The Moorland Imbalance (3)

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.


Heather Trust seeks new Director

Simon Thorp is standing down as Director of the Heather Trust after doing the job for 15 years. The fact that most readers of this blog won’t have heard of the Heather Trust is a testament to the fact that the Heather Trust hasn’t been anything like as daft as many other landownery shootingish uplandful organisations.

This is what Simon says.

And this is how you get to be his successor.


Use of lead shot as an Operation Likely to Damage

A response to an information request to Natural England.

So, which upland SSSIs on blanket bogs ought to have ‘Use of lead shot’ as an OLD?  Any ideas?



Scotland’s gun-toting legal system

It’s always difficult to imagine exactly how the other half live – it’s even more difficult for most of us to imagine how most of the establishment live.

I came across an interesting article the other day which, based on Freedom of Information requests, documents the arsenal of weapons held by members of the Scottish legal system (and wittily entitled Silencers in Court).  295 lawyers, advocates, judges, QCs & prosecutors in Scotland collectively own over 1000 firearms, shotguns and air weapons.

Even the Advocate General, Richard Keen QC, seems to own the odd shotgun (including one worth around six grand apparently) and he must learn not to leave them lying around the place.

But assuming that Scottish lawyers are not stashing away the guns and ammo because they fear for their lives once the SNP revolution really arrives, it is to be assumed that many of these guns are for shooting at live quarry such as deer, Pheasant and Red Grouse.  This reminded me of the incredible delays documented by the Raptor Persecution UK blog in legal cases in Scotland involving wildlife crime, and the controversial outcomes of some of those cases.

I would love to know which shooting estates have benefitted from the paying custom of Scottish legal eagles and, since we know that real eagles have not been made very welcome on some shooting estates, which legal eagles have benefitted from generous hospitality at any such estates.

I just had to go back and look at this video again – I’m fairly sure the guy wasn’t wearing a legal wig – but it’s terribly hard to tell!


The Moorland Imbalance (2)

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.

GWCT say that it is claimed that ‘Heather burning contributes to the release of greenhouse gases because it release carbon dioxide‘ and attempt to rebut this by quoting a 2012 study by Natural England (published in 2013) which states ‘So far, research has produced inconsistent evidence, with predictions including both positive and negative effects of burning’. This study (incorrectly labelled as reference 18 when it is reference 19 in the list of references) does say that, but it lists five impacts of heather burning on the carbon cycle (one of strong evidence, and four of moderate evidence) all of which point to increased carbon loss.  The phrase about inconsistent evidence refers to modelling studies not to all studies – at least that’s how I read it (have a look yourself and decide).


But anyway, that was back in 2012 – has anything happened since then?

Yes it has.

First, in October 2014, there was the publication of the EMBER study (see here and here) which was the biggest study of various issues around heather burning to date and yet is not referred to in the GWCT booklet (which is quite astounding!).

The study, the Effects of Moorland Burning on the Ecohydrology of Rivers (EMBER – get it?), studies 10 river catchments in the north of England for five years – five of the catchments had lots of heather burning and the other five did not. It was a very substantial study and one which, if it had existed, the Natural England review which predated it by nearly two years, would certainly have mentioned.

One of the authors of the study, Professor Joseph Holden said ‘Altering the hydrology of peatlands so they become drier is known to cause significant losses of carbon from storage in the soil. This is of great concern, as peatlands are the largest natural store for carbon on the land surface of the UK and play a crucial role in climate change. They are the Amazon of the UK.’.

These views and results were also widely reported in the press:

The Independent newspaper: ‘Commercial grouse shooting is ruining the countryside of Northern England and warming the planet as swathes of upland peatlands rich in wildlife are burned to provide the best conditions for red grouse‘.

The Scotsman: ‘Heather burning on Scotland’s grouse moors may be causing serious damage to peatlands, rivers and wildlife

The Times newspaper: ‘The owners of grouse moors who set fire to heather to promote green shoots for young birds to eat are polluting rivers and contributing to climate change‘.

But these matters seem to have passed the ‘scientists’ at GWCT by…

And in addition, the Committee on Climate Change’s 2015 Progress Report states ‘Wetland habitats, including the majority of upland areas with carbon-rich peat soils, are in poor condition. The damaging practice of burning peat to increase grouse yields continues, including on internationally protected sites.‘  I think we can take that as more than a slap on the wrist for moorland management particularly as the committee also recommended that government should ‘Review the effectiveness of agri-environment schemes in controlling damaging practices on internationally-protected peatland sites‘ which may well be why Defra ministers are now talking about removing agricultural subsidies from grouse moors.

These views from an expert committee were covered in the press at the time eg Peatlands burn as gamekeepers create a landscape fit for grouse-shooting  – The Observer, 5 July 2015.

So what GWCT appears to have done here is select a study published in 2013 to suggest that there is a lot to learn on the subject of peat degradation and carbon emissions due to heather burning and then ignored the biggest study on the subject published in 2014 and the expert views of the Climate Change Committee in 2015.

It’s a bit like trying to persuade us that there is doubt about whether the Earth goes round the Sun by quoting the ancient Greeks. Science moves on and although there is always something to argue about, GWCT seems to want to give policy makers, politicians and the public the impression that there is nothing to worry about when there quite clearly is.  I would have expected much better of the GWCT in the past but not now.  It’s shameful and misleading.