Hen Harrier spin: 2

In public relations, spin is a form of propaganda, achieved through providing a biased interpretation of an event or campaigning to persuade public opinion in favour or against some organisation of public figure. While traditional public relations may also rely on creative presentation of the facts, “spin” often implies the use of disingenuous, deceptive, and highly manipulative tactics” [Wikipedia].

HH the facts sga - CopyYesterday (Hen Harrier Day 2015), at 10:03hrs (3 seconds after over 5.6 million thunderclap messages about missing hen harriers were beamed around the world), the SGA posted this image on their Facebook page.

Here’s the text:

Hen Harriers – The Facts

  • In the last 40 years there has been a 17% increase in the breeding distribution of Hen Harriers in the UK.
  • In 2010, the most recent national survey year, there were 662 nesting pairs in the UK with 505 or 76% of those in Scotland.
  • Between 1992 and 1997 Hen Harriers in Langholm Moor rose from 2 to 20 pairs in 6 years on a driven grouse moor. When gamekeepers were removed Hen Harrier nests crashed to 2.
  • The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species rates Hen Harriers as a species of least concern due to its extremely large range.


Here are some missing facts from a government report that they forgot to include:

  • The potential national hen harrier population in Scotland is estimated (conservatively) to be within the range 1467-1790 pairs.
  • The current national hen harrier population in Scotland as recorded during the most recent (2010) national survey is 505 pairs, more than a 20% decline from the numbers recorded during the 2004 national survey.
  • In Scotland, the hen harrier has a favourable conservation status in only five of 20 regions.
  • Two main constraints have been identified: illegal persecution, and in one region, prey shortages.
  • The species is particularly unsuccessful in the Central Highlands, Cairngorm Massif, Northeast Glens, Western Southern Uplands and the Border Hills. There is strong evidence in these grouse moor regions that illegal persecution is causing the failure of a majority of breeding attempts.

Now, this claim of the species being classified as ‘Least Concern’ is often trotted out by those trying to downplay the seriousness of the species’ conservation status in the UK. It is an accurate statement in as much as this is what is written on the species’ IUCN Red List entry (from where the quote is taken), with the addition of one important statement conveniently left out by the SGA – under the heading ‘Major Threats’:

Persecution is an important threat locally, notably on game preserves in Scotland (del Hoyo et al. 1994)”.

The species’ IUCN listing is fine to use if you want to stick to a species’ global conservation status and ignore its European and UK conservation status. If you look at the IUCN global status for the three wader species for which the grouse shooting industry is often claiming to be the one and only saviour, the IUCN listings also give little cause for concern:

Lapwing – listed as Least Concern. Estimated population c. 5,200,000-10,000,000 individuals. Major threats include land use intensification, pollution and hunting. [Note, no mention of raptors being a major threat].

Curlew – listed as Near Threatened. Estimated population c. 77,000-1,065,000 individuals. Major threats include afforestation, agricultural intensification and hunting. [Note, no mention of raptors being a major threat].

Golden Plover – listed as Least Concern. No population estimate given. Major threats include cultivation and afforestation, severe weather conditions and hunting. [Note, no mention of raptors being a major threat].

So, on the basis of suggesting that the hen harrier’s conservation status is of ‘least concern’ on a global scale [and therefore why all the fuss of losing an almost entire breeding population in England and between 66-72% of the Scottish breeding population?], the statement is equally as applicable to those three wader species, right? We shouldn’t be concerned about any of them because on a global scale they’re all doing just fine, right?


Fortunately, government and non-governmental organisations are a lot more clued in and understand the concept, and importance, of national, regional and local biodiversity. Indeed, the Westminster and Scottish Governments have a statutory responsibility for ensuring that national biodiversity targets are met and maintained (although you wouldn’t know it by their continuing failure to address illegal raptor persecution). Rather than use the broad-based IUCN Red List as guidance, they look to more detailed and relevant assessments such as the UK ‘Birds of Conservation Concern’ scientific review. In this document, the hen harrier and lapwing are red listed, and the golden plover and curlew are amber listed.

