Last word from me on grouse and harriers – for a while – probably

I’d like to thank all the contributors to the lively debate here over the last week on the way forward in the conflict between grouse shooting interests and the life, liberty and pursuit of happiness of our cherished raptors.  But seriously, thank you for joining in,  especially to those from the shooting community.

Did we come up with the solution?  I don’t think so, but the airing of views and sharing of information has probably been useful. And I know that many others interested in this subject have been watching and reading even if not commenting.

Please feel free to make any comments here about hen harriers, grouse shooting etc for as long as you like.  I am sure that I will return to this subject eventually.

And as a last contribution from me – what would a statement from the shooting community on raptor persecution look like?:

‘The undersigned organisations oppose the illegal killing of birds of prey.  We recognise that individuals within the shooting communty are responsible for too much of the illegal activity which limits the population levels and geographic ranges of protected birds of prey such as golden eagles and hen harriers.  Such illegal acts have no place in our field sports and we will work with the police to bring any offenders to justice.   Whilst unacceptable, these illegal acts stem from real conflicts between those who wish to enjoy legal field sports and the predation on gamebirds by protected species.  We call upon conservation organisations to recognise these conflicts and work with us to resolve them within the law.’.


Any chance of an agreement on this?



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  1. Richard Ebbs says:

    A very sensible and well structured statement Mark. I can't imagine any reasonable organisation not signing up to it. However I'm sure they would baulk at having it written for them and it would be much better if they came up with their own format. Perhaps some of your gamekeeping correspondents will have a go on your blog.

    Looking forward to visiting the Bird Fair tomorrow with your supporter Red Kite (you know who he is!). Have you got your own 'Standing Up For Nature' stand or is it better just to wander about looking for trouble? Enjoy it.


  2. giles bradshaw says:

    The best way to move forward on this issue is compromise when people think their sport is threatened they are bound to be defensive

  3. JamesM says:

    I wouldn't have a problem signing up to that statement. All the shooting organisations have said as much in the past, so I expect they'd be ok with it too. They might, however, be wary of it being used as a PR opportunity to smear shooting generally; it wouldn't be the first time.

    Most importantly, though, we mustn't let the signing, or not, of this kind of statement act as a stumbling block to action. All this posturing on blogs is all very well, but if nothing changes on the ground then it was all for nothing.

    Mark, you've talked about diversionary feeding, quotas, translocation etc. Is there any future in displacement? After all, for every acre of driven grouse moor there are many acres that aren't, and all the keeper wants is for the harrier to go elsewhere. Or are driven grouse moors specially attractive to the birds because there they are less bothered by walkers and, dare I say it, do-gooding raptor enthusiasts?

    • Mark says:

      JamesM - thank you. When drafting it I did have in mind how easy it ought to be to sign up. I am sure that some would want to use this to make the point that this statement confirms what some having been saying, and others denying, for years. I think some would want their day in the sun. But it would soon pass and then the hypocrisy would, at least, be out of the way and more effort could be put into a real resolution.

      I'm glad you've raised the attractiveness of driven grouse moors for harriers and I'll come on to displacement eventually. Driven grouse moors are not especially attractive to harriers - they are attractive but not that much more than non-driven moors. Except - they are empty! So If you are a young male hen harrier looking for somewhere to nest you think you've won the jackpot if you land on a grouse moor with lots of meadow pipits and skylarks - for it is their densities which determine harrier settling densities. You have it to yourself! You aren't looking for the places with most grouse, or fewest foxes but you are looking for voles, skylarks and meadow pipits. So one route to reduce harrier densities would be to find ways to reduce meadow pipit numbers - I can't imagine keepers going out to shoot meadowe pipits at dawn but it might work (only joking). I don't know whether it is still believed but we all used to think that the most heathery moors, and the highest moors, would have fewer pipits and be less prone to harriers reaching high numbers. That's probably why the RSPB nature reserve at Abernethy doesn't often have nesting harriers - it's got too few pipits.

      But what about displacement? I assume you are thinking of some means of scaring harriers away before they settle down to nest - or perhaps after they have started nesting. Don't take my word for this as I always used to have to check things like this in a former career, but I think that if you were sure that the harriers hadn't started nesting then scaring (jumping up and down and shouting, driving your quad bike in the area or, rumour has it, helicopter traffic or even eagle owls (myth or truth? - do you know?)) would be legal. As soon as a female hen harrier chooses a nest site then it is illegal (I think). From the ecological point of view, scaring adults away is far far better than killing harriers - because they can, possibly, go somewhere else and might raise some young eventually. But scaring, like shooting, has to be done every year as the harriers on non-grouse moors produce enough young to provide the colonists that end up on grouse moors.

