All those tagged raptors, Moll

Driven grouse shooting depends on widespread, systematic and illegal killing of protected wildlife.  The original Langholm study showed that raptors, particularly Hen Harriers and Peregrines, are perfectly capable of taking a sufficient toll of Red Grouse before 12 August that there won’t necessarily be enough left to provide the profits to support several gamekeepers’ salaries.  Mass-killing of Red Grouse depends for its very existence on an essentially raptor-free environment.

It doesn’t really matter whether every grouse moor in the country breaks the law a little or if the lion’s share of the illegality is carried out on a small number of hard-core estates that take a massive toll, the result is the same and, importantly, the benefits are shared across all grouse moors. If some grouse moors never kill a single raptor (which I very much doubt) they are still benefitting from the crimes of others.  If raptor killing ceased then grouse bags would fall and the profitability of the whole industry would be marginalised.

There is a real conflict between raptor conservation (also known as abiding by the law) and shooting large numbers of Red Grouse (also known as shooting birds for fun).

The grouse shooters know this, which is why raptor persecution is so heavy – hardly a pair of Hen Harriers nests on a driven grouse moor each year despite there being sufficient habitat (and as we are often told, quite good habitat – were it not for the wildlife crime) for around 500 pairs or so.  But no industry, let alone a hobby, can admit that it depends on breaking laws that have been in existence for over 60 years which is why we repeatedly see denial from those organisations representing shooting interests. It’s a thoroughly disreputable cadre of people who behave like this but they don’t have many other places to go really do they?   ‘Few bad apples’ and ‘we deplore blah blah blah’ are the only things they can say.

Therese Coffey

But Defra should be absolutely ashamed of itself. Rarely does a government department go through such contortions to avoid criticising a hobby, or even an industry, as Defra has with grouse shooting. It is difficult to discern the difference between the position of Defra and their mates in grouse shooting.  Therese Coffey looked like a grouse shooter’s moll as she closed the Westminster Hall debate on banning driven grouse shooting.

This is what ‘Moll’ Coffey said about raptor persecution:

‘I have heard the concerns of some hon. Members that birds of prey, particularly hen harriers, are deliberately being killed. The Government take the illegal persecution of raptors very seriously. On the missing hen harriers in the last fortnight, the matter has been referred to the police. The local wildlife team has been involved and the national wildlife crime unit is aware. I can assure hon. Members that wildlife crime is a Government priority. We recently confirmed £300,000 of funding per annum for the NWCU for the next four years. Raptor persecution is one of six wildlife crime priorities for the UK. The unit has a dedicated group chaired by a senior police officer, with representatives from Government and NGOs working to deliver progress against this wildlife crime priority. It is building an intelligence picture and is due to advise on further action.

We recognise that the legal control of predators is a legitimate wildlife management practice in some circumstances. That is why Natural England will license the killing of certain birds of prey, although it would not consider licensing any activity that would adversely affect the conservation status of a species. My hon. Friend the Member for Eddisbury referred to the Moorland Association study in Berwyn. The issue of hen harriers in Wales is interesting. When grouse shooting stopped, it might have been expected that the populations would burgeon and start to spread, but that has not happened. The populations have stabilised and they have not spread from the area that they occupied.’ [this last bit isn’t true by the way].

In contrast, in Scotland Roseanna Cunningham said this spring:

The findings of this research are deeply concerning and will give rise to legitimate concerns that high numbers of golden eagles, and other birds of prey, continue to be killed in Scotland each year. There is every reason to believe that similar levels of persecution affect untagged golden eagles, as well as those we are able to track via satellite tags. 

We have already targeted wildlife criminals, and those who sanction such crimes, by introducing measures such as vicarious liability and restrictions on the use of general licences. But Scottish Ministers have always said they would go further if required – and that is what I am doing today.

The continued killing of protected species of birds of prey damages the reputation of law-abiding gamekeepers, landowners and indeed the country as a whole. Those who carry out these crimes do so in defiance of the will of Parliament, the people, and their own peers. That must end.

This report identifies specific problem areas which will allow Police Scotland to adopt a targeted approach and I would also encourage members of the public to report any suspicious activity to the police.

The range of measures we will introduce over the longer-term will build on the progress that we have made to-date and tackle outdated practices and attitudes. By looking at ways of strengthening the legal protection for birds or prey we are sending out a strong message that Scotland’s wildlife is for everyone to enjoy – not for criminals to destroy for their own ends.‘.

Roseanna’s not in the pockets of grouse shooters – she’s no grouse shooter’s moll.  I know which one would get my vote.

Photo: RSPB

But it won’t be possible, even for Moll Coffey, to avoid the evidence much longer.  Nature conservationists have got their act together on fitting more and more satellite tags to vulnerable raptors. This year the RSPB has tagged more Hen Harriers than in any previous year – more than two dozen this year compared with a dozen in 2016.  Of the 2016 cohort only five are still alive. Of the 2017 cohort, one, Calluna, is already added to the list of the ‘disappeared on a grouse moor’.  The RSPB has been a little slow in ramping up the number of tagged Hen Harriers, particularly with Lush money burning a hole in their pockets, but it is good to see that they have done a good job this year with harriers tagged in Wales for the first time as part of the project.