It’s quite telling, isn’t it, that those with a vested interest in driven grouse-shooting should continue to not only deny their involvement in the catastrophic loss of hen harriers across the UK, but also continue to downplay its conservation significance.

Please sign the petition to ban driven grouse shooting HERE

Hen Harrier spin: 1

In public relations, spin is a form of propaganda, achieved through providing a biased interpretation of an event or campaigning to persuade public opinion in favour or against some organisation of public figure. While traditional public relations may also rely on creative presentation of the facts, “spin” often implies the use of disingenuous, deceptive, and highly manipulative tactics” [Wikipedia].

The Scottish Gamekeepers’ Association issued the following press release yesterday lunchtime. Here it is in full:

Estate hope Harriers on their moor are fine after Harrier Protest.

A Perthshire estate hopes a Hen Harrier protest staged next to their ground yesterday (sun) will not have bothered the Hen Harriers which have fledged on their grouse moor.

Campaign groups gathered at Glen Turret reservoir near Crieff to highlight the plight of the birds, three days before the start of the grouse shooting season.

The lobby groups believe some of the birds of prey are being killed on grouse moors because they feed on wild red grouse and their chicks.

However, the estate adjoining the site where the protest was staged has successfully fledged Hen Harrier chicks on its grouse moor this year and are hopeful the protest will not have disturbed the young birds which are just beginning to hunt independently.

An estate spokesperson said: “It was great to see people that share the same interest as ourselves in Hen Harrier conservation. The future definitely lies in co-operation between land managers who produce birds such as Hen Harriers and those who wish to see and enjoy them.

“We regularly have Harriers here on our grouse moor and we are lucky to have had successes this year, despite the weather. Naturally, our concern is for the birds because we have had nests of differing species abandoned, due to members of the public or photographers visiting the nests.

“We have restricted the activities of the estate around the nests so the birds get the best chance they can to grow and hunt in peace. Obviously, the gamekeepers will be checking the area to make sure the young birds are fine, but we are hopeful everything has gone off, well.”

The estate bordering the protest was audited recently, with RSPB counts in 2012 showing 9 raptor species on the grouse moor, 6 of which are known to have bred.

The estate is also a haven for other birds with two species of eagle recorded.


It’s fascinating that the SGA is attempting to infer that a group of peaceful protesters might ‘disturb’ some birds on an adjacent site by standing in the rain for a couple of hours, chatting, miles from any nests. No mention then of the start of the grouse shooting season in three days time where large groups of beaters will be marching across the moor waving flags, shouting and whistling as they scare (‘drive’) any bird in their path (but notably red grouse) towards a line of grouse butts where another load of people will be standing with guns to blast the birds to bits. Which activity do you think is likely to cause the most ‘disturbance’?

But what’s particularly interesting about this press release is the claim that there was a successful hen harrier breeding attempt on this driven grouse moor this year. Why is this interesting? Well, because the one known hen harrier breeding attempt on this site actually failed about a month ago [cause of failure unknown].

Now, of course, it’s possible that there was a second hen harrier breeding attempt on this estate, and that the raptor workers who closely monitor this site just missed it, and that the breeding attempt was successful and that there are indeed now young hen harriers “which are just beginning to hunt successfully”. If that is the case, then presumably the estate will have notified SNH’s ‘Heads up for Hen Harriers Project’ because, like all good Scottish sporting estates, this one will be keen to cooperate (we’ll be blogging more about the Heads up for Hen Harriers project in a separate ‘spin’ blog, to be posted later).

Up until a few years ago, this estate was part of the Operation Countrywatch Partnership – we blogged about it here and applauded their efforts. Funny thing is, this estate pulled out of the project shortly after it was suggested that nest cameras could be installed at hen harrier nests to better understand the causes of breeding failure regularly being recorded in this area. However, it was probably just a complete coincidence that the estate pulled out at that time and there will undoubtedly be an unrelated and perfectly reasonable explanation for their withdrawal.

Also interesting to note the final sentence of the press statement. Two species of eagle have indeed been ‘recorded’ on this estate (note the ambiguous choice of word – ‘recorded’ can mean a breeding attempt but it can also mean something was simply observed flying over/passing through). Just for the record, there aren’t any officially recorded white-tailed eagle breeding attempts on this estate, but golden eagles have certainly bred there in the past. Funny thing is, this year the golden eagle nest site was burnt out and the eagles moved to another estate for their breeding attempt. Those spontaneously combusting nests are a real problem on driven grouse moors, it seems.