  4. MIKE GROVES says:

    Long overdue to start bridge building with the likes of law abiding, highly biodiverse estates.

    I get the impression that many people fail to recognise or don't want to admit that such a thing exists.

    Failing to do this surely jeopardises losing the co-operation of this good element. This in the long term could also be highly detrimental in trying to get harriers back were they rightly belong on managed grouse moors.

    • Mark says:

      Mike - such a thing does exist, it's just difficult to be sure which are the good guys and which the bad sometimes. Imagine a conservation organisation wanted to sest up a 'good moorland management' award - how nervous they would be that their choices might turn out to be killing raptors a few years later. And if the good guys were more vocal about the need for change that would be a way to spot them in the crowd.

  5. Birdseye says:

    I suggest that if keepers thought harrying harriers from their patch was a possibility, they would be delighted to discuss. However, the other slight difficulty of moor Harriers which has been mentioned in passing on this blog, is driving grouse when a Mr H appears either in a drive or in the return. Driving grouse is a real art and very few are good at it. None of them can cope with ‘enter stage right Mr HH’. Nevertheless disturbance early on could well fly.

  6. Gert Corfield says:

    Mark - this looks good to me. I fear though from comments I have read elsewhere on this blog, conservationists are not viewed as knowing anything about the countryside, ecology or the 'rural' way of life and such this may be a waste of time - I hope not. Highly frustrating, but the in the light of any word to the contrary (other than James's comments) the words, 'banging, head and wall' spring to mind.

  7. John Miles says:

    This year only 1 pair of Hen Harriers nested in the whole of the Cairngorms National Park and everybody knows where that was! On a Red Grouse moor where the owners want to protect Birds of Prey. Both their last year's youngsters were gunned down one on a neighbouring moor. As Mark says, none at Abernethy or Marr Lodge and everybody knows the reason for that and it is nothing to do with Meadow Pipits. As everyone who works in trying to protect Birds of Prey knows there is no compromise. If you brake the law you can not moan about riots in London as you are just the same. Sadly there no cameras catching you braking the law and even if there was you are all wearing your balaclava helmets as the lad did opposite Geltsdale shooting the female harrier. So if you want to shoot Red Grouse learn to walk and make sure you keep your Golden Eagles so they can disperse the Hen Harriers

    • Mark says:

      John - you will annoy some people with that comment but this blog welcomes challenge if it is on the polite side of libellous. And you make a very good point about eagles and harriers. I couldn't persuade the pheasant shooters of Suffolk that they'd be better off with a few sea eagles than lots of marsh harriers but I guess that's true too.

  8. Paul v Irving says:

    A rather good draft statement Mark,which As James says all could accept whether they do or write a similar one of their own I await with interest.

    Scaring harriers has already been discussed so I will outline the main points below

    It is actually very difficult to do as harriers do not concentrate in one area until she starts to build by which time it is illegal.

    To start with harriers build intermittently so it is quite possible for her to have been seen building but the keeper to come along thinking otherwise and be seen breaking the law inadvertently admittedly but still illegal.

    On SPA's or SSSI's it would be illegal period. Seen as a damaging act quite rightly by NE

    Those are the main points also of course in England virtually all suitable habitat is grouse moor and with the population at such a low ebb ( less than 10 pairs) moving them on is as morally and practically unjustified as killing them.

    James you make a point about unwarranted disturbance by raptor workers, real evidence please, privately via Mark if you wish. This is largely ( thankfully) rural myth. Licence holders especially for harriers have to stick to a very tight protocol, failure to do so usually results in a refusal of licence renewel, quite rightly. But as I say if you have real evidence it ought to be acted upon and I may be able to help in my other capacities.
    There is no evidence that raptor workers avoid grouse moors since open access we have as much right as any other bird watchers provided we follow best practice and any imposed protocols from the licencing authorities.

    I woul;d like to say that a somebody with over 30 years involvement in harriers Ihave found the debate useful, thought provoking and in some ways heartening now we just need to put it all into practice!

    • Mark says:

      Paul - many thanks for your knowledgeable input and for the kind words about the fact that this has been of some value.

      As far as I know the disturbance by raptor workers is a rural myth - I agree. It is a persistent myth though.

  9. MIKE GROVES says:

    I recently came across a copy of the R.S.P.B. Birds magazine (Spring 1997) and an article entitled Hen harriers and red grouse - a tale of persecution.

    Around this time England had 28 breeding pairs of harriers and on managed grouse moors in Scotland 286. Dosen't take a rocket scientist to work out what a dramatic decline has occured in 14 years since this article was written.

    I would like to end on a more positive note. I sincerely hope that a workable solution can be found soon to get this superb raptor back on the moors were it rightly belongs.

    Hopefully I'm still around to see the outcome in 2025.


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