

  17. I love Bish Bash Bosh's comment that, if grouse shooting were banned, then the keepers would end up "jobless and on benefits". Is that because they are unfit to take up any other job in civilised society?! I look forward to future editions of the Jeremy Kyle Show, featuring dozens of disenfranchised (BBB may need to look this word up in a dictionary) keepers, while Jeremy tells them all to "grow a pair".

  18. Well, Bish Bash Bosh. Your ineloquent aggressive language shows a lack of education and your use of a false name shows cowardice. You're probably a gamekeeper.

  19. Lazywell, I do hope that you are right and that an accommodation can be reached and sooner rather than later whilst we still have some harriers in England. I must say that from my own experience sadly the persecution is as widespread as we say it is not a case of a mallet to crack a nut.

    It gives me no pleasure to say that driven grouse shooting is inthe last chance saloon. The more we discover the more horrifying it all is but I hope you will agree with my good will suggestion.

    bish bash I've been going on moors most of my life, certainly more than 40 years, I have keepers and owners as acquaintances, even some I know do lots of things they should n't, so I'm not an ignorant townie, if you must enter the debate and please do, talk some constructive sense.

  20. And all this fuss about the demise of the moorland without said management, a quick look at some areas of Wales shows that its not so bleak as they imagine without the Red Grouse shooting.
    What I think people are saying Birdseye is that they are sick and tired of the same old tired excuses for why raptors should be ILLEGALLY killed on our uplands.
    As we hear the same old rhetoric time and time again, its got boring and is wearing very thin, lets see some action and not just words, the noisy minority grows everytime a gamekeeper get convicted, everytime its proven that illegal pesticides are still being abused and legally protect species are dying as a result.
    The time has come to say enough is enough and get it sorted out once and for all, we just need to convince the "friends" of the shooting fraternity that they are beholden to the voting majority not a few chums they meet up with for a bit of sport at the weekend, the choice is simple put up or shut up.

    1. You lay the challenge ‘put up or shut up’ - let me offer an alternative - you seem to imply that all grouse moor managers are guilty without giving any hard facts, other than extrapolation from studies or other places? Maybe a few facts would help? RSPB spent £600000 [and are appealing for more] last year to combat illegal persecution and apparently 2009 was the worst year for some years? Why?
      There is a hint on this blog that suggests that if the HH population was fine, there would be other criticisms of moorland management and those interested in grouse? Why not try and understand the value of jobs and the real economy delivered by such management and then do a SWOT analysis of all the facets of moorland management. It might also be reasonable to recognise the ownership of the various moors and ask yourself would you invest, just to see HH? I do not believe you can let these moors ‘go wild’.

      1. Sorry Birdseye you do me a wrong by pressuming that I draw my conclusions from studies I have read.

        I am actively involved in raptor monitoring and can assure you that my personal experiences are the reason for my implication that (in this area at least) raptor persecution is rife. As you might expect I discuss such matters with raptor workers from other areas and they report similar problems, so I think it's safe to assume that some of the published studies are at very least close to being right, to add weight to this we see a number of raptors confirmed shot or poisoned every year.

        2009 a year you picked, 32 raptors confirmed shot, 81 birds or animals killed by confirmed instances of pesticide abuse.These should be considered a fraction of what could (and studies are showing, probably is) happening. when you consider the areas the moorlands cover, the inaccessibilty (unless you have a 4x4 and permission to drive onto them) that and a small number of raptor workers giving their free time when they can, you start to see that the chances of finding hard evidence (dead birds, catching someone in the act) are at best pretty slim.
        It seems to me that the RSPB are at least trying to open a dialogue with the Shooting Industry, unfortunately non of the solutions available suit, why is that? is it because what is happening at the moment is what suits them best? is it because they know that there is little that anyone can do because hard evidence is so very hard to come by unless you can throw inordinate amounts of money at it?

        Whilst we are on the subject of money how much of the income of a Red Grouse moor actually comes from selling the shot birds? how much of it comes from business's funding an away day and the expenses being claimed against tax? how much comes from the taxman in the way of EU grants?