The photograph shows some of the people who attended the Hen Harrier rally in Perthshire yesterday. Well done to those who organised it and also to those who turned out to support it.

HH Day Perthshire 2015

Happy Hen Harrier Day!

IMG_6311 (2)

Well done Mark Avery and Susan Cross for organising an extraordinary Hen Harrier Evening in Buxton last night. More on this later, but special mention to the Wilde family for their brilliant props including a massive gin trap, poison bottle and a life-size grouse butt. They must have spent many many hours creating these.

The grouse butt will be relocated to the Goyt Valley this morning for the Peak District Hen Harrier Day rally.

Good luck to everybody organising or attending a Hen Harrier Day event today – the fight back is really on.

Simply no red grouse at M&S this year

Mon 20 July CopyMarks and Spencer has announced it won’t be selling red grouse in its stores for the second year running. Excellent!

Read their statement here.

It’s quite interesting that the reason given is “because of the cold wet spring and the toll this took on red grouse on our single estate in the Scottish Borders, we won’t be selling grouse this year – as a responsible retailer, we believe that conserving the birds this year is the right thing to do. We intend to stock grouse next year, assuming the weather allows us too! [sic]”.

It’s hard to imagine that if M&S really wanted to sell red grouse they wouldn’t be able to find another stockist – there are over 400 grouse moors in the UK. Do they really only source their grouse from one (as yet unnamed) estate in the Borders? Are they saying that the other 400+ grouse moors don’t meet the requirements of their (as yet un-described) Responsible Sourcing Code? Or is what they really mean that they can’t find any grouse moor in the UK that meets the requirements of their Responsible Sourcing Code but they don’t want to say that for fear of a customer backlash/possible boycott by those who support grouse shooting? If so, using the ‘poor weather’ as a reason is quite clever as it keeps all customers happy: ‘we’ are happy because they’re not selling red grouse and ‘they’ [grouse industry supporters] are happy because M&S isn’t publicly saying that red grouse is an unethical, unhealthy and unsustainable product (which it is).

Whatever, we’re delighted that M&S won’t be stocking red grouse this year and we also applaud them for trying to develop a new Responsible Sourcing Code – we look forward to finding out just what that code entails in due course.

Six successful hen harrier nests in England this year: some perspective, please

hh LAURIE CAMPBELLIn response to the Telegraph’s wholly inaccurate article yesterday (see here), Natural England has issued a press statement outlining the breeding status of hen harriers in England this year.

The statement headline reads: ‘Hen harrier breeding season set to be most successful for 5 years’. On a superficial level, this sounds great, and for those who only read headlines rather than the details, they’d be forgiven for thinking that hen harriers are doing OK so what’s all the fuss about?

Perhaps this was the intended outcome by the person(s) tasked with writing the headline. It’s certainly played in to the hands of several organisations, linked with driven grouse shooting, who have been happily tweeting this ‘good news’ story.

But what’s the reality? You have to read further than the headline for that. It turns out that there were six successful hen harrier breeding attempts this year in the whole of England. Those six successful breeding attempts have produced 18 fledged chicks. Is this the most successful for five years? Technically, yes. If you look at the figures provided in the press statement (see here) then six successful nests is more than the four successful nests in 2011, one in 2012, none in 2013, and four in 2014.

But let’s just get some perspective here. We’re talking single figures. Less than ten, and certainly a lot less than the estimated 330 breeding pairs that a Government-funded report says England has suitable natural resources to support. Think about it. Six successful nests in the whole of England. In comparison, at Langholm this year there were also six successful nests, producing 17 young (see here). That’s six successful nests on a single grouse moor. And, notably, on a grouse moor that is being managed as a demonstration project, i.e. hen harriers are not being killed there. That’s pretty revealing.

