The RSPB announced today that a young male Hen Harrier, fitted with a satellite transmitter as part of the Hen Harrier LIFE+ Project, has gone missing on a grouse moor in the Monadhliath Mountains, south-east of Inverness.
The bird, named Elwood, was the only chick to fledge from a nest in Banffshire, which was being monitored under the Partnership for Action against Wildlife Crime Scotland ‘Heads-up for Harriers’ scheme.
The transmitter’s data, being monitored by RSPB staff, indicated that Elwood fledged in the first week of July, but stayed close to the nest site in the hills above the River Spey until 20 July, when he began to travel more widely. By the 27 July, Elwood had moved 20 miles to the south west, and had settled in the hills around Tomatin.
Elwood remained in this area, with the transmitter providing detailed information about his daily travels until suddenly, transmissions ceased abruptly on 3 August. His last recorded position was on an area of managed moorland a few miles from the Slochd summit on the A9.
Ian Thomson, RSPB Scotland’s Head of Investigations, said: ‘This latest disappearance of a satellite-tagged bird is deeply concerning, and joins the long list of protected birds of prey that have been confirmed to have been illegally killed or disappeared suddenly in this area. The transmitters being fitted to these birds are exceedingly reliable, and illegal persecution is therefore the most likely explanation of the disappearance of these birds of prey. The absence of typical breeding raptor species from areas of suitable habitat, or at traditional nesting sites, in large parts of the Monadhliaths is further supporting evidence of a major problem with wildlife crime in this general area.
This case is all the more depressing as the nest from which Elwood successfully fledged was monitored as part of a partnership project between PAW Scotland and the local landowner. It proves, yet again, that despite there being a good number of enlightened estates who are happy to host and protect nesting birds of prey – as soon as they move away from these areas they are being illegally killed.
The denials and obfuscation from representatives of the land management sector, and their consistent failure to acknowledge and address this problem, is one of the main reasons why our bird of prey populations are struggling in the central and eastern Highlands. We repeat our call to the Scottish Government to introduce a robust system of licensing of game bird hunting, where the right to shoot is dependent on legal and sustainable management of the land, in line with approaches adopted in most other European countries.‘.
One disappearing satellite-tagged protected raptor disappearing suddenly over a grouse moor is suspicious – the more that disappear, the more suspicion turns into certainty. Add in those we know for certain were killed deliberately, and it adds up to a damning indictment of the way that driven grouse shooting is carried out in the UK. Driven grouse shooting depends on big bags of birds, a high kill rate, and cannot afford to let raptors survive, even though they are protected by law, and have been all your lifetime unless you are a bit older than I am.
Generations of birds of prey have been subjected to systematic, routine and ruthless illegal persecution because people want to shoot Red Grouse for fun.
The RSPB wants grouse shooting to be better regulated – I’d like to sweep it away altogether through a ban. If you agree with me, and I think most Hen Harriers and Golden Eagles would, then please sign here to add to the strength of our voice as we head to a debate on the future of grouse shooting in the Westminster parliament.
We’ll see what that comedy double act of McAdam and Baynes have to say this time – it sounds as though the RSPB expects more denial and obfuscation from shooters.
Their campaign against the RSPB is a shameful example of ‘astroturfing’. The public should beware
|‘Grouse are cosseted at the expense of other life forms. Predators must be eliminated.’ Photograph: Danny Lawson/PA|
This is how, in a democracy, you win when you are outnumbered: you purchase the results. It’s how politics now works. The very rich throw money at the parties, lobby groups and thinktanks that project their demands. If they are clever, they keep their names out of it.
Here’s an example: a campaign fronted by the former England cricket captain Sir Ian Botham, called You Forgot the Birds. It appears to have two purposes: to bring down the RSPB – the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds – and to get the natural history presenter Chris Packham sacked from the BBC.
It likes to present itself as “... a network of people who are passionate about bird habitat. Some of us are conservationists or self-confessed birders, some are farmers and landowners, some work full-time in the countryside while others are volunteers from the cities.” And this is what it revealed in a footnote at the bottom of one of its press releases, that has since vanished from the web: “The You Forgot the Birds campaign is funded by the British grouse industry.” Ah, the grouse industry. Who would have guessed?
