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.
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.
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.
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