That only six hen harrier nests have been successful in the whole of England this year is a bloody disgrace. It’s not a cause for celebration and it’s not ‘a positive step forward’, as suggested by Natural England. It’s a clear indication that the English hen harrier population is still being suppressed as a result of illegal persecution. No amount of superficial ‘good news’ headlines from the Government agency responsible for protecting hen harriers will change that.

The e-petition calling for a ban on driven grouse shooting (in England) is nearing 10,000 signatures, the number required to trigger a response from the Westminster Government. It would be terrific if that number could be reached before Hen Harrier Day this Sunday. If you think that six successful hen harrier nests in the whole of England this year is something to be ashamed of, as opposed to something to be celebrated, please add your voice here.

Going back to that made-up story in the Telegraph yesterday, Mark Avery has written some amusing opinion pieces that are worth a read: see here, here and here.

Gamekeeper accused of making death threats with firearms

Ralph Sturgess gamekeeperGamekeeper Ralph Sturgess is on trial for allegedly making death threats to his girlfriend after putting her in a headlock and pressing a loaded pistol to her forehead.

Hull Crown Court heard yesterday that after an evening at the pub, Sturgess, a former gamekeeper on Lord Hotham’s Dalton Estate in East Yorkshire, took pot shots at a noisy owl before attacking his girlfriend.

He has denied the charges. The trial continues.

Further details here

Scottish gamekeeper convicted of killing buzzard

Billy Dick gamekeeper Newlands Estate - CopyThe long-running case against Scottish gamekeeper William (Billy) Dick concluded today with a conviction for illegally killing a buzzard.

Dick, 25, of Whitehill Cottages, Kirkmahoe, Dumfries, had been observed by two witnesses on the Newlands Estate striking a buzzard with rocks and then repeatedly stamping on it, in April last year. The observers were alerted to the scene by the sound of a gun shot. Dick had denied the charges (in addition to two alleged firearms offences, which were subsequently dropped) but was convicted today at Dumfries Sheriff Court.

He will be sentenced in early September.

Well done to the SSPCA and Police Scotland for their investigation and to the Crown Office for a successful prosecution.

We understand that a vicarious liability prosecution will get underway at Dumfries Sheriff Court later this month.

The Newlands Estate offers driven partridge and driven pheasant shooting. This estate has previously donated to the GWCT’s Scottish Auction (see here – page 23).

While we wait for the sentencing hearing, here are some questions you might like to ask:

1. Is/was Dick a member of the Scottish Gamekeepers’ Association? Emails to: info@scottishgamekeepers.co.uk

2. Is Dick still employed on the Newlands Estate? Emails to: awbd@newlandsestate.co.uk

3. Is the Newlands Estate a member of Scottish Land & Estates? They get a mention in the SLE’s 2013 newsletter (here – page 10). Emails to: info@scottishlandandestates.co.uk

The photograph of Billy Dick was sourced from his Facebook page.

Previous blogs on this case here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here

Henry’s tour day 79: The RSPB, slurs & lies

Mon 3 Aug Copy

Henry received a warm welcome from his friends at the RSPB HQ at The Lodge (photo by Guy Shorrock).

The RSPB has faced an increasing amount of criticism in recent months, from both ‘sides’ of the Hen Harrier ‘issue’.

Some from ‘our side’ have been critical because the RSPB has, so far, refused to sign up to the call for a ban on driven grouse shooting and instead has called for a system of grouse moor licensing. The RSPB’s CEO, Dr Mike Clarke, re-emphasised this position in a speech he made at the CLA Game Fair last Friday (see here). It’s a position that many of us find bewildering and some of us would say the criticism is thus deserved but, as public pressure grows, the RSPB may well re-evaluate its stance. Indeed, Dr Clarke said: “But the longer it takes any industry to address its problems, the stronger those calls [to ban driven grouse shooting] will become“.

Whatever your view on licensing or banning driven grouse shooting, it seems pretty counter-productive to attack an organisation that is doing a great deal of work on ‘our side’ for hen harriers (e.g. see list here), instead of aiming our ire squarely at the organisations responsible for the loss of, literally, thousands of hen harriers through shooting them, trapping them, bludgeoning them to death, poisoning them, burning out their nests and stamping on their chicks. Doesn’t it?

