Four easy ways to help hen harriers

HH by Gordon LangsburyHen harriers are in trouble, and have been for some time (to read all our earlier blog posts about them, click here).

They’re not just in a bit of trouble; they are in seriously dire straits, and most of it has been caused by them being illegally killed (shot, trapped, poisoned, stamped on) whenever they venture on to a moorland that is being managed for driven grouse shooting.

A lot of people we talk to about raptor persecution in general all say the same thing – they feel frustrated and let down by the inability of the ‘authorities’ (e.g. government, police, judicial process) to put a stop to it.

Well things are changing. Recently, there has been a groundswell of imaginative initiatives that are designed to allow ordinary people like us to have our say and get our voices heard. Individually, we may not have much impact, but collectively, we can be very powerful.

Here are four things we, as individuals, can all do very easily, to help hen harriers. Some of them you can do right now without even having to leave your chair!

1. Participate in Hen Harrier Day on August 10th 2014.

There will be a number of peaceful protest demonstrations across the north of England (an area where driven grouse shooting is a dominant ‘sport’) taking place on Sunday 10th August 2014. The idea is to congregate with like-minded people to celebrate the hen harrier and to get some much-needed national and international media attention at a time when most media outlets will be focusing on the opening of the grouse-shooting season (12th August).

One of these protests will be held in the Derbyshire Peak District, with Chris Packham in attendance (see details about this event on Mark Avery’s blog here).

Other protests are planned for Yorkshire, Cumbria, Northumberland and Lancashire although we are still awaiitng full details – to be announced soon on the Birders Against Wildlife Crime (BAWC) website here.

If you can’t make it in person to one of these events, BAWC will be providing information about how you can join in ‘remotely’ by posting pictures on-line.

2. Vote for the RSPB’s SKYDANCER Project in the National Lottery Awards.

The Skydancer Project is a four-year educational initiative aimed at raising awareness and promoting the conservation of hen harriers in the north of England. They have been doing some fantastic work, delivering talks, hosting workshops, running fieldtrips etc. They have recently been nominated for a National Lottery Award (one of seven projects in the running for Best Education Project, selected from over 750 applicants). Winning will mean national media attention on prime time tv. It takes a couple of seconds to vote for them on-line – deadline 23rd July. Click here to vote.

3. Sign the e-petition to ban driven grouse shooting in England.

Mark Avery launched this e-petition almost one month ago (and here is his summary of why it is necessary). Already it has attracted 5,789 votes. Driven grouse-shooting is the number one reason why hen harriers are being killed. It really is a no brainer – please sign here!

Turn Your Back on Grouse4. Support the Ethical Consumer’s ‘Turn Your Back on Grouse’ campaign.

The Ethical Consumer has recently published a well-researched report about the damaging consequences of intensively driven grouse shooting (see here). They have started a campaign calling for a boycott on all businesses connected to the grouse-shooting industry. It’s called ‘Turn Your Back on Grouse’. You can find more info here.

We’re particularly interested in this campaign. We touched on it, briefly, last year when we blogged about Marks & Spencer selling grouse that had originated from Yorkshire and the Scottish Borders – when we asked M&S to name the estates of origin, they were surprisingly coy – see here, here, here and here.

We called in Trading Standards to investigate whether M&S’s claims that “we are working with only the most sustainable and well-managed estates, and do not work with any suppliers that interfere with hen harriers” was actually true, but we haven’t heard anything further. Unfortunately our time is limited and we haven’t pursued it, so it’s very welcome news to see the Ethical Consumer pick up on this issue.

It’s particularly timely, as the Countryside Alliance put out the following statement in April this year:

“Following a meeting with Marks and Spencer and Yorkshire Game, discussions are to take place between the Game to Eat team and the M&S PR Department to devise a suitable media plan to promote grouse in August 2014. The Game-to-Eat campaign sent out over 80,000 game recipe leaflets over the course of the season. The team is now working with development Chef Lee Maycock to create and photograph new recipes for 2014. Lee Maycock has continued to deliver game preparation courses at catering colleges around the country and has had an excellent reception from catering lecturers keen to increase game’s profile. The team attended an end-of-season game dinner at Notting Hill’s The Shed restaurant in early February. The team hosted Shooting Times, Country Life, Sporting Shooter, Fieldsports and Shooting Gazette journalists at this event. Game-to-Eat and the Countryside Alliance Awards are working together to promote the work of butchers selling game”.