        Regardless of all of the above, killing protect species is illegal and any business that requires illegal activity to prosper should not be considered a viable interest.

  21. Birdseye, I think you are wrong and I have looked at the Otterburn project. yes with predators there there were fewer waders but there was no suggestion that they were not rearing enough young to maintain themselves that is the ecological key not whether there are fewer of your desirables and more undesirables that is human value judgement not good ecology. They are all part of biodiversity.

    I will also point out that the welsh harrier population has increased since driven shooting was lost in 2001 in the very places you think are wildlife deserts.

    Many many moors are SSSI's so they could not become forestry, white ground due to overgrazing or whatever and much of the spread of bracken is aided by poor burning policies of estates. NE might insist that owners contribute to their maintenance with out the shoot income !

    1. May I suggest you look at the Otterburn results in more detail. Some populations were acutely balanced only just avoiding decline but not increasing to desirable levels achieved on the keepered area. The HH populations in Wales may have increased but little else has increased and Black Game have nearly disappeared. Surely it is about balance and variety? Your point about poor burning is actually not fact.

      1. I looked very carefully at the Otterburn study and actually you make my point, levels of waders were lower with predators than without, ( your desirable levels is what ecology or human value judgement) these things all had a balance before we ever interfered and when we do the balance changes slightly.

        I think John Miles made the point that Black Game do not depend on grouse moor and as I understand it the decline has been arrested in north Wales at least.

        Come to Yorkshire I will show many acres of bracken on several estates where there used to be heather until keepers burnt to the edge of the bracken beds.

        One valley I know well partly because it used to contain both harriers and one of the UK's highest Merlin densities. Twenty years ago it was about 30% bracken now its nearly 70%, too much burning of old heahter next to bracken and no bracken control---- Good habitat ruined.

        One sometimes gets the impression that some estates and their employees have never read the burning code or sadly anything on best practice.

  22. Game keepers unemployed! Walked up Red Grouse will need even more keepers to take out the guns. Especially as the season will be extended starting on 1st September to 31st January. Remember they will be walking a long way for a small number of Red Grouse. And with improved habitat management shooting Teal, Snipe, Black Grouse and Woodcock from the Bracken [their major winter habitat].

    1. John, I don’t know you well enough to know if you’re being serious, but giving you the benefit of the doubt this is absolute nonsense. As I understand it, you are only seeking to ban driven grouse shooting, so if you were to have your way – perish the thought – why shouldn’t the season for walked up grouse still start on the 12th? August? And what scientific or any other basis is there to continue the season until the end of January? As I made clear in an earlier reply, your proposal will inevitably result in fewer keepers; certainly no shoot manager is going to employ keepers just “to take out the guns”. And in the absence of those keepers, who I wonder is going to provide “the improved habitat management” you refer to? Incidentally, I have organised the sort of rough days you talk about with a variety of quarry species. They are great fun, but they are certainly not money spinners.

  23. From the corrspondence I've seen on this blog I'd be surprised if the system Mark suggests would be taken up by the shooting estates. So is there another step before calling for an outright ban [like hunting with hounds]?

    Given the difficulty of policing the uplands whatever solution that is agreed will need to be easily and transparently enforceable by the police and NE / SNH / CCW. I'd also be worried about setting a precedent that if you break the law for long enough the law will be changed to accomodate you.

    So what about a licencing system, you get your grouse shooting licence renewed every year or so only if you have an agreed population of birds of prey on your land, this could be set at a lowish level to take account of natural fluctuations. But no breeding BOPS no licence?

    1. In theory a licencing system may sound like a good idea, but in reality just because there is'nt X amount of a certain bird nesting on a given piece of ground, it doesnt mean that they have been killed.
      Look at the Geltsdale Reserve in Cumbria for example. They have had less breeding pairs of HH since the RSPB took charge than when it was managed as a driven grouse shooting estate. If a 10,000+ acre reserve that is managed especially for them, how can you expect every piece of moorland in the country to have X amount of nesting pairs to meet with your licencing system.
      Although it could work in certain areas, your "But no breeding BOPS no licence" rule would most definately punish law abiding estates, which is not the way to go forward.