To shoot grouse you have to be exceedingly rich: it costs around £7,000 per person per day. The owners of grouse moors, who are also exceedingly rich, justify these fees by ensuring that there are vast numbers of birds to shoot. This requires, across great tracts of our uplands, the elimination of almost everything else.
Grouse are wild birds, but cosseted at the expense of other life forms. Predators and competitors must be eliminated, either legally or, in the case of protected species such as peregrine falcons, golden eagles, red kites and hen harriers, illegally. Many grouse moors are black holes for birds of prey. They disappear and their satellite tags stop working in the same places, again and again. Alien abduction? Russian black ops? No: shooting, trapping and poisoning by the gamekeepers employed to maximise grouse numbers, most of whom, on these remote moors, get away with it.
Producing as many grouse as possible also means burning and draining the land, to create a monoculture of the young heather the birds eat. Sure, this releases the carbon in the soil, pollutes rivers and helps to flood the towns downstream. But to hell with the plebs. To rub our noses in it properly, we pay them for the privilege: grouse moors are subsidised by us. At the height of his austerity programme, as essential public services were cut to the bone, David Cameron’s government raised the subsidy for grouse moors by 84%, to £56 per hectare. Some owners now harvest hundreds of thousands of pounds of our money every year.
Cameron also tried to close the national wildlife crime unit, which would have pleased his friends no end. It was saved only by a public outcry. Conservationists have called for a law of vicarious liability, making the owners of grouse moors responsible for the wildlife crime they commission, rather than leaving only the gamekeepers to take the rap. But this proposal was struck down by Cameron’s environment minister, Richard Benyon. I’m sure it had nothing to do with the fact that he owns a grouse moor.
But through the efforts of wildlife campaigners (like Packham and the RSPB) and people whose homes have been flooded downstream, the grouse industry is now being called to account. Last week, the petition posted by the conservationist Mark Avery calling for an end to driven grouse shooting – where wild birds are sent towards the guns by “beaters” – passed the 100,000-signature threshold: the issue is now likely to be debated in parliament.
The result is You Forgot the Birds, championed by the Daily Mail, which describes it as “a grassroots campaign by farmers and conservationists”. It is, of course, coincidental that Paul Dacre, the Mail’s editor, owns a grouse moor.
We know who’s in front of this “grassroots campaign”: Botham, who runs a shoot in North Yorkshire. But who’s behind it? Only one funder has so far been identified: the billionaire hedge fund owner Crispin Odey. We also know that the campaign is run by a lobbying company called Abzed. It boasts that “a besieged grouse moor community turned to Abzed. Our approach was to turn the spotlight on to the RSPB.” Very grassroots, I’m sure.
Claims made by the campaign keep falling apart. Last year the Telegraph had to issue a humiliating correction and apology to the RSPB after it repeated statements in a You Forgot the Birds press release that seem to have been conjured out of thin air. Last week, in the Mail and on the Today programme, Botham recited figures for the rare birds found on grouse moors during a survey by the British Trust for Ornithology. The BTO says it has conducted no such survey.
The purpose of the countryside, for people like Botham, Odey and Dacre, is an exclusive playground for the rich. For them, authentic country people are those who own or rent significant tracts of land, many of whom live in cities, and those who work for them, as long as they wear tweed instead of Gore-Tex. As for the RSPB and its members, they’re bipedal vermin. Never mind that many of them live and work in the countryside; they are interlopers with no right to a voice in rural life.
The media collaborates. News reporters describe shooting and hunting lobbyists as “countryside groups”, anointing them as the authentic rural voice and casting those who oppose them – who often seem to possess a far greater love for and knowledge of the countryside – as interfering townies. Documentary-makers seek a stereotyped rusticity which, though politically charged, is presented as the neutral and immutable spirit of rural life. The co-presenter of the series Clarissa and the Countryman was Sir Johnny Scott, a baronet who owns 5,000 acres in the Scottish borders: that’s what the BBC means by countryman. Where is he now? Ah yes, fronting up You Forgot the Birds with Botham.