Hopefully many of you will get involved with supporting the ‘Turn Your Back on Grouse’ campaign and help give this issue further media and political attention.

Hen harrier photo by Gordon Langsbury.

Wheelhouse responds to latest raptor killings….by doing nothing

Paul-Wheelhouse-MSP Earlier today we blogged about the latest poisoning victim to have been uncovered in Scotland….a dead buzzard that was found in Fife in April (see here).

This evening, Environment Minister Paul Wheelhouse has issued the following statement:

I have been hugely angered to learn about another case of a poisoned buzzard following on from a separate incident involving the illegal death of a hen harrier in Ayrshire. I have made it very clear that I will not tolerate these criminal and selfish acts and this form of criminality has also been roundly condemned by parliament in a recent debate.

These crimes are not the actions of people who value Scotland’s wildlife and natural environment and I encourage anyone with any information on these despicable crimes to contact Police Scotland on 101.

My officials are working on a pesticide disposal scheme to rid illegal substances from our countryside and I hope to see this up and running very soon while the implementation of changes to the General Licences is in the process of implementation.

Our ongoing review of wildlife crime penalties is due by December and these latest incidents only add to the evidence supporting a toughening of sanctions and penalties on perpetrators.

We don’t doubt that he’s “hugely angered” – we all are – but we most certainly do question his commitment to taking meaningful action against the raptor killers.

A year ago, give or take a few days, the Minister introduced a series of what he described as ‘further measures’ to combat raptor persecution (see here). Since then, not one of these measures has yet been fully implemented. Also since then, we’ve seen examples, over and over again, of how these crimes are still taking place right across Scotland. Here are some of them:

June 2013: Shot buzzard in the Borders (see here), later revealed to also have been poisoned (see here)

July 2013:  Buzzard shot in the throat in North Ayrshire (see here)

August 2013: Red kite found shot at Leadhills (see here)

September 2013: Poisoned buzzard found in Stirlingshire (see here)

October 2013: Langholm hen harrier ‘Blue’ disappears (see here)

October 2013: Half-made raptor trap discovered in Angus (see here)

December 2013: Buzzard died of ‘unnatural causes’ near Tomatin (see here) [we now know it had been shot]

December 2013: Golden eagle ‘Fearnan’ found poisoned on Angus grouse moor (see here)

January 2014: Man reported for hen harrier death in Aberdeenshire (see here)

January 2014: Dead bird (species unknown) & suspected poisoned bait found in South Lanarkshire (see here)

February 2014: Poisoned peregrine found near Leadhills (see here)

March 2014: 22 poisoned raptors (16 red kites + 6 buzzards) found in Ross-shire (see here)

April 2014: Man arrested for alleged attempted raptor trapping in Aberdeenshire (see here)

April 2014: ‘Illegally-killed’ peregrine found near Stirling (see here) [we now know it had been shot]

April 2014: East Scotland sea eagle chick ‘disappears’ on Aberdeenshire grouse moor (see here)

April 2014: Gamekeeper charged for allegedly shooting, bludgeoning & stamping on buzzard in Dumfries (see here)

April 2014: Poisoned buzzard found in Fife (see here)

June 2014: Allegations emerge of ‘coordinated hunt & shooting’ of a hen harrier in Aberdeenshire last year (see here)

June 2014: Hen harrier died “as result of criminal act” near Muirkirk (see here)

These are just the ones that have been made public – we expect there to be a number of others that have not yet been revealed to the public.

Each time, we’ve asked Wheelhouse to act. Each time, he’s told us we need to ‘wait’ for the new measures to take effect but he has adamantly refused to give a time-frame of how long that wait should be. It’s crystal clear, even to a child, that The Untouchables are out of control and waiting for them to stop of their own accord is ridiculous.

