Scottish Moorland Group still in denial about hen harrier persecution on grouse moors

dunceThe Scottish Moorland Group (SMG) has today issued a press statement which refutes the findings of the latest scientific study that has shown hen harriers are being wiped out on Scottish grouse moors in North-east Scotland.

This is no surprise, of course. What is surprising is the ‘evidence’ (ahem) put forward by the SMG to dismiss the findings of the study. Here is their press statement:

Moorland group denounces ‘deeply flawed’ hen harrier report

The Scottish Moorland Group today denounced a report by a raptor study group claiming that sporting estates had virtually exterminated hen harriers in the North-East of Scotland.
The report, which was published using data from Aberdeenshire and Moray, is deeply flawed and shows a lamentable lack of evidence.

Tim Baynes of the Scottish Moorland Group said: “There are serious problems with this report, most notably that there has been very little Harrier surveying conducted recently in the area, with only 4% of harrier breeding areas covered in 2014. The authors identify 118 harrier breeding areas which they have traditionally surveyed but by 2012 only 38% of these were being covered, in 2013 it had decreased to 10% and by 2014 the number covered had halved again.

“We work with Scottish Natural Heritage and others in the Heads Up for Harriers Partnership and in 2015, five grouse moor estates were asked by the project to host nest cameras to determine the causes of Harrier nest failure, some of which were in the north east of Scotland.  In all cases nest failures were shown on camera to be due to weather or fox predation – nothing to do with human disturbance.

“Sadly, this seems to be another instance where raptor study groups have made little or no attempt to engage with land managers who could have helped their research. Even once data is produced, it often incomplete or only selectively shared in an attempt to besmirch grouse moor management. Looking backwards in this way is really unhelpful when collaborative initiatives are being developed by other organisations to ensure a more positive future.”


So, let’s start with Tim (Kim) Baynes’ assertion that “there has been very little Harrier surveying conducted recently in the area, with only 4% of harrier breeding areas covered in 2014. The authors identify 118 harrier breeding areas which they have traditionally surveyed but by 2012 only 38% of these were being covered, in 2013 it had decreased to 10% and by 2014 the number covered had halved again“.

It seems that Tim (Kim) is unable to read and/or comprehend scientific papers. Had he read the actual paper, he would have seen the following statement:

There was thorough coverage of all suitable Hen Harrier breeding habitat during 1980-2014” (with the exception of one area where coverage was incomplete between 1980-1987).

He would also have read the following statement:

Annual coverage was thorough and the vast majority of Hen Harrier breeding attempts were believed to have been recorded“.

So why would Tim (Kim) say that survey coverage of hen harrier breeding areas in 2012, 2013 and 2014 was only 38%, 10% and 5% respectively? Well, it appears that Tim (Kim) has chosen to ignore the methods section of the paper (there is a reason the methods section is there, Tim, it tells you how the data were collected!) and instead looked elsewhere to find some data that, on the face of it, support his claim of incomplete survey coverage. His data sources are the annual reports of the Scottish Raptor Monitoring Scheme, which do indicate that the number of checked hen harrier home ranges during this period is lower than the claims made in the paper. You can imagine Timbo, or one of his idiot subordinates, finding these data and thinking, ‘Yeah! We’ve got them now! Let’s write a press statement!”.

What thicko Tim (Kim) has failed to comprehend is (a) the data provided in the SRMS annual reports are grossly under-recorded (because not all raptor workers submit their data to the SRMS because they don’t trust SNH to use the data wisely – see earlier post on SNH’s failure to designate the Ladder Hills as a Special Protection Area for hen harriers!) and (b) the primary survey data used in the hen harrier scientific paper were collected by the papers’ authors. They did not rely on the SRMS data for their calculations. If they had done so, they would have mentioned this in the methods section of the paper. They didn’t mention it, because, they didn’t use SRMS data – they used their own! Is that simple enough for you to understand, Tim? By the way, what are your scientific credentials? Are you suitably qualified to assess the scientific rigour of this, or any other scientific, peer-reviewed publication? No, thought not.

Let’s now turn to another statement in Tim’s press release:

We work with Scottish Natural Heritage and others in the Heads Up for Harriers Partnership and in 2015, five grouse moor estates were asked by the project to host nest cameras to determine the causes of Harrier nest failure, some of which were in the north east of Scotland.  In all cases nest failures were shown on camera to be due to weather or fox predation – nothing to do with human disturbance“.