When opposition is seen as illegitimate, it appears to be legitimate to cheat and bludgeon. That’s how the lords of the land have long maintained their pre-eminence. Today you can no longer call out the yeomanry, sit in judgment then have dissenters hanged. But there are other means of bypassing democracy. You buy yourself a crowd, or at least an outfit that looks like a crowd. You demand, from your position of comfortable anonymity, the silencing of people who contest your claims, like Packham. You use a corrupt and partisan media to hound them.
This is how politics works these days: astroturf groups (fake grassroots movements) and undisclosed interests are everywhere. The same forces are at play in the tobacco industry, fossil fuels, junk food, banking, guns, private health provision, in fact throughout public life. They recruit celebrities to front their campaigns. The astroturf groups confuse and obfuscate, make up stories and grant their anonymous backers plausible deniability.
They are a threat to democracy. Call them out, expose them to the light, and don’t believe a word they say.
In the 1990s my sister’s neighbour used to say he saw a Hen Harrier every day around the farm on his way to work and he worried about them taking his hens. Sadly no more.
The Forest of Bowland also used to have several pairs of Peregrines. One pair bred for a few years in an abandoned quarry on my sister’s farm but only when disturbed at its territory in a nearby working quarry. One year at least, that I know of, it was disturbed by the local working quarry owner’s son using the quarry for ‘target practice’ – only a caution was given, naturally. I myself even discovered an alternative walk-in nest-site which this pair used one year. It was a terrible choice as it was basically nesting on the ground with a slight ledge and so the pair must have had good reason to desert the perfect site in the working quarry. By that time my sister’s old quarry was too overgrown with trees for the Peregrines.
So the situation is, to say the least, dire and has no doubt pushed many people to sign the petition for a ban on driven grouse shooting. Here is a summary of the situation in 2012 by John Armitage. In 1991 there were 18 successful nests and even as recently as 2009 there were 17 successful nests. So what is happening? Well it is obvious but here is a description of what happened to 22 Peregrine breeding attempts this year. That might give a clue.
I am sure that there are those who would like the sign for the Forest of Bowland changed but it should stay as a permanent reminder of the state of affairs and perhaps in the not to distant future it will not be a symbol, not of failure but success. I notice the official site for the Forest of Bowland, which even has the symbol of a Hen Harrier as its logo, doesn’t even note the existence of Hen Harrier Day in spite of several events in the area.
The Bowland Brewery makes a pale ale called Hen Harrier and is promoting the cause of the missing Hen Harriers. For this it has been rewarded with internet abuse. That was enough for me and I (and many others) ordered a case. Very good beer it is too.
Hen Harrier Day – overview
Hen Harrier Day: Sunday August 10th 2014
Hen Harrier Day was initiated by Birders Against Wildlife Crime (BAWC), and organised and coordinated by a coalition of BAWC, former RSPB Conservation Director and leading activist Mark Avery, broadcaster and conservationist Chris Packham, the country’s leading wildlife charity the RSPB, and the North West Raptor Protection Group.
Hen Harrier Day attracted support from a wide selection of organisations and activists, including the Wildlife Trusts, the National Trust, the Hawk and Owl Trust, the League Against Cruel Sports, the Peak District National Park, South West Peregrine Group, Birdwatch magazine, Rare Bird Alert, Bird Information, Birdguides, Welsh Ornithological Society and Quaker Concern for Animals.
And of course we can also add a huge following of supporters on Twitter and Facebook. Our thanks go to everyone who – like us – wants to see an end to the illegal persecution of this beautiful bird
Background:Just a few hundred years ago the Hen Harrier was a common and widespread bird of prey. Massive changes in land use meant they lost many lowland breeding sites, and they retreated to breed on upland moorland. Relentless persecution by gamekeepers employed on shooting estates followed. Numbers have declined markedly in recent years as intensification of grouse moors has stepped up, and Hen Harriers have been identified as a priority species by the UK Government in terms of combating wildlife crime.
Peer-reviewed research suggests that good habitat remains for Hen Harriers, but there are 962-1285 breeding pairs of Hen Harrier ‘missing’ from Scotland and 322-339 pairs ‘missing’ from England. A 2011 report clearly stated that in England illegal persecution is “such a constraint that the Hen Harrier is threatened with extinction as a breeding species”.