The Minister’s response this evening is simply not good enough. A ‘poisoning amnesty’? It sounds good, but the truth is it’s been done before and with no effect. Carbofuran has been banned since 2001 – that’s 13 years ago! Does he really think that these disgusting poisoners are going to hand over their private stashes of poison when they know full well they can continue to use them without fear of consequence? The whole industry denies that poisoning is even happening!

We think the amnesty is being implemented so the Government can be seen to be doing ‘something’ but actually it’s just a bit of cynical window dressing in an attempt to delay taking the proper action that is needed. It’s just another excuse to do nothing.

And actually, this amnesty hasn’t been announced as a reaction to the recently-reported killing of the buzzard and the hen harrier. He announced his intention to launch an amnesty in his speech at the Police Wildlife Crime Conference several months ago. So what has he actually announced in response to the poisoned buzzard and the illegally-killed (probably shot) hen harrier? Absolutely nothing.

The Minister says he “won’t tolerate these criminal and selfish acts“. Sorry, Minister, but that is exactly what you’re doing.

If you feel strongly about this and agree that this government is still failing to address the widespread persecution of protected raptor species, we’d encourage you to email Mr Wheelhouse, cite the list of crimes (above) and demand he takes meaningful action or resign his position as Environment Minister. Email:

Another poisoned buzzard in Scotland

buzzard 3Scotland’s shameful catalogue of illegally-killed raptors continues to rise, with news today of yet another poisoned bird – this time a buzzard in Fife.

Here’s a press release from Police Scotland:

Police in Fife are conducting investigations after a dead buzzard was found in woods to the north of Ballingry in late April.

Enquiries at that time suggested the bird had died of natural causes but this was further explored by means of toxicology tests carried out by a Scottish Government laboratory.

This week it has been confirmed the bird died from ingesting a banned pesticide, and the matter has now been referred to the Police.

Detective Inspector Colin Robson, who is leading the inquiry, said: “The bird was found on land in an area commonly used by dog walkers. From the toxicology results, I believe it is probable that the bird has fed on an animal carcass deliberately laced with this poison. Such an act is both illegal and highly irresponsible in an area regularly used by members of the public, and the placing out of poison baits like this is indiscriminate in its victims. This illegal chemical is highly toxic, and the ingestion of even minute quantities by a wild animal or a pet is likely to have fatal consequences. Although relatively remote, I would urge anyone who frequents this area to contact the Police if they saw anyone or anything suspicious around this time or have knowledge of this or similar incidents. Since the discovery there have been no reported linked incidents locally and the area where the bird was found has been searched and there has no trace of the poison or other carcasses. Police Scotland are committed to tackling wildlife crime and this matter is being robustly investigated in close collaboration with partner agencies.”

Ian Thomson, Head of Investigations at RSPB Scotland said: “The recent incident on the Black Isle, where 22 birds of prey were killed, showed very clearly the horrendous impact that the illegal use of poisons can have on wildlife. It is of great concern that someone has placed a bait laced with this illegal chemical out in the countryside in an area well-used by the public and close to our own nature reserve at Loch Leven. I urge anyone who has information about this incident to contact the police as soon as possible.”

Brent Meakin, Forestry Commission Scotland’s district manager for the Lowlands said: “It is appalling that individuals are carrying out this illegal and barbaric practice. The persecution of raptors must stop. Any poisoning of these birds is one too many, no matter the species. We will continue to work with the Police and other agencies to stamp out this activity. The Commission would also like to ask the public for their help as they too can be our eyes and ears and report any suspicious activity.”


So, once again the name of the banned poison has not been made public, although from the comments made by Det Insp Robson, it sounds suspiciously like it was Carbofuran.

Shall we ask Environment Minister Paul Wheelhouse what he intends to do in response to this, and the other recently-reported raptor crimes from Scotland? It’s yet another illegally-killed raptor on his watch. Shall we ask him when he intends to actually address this issue, instead of making trite old threats that he’ll ‘deal with it if things don’t improve’? Things are not improving, despite the introduction of his ‘new measures’ a year ago, so it’s not unreasonable for us to ask our elected representative whether he’s as good as his word. Emails to:

UPDATE 15.00hrs: The specific location where the poisoned bait is suspected to have been laid out has been named as Benarty Wood, managed by Forestry Commission Scotland. Dog-walkers beware – see here for site info.