Other criticism of the RSPB has emerged from a group calling itself You Forgot the Birds, fronted by ex-cricketer Ian Botham and funded by the British grouse industry. We’ve blogged about them previously (here, here). In today’s Telegraph (see here), an article penned by ‘journalist’ Javier Espinoza claims that a forthcoming government report (by Natural England) will criticise the RSPB for failing to protect six hen harrier nests this year and, further, that ‘the remaining six successful nests – which were on or next to grouse moors – had no RSPB involvement and performed well’.

That’s very interesting. We’ve spoken to Natural England and have been told no such report exists, nor is one planned. In addition, we also know that the six remaining hen harrier nests in England this year were NOT all on or next to driven grouse moors – far from it!

Mr Espinoza seems to have taken a press release issued by YFTB and just published it without doing any fact checking. Not really a surprise from the Telegraph but an indication of the desperate measures being employed by the British grouse industry. They’re rattled, and so they should be. The social media Thunderclap timed to coincide with Hen Harrier Day (this Sunday) will see over five million simultaneous messages going out at 10am saying ‘We’re missing our hen harriers – and we want them back’. That message will be seen by over five million social media users – there’s still time to sign up and help increase the public reach – sign up here if you have a facebook or twitter account.

The British grouse industry is also rattled by the current e-petition to ban driven grouse shooting, which is doing well – please sign it here.

Gamekeeper accused of wildlife crimes on Glenogil Estate, Angus Glens

Glenogil sign RPSCopyA Scottish gamekeeper is facing charges of wildlife crimes alleged to have taken place in the Angus Glens last year.

William Curr faces charges that he set or failed to check the snare that trapped a deer for more than 24 hours on the Glenogil Estate last year, and that he failed to remove it. It is understood the animal died.

The 22 year old, of Game Keeper’s House, Glen Trusta, will appear at Forfar Sheriff Court on 20th August where he will also face charges that he failed to keep a record of finding a deer in the snare at Glen Trusta between 26th – 29th August 2014.

It is also alleged that Curr failed to check another snare for more than 24 hours, during which time a fox became trapped and died of dehydration between September 24th-26th 2014.

Curr did not appear or make a plea to the charges when the case called at the court on Thursday.

Depute fiscal Jim Eodonable intimated the matter would continue without plea for three weeks, after a letter from solicitors Levy & McRae asked for more time to take instruction.

We’ll be following this one with interest.

Photograph by Raptor Persecution Scotland.

Scottish farmer convicted of shooting buzzard

BZA poultry farmer in the Borders who shot a buzzard, claiming he had mistaken it for a carrion crow, has been fined £600.

Michael Harrison, 70, of West Linton, Peebleshire, who runs an egg production facility, told Sheriff Jamie Gilmour at Edinburgh Sheriff Court on Wednesday, “I just made a mistake. I shot at this crow and it came down, but when I saw it was a buzzard, I was mortified. I was born in the countryside and brought up on a farm. All my life I have been a wildlife supporter”.

Harrison had pled guilty under the Wildlife & Countryside Act to ‘intentionally or recklessly’ shooting the buzzard in November 2014. He also pled guilty to injuring the buzzard by standing on its wing – presumably in an attempt to ‘control’ it when he realised the bird was still alive. The buzzard’s injuries were too severe for it to survive and it had to be euthanised.

Sheriff Gilmour said he would reduce the fine from £900 to £600 because of Harrison’s early guilty plea and allowed seven days for payment. He told Harrison: “It is important you identify your quarry. That is an important part of shooting”.

It’s farcical that a buzzard could be mistaken for a carrion crow, especially if it’s in close enough range for it to be shot and especially if the person pulling the trigger claims to have been born and brought up in the countryside and should therefore be capable of basic bird identification skills. In light of this conviction, presumably Police Scotland will not renew Harrison’s shotgun certificate? Yeah, right.

Well done to the SSPCA for their prompt investigation of this crime, which was crucial to gather evidence, and to the Crown Office for a successful & speedy prosecution, leading to a rare conviction for the actual shooting of a protected species. The penalty, as usual, is at the low end of the scale (max penalty of £5,000 and/or six month custodial sentence).