Again, at face value, this appears to support the grouse-shooting industry’s claims that illegal persecution isn’t an issue for hen harriers on grouse moors. But Tim’s statement doesn’t tell the whole story. It doesn’t tell you that those five grouse moors were in fact, not driven grouse moors. i.e. they were not intensively managed for grouse-shooting and neither were they on the radar as raptor persecution hotspots. So actually, the results from these nest cameras don’t tell us anything about the impact of persecution on hen harrier breeding success on estates where we know hen harrier persecution is endemic. What we’d like to see, as the Heads up for Hen Harriers project goes forward, is nest cameras being placed on driven grouse moors in areas where persecution is known to happen. It is pointless, propaganda-fuelling bollocks to place cameras on nest sites in areas where persecution isn’t an issue (walked-up grouse moors) and then use those results to claim that persecution isn’t an issue on driven grouse moors.

Gift of GrouseTalking of propaganda-fuelling bollocks, has anyone read this piece on the Gift of Grouse website? [UPDATE 8th Feb – the linked article is no longer available as its author has asked the Gift of Grouse website to remove it]. It’s a personal account of a young lad’s first ever experience on a driven grouse moor – Invermark Estate – last summer. James Common was there for three months as part of a team of ecologists (headed up by a gamekeeper’s daughter) employed to document biodiversity on the estate. We’ve already blogged about the (lack of) credibility of that team’s report (see here) but this latest article is more of a personal perspective of his time there.

Isn’t it interesting that Tim (Kim), who directs the Gift of Grouse project, would seek to discredit a scientific, peer-reviewed paper authored by acknowledged, experienced experts, but doesn’t question the ramblings of a young, inexperienced ecologist straight out of college?

As you’d expect, James’ account is very positive about management for driven grouse shooting (if it wasn’t positive there’s no way the Gift of Grouse project would be promoting it!) but it reveals an incredible level of naivety. For example:

Hen harriers also performed admirably – shimmering males and roving ringtails were found with relative ease. Indeed, if these popular moorland denizens had not been present, I may have worried, but they were and so I stand fully content“.

Jesus. If this is the level of ecological curiosity displayed by a young graduate in the conservation sector then there’s no hope. Did he not think to question why, if the hen harriers were so prevalent, they haven’t bred successfully in the Angus Glens since 2006? Apparently not.

Now, Invermark Estate is certainly not the worst estate in the Angus Glens, although it’s had its moments (see here). It is one of the less intensively-managed estates in the region and as such, the level of biodiversity should be relatively good, in comparison to some of its neighbours at least (although where are its breeding hen harriers??). However, James thinks that it’s ‘a tad unfair’ that this ‘good’ estate is unfairly ‘tarred and feathered’ alongside other grouse moor estates where raptor persecution is frequently uncovered. That’s a fair enough comment, although he doesn’t mention that this estate has aligned itself with other, less impressive estates, under the banner of the Angus Glens Moorland Group. If Invermark Estate has chosen to closely associate itself with other estates where raptor persecution crimes keep cropping up, then why the hell should we make any distinction between them?

At least James has the sense to recognise that illegal raptor persecution does happen on some driven grouse moors. That’s more than can be said for Tim (Kim) and his cronies at the Scottish Moorland Group. Does he not realise that by continuing to deny the 30+ years of scientific evidence, his group just looks complicit with it all?

Addendum 7th February 2016 11pm:

For the amusement of those of you not on Twitter, the following is an exchange from earlier this evening featuring Scottish Land & Estate’s CEO, Doug McAdam, who seems to think that data published in a scientific, peer-reviewed paper don’t qualify as ‘verified’, whatever that means. He aborts the discussion when it gets a bit tricky….

Rob Edwards @robedwards53: Hen harriers virtually exterminated on sporting estates in northeast Scotland, says experts. [Links to his article in the Sunday Herald].

Doug McAdam @DougMcAdam: Well “the experts” study seems to be based on very limited data. Comment from Scottish Moorland Group here [Links to SMG press statement].

Simon Brooke @simon_brooke: Hold the front page, wrongdoers say their accusers are biased.

Doug McAdam: Have you even read/looked into the study? Other who have comment here [Links to Gift of Grouse blog].

Simon Brooke: They would say that, wouldn’t they? Do not look to partisan blogs for informed opinion.

Doug McAdam: So you haven’t read/researched it. Thought not.

Simon Brooke: No, I haven’t. Fortunately others have [Links to RPS blog]. Read it and weep. For shame.

Doug McAdam: I rarely put any store in blogs or accusations from anonymous sites. That site is no exception!

Simon Brooke: So we are to trust a pro grouse-shooting blog, but not an anti-crime blog? I wonder why.

Doug McAdam: I’m not telling you to do anything. Anonymous blogs lack credibility and are treated as such.

Simon Brooke: Given that all the assertions in the blog I indicated are easily verifiable….

Doug McAdam: I guess that’s where we differ on this. It hasn’t been verified at all. Accusations without evidence worthless.

Simon Brooke: Have you read the paper? The methodology section either does say what the blog claims it says, or it doesn’t.

Doug McAdam: Read blog you quote, your answer is there. Data not reported to SNH, kept secret etc. Just bizzare. Over and out.