The Untouchables strike again: yet another illegally-killed hen harrier

HH Laurie CampbellHere we go again….a female hen harrier has been found dead on moorland near Muirkirk in south west Scotland.

The body was found on Tuesday evening close to a nest containing two live chicks. The cause of death? Police Scotland aren’t saying, surprise surprise.

Det Inspector Graham Duncan of Kilmarnock CID said: “Whilst at this time we cannot divulge how the bird was killed, we do believe it was the result of a criminal act and we need to establish why this has happened“.

For god’s sake, why can’t they say how it was killed? It was probably shot – what’s the point of hiding it, other than to appease an influential landowner? They’ll probably tell us it’s for ‘tactical’ purposes, but they know fine well, as we all do, that the chance of anyone being brought to justice for this crime is zero.

It’s just another example of what appears to be one massive cover-up job.

And what’s that about needing to establish why it’s happened? Is he for real? Perhaps he’d like to read the following article, published in the Herald in 2008(!!) about the illegal killing of hen harriers in the Muirkirk area:

Saturday 22 November 2008

‘Pathetic’ response to disappearing hen harriers: Government failing to stop landowners’ illegal killings.

By Rob Edwards, Environment Editor, Herald Scotland

One of Scotland’s premier birds of prey is facing almost terminal decline because government measures meant to protect it from persecution are failing.

The hen harrier, which used to be a familiar feature of the moorlands, is disappearing so fast that experts fear for its future, and have castigated the government’s wildlife agency, Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH), for its “pathetic” response.

Scottish environment minister Michael Russell has said he is “horrified” by the decline. SNH has defended itself by promising renewed action to crack down on wildlife crime and encourage better behaviour by landowners.

The plight of the hen harrier is nowhere better illustrated than across a vast swathe of southwest Scotland between Kilmarnock, New Cumnock and the M74. The area, known as Muirkirk and North Lowther Uplands, was declared a Special Protection Area in 2003 because of the richness of its hen harrier population.

In the 1990s the area supported 29 breeding females as part of one of the largest populations in Britain. By 2004, however, the number of breeding pairs had dropped to 21. The latest counts have found no more than 14 pairs.

Worse are the statistics for the number of young that the birds have successfully managed to fledge. The figure has plummeted from 44 in 2004 to just five in 2008.

Across Scotland, the number of home ranges occupied by hen harriers has fallen from 417 in 2004 to 264 in 2007, and the number of successfully fledged young from 630 to 383.

The figures were provided to the Sunday Herald by Scottish Raptor Study Groups, a network of dedicated experts who regularly monitors birds of prey across the country. They have few doubts over who is to blame.

Kenneth Sludden, secretary of the South Strathclyde Raptor Study Group, ascribes the “alarming” and “almost terminal” decline in Muirkirk and North Lowther mainly to “a concerted cull of raptors by gamekeepers, condoned by factors and landowners”.

He pointed out that SNH had a statutory duty to protect the birds in the area, and accused it of abjectly failing to do so. “The response from SNH management is cosmetic, condescending and pathetically inadequate,” he said.

According to Sludden, landowners were paid £100,000 or more of taxpayers’ money to help conserve hen harrier habitat. But he said the payments were having little effect, and that the monitoring of the work they were meant to fund was “haphazard, and at worse non-existent”.

Meetings with landowners had “descended into farce” after one apologised for arriving late because he had been “shooting a couple of hen harriers”, Sludden said. A gamekeeper also allegedly expressed hatred for the birds, describing them as “rats with wings”.

SNH’s local area manager, Ross Johnston, said he shared Sludden’s concern about the drop in the number of hen harriers. He promised to work with all those involved to develop a “local action plan” for Muirkirk and North Lowther.

“This will focus on raising awareness of the issues, funding positive action to help the hen harriers, carrying out surveillance, and conducting crime-analysis work and enforcement,” he said.

Environment minister Michael Russell said: “I was horrified to hear about the apparent decline in hen harrier numbers at Muirkirk and would be interested to hear more details about potential reasons as to why this has happened.”