      1. Cumbria will - i think that is a perfectly fair point. And it's why, in general, the current government's ambition to pay land owners 'by results' doesn't work very well. The same is true of a farmer providing good habitat for lapwings - they just might not turn up, so do you penalise him/her for the birds' fickleness or do you reward him/her for doing the right thing?

  24. I'm in favour of quotas - on grouse.

    If that doesn't work, then I'm afraid it's time to call for an outright ban.

    No other section of society can operate outside the law unpunished, why should these estates be allowed to?

  25. I live close to the southern Brecon Beacons near Abergavenny in South Wales. One of the mountains, The Blorenge, has been designated a Site of Special Scientific Interest principally for its heather moorland which has breeding Red Grouse. There are Hen Harriers too. There is no grouse shooting on the mountain whatsoever.

    The punishment administered to gamekeepers if convicted of illegal raptor killing is pathetic. The paltry fine is paid by the estate (worth roughly the equivalent of a morning's shooting) and the keeper keeps his job. There needs to be tougher penalties, i.e. loss of licenses and, even, imprisonment. There are some excellent gamekeepers in these isles, who are sadly let down by some very rotten eggs, that continue to flagrantly flout the law. They must be brought to task. Enough is enough.

  26. Hen harriers choose to breed on moorland because it offers the most suitable choice of habitat. Assuming there are sufficient birds or eggs to re-locate once a project had been approved to appease the shooting estates, this would not necessarily resolve the problem these birds are facing. Once fledged, any harriers relocated would simply follow their instinct eventually relocating back to the uplands where the most likely scenario would result in these birds also being shot.

    Because golden eagles are poisoned in the Highlands of Scotland, there would be no point in young birds being relocated to the lowlands. Any eagles reared and then released into the lowlands would return to the Highlands where their persecution would continue. To achieve a lasting and acceptable resolution to the hen harrier issue, it is important to address the root of problem first. Side stepping the predicament we now face is not the answer, nor would this offer a lasting solution.

    Terry Pickford

    North West Raptor Protection Group

  27. As a former Gamekeeper myself, of the low ground variety, concerning some of the comments above, I would just like to add that driven Pheasant Shooting is just as elitist as Grouse Shooting.
    Also I don't believe that banning Grouse Shooting will solve the problem at all, because the Grouse Moors will then just be covered in Sheep which will then destroy much of the habitat that our Birds of Prey & their prey species need to survive.
    Add to that, the fact that Hill Sheep Farmers would be just as likely to persecute our Birds of Prey to the same degree, with poison baits etc, so I can see little to be gained from a Ban on Grouse Shooting.
    Just as with the troubles in Northern Ireland, the solution clearly lies in getting ALL the interested parties around a table, to hammer out a solution that suits everyone.

  28. Gamekeepers have had their chance to change things. Many times over. Why must it be conservationists who are always proposing solutions, whilst the keepers continue to persecute raptors mercifully. We don't see them offering any possible resolution.

    1. richard - welcome to this blog and thanks for your comment. (Think you mean mercilessly or unmercifully though)

  29. Same old same old..

    RSPB gets blamed for bringing the true situation to everyone's attention - "dont shoot the messenger" anyone?....and at least one comment appears to blame them for spending money on that [thus saving government and Police hundreds of thousands in research and investigation].

    On the subject of Upland Land Use and the "industry" that is driven grouse shooting - we are told time and again by those involved that these moors run at a loss [and probably have since the Good Old Days of thousands of keepers being paid a pittance]...if this was any other major UK industry of the last 150 years [Coal Mining, Steel, Shipbuilding] it would have disappeared to oblivion decades ago. Its economic madness...even when all the raptors are killed.

    As regards waders Mark...there are of course alternative ways in which waders could be conserved in the Uplands - and maybe some which are far cheaper than the economic insanity of heather burning/red grouse monoculture?

    1. Dave - welcome and good to have your input. I hope you will respond to the Birdwatch request for views too.


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