The biggest dataset on Hen Harrier movements and survival, and where they cease to survive, is that of Natural England.  Initial results from that study, were summarised back in 2008 (the study started in 2002!!) as follows:

  • The English Hen Harrier population remains perilously small, with no more than 23 nesting attempts in any one year in the period 2002-2008.
  • Productivity from successful nests is high, but very few nesting attempts are successful on grouse moors.
  • There is compelling evidence that persecution continues, both during and following the breeding season.
  • Persecution continues to limit Hen Harrier recovery in England.

Those findings remain true today – except of course that we now see far fewer nesting attempts (7 in 20170).  Natural England is the statutory agency with responsibility for nature conservation – they are failing us and failing nature badly.

Natural England have been incompetent in analysing and publishing this research which, I predict, if analysed properly, will add to the evidence of persecution of this ‘high priority’ protected species.  Pull your finger out Moll Coffey and get this work published and then act on it!

Taking the NE and RSPB data together it should now be perfectly possible to calculate risk of tag death in different habitats – let’s see that analysis and hear the contortions from grouse shooters. Defra already looks complicit in covering up wildlife crime by not getting the NE data analysed and published. There is only one way out of the hole that they have dug for themselves – get the data analysed and face up to the results.

This is bound to happen eventually – there are rumours that academics have been approached to do the analysis (was it by a PR company?) – but this work should really be put out to tender publicly. Or perhaps, the dataset should be given to various groups to analyse as they see fit. Stop mucking about Moll!

What with loads of Golden Eagles having been tagged in Scotland this breeding season (hat tip to Raptor Persecution UK and Chris Packham), all those extra Hen Harriers, and the start of Birders Against Wildlife Crime’s tagging project, the prospects of detecting wildlife crime incidents have increased dramatically.

It appears that politicians in Scotland are up for acting on the evidence whereas politicians in England are being wilfully blind to the evidence in front of them.




Please provide suggestions for captions for this image as comments – start your comment CAPTION

A grouse shooter’s moll and Defra minister. Photo: Natural England

26 Replies to “All those tagged raptors, Moll”

  1. Perhaps it is time to start a tagging programme using the harrier tags for another species (not a raptor but with a similar ecological footprint). It would then be possible to put a nail in the coffin of ‘tag failure’ as an excuse used by the shooting tribe; if the non-raptor species are still carrying working tags six or twelve months later,and a proportion of harrier ones have ‘failed’ it suggests a special fate (which we all can identify!!)

    1. Norman – I think there are plenty of othwer studies that provide that comparison, as do Monties harriers, and as will Welsh HH provided they don’t come to England!

    Grouser 1:
    “I say; what a magnificent clocker!”

    Moll: “It’s rarer than rainforest, don’t you know”

  3. I agree Coffey and Defra are a disgrace, I also welcome R Cunningham’s words,and we certainly seem to have a more forward thinking government up here, but fine words save no hen harriers and the jury is firmly out re. the SNP . For example listen to Fergus Ewing’s speech at the Moy game fair. I hope I am wrong but lets see the outcome of the licencing proposal, I am not hopeful.

  4. Great summary of the big picture Mark. I still have the forlorn hope that DEFRA and NE are staffed with decent people working for the greater good. But the words collusion and corruption keep popping into my head. I would like to be proved wrong and live in hope but I doubt it.

  5. Caption.

    Is this one of the two dead short eared owls that were found hidden in a pothole on this driven grouse moor?

  6. Caption:

    “Wow, this stuff really stinks!”

    “No, that’s just the stench of corruption. It follows wherever we go.”

    ‘They’re serving this in the restaurant; the menu says the crunchy bits are added calcium.’

  8. We live in Orkney (no moorland managed for Grouse shooting), and the healthy Harrier numbers along side the healthy numbers of prey species show that management of Grouse moors is at odds with the needs of wildlife and the general population. The Grouse, Pheasant and Partridge industries should be banned as they are at odds with the best interests of the populations of the 4 nations of the UK.

  9. Caption: ‘This Minister is pretty much the last of the capillifolium, thanks to HLS we have steadily managed to get rid of the stuff over the last 10 years’.

  10. Caption:

    ‘Dare we ask how the negotiations are progressing Minister?’

    ‘Well I’m not allowed to say too much…but basically Barnier has got hold of David Davis just like this…’

  11. “Keep the rest of that dead Harrier behind your back till this guy with the camera has buggered off “!!

  12. Roseanna Cunningham may not be in the grouse moor owners pockets, but what about Fergus Ewing? How does he stand? Whenever someone comes along who looks like they may make some important changes to conservation, someone else pops up to knock them back.

  13. Is this the MP who put a stop to having a site (enclosed) for beavers in the Forest of Dean?
    Yes it is her.
    Have you heard about the credentials of the French Environment minister?
    Lucky French.

  14. Perhaps the non-=raptor species Norman is thinking of could be gamekeepers ?

    Then the coincidence of failed HH tags and the presence of a gamekeeper might constitute hard proof !

  15. CAPTION.

    “I’ve got one of your bollocks here, and t’others behind my back. Now, what are you gunna do about that?”

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