The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) pointed out that across Scotland the hen harrier population was significantly lower than habitat and food supply suggested it ought be. “Human interference, especially illegal killing, is known to be the main factor causing this,” said RSPB Scotland’s Duncan Orr-Ewing.

“The Scottish government, SNH, the police and other agencies must redouble their efforts to identify and prosecute the culprits – while encouraging good land management practice.”

So there we have it. Six years on, it’s the same old story, in the same old area, and absolutely NOTHING has changed. The current Environment Minister, Paul Wheelhouse, is just as appalled as Mike Russell was, and yet…..and yet…and yet…it’s the same old platitudes, same old promises, and the killing goes on and The Untouchables are still evading justice.

Great, isn’t it?

Article about the latest killing can be read on the BBC here.

If you want to make a stand against the illegal killing of hen harriers, please consider signing this e-petition to get driven grouse shooting banned (sign here) and make plans to attend one of the public protests against hen harrier persecution taking place on 10th August (see here).

Photo of the hen harrier by Laurie Campbell.

Alleged ‘coordinated hunt & shooting’ of a hen harrier on a Scottish grouse moor

News has emerged today of an incident that allegedly took place on a grouse moor in the Cairngorms National Park, Aberdeenshire, over a year ago.

According to an RSPB press release, on May 30th 2013, two witnesses contacted Police Scotland about what they described as a “coordinated hunt” of a male hen harrier, which ended with the bird allegedly being shot.

Hen Harrier male Robin Newlin

‘They explained watching for almost three hours as two individuals, armed with shotguns, criss-crossed the moor, with at least one other individual directing them by radio from his vehicle to the location of where the bird was seen perched’.

Police Scotland launched an ‘investigation’ but apparently insufficient evidence meant that nobody has been charged.

Read the RSPB press release here.

It’s all so depressingly familiar.

The ‘investigation’ probably went something like this:

Police Officer: “Have you been shooting at hen harriers?”

Gamekeeper: “No comment”.

Police Officer: “Ok thanks, sorry to have troubled you”.

The Scottish Gamekeepers’ Association has issued a statement about this alleged incident – it’s exactly what you would expect from them – read it here. Apparently the alleged incident never happened and it’s unfair for the RSPB to blame gamekeepers for killing raptors blah blah blah.

Meanwhile, we’re still waiting to hear whether another gamekeeper, who allegedly killed a hen harrier in Aberdeenshire a year ago, will face prosecution. We blogged about his case being reported to the Crown in January this year (see here). It seems the Crown is taking its time to decide whether to proceed, which is quite surprising when you consider that hen harrier persecution is supposedly a wildlife crime priority. Seven months from the time of the alleged incident to report it to the Fiscal? Another five months (& counting) for the Fiscal to decide whether to proceed with a prosecution? Yep, it’s a real priority, isn’t it? Time is running out though – the Fiscal has until mid-July to decide what to do…

If, like us, you’re sick of all the denials, and all the failed ‘investigations’, and all the incidents that The Untouchables keep getting away with, you can sign this petition to ban driven grouse shooting (background info here, sign it here) and you can make plans to take part in one of several peaceful protests against hen harrier persecution – see here for info.

Photo of a male Hen Harrier by Robin Newlin.

Members of public foil attempt to poison peregrine family

dalkey_quarryAn attempt to poison a family of peregrines (two adults and four youngsters) at Dalkey Quarry, part of the Killiney Hill Park in Co. Dublin, has been foiled thanks to three observant members of the public.

On the evening of 11th June, three walkers noticed two pigeons in distress at the quarry, close to the well-known peregrine’s nest ledge. On closer inspection, the pigeons were found to be tethered with fishing line and had had their wings clipped to prevent them from flying. While rescuing the pigeons, a wet substance was noticed on the back of their necks. It is suspected that this was poison, placed there in a deliberate attempt to kill the peregrines. The substance is being tested at a specialist lab.

If it was poison, those members of the public are lucky not to have been affected.

Full details of the story can be found on the BirdWatch Ireland website here.