Simon Brooke: It’s hardly ‘kept secret’ if its published in an academic journal.

Doug McAdam: I’m talking about the actual survey data. It’s not officially reported or recorded. Offline now. G’nite.

21 thoughts on “Scottish Moorland Group still in denial about hen harrier persecution on grouse moors”

  1. Thanks again for bringing this to our attention with the usual inimitable RPS style. Could this not be put out as press release, it carries a far greater sense of reality and surely might be picked up by one or two in the media?
    One wonders what young James’s credentials are and what prompted such naivety and motivated him to enter such an arena – clearly doesn’t have aspirations to work in credible conservation employment!

  2. Tim….before you spout such drivel….you should remind yourself why you actually attend the PAWS “heads up for harriers” meetings.
    You can’t acknowledge a serious problem in one breath then deny the problem with the next. When you do display this gross insincerity you shouldn’t be surprised that nobody Trusts or believes a word you say?

  3. I have read some of James Commons little essays. They have me grinding my teeth as he regurgitates a considerable number of clichés and assertions that were old hat before he was born. The most recent I saw was I’m sure an unintentionally condescending piece on how conservation organisations must learn to involve local communities in their work – really James thanks for telling us we would never have thought of that! Of course the implicit criticism here is that conservation organisations don’t do this, the regular as clockwork accusations from the estates and their lackeys that the RSPB, JMT etc never listen to locals, put wildlife before people blah, blah ad nauseum. Funny they never give any evidence or examples of this, ever. Conservation organisations the new lairds rather than estate owners who seem to think it’s OK for road users to have an increased risk of serious or fatal collisions so they can have loads of deer to make it easy to shoot them.

    Having an unquestioning graduate essentially telling the rest of the world what a good egg the estates really are is obviously something they think is a bit of a propaganda coup. Bert Burnett loves promoting his scribblings and I have a genuine fear that James will look back one day and utterly cringe with embarrassment, maybe that will serve him right, but I can’t help feeling a little sorry for him. The Gift of Grouse has been such an empty, empty shell, but for anyone that doesn’t have the full picture may buy into it especially when a tame ecologist can be produced to support it. So this report is to be really welcomed and hopefully the first of many truly professional ones showing what a load of crap the estates are trying to feed us, GoG’s vacuous claims need to be challenged publicly and loudly and often.

  4. Baynes has been peddling this sort of utter tripe for years and years. He used to do it here in England for the Countryside Areliars before he moved jobs to Scotland. it is of course a cynical attempt to pull wool over the eyes of the uninitiated on behalf of the persecutors and as such he is quite clearly complicit. Surely the piece here must be used as a press release ( in shortened form) to counteract his self interested drivel WE all know the only real problem for harriers is persecution on driven grouse moors all the other problems ( weather, foxes and eagles etc.) are natural problems their biology is designed to cope with.

  5. Very soon ,as I have perhaps ,indicated , there will be a dedicated group formed to counter any crap spouted by Angus Glens Moorland Group who will monitor closely what goes on in these glens. I can only hint at the level of insider info that is coming our way.And yes from genuine sources . Watch this space . Bear in mind they only have to make one mistake regarding the killing of raptors and if recorded and reported by methods which we have been trained to collate and record for scientific purposes and supported by the legal system then they are FUCKED.

  6. Another devastating critique of Mr. Baynes attempt at spin which starkly illustrates his lack of understanding as to how things are done in the scientific world. I think the point should be made that he issued his statement without either checking the facts or communicating with the authors of it. That’s a bit like asking Mike Tyson’s team, and only his team, if he had been unfairly disqualified when he bit off part of an ear during a boxing match and getting an affirmative. It is increasingly obvious that he is simply issuing sound bites to suit his agenda rather than in any way trying to solve the hen harrier problem.
    My sympathy for James Common stems from his youth and the probability that his time at Invermark was closely controlled and extra efforts made to make him feel at ease with estate workers. As was reported in your blog the team of ecologists was supervised by a head gamekeepers daughter but you forgot to mention that her uncle is still employed as a gamekeeper on that estate. Vested interests? Surely not!! I read a FB blog a short time ago on Shooting and Fishing Company site page and he was referred to, outwith his presence, as “our” ecologist by those participating in the exchange. Didn’t he wonder as to why there were no other experienced ecologists who had a history of work in that area … or on grouse moors at the very least? Did he not ask himself why the other team of ecologists working in tandem with them on Glen Ogil Estate were from Germany which has zero grouse moors with which to compare their findings? It is far easier to fool the inexperienced when duping folk to follow a pre-ordained outcome. What strikes me about the claims made are that they are virtually meaningless in a scientific context unless their papers were peer reviewed … yet Mr. Baynes quotes the conclusions freely in his bid to dupe public opinion on to his side. Maybe those papers will yet see the light of day when they can be fully scrutinised by other interested parties. Did he not wonder when his first post Invermark offer of work came from a shooting magazine. Like Les, I, too, have read some of Mr. Commons offerings on his blog and do feel he is sincere but again, like Les, I feel the day will come when he might cringe in embarrassment. Let’s hope he has the steel to change course when the full extent of the manipulation he has been subject too becomes inescapable.

