If nothing happens, something will happen

Photo: Tim Melling
Photo: Tim Melling

It seems like the grouse shooters are in a corner and they are not sure what to do next. So they are falling back on the tactic that has served them well up until now – do nothing, give no ground, wait and see.

Grouse shooting is in a corner – a corner of its own making, of course. That corner consists of:

  • an almost total absence of a protected bird as a breeding species in England because of grouse shooting’s illegal persecution – and this is a bird they keep complaining is a pest. Duh! There aren’t any.
  • evidence that the management of grouse moors is bad for the wider environment – water quality, flooding, greenhouse gases and aquatic wildlife (and much moorland wildlife too)
  • retailers responding to public pressure and withdrawing the sale of grouse because they can’t be confident of their provenance
  • an international agreement to ban lead ammunition to which the UK signed up
  • Hen-Harrier-Day-300pxincreasing public scrutiny of the whole business of grouse shooting
  • land reform and vicarious liability in Scotland showing a way that England could go
  • getting ‘beefy’ with the RSPB and the Wildlife Trusts has only shown the world that ‘we are all on the same side really’ is not a tenable position and has radicalised the nature conservation organisations’ memberships to a surprising extent
  • an uncertain electoral outcome in May
  • analysis showing that grouse shooting is of little economic value eg here and here
  • a wildlife rally next week in Westminster chosen to take place on the penultimate day of the grouse shooting season
  • significant support for the banning of driven grouse shooting at a time when politicians are drawing up their election manifestos

So, what do you do, grouse moor managers?  Doing nothing is an option. If you do nothing then you’d better hope for another Conservative-dominated government or else doing nothing for the last five years won’t look so good to a new administration.  That is certainly looking more possible now than it did a year ago so to that extent, which isn’t a very large extent, things have improved.

Doing nothing will just get people more frustrated and angrier too. You probably don’t realise how angry some people are.  There were plenty of people calling for mass trespasses of grouse moors as the focus for Hen Harrier Day 2014 – they will be even keener in 2015.

Doing nothing will not keep everything as it is now.

Heather burning Great Hograh moor. Photo: Colin Grice
Heather burning Great Hograh moor. Photo: Colin Grice

This time last year, how much of what has happened in the last 12 months did the grouse industry foresee? None of it , I guess. I don’t blame them, neither did I.

How much more scrutiny could you survive on the economics of grouse shooting and the public subsidies that support it?  How many people will want to be seen going grouse shooting as its reputation declines through the intransigence of an industry that does not root out the criminals in its number?

What do you think Hen Harrier Day 2015, in glorious sunshine, and with events right across England and Scotland, might look like?



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40 Replies to “If nothing happens, something will happen”

  1. Have you seen the shockingly one-sided episode of BBC Scotland's "Landward" on grouse shooting, broadcast on Friday? It should be on iPlayer for a while but you should be warned that it looks like a promotional video produced by Scottish Land and Estates. The BBC really dropped the ball with this one.

  2. Doing nothing is not restricted to grouse shooters. I contacted my MP (Duncan Hames) some time ago about discussing these matters whilst I was in London (at the rally) next week. I've not heard a peep out of him. Perhaps he's given up with constituents as (like most LibDems) he'll probably be out of a job come May. Perhaps we can tag them on to next years events as I suspect they'll be rarer than hen harriers- the difference being the only "bullet" they get is a very generous severance payout.................but that's another story.

  3. More of the same demented ravings we all read before. I'm sure you are convinced by your rambling diatribe, I for one am not!

  4. Nigel,

    If you're fed up reading Mark's blog, then don't. An outlandish idea, I know.

    YOU may not be convinced but many thousands are and many more thousands will be.

  5. Looking at this issue dispassionately, from the point of view of a policy analyst, I'd have to say that something will happen - the events of the last year have unsettled the gentlemanly standoff grouse shooting relied on - it was probably the extinctionof HH as an English breeding bird in 2013, predictable for several years, and an obvious trigger point, that has set a new set of events in train. As I've said before, in our largely urban society, it is always harder for rural interests to make their case, especially where killing animals is involved - as RSPB itself knows from its deer management to protect native pinewoods - but it will prove close to impossible where that killing is also linked to extensive illegal persecution of an iconic species.

    What I'm saying is nothing to do with whether or not you believe in Grouse shooting - it's more a question of whether it is correct as a political prediction - that's what matters to the policy analyst !

