In their little booklet, the GWCT address five areas that they say are commonly-heard criticisms of driven grouse shooting. This week I’ll deal with each of them.
The GWCT correctly identify this as an area of criticism ‘There is illegal persecution of raptors by grouse moor keepers‘ but go on to use the ‘few bad apples’ defence.
The booklet has a few words, a very few words (but two attractive photographs) about Hen Harriers but the scientific evidence for persecution of other raptors on grouse moors (eg Peregrine Falcons see Linking nest histories, remotely sensed land use data and wildlife crime records to explore the impact of grouse moor management on peregrine falcon populations Biological Conservation 2012 and here; and Golden Eagles see here) is not mentioned nor referenced. GWCT seem very reluctant to admit to the science that shows the massive scale of illegal persecution of raptors other than Hen Harriers. I can understand why if they see themselves as the PR agency for grouse shooters but it looks like rather shoddy stuff from an organisation that keeps bigging up its scientific credentials.
When it comes to Hen Harriers, the booklet is extremely evasive. It fails to document the scale of the decline of Hen Harriers in recent decades (such as their disappearance from their former stronghold in the Forest of Bowland) and it fails to admit to the virtual absence of breeding Hen Harriers from driven grouse moors across the UK. It fails to mention the fate of tagged Hen Harriers and where they die. And it fails to mention or reference the conservation framework document which shows that the UK has suitable habitat for c2600 pairs of Hen Harrier (and yet only holds c600 pairs) and that England has habitat for c330 pairs of Hen Harrier and yet now has single figures of nesting attempts in recent years.
Instead we are told by GWCT that there could be 82 pairs of Hen Harrier in England without ‘affecting land management’ – by which they seem to mean ‘without inconveniencing the incomes of grouse moor managers too much’ – an astonishing admission in itself since it would mean there would be c40 pairs of Hen Harrier nesting on English grouse moors and this year there were none.
The scale of the absence of this protected bird from the British uplands is impossible to hide but the GWCT make a pretty good, although shameful, attempt. They fail to reference the RSPB study (using Scottish Raptor Study Group and other data) that did most to nail the impact of illegal persecution of Hen Harriers on grouse moors 20 years ago (Etheridge, Summers and Green 1997. The effects of illegal killing and destruction of nests by humans on the population dynamics of the Hen Harrier Circus cyaneus in Scotland. JApplEcol 34: 1081-1105) and they fail to refer to or quote from the Natural England progress report on their Hen Harrier study ‘A future for Hen Harriers in England?‘ published in 2008.
The growing number of folk who understand the issues will look at this account with their mouths hanging open in shock. This is shoddy work indeed. GWCT is an organisation that has lost its way.
The criticism that GWCT must surely have heard is that there is systematic, ruthless and illegal persecution of raptors on grouse moors across the UK and that the grouse shooting industry has had decades to clean up its act, adopt new practices and put its house in order and has completely failed. That ‘claim’ is based on very strong science – this little booklet does nothing to rebut that science. And that’s because it is very strong evidence.
Listen! That is the sound of grouse shooting trembling in its shoes.