It wouldn’t be the first time this barbaric method has been used to kill raptors. In 2011, two buzzards and a sparrowhawk were killed in Ireland after being attracted to live tethered pigeons that had been smeared with the banned poison Carbofuran (see here).

Scottish gamekeeper accused of bludgeoning then stamping on buzzard that had been shot

scales of justiceA Scottish gamekeeper is facing trial over allegations that he bludgeoned and then repeatedly stamped on a buzzard.

William Dick, 24, of Whitehill Cottages, Kirkmahoe, Dumfries, denied the charges at Dumfries Sheriff Court last week. The alleged offences reportedly took place in Sunnybrae, Dumfries in April this year.

Dick also denies two charges of breaching firearms regulations by leaving a bolt-action rifle and a Beretta self-loading shotgun loaded with five shells out-with a secure cabinet in his kitchen.

The case has been continued for one month to fix a trial date.

Thanks to the blog reader who sent us a local newspaper report about this hearing.

We’ll be following this case with interest.

UPDATE: 15th October 2014 here

UPDATE: 22nd October 2014 here

Crikey! England has three active hen harrier nests!

HH by Gordon LangsburyHere’s some good news for a change – England has three active hen harrier nests this year!

Yes, it’s frankly absurd that a miserly three active nests can cause such celebration, especially when you put it in to context (it’s still less than 1% of the potential English population estimate of 330 pairs) but what the hell, three is three and it’s one more than last year, and we all need something to celebrate.

Two of the nests are reported to be on the United Utilities Estate in Bowland, Lancashire, following a two-year absence. The location of the third nest has not been revealed, probably for obvious security reasons.

The success of these nests is still a long way from certain – one is at the egg stage, one has young chicks and the status of the third has not yet been reported, but it looks like everything possible is being done to promote success with 24/7 nest watches, remote cameras and even a spot of diversionary feeding, all in partnership with the RSPB, local landowner, local council and Natural England.

IF any chicks manage to fledge, and that is a capitalised IF, there will be further concerns for the fate of those dispersing youngsters, especially if they decide to fly towards the grouse moors of Yorkshire where many that have gone before them have un-mysteriously ‘disappeared’….but for now, let’s just enjoy the palpable excitement of Blanaid Denman, the RSPB’s Skydancer Project Officer, as she explains the discovery of this year’s nests – read her excellent blog here.

And a big well done to Blanaid and her team, who have had to put up with so much undeserved criticism over the last few years, notably from one particular organisation that should know better.

If you’re new to this blog and you’re wondering why there are only three active hen harrier nests in England when there is the potential for over 300, click here to read some previous blog entries that explain why.

If you want to know what people are doing about this obscene situation (and more to the point, what YOU can do about it), we suggest you read this (and consider signing the petition) and this (and consider turning out to support these protests). Thanks!

Hen harrier photo by Gordon Langsbury.

Another suspected red kite poisoning incident in Northern Ireland

There’s more grim news from Northern Ireland this week with the discovery of a dead adult red kite on her nest, along with two chicks. Poisoning is strongly suspected.


The authorities were alerted to a potential problem at the Katesbridge nest in Co. Down by a sharp-eyed local resident who had been watching the nest from her house and was worried something had happened to the female.

The site was subsequently visited by members of the Northern Ireland Raptor Study Group, RSPB and the Police Service of Northern Ireland where they found the adult (wingtagged ‘Blue 13’) slumped on the nest, along with the two chicks. Their bodies have been sent for toxicology tests.

These birds were part of the small breeding population in Northern Ireland, reintroduced (with donor birds from Wales) between 2008-2010. The population is still tiny and is extremely vulnerable to illegal poisoning.

In 2013 alone, six dead red kites were recovered. Tests revealed that two had been poisoned with Carbofuran, three with Alphachloralose, and one was too decomposed for analysis but was found in the same (very small) geographical area as three of the others.

At least this time the police have issued a very quick alert (within 24 hours of the discovery), in sharp contrast to the 13-month delayed announcement about a poisoned white-tailed eagle that we blogged about a couple of days ago (see here).

As a side issue, this is our 1,000th blog entry. It’s a milestone, but unfortunately not one to celebrate.