      1. Pete - not a decision that we have to make. You can't plant conifers on most grouse moors (or build windfarms, or do lots of other things) because they are SSSI, SPA, SAC and/or in National Parks. It isn't the grouse moor owner who is protecting us from those things - it is public policy.And it's public policy that says Hen Harriers are protected too. But the grouse shooting community (if they are a community) wants to claim the credit for things that are not down to them, and not take responsibility for the things that are down to them.

        1. National Parks have an appalling record when it comes to protecting upland ground nesting birdlife. Grouse moors have an excellent record, as a consequence of predator control, paid for by the landowner.

          Moorland or Forest is very much a decision for the voter

          'there’s plenty of scope to plant trees in Scotland but the blanket planting of sitka spruce on moorland, which was popular in the 1960s and 1970s, is not the way forward. It created vast tracts of woodlands which are effectively environmental deserts that destroy biodiversity.” (But still there)

          'And Scottish ministers plan to cover a quarter of the country in trees by the 2050 by planting 37,000 acres of woodland every year.

          It has been suggested that landowners could be offered grants to plant more trees, or that the government could provide subsidies if areas of land were handed over to private investors for forestry purposes.'


          Welcome to your world.

          1. National Parks do have an appalling record when it comes to wildlife in general. particularly those that allow driven grouse shooting to be practised within their boundaries. that's bound to end fairly soon as grouse shooting's very unsavoury reputation spreads further and further into the ears of decision makers and the general public. Banning grouse shooting from National Parks is a seriously sensible option.

          2. A Wider View - North Yorkshire National Park seems, understandably, very keen on grouse shooting:

            'In 15 Years Time....Moorland management for grouse shooting continues to generate income in the rural economy without damaging the moorland environment, wildlife......'


            There is so much more birdlife on the North Yorks moors than on moorland in Southwest England that your motives can only seem a great deal less than benign to the upland ground nesting birdlife of England.

          3. Monro - my motives? How dare you? And again, you can't even get the name of the NP right.

            You seem to have missed out some bits from that document you quote selectively.

            Moorland burning can have localised adverse impacts on
            air quality.

            Inappropriate burning of the moorland can have wider
            adverse impacts on air quality, wildlife, cultural heritage, soils
            and water quality as well as visual impacts.

            There is likely to be continued pressure for upgrading tracks
            and other infrastructure. It is important that these changes
            are carried out only where appropriate and in a sensitive
            way to maintain the distinctive quality of the National
            Park’s moorland landscape, biodiversity and the natural

            The bit you did quote was where they hope to be in future, the bit you omitted are the problems with driven grouse shooting now.

            You might be better employed pushing the 'let's clean up our act' message across to grouse shooters rather than the 'no problem here mate' message to me and readers of my blog. But that has been the problem with grouse shooting for so long - no progressive change.

  6. Pine martens back on the "to be controlled" agenda now.
    To help capercaille, allegedly. Even though the RSPB have rejected the notion. Again.
    Some suspect this is landowners pushing for a wider control of the protected martens... a push through the backdoor.... to eventually be allowed to kill martens legally, to protect their grouse shoots.
    All been mooted before but again now.
    All alleged also.

  7. There is zero, yes, zero evidence that of any illegal killing of hen harriers in England by grouse shootin interests.

    Hen harriers are not present on English grouse moors because the margins of grouse moors in England, where they hunt (also black grouse preferred habitat), are overgrazed and subject to much human disturbance. They are not there because moorland management in England maximizes heather growth at the expense of the mixed heather/grassland mosaic preferred by hen harriers (and present at Langholm where they are currently prospering, though no grouse shooting since 1999 due to not enough grouse!); and, yes, they are not there because keepers, perfectly lawfully, drive them away outside the breeding season, not difficult given the bird's dislike of human activity anywhere near it.

    While black grouse struggle in England, so will hen harriers, as they do in Ireland, the Isle of Man, Skye and elsewhere.

    Either produce a peer reviewed and published document evidencing 'persecution' of hen harriers by grouse shooting interests (why not if the case is an open and shut one?) in England or get back to the important work of sorting out the real, inter-related problems which are as follows:

    Predation, including by protected predators: buzzards, ravens, badgers
    Human disturbance, particularly in national parks
    Loss of habitat
    Non native, uneconomic and poorly maintained public forestry
    Overpopulation of deer

    1. Monro - yawn!

      You are wrong. even GWCT 'admit' that persecution is the problem - that's why they want the the illegal persecution 'legalised' through a brood management scheme.

      1. With regard to England, the only country mentioned in your petition, the GWCT have made no such admission. How could they, without any evidence?