In 2013 – for the first time since records began – no Hen Harriers fledged young in England.
In 2014 just three pairs have bred – all have required 24 hour protection. No-one knows what might happen to their young when they leave the natal areas.
On the 10th of August – when the media’s attention was turning towards grouse moors and the start of the ‘Inglorious 12th’ – we highlighted the scandal of the widespread illegal persecution of Hen Harriers on upland grouse moors and celebrated one of our most iconic birds of prey.
For BAWC, Hen Harrier Day was primarily about raising awareness of wildlife crime – the persecution of a protected bird of prey. We felt then (and still do) that to move on from the current situation, there has to first be a full and clear acknowledgement from the shooting industry that illegal persecution has been widespread and is a limiting factor on Hen Harrier populations. Next there needs to be a commitment from the industry to ensure that all legislation protecting our wildlife is rigorously enforced, and that lawbreakers – current and historic – are reported to the proper authorities immediately.
A selection of external news/posts published in the run-up to Hen Harrier Day
- The Reservoir Cats are back! http://reservoircatz.blogspot.co.uk/2014/08/open-season-for-harriers.html
- BOU blog post by Dr Arjun Amar: Hen Harriers: going, going…
- BirdGuides article :Hen Harriers: in the line of fire
- Mark Cocker calls Hen Harrier Day “a radical departure in the story of nature conservation” in The Guardian: http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2014/aug/03/claxton-norfolk-raptors-survival-grouse-shoots
- Great post by Raptor Persecution Scotland on Hen Harrier Day: http://raptorpersecutionscotland.wordpress.com/2014/08/03/standing-in-solidarity-for-hen-harrier-day-10th-august-2014/
- Jersey (Channel Islands) announces ‘Raptor Day’ in partnership with Hen Harrier Day: http://www.birdsontheedge.org/2014/07/30/raptor-day-sunday-10th-august/
- RSPB response to the proposed Defra Hen Harrier Action Plan
- Article in The Times after Marks and Spencer ‘takes grouse off shelves after boycott threat‘
- Post by Steve Mills on his ‘Natural Eyes’ blog: The ‘tipping point‘
- Our response (and the comments that followed) on Facebook to a Sunday Times article exposing the wishlist of the driven grouse industry contained in Defra’s ‘Hen Harrier Action Plan': https://www.facebook.com/BAWCUK/posts/268508356688785
- Mark Avery blog post Does driven grouse shooting rely on criminal activity?
- Alan Stewart, former Wildlife Crime Officer and member of the National Wildlife Crime Unit, blog post Crime against hen harriers – a discussion
James Warburton, owner of Bowland Brewery said: “The hen harrier is a living symbol of Bowland Brewery’s intimate connection with the landscape where we produce our beers.
The very real prospect that this beautiful bird of prey may disappear from the skies above the Forest of Bowland is unthinkable. That’s why we are committing to donate a significant sum of money each year to safeguard the future of one of Bowland’s most iconic residents.
As the harriers return to the Bowland Fells to nest this spring, we hope to see nature-lovers visiting the area to marvel at their amazing skydance and celebrate with a pint of the beer these rare and precious birds inspired.
By buying Hen Harrier by the pint or in bottles, locals and visitors alike will be making a positive contribution to hen harrier conservation in Bowland – and ultimately helping the population to grow.”
Recently, this photograph of Chris Packham and Mark Avery enjoying a pint of Bowland Brewery’s Hen Harrier beer, was posted on the Bowland Brewery’s social media platforms (twitter and facebook). As a result, some individuals from the grouse-shooting industry have launched a hate campaign aimed directly at the Bowland Brewery.
Bowland Brewery’s facebook page was targeted with a torrent of fake reviews, resulting in a drop in their overall review rating. Comments posted on facebook by the grouse-shooting trolls included:
“Get this off tomorrow or we will hound you”.
“They drink with the devil. Destroy the business!”
“Side with Packham and the knife comes out”
“They thought going with Packham was good. Now they must feel the pain”
“Shut them down. Anti shooting”.
“You can run but not hide. Hammer em!”
