This post continues to explore the licensing of wild hacking of non-native falcons in the UK and uses information received from SNH about wild hacking licensed by them in Moray in 2019.
To catch up on the story enter wild hacking into the search facility on this blog (top right) and all posts on this subject will be listed.
To reiterate, I think that SNH have handled the licensing quite well, but not brilliantly. This is a novel issue for them to deal with, and I think they are finding their way with this subject. Personally, I believe that shining a light on the process can only help SNH to hone the process over time and ahead of considering any further licences for 2020.
On Monday I blogged about the general process and perhaps the most interesting finding to come out of the FOI response was that in at least 2018 (maybe earlier) wild hacking was carried out in Moray without a licence and it included hybrid falcons, the wild hacking of which is, according to SNH, illegal.
Yesterday, I blogged about the bird survey that was carried out as a condition of the licence but not as a prerequisite of the licence. The survey was of low quality in my opinion, and was carried out after the licence had been issued and the day before it came into force. The findings of the bird survey, such as they were, formed no part of the decision to issue a licence and so the utility of the bird survey was low.
I note in passing that if a proposal were to come forward to wild hack 150 large falcons on a grouse moor then the methods used at this site would almost certainly not have suggested any reason to hold back. The Red Grouse is not a Schedule 1 species and the chances of a Merlin nesting within 1km of any random point on most grouse moors would be low. And the chance of detecting anything in one visit would be low too.
Perhaps SNH should consider making the collection of specified bird and other biodiversity data next spring (say in April and early May), and its assessment by SNH, a precursor to issuing a further licence for wild hacking (say in late May but operative from mid June)? But I am probably getting ahead of myself there…
Today’s blog is about the evidence that falcons left the hacking area – and went
far beyond the very restricted area in which bird data were (rather casually) collected.
Let me summarise what you will read in this rest of this blog post. First, I will quote from correspondence between the licensee and SNH which form part of the exchange of information running up to and including the licence application. This information could be summarised as ‘the falcons at hack don’t go far (usually) and don’t catch their own wild prey, so don’t worry’. Then I will quote from the licence and its conditions issued by SNH and then quote from the information received by SNH at the end of the wild hacking season and after last summer’s licence expired.
- The case for the licence:
This passage, which I published on Monday, says that the falcons have never been seen catching wild prey whilst at hack (I don’t know whether there are any such reports from local residents) and are returned to captivity before they self-hunt. Food is provided at the wild hacking site to discourage the birds from hunting wild prey and from wandering away from the site. The falcons spend most of their time very close to the hacking site and are returned to captivity after a couple of weeks.
Here is a similar passage from correspondence between the licensee and SNH which introduces the term ‘tame hacking’ which is quite clever (and amusing) and which further makes the case that the birds don’t go wandering off;
2. The licence
Condition 4 of the licence says that the birds must be tracked;
and condition 7 says that absences from a 2km radius of the hack box of over 12-36 hours (is that over 12 hours or over 36 hours?) must be reported immediately to SNH;
3. What happened in practice
This was received in the FOI response.
All 122 Gyrs which were wild hacked were recovered (alive or dead) so it is important to note that there were no permanent escapes into the wild. Good!
But seven birds did leave the area within 2km of the hacking box for more than 12 hours (as in the table above).
Note added on 20 December: : I have amended the original post in response to information received after receiving clarification from the licensee via SNH. All the original text is still present so that you can see what I wrote. The text that needs changing is struck through (
like this) (and two whole paragraphs are given a red background). This paragraph and another new paragraph have been added with grey backgrounds. SNH has apologised for any confusion and so do I and I’m happy to correct these points. My interpretation of the table is that Column 2 (Date in) refers to when the birds were put in the hacking area. Column 3 (Date out) gives the date on which each of these seven birds left the hacking site – ie had spent more than 12 hours further than 2km from the site. Column 4 (Days out) seems to give the period of time the birds were away (>2km?) from the hacking site. Column 5 (Capture date) is when the bird was taken back into captivity. Column 1 is when SNH was notified of the birds’ absences being over 12 hours. There may be other interpretations of these column headings but that’s what I think they mean (and I have emailed SNH to check). If my interpretation is correct then condition 7 of the licence was broken several times as SNH was told of the absences long after they started (not immediately) and usually when the bird was recovered. That wasn’t, to my understanding, what the licence stipulated. I’m not sure this is very serious of itself, but, just saying…
Column 1 is the date when SNH was informed that a bird had travelled more than 2km from the hack site for more than 12 hours. Column 2 is the date when the birds were out on hack. Column 3 is the date when the falcons first flew outside the hack cage. Column 4 is the number of days that the birds were out on hack and Column 5 is the capture date. And so the number of days for which birds were more than 2km from the hacking box is Column 5 minus Column 1 – usually a matter of just a day or two or three. That does put a different complexion on things and it does appear that the birds are quickly recaptured back at the hack box after they have strayed.
Given that the information provided in, and running up to, the licence application gave the impression that the birds would not leave the area and would not self hunt these few exceptions to the first of those situations are significant. And once the birds are over 2km away from the hacking site then we know very little of their behaviour or their impacts on native fauna (and the bird survey undertaken provides no useful information).
appear to have spent weeks DAYS away from the hacking site – although the information provided is a bit unclear. Who knows what a Gyr is doing when away from the hacking site for weeks?
It will be very interesting to see where the birds have gone (or at least how far away from the release site) during the period when they are absent. SNH has said that they are analysing these data and will provide them in due course. We will await that information with great interest.
I think that the information revealed in this post suggests that the assurances given by the licence application and preceding correspondence were on the, shall we say, optimistic end of things. Some birds left the hacking area and we do not know yet how far they roamed
but it appears that they roamed for long periods of time (and for much longer than SNH was told that birds would be at hack). The bird survey carried out to assess impacts of large numbers of non-native falcons being released was of limited value in any case, but with this information (not yet complete) on the birds’ behaviour then it is shown to be of very little value at all.