        The rspb supports brood management, just not for hen harriers - hmmmm........

        ''Media Release issued on behalf of WWT, RSPB, Birds Russia, Moscow Zoo, BTO......This little fellow is the first ever spoon-billed sandpiper chick to be hatched in the wild by a hand-reared bird........

        .......Fewer than 100 pairs of spoon-billed sandpiper are believed to be left in the wild, rearing just 60 young between them each year on average. For the last three summers, conservationists have taken eggs from a few clutches and hand-reared the chicks in a protected enclosure.'

        If you want controversial, vote losing, legislation, you will need peer reviewed and published evidence.

        You don't have any, so why not concentrate your energies on providing some?

        Should be very straightforward if there is so much illegal killing of hen harriers going on?

        1. Monro - Here is a quote from the summary of a scientific paper published in 1998:

          'In the U.K., a full recovery of Hen Harrier Circus cyaneus breeding numbers is prevented by illegal culling by some gamekeepers who fear the species threatens the future of grouse moors. This study’s main purpose was to estimate how many more Hen Harriers there would be in the U.K. if this culling were to cease.'

          Later in the summary, I've missed out some dull bits, the author states:

          'If all potential habitats were occupied, present numbers could more than double, to an estimated 1660 nesting females. This estimate represents an average of one nesting female per 25 km2 of habitat, a density which would cause little or no significant economic damage on grouse moors.

          And who was this author? None other than Dick Potts, who was then the boss of the Game Conservancy Trust. The paper was published in the journal Ibis Vol 140, pp 76-88.

          It's a bit out of date as far as figures are concerned, that go up and down each time they are re-eatimated, but the clear admission of illegal persecution by gamekeepers puts your own obfuscation to shame.

          1. And therein lies your problem.

            Potts, bless him, was relying on data from overseas!

            'A review of 33 studies of the Hen Harrier in nine countries........the potential density of nesting Hen Harriers on grouse moors could be predicted from studies overseas.'

            Potts was also deriving his findings 'by comparing breeding harrier densities between areas dominated by grouse moor and other breeding habitats (Potts 1998; Sim et al. 2007; Hayhow et al. 2013).'

            In other words, as usual, no actual evidence, only assertions from projections.

            And that was 16 years ago.

            And, of course, what he really should have been looking at was the breeding success of hen harriers on past and present grouse moors, in comparison to other breeding habitats. The slaughter of hen harriers and other ground nesting birds is most marked on moors that used to be grouse moors....hmmmmm.....?

            Unfortunately more recent research, from within Britain, clearly demonstrates the real problem:

            'A later paper (Baines & Richardson 2013) provided a breakdown of nest failure rates and causal factors in the times when Langholm Moor was keepered and ‘unkeepered’, attributing predation by foxes as the main cause of harrier breeding failure.'

            Hen harrier 'disappearances' evidence persecution, part of the rspb 'probable' persecution data?

            'In 50% of the camera activations in this study, there was no other evidence to suggest that there had been a fox intrusion at the nest, in other words there had been a ‘clean lift’ by foxes at the nest.'

            'To obtain more accurate information on predation at Hen Harrier nests, four cameras were used at nests between 2009 and 2012. Evidence from these cameras and post-mortem examinations showed that predation by Red Foxes was the commonest cause of nest failure, 65%of failures being attributed to foxes. In 75% of cases predation took place after dark. Foxes killed two incubating adult females on the nest.'

            Gamekeepers are pretty much irrelevant, particularly compared to the weather as an influencing factor on breeding success.

            'Green & Etheridge (1999) examined Hen Harrier breeding success in relation to grouse moors andthe Red Fox, but their data found no clear evidence for a beneficial effect of the control of foxesand other predators by moorland gamekeepers, on Hen Harrier nest success.'


            So, consider this:

            Is nesting hen harrier camouflage as good on a grouse moor as that of red grouse?

            Are hen harrier chicks noisier or quieter than grouse chicks?

            Are hen harrier nests easier to scent on a grouse moor than grouse nests?

            All good questions for your eagerly awaited upcoming, peer reviewed and published paper on 'hen harriers, illegally killed, or just plain lunch?'

          2. Monro - you are quite dull, quite boring and quite interesting all at once. You clearly know enough to try to be difficult but then you should know enough to know the truth.

            Try this one - it was in Scotland though, of course, and no doubt, that doesn't count? Although Skye, last seen also in Scotland, apparently does.