“Shut down the business. Shut down, boycott, whatever. Get Bowland Brewery outed”.
“Get hold of the boss and tell him to mend his ways. Otherwise we will crush em”.
Nice guys, eh? Wonder how many of them making threats have a shotgun/firearms certificate? There are some known gamekeepers involved in this hate campaign, including the Head Gamekeeper of Millden Estate in the Angus Glens, Bert Burnett from the Scottish Gamekeepers’ Association (who wrote “Well done everyone”) and some of the comments have been ‘liked’ by the official facebook page of the National Gamekeepers’ Organisation.
All slightly ironic from an industry that has recently accused Chris Packham of ‘celebrity bullying’ (see here) just because he’s politely asking Marks and Spencer to be transparent about their claims that their red grouse are produced ethically and sustainably (see here).
It’s also ironic that this hate campaign against the brewery comes from an industry that purports to be interested in protecting rural jobs. The Bowland Brewery is a small business, employing local people, in a rural community.
If you want to show your support for the Bowland Brewery and their ethical and charitable support of hen harrier conservation, please consider buying their beer. It’s available in various local outlets (see here) and can also be bought online (see here).
If you want to support the campaign to ban driven grouse shooting, because it’s the only way hen harriers will be allowed to thrive in the English uplands, then please join 65,000 others and sign THIS PETITION.
This is very welcome news – well done RSPB!
Some will say the RSPB should never have supported it in the first place (and we’d be in that camp). The Hen Harrier Action Plan was never a plan to help hen harriers, even though it was dressed up as such. What it actually was/is, is a plan to help remove hen harriers from driven grouse moors so that there are more red grouse available to be shot by wealthy gunmen (see here).
Others will say that the RSPB has played a clever game by initially supporting the Action Plan, knowing full well that the grouse-shooting industry would never be able to deliver on its promises to stop the illegal killing of hen harriers. By giving the industry the time and space to fail, and then by walking away from it, the RSPB is able to make a strong political statement and still come out of this looking like the reasonable and rational organisation we all know it to be.
By supporting this ridiculous Action Plan, the RSPB came in for quite a lot of criticism from ‘our side’. Many of us were frustrated that, at best, the RSPB was sitting on the fence and at worst, legitimising the ‘sport’ of driven grouse shooting and all its associated environmental damage. The dark side used the RSPB’s involvement with the HH Action Plan as a PR stick with which to beat detractors of the Action Plan: those of us who support a ban on driven grouse shooting were painted as ‘extremists’, a bunch of unreasonable radicals unwilling to engage in partnership working to find a solution. There’s an element of truth in that, because, unlike the RSPB, our patience with the grouse shooting industry expired a long time ago. We already know that this industry is either incapable of, or unwilling to, abide by the law and so negotiation with them is futile. But we wouldn’t describe that as being unreasonable or extreme; rather it’s more of an obvious next step in the face of blatant ongoing criminality (and subsequent denial) from the grouse shooting industry. It’s good to see the RSPB catching up.
Although, the RSPB hasn’t caught up entirely. Now it has withdrawn its support for the HH Action Plan, it looks like the RSPB has at least swung its legs back over to our side of the fence. But it still hasn’t jumped from that fence. With its steadfast refusal to support a ban on driven grouse shooting, the RSPB is still perched atop that fence and is looking down at the ground trying to judge whether the distance to jump is too far. The RSPB thinks licensing is the way forward, rather than an outright ban. There are merits in that approach, of course, but to be successful, licensing will require effective enforcement AND a willingness from the grouse shooting industry to abide by the licensing rules. We’ve seen no evidence to suggest that either of these two elements will work.
But for now, let’s applaud the RSPB’s withdrawal from the HH Action Plan, let’s enjoy the increasing isolation with which the grouse shooting industry is bringing upon itself, and let’s push on with our aim of getting 100,000 signatures on THIS E-PETITION to trigger a Westminster debate on the future of driven grouse shooting.
|Reminds me of a visit to the Black Sheep Brewery.|
|Cornfield wildflower mix in tractor tyre filled with molehills.|
|Looks so relaxing!|
|Wildflowers love the gravelly area under the trees.|