    P.S. Would Patrick Barkham of The Guardian be interested in Kim’s manipulations. He seems the type that might be tempted to publish the truth?

    1. Hi George,

      Believe it or not, I was unaware of many of the facts mentioned in your comment above. – Some of which are news to my ears. – I of course bow to the superior knowledge and wisdom of the people commenting here and may well have to reevaluate my tendency to speak before thinking. I had not thought myself naive but perhaps I was wrong.

      I am glad you see that my intentions are pure, they are. Though perhaps I should dig a little deeper in future before making assumptions.

      All I can do is learn from this experience (and take the abundant criticism on board).


      1. James please don’t beat yourself up over this, at worst you have taken people at face value and treated them decently when they may not have deserved it. I think you’ll find we are angry at them not you, and there are certainly things I’ve done and said I cringe with embarrassment to remember, most of us probably do. Having spent time on an estate will give you a very important perspective that will help inform your opinions on how we go forward from here, hands on experience I will never be able to match. As well as the excellent RPS site there are several fb pages I think you’d get a lot out of joining, an awful lot of discussion and information shared – they are Save the Free Beavers of the Tay, Reforesting Scotland and Rewilding Scotland. Mark Avery’s Standing up for Nature blog is also excellent. All the best!

    1. Foxes might be a problem if and when the moor predator controls come off though, a short term one to be sure, give it a couple of years and foxes would not be a problem again but in the immediate short term of turning the predator controls off a minor problem. The real problem will be the keepers and their supporters screaming “I told you so, we need to shoot everything that moves, silly econuts” when the first picture of a fox with a hen harrier in its mouth gets published in the Telegraph, Mail, or P&J. They’ll use that for major pushback, and we’ll need to be ready.

      The best way to control fox numbers is to reintroduce wolves.

      1. I agree – if gamekeepers stuck to doing legal vermin control there wouldn’t be a problem. And yes the likes of wolves would be of great benefit in controlling them too as has been proven in the US and elsewhere

      2. Lynx would probably do a good job of controlling fox numbers too (although probably not so good on moorland!) And a good point to throw back at the anti lynx comments from the usual suspects that they’ll snaffle up capercaillie. One lynx on the continent was found to have eaten a caper……and 37 foxes!

        1. The biggest threat to capercaillie is deer fencing, because they fly into it and die or it just prevents them meeting mates. Of course if we remove the deer fencing the deer eat the remaining bits of forest, but if we bring back wolves (and lynx, bear, and maybe leopard but that last one is dubious fossil-wise) then we wouldn’t need deer fencing to keep deer off forest fragments. Of course the other reason we have deer fencing is to keep them in certain segments of estates for canned hunting which the estate owners pretend is like wild stalking. The forest thing is really just an excuse estate owners use to get the latter.

          Of course a big problem with reintroduction of wolves and other predators is farmers. Farmers are also a major raptor killing group too. We need to deal with farmers harshly as well as gamekeepers and estate owners.

  7. Hi Guys,

    I thought I should reply to this so here it goes; this piece was never intended as a pro-shooting outpouring, nor a justification of persecution. It isn’t. I wrote this for Fieldsports when asked to give a personal perspective of my time on Invermark, not to comment on other estates etc. At the time (a few months back) I thought this rather harmless, simply highlighting a positive experience, now, with it being used to such an extent by the shooting fraternity I fear my initial point has been lost entirely. Something I am not comfortable with. If anyone has an email address for Tim Baynes I would much appreciate it.

    Re. George M – I am already cringing in embarrassment. I am indeed sincere in my intentions and have no connections to the shooting community besides my stay on Invermark. Some of the comments on here have however set me to thinking. Particularly those referencing the surveys. Perhaps I have been naive and there may well be a lesson in here somewhere.

    I would like to also clarify that I was unaware Harriers were not breeding in the Glens until after I submitted this piece. We did see Harriers but like you say, this means nothing without a background dataset.

    I apologize if what I thought was a harmless article, highlighting a positive experience has caused offence. All of the above comments will be taken on board.



      1. Could it also be convenient to drop you a private message on Twitter? Appears I have much to learn and I would like to engage your thoughts on a few things.

        Thank you for the email.


  8. I was waiting for the anti-fox comments to appear, but still disappointed to see them. If we want to allow nature to take its course, ethically we can’t start to pick and choose or we’re simply adopting a similar approach to the very gamekeepers we criticise. It is