            Etheridge, B., Summers, R.W. and Green, R.E. (1997). The effects of illegal killing and destruction of nests by humans on the population dynamics of the hen harrier in Scotland. Journal of Applied Ecology 34: 1081-1105.

          3. An answer to the 'no reply' comment from Dr Avery below re Etheridge et al.

            It's another (old) paper of assertion, attribution, derived from comparisons.

            The comparisons rely on certain assumptions.

            This is not evidence.

            It allows annoying people like me to say 'why didn't he compare past and present grouse moors with other habitats; a great deal more illuminating, and an entirely different picture'

            It allows dull boring people like me to say 'have you seen the number of walkers, quad bikes, 4x4s covering working grouse moors, going about their business on a daily basis, perfectly innocent human disturbance, tolerated by grouse but not by hen harriers'

            Evidence from Scotland would be relevant to indicate what might be happening in England, but it is not an evidential basis for English legislation, only Scottish, of course.

            'Hen harriers in England, victims of crime or food on the go?'

    2. You will, of course, be providing peer-reviewed, published, clear evidence demonstrating your bold assertion that badgers have contributed to the decline in hen harriers won't you Monro?
      Seems only fair...

      1. Badgers predate the nests of ground nesting birds:

        'Bite marks on depredated eggs showed mammalian predators prey on wader eggs, the most common being..... fox....mink....badgers'


        'Curlew, golden plover and lapwing all bred in good numbers on the moor through the 1990s but appear to have declined after the gamekeeping stopped in 1998.'

        'Numbers of badgers have increased at Langholm since the start of the project and their range is expanding onto the edge of the moor.'


        The hen harrier is a ground nesting bird.

        So, another project for the indefatigable Doctor:

        'Are badgers a 'pest' for ground-nesting birds? Well they do eat the eggs and chicks of ground-nesting birds sometimes'

        M. Avery 20 July 2010

        1. monro - playing a bit fast and loose with the quote weren't you?

          'Are badgers a 'pest' for ground-nesting birds? Well they do eat the eggs and chicks of ground-nesting birds sometimes - so do sheep! - but are they an important determinant of population levels? Not in our experience. Foxes are a much more frequent predator of birds nests (and much much more frequent predator of adults I would guess).'

        2. Jeeez.
          Just answer the question directly Monro.

          Actually. Don't bother trying.
          You can't can you?
          And you know why you can't don't you?

          For anyone reading this that doesn't know...
          There is precisely ZERO ( to quote Monro) evidence which demonstrates that badger predation has contributed to the decline of the English hen harrier's long term population.

          You're in a glass house Monro.
          Probably best not to throw stones then old boy.

          1. Now you are just being silly.

            What I actually said was:

            'the real, inter-related problems (for hen harrier populations) which are as follows:

            Predation, including by protected predators: buzzards, ravens, badgers
            Human disturbance, particularly in national parks
            Loss of habitat
            Non native, uneconomic and poorly maintained public forestry
            Overpopulation of deer'

            Badgers predate ground nesting birds, so they are part of the problem of decline of all ground nesting birds in this country.

            Your question should be 'how big a part of the problem are they'

          2. Monro - and if that were the question then your answer would have to be 'tiny'. You appear to be the only person who believes (though you cannot possibly believe it really) that HHs' main problem is illegal persecution. After all, that is why the Defra sub-group think, which includes the NGO, GWCT and Moorland Ass. Otherwise they wouldn't have much to talk about would they?

          3. Which, in a roundabout way, brings me back to my original point.

            There are myriad contributory factors holding back hen harriers in England, including the weather.

            There is no evidential basis from within England for banning grouse shooting in England as a magic bullet.

            Indeed, evidence from within England and Wales, and elsewhere, indicates that banning grouse shooting has a deleterious and irrecoverable effect on regional numbers of a variety of increasingly ground nesting birds.

          4. I was going to reply to you Monro but I really can't be bothered.
            You've lost the argument, your dignity and my interest.

  8. No, the proposed trial does not involve lethal control. And honestly it has absolutely nothing to do with grouse shoots. The capercaillie is a woodland grouse; the pine marten too, as the name would suggest, is a creature of the forest, and as far as I am aware does not venture out onto open moorland.

    The problem (at least as regards the capercaillie) is that the pine marten's population has increased and its range has expanded. Meanwhile the caper is both highly weather dependent as regards productivity and susceptible to predation; and its own range has largely contracted to a few key sites in the Strathspey area.

