Grouse moors 'to blame for Scotland's disappearing raptors'

Tony Gosling tony at
Thu Aug 17 00:30:08 BST 2017

Grouse moors 'to blame for Scotland's disappearing raptors'

As estates gear up for Glorious Twelfth, wildlife 
crime expert talks of direct link between grouse 
moors and persecution of birds of prey

Carrell Scotland editor

Friday 11 August 2017 15.22

Grouse moors are to blame for persecuting 
endangered birds of prey in the Scottish 
Highlands and Uplands, according to a wildlife crime expert.

Ian Thomson, the head of investigations at the 
Royal Society for the Protection of Birds 
said data from 77 birds of prey that had been 
satellite-tagged showed a direct correlation 
between dead and disappeared birds and grouse moors.

Moorland estates across Scotland and northern 
England are gearing up for the start on Saturday 
of the annual red grouse-shooting season, known 
as the 
Twelfth, although wet weather and late snow have 
led to some shoots being postponed in the Highlands.

The industry in Scotland is fighting to persuade 
ministers to drop proposals to introduce 
licensing for shooting estates, which can include 
pheasant and partridge, in a further effort to 
crack down on illegal persecution of birds of prey.

Thomson said “a very stark pattern” emerged when 
tagging data for 44 golden eagles, eight hen 
harriers and 25 red kites that had disappeared or 
been deliberately killed since 2009 was displayed on a map of Scotland.

It showed hotspots in the Angus glens near 
Dundee, the Highlands in Perthshire, the 
Monadhliath mountains and Speyside south of 
Inverness, around the Black Isle north of 
Inverness, and in the Southern Uplands. Some were 
poisoned, others shot or killed by blows to the 
head, but a large majority of tagged birds 
vanished without explanation, the records said.

In May an 
report from Scottish Natural Heritage on golden 
eagles said there was a direct correlation 
between grouse moors and the deaths and 
disappearances of tagged eagles, and the areas 
where eagles were failing to breed or prosper.

SNH found a third of 131 young eagles tagged over 
a 12-year period had disappeared in suspicious 
circumstances or been killed, chiefly in the 
Highlands, although several did so on Hebridean 
islands or remote peninsulas with no shooting estates.

In a 
timed to coincide with the Glorious Twelfth, 
Thomson said: “It is clear from this map that, 
like golden eagles, the distribution of illegally 
killed or suspiciously disappeared 
satellite-tagged red kites and hen harriers is 
far from random, and shows clear clusters in some upland areas.

“As with the hotspots for eagles, these clusters 
are almost entirely coincident with land 
dominated by driven grouse shooting management.”

Landowners insist the rate of persecution has 
fallen sharply in Scotland because a majority of 
grouse moor managers and gamekeepers supported 
government-led campaigns to protect birds of 
prey. Arguing that Scotland already has among the 
strictest wildlife crime legislation in the 
world, they say official Scottish government data 
shows a decline in recorded incidents.

“The reality, corroborated by official 
statistics, is that incidents of persecution of 
birds of prey are at an all-time low and that 
populations of birds such as eagles and red kites 
are on the rise,” said Tim Baynes, the director 
of the 
Moorland Group, an industry alliance.

“Many grouse moors host good populations of 
breeding eagles, harriers, merlin, buzzard and 
short-eared owls. [The] attitude of grouse moor 
managers towards protected species is a world 
away from attitudes held in generations gone by.”

Timed to coincide with a march to support 
shooting estates by gamekeepers and rural traders 
last weekend in Edzell, a town in the Angus 
glens, the moorland group published a survey of 
45 grouse moors around Scotland.

It calculated these estates each generated 
£515,000 on average for local businesses every 
year “before a shot had been fired”. That figure 
did not include wages to gamekeepers and other 
staff, or the spending by clients in local hotels or restaurants.

But prompted by the golden eagle data released in 
May, Roseanna Cunningham, Scotland’s environment 
secretary, announced she was setting up an expert 
group to consider licensing of shooting estates, 
among other reforms. She also increased police 
resources to tackle wildlife crime.

The licensing system, which the RSPB has 
campaigned for, would allow estates linked to 
wildlife persecution to be barred from commercial 
shooting. Scottish land owners are already at 
risk of prosecution under “vicarious liability” 
regulations if there are suspicions or evidence 
they are failing to prevent wildlife crime on their estates.

Speaking in May about the golden eagle research, 
Cunningham said: “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.”

Grouse shooting: half a million reasons why 
time’s up for this appalling ‘sport’

<>Mark Avery
Some 500,000 birds will have been shot by the end 
of another inglorious season as a select few 
continue to trample on the interests of the rest of us
First blood on the Glorious Twelfth at a grouse m
  First blood on the ‘Glorious Twelfth’ at a 
grouse moor in Aviemore, Scotland, this year. 
Photograph: Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images

Saturday 12 August 2017 20.55 BSTLast modified on 
Saturday 12 August 2017 22.01 BST

After 150 years of being treated as a quaint 
rural pastime, grouse shooting is now 
the microscope – unless it reforms it is doomed, 
and it may drag other country sports down with it.

On Saturday, the start of the grouse shooting 
season, the social media hashtag 
was trending, and a social media message, “I want 
to see an end to raptor persecution in the 
uplands. Criminal activity needs to be stopped”, 
set up by 15-year-old birdwatcher and 
conservation campaigner 
Wilde, was sent to more than 
million people.

Thousands marched in London protesting at the 
badger cull, calling for foxhunting to remain 
banned and calling for an end to grouse shooting. 
Recently, Sir Ian Botham was given a rough time 
on BBC Radio 5 Live when he couldn’t answer 
questions about gamebird shooting, and on Friday 
the RSPB released a video of armed men, who might 
have been gamekeepers, meddling with a nest of a 
rare bird of prey on a North Yorkshire moor. What’s going on?

Driven grouse shooting consists of a line of 
“beaters”, blowing whistles and waving flags to 
chase wild red grouse towards a distant line of 
guns, waiting to shoot at them as they fly past. 
By 10 December, when the season ends, around 
500,000 grouse will be killed. There is big money 
involved. Eating a roast grouse costs around £25 
in a London restaurant, but shooting that grouse 
costs £75, so a day’s shooting may cost several thousand pounds.

Red grouse live in the hills of 
and northern England. To increase red grouse 
numbers, heather is burned and to provide a 
mixed-age profile of heather plants for the birds 
to eat, wet areas are drained to encourage 
heather growth. Natural predators such as foxes, 
stoats and crows are trapped or shot (in very 
large numbers) because they eat grouse (and don’t 
pay £75 a bird for the privilege). Grouse are 
given medication because their unnaturally high 
densities allow diseases to spread. Mountain 
hares carry ticks that affect grouse, so are 
killed. Grouse moors are as intensively managed as East Anglian wheatfields.

The growing opposition to grouse shooting stems 
from three overlapping communities: animal 
welfare activists, environmental campaigners and 
nature conservationists. Many, when they realise 
the scale of the killing, not just of grouse but 
also predators, are appalled that this Victorian 
“sport” is still allowed. Environmentalists 
highlight the intensive moorland management and a 
body of science demonstrating that this causes 
increased flood risk, higher water-treatment 
costs, greater carbon emissions, damage to 
moorland habitats and reduced insect life in the 
streams running off grouse moors. It’s a classic 
case of a niche activity of a few, hitting the 
pockets of the many through higher home insurance 
costs, higher water bills and a damaged environment.

Labour, a fundamentally urban party, hasn’t yet 
woken up to the fact that imposing a ban is the right thing to do

Nature conservationists’ poster-bird is the hen 
harrier, just one protected species illegally 
killed on grouse moors. There should be over 300 
pairs of hen harriers nesting in the English 
uplands, (2,600 pairs in the UK as a whole) and 
this year there were just seven pairs ( around 
550 pairs in the UK). The police struggle to 
catch the perpetrators of these wildlife crimes – 
understandably, since they operate covertly on 
private shooting estates in the least populated parts of the UK.

There are many reasons for calling the start of 
the grouse shooting season “inglorious” and the 
industry is under extreme pressure. But rather 
than mend its ways, reform its management and 
throw out its bad apples it has copied the 
tobacco, pesticides and fossil fuels industries 
and poured money into vilifying its opponents and 
a campaign of denial. TV presenter, author and 
photographer Chris Packham has been 
– the Countryside Alliance called on the BBC to 
sack Packham for his off-camera campaigning, and 
less famous campaigners have been threatened and 
vilified. The grouse industry funded a campaign targeted at the RSPB.

Grouse shooting has friends in high places – even 
the Balmoral Estate visitor centre sings its 
praises – and the Conservative government has 
done nothing to push the case for reform. In 
Scotland there is more progress and a strong 
chance that the SNP government will introduce 
licensing of shooting estates in 2018.

On this day last year, an 
petition I organised which called for an outright 
ban on intensive grouse shooting reached 123,000 
signatures when it closed in September (a rival 
pro-shooting petition raised only 25,000) and 
secured a Westminster Hall parliamentary debate. 
The Conservative MPs packing that debate 
represented a large proportion of the House of 
Commons’s old Etonians, and they spent as much 
time denigrating Chris Packham and me as supporting grouse-shooting.

The Green party supports a ban of all bloodsports 
but Labour, a fundamentally urban party, hasn’t 
yet woken up to the fact that a policy of banning 
grouse-shooting is the right thing to do and is also an electoral asset.

Intensive grouse shooting will cease in my 
lifetime. The industry has been nasty and 
intransigent and is dragging down the reputation 
of less disreputable country sports. The pressure 
on grouse shooting will not go away.

The question for the rest of the shooting 
community is: do they want to be dragged into a 
mire from which they may never emerge or should 
they cut the grouse shooters loose and distance 
themselves as quickly as possible?

Dr Mark Avery is a former conservation director 
of the RSPB; now a, blogger, campaigner and 
author and author of 
– Conflict in the Uplands.

So much emphasis is placed on select Jewish 
participation in Bormann companies that when 
Adolf Eichmann was seized and taken to Tel Aviv 
to stand trial, it produced a shock wave in the 
Jewish and German communities of Buenos Aires. 
Jewish leaders informed the Israeli authorities 
in no uncertain terms that this must never happen 
again because a repetition would permanently 
rupture relations with the Germans of Latin 
America, as well as with the Bormann 
organization, and cut off the flow of Jewish 
money to Israel. It never happened again, and the 
pursuit of Bormann quieted down at the request of 
these Jewish leaders. He is residing in an 
Argentinian safe haven, protected by the most 
efficient German infrastructure in history as 
well as by all those whose prosperity depends on his well-being.
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