    Against that broader background there is strong evidence to suggest that the pine marten is likely to be having an impact on the worryingly endangered caper population. The RSPB's own science has shown that predation by pine martens is the chief cause of clutch failure at their Abernethy Forest reserve. (Summers et al, 2009; http://www.bioone.org/doi/full/10.2981/08-036).

    In the circumstances the RSPB's stance in objecting to further research on the subject is frankly perverse.

    1. Lazywell - you seem keener to talk martens than Hen Harriers, but you make some good (and a couple of bad) points.

      Thanks for the reference. I note that Ron says that the adjusted nest success is similar to the midpoint of other studies in Scotland and elsewhere in Europe and that is what Table 1 says. That's quite interesting.

      What is your prediction for how the grouse moors and Hen Harrier issue will play out in the absence of a reduction in criminal activity? If there were such a thing as shares in grouse moor management would you be buying or selling?

      1. Errrr.....there are shares in grouse moor management, and prices in England are sky high!

        'Although our index shows the overall value of a brace of grouse has risen by 49% over the past 10 years, the total increase in value of a well-managed and heavily invested moor may be significantly higher because greater numbers of birds are being shot each year.

        Looking forward, we expect prices to carry on growing on the back of continued demand.'


        1. Monro - good point. And all on the back of illegal activity by some which removes Hen Harrier, Peregrine Falcon and Golden Eagle from the many.

          1. If you have evidence of this illegal activity, you should present it to the appropriate local authorities forthwith, and I would be delighted to accompany you.

  9. Sorry, I just had to correct Doug Mack Dodds's post that was wrong in so many regards; in the same way as you feel it necessary to take Monro to task. Anyway, I can't believe you really want to hear my views about hen harriers yet again.

    But since you've asked, I am more sanguine than you might think. I believe you routinely overstate the negatives, and give insufficient weight to the positive contribution that management for driven grouse shooting makes. Although I have no up to date knowledge, I remain hopeful that a recovery plan can be jointly agreed and promulgated. Thereafter I trust we would both agree that an incremental, even if gradual, increase in the number of breeding pairs in England would take a lot of the heat out of the debate and generally calm the markets.

    1. Lazywell - thank you. You sound so reasonable sometimes. I'm always keen to hear your views, and you put them so well.

      There is something in what you say - of course, an increase in HH numbers would take some of the heat out of the situation. Although there is all that CO2, water pollution, damaged blanket bog, lead in game, massive (legal) death tolls of nice cute things like Stoats etc to take into account too. But, sadly, the increment over the last few years has been a negative one which is part of what has put the heat into the markets.

      If there were 20 pairs of HH nesting in England this year, wreaking havoc on grouse moors despite diversionary feeding, then the Moorland Association might have one foot on firmer ground. But there aren't. So people are pretty annoyed, and rightly so.

      And if nothing happens...they won't get less angry.

    2. Lazywell
      Wrong in so many regards huh?
      Please note I deliberately used the word allegedly.
      Please also note I deliberately did not use the word "lethal" (you added that yourself).
      Please also note that I merely summarised a link to The Herald which reported some people's feelings about these proposals.
      So which parts of the comment were wrong then?
      Control isn't being mooted?
      It is. (So it cant be that).
      Some people (as the herald reported) consider this to be a back door tactic by landowners?
      They do think that. .. even if it isn't a sly move... it feels like one by some.
      (So it cant be that).

      You've tried to take The Herald "to task" Lazywell. .. not me. And in an ineffective fashion.
      Why not write to them and tell them they're wrong.

  10. I am happy to stand corrected, Doug. I thought you were adopting the contents of the Herald piece as your own sentiments.

    So although the article didn't actually use the term "control", you're right - my criticism should properly be directed at The Herald. My main grievance was in relation to the claim that landowners and keepers are so keen to cull pine martens in order to boost their red grouse numbers. That, as I dare say you would acknowledge, is nonsense. It was telling that the so-called conservationists who apparently suspect such ulterior motives weren't quoted.

    Incidentally, I do commend the GWCT's leaked project paper which has generated all this heat. There is a link to it at the end of the Herald article on Rob Edwards' website: http://www.robedwards.com/2014/11/leaked-plan-to-get-rid-of-pine-martens-deeply-flawed.html

    1. No problem Lazywell.
      It is perhaps easier to understand why some people consider the proposal to "control pine martens" to "save capercaille" as a sly move by landowners when there are "Monros" like Monro happy to blame badgers for the decline in hen harriers.
      There's nonsense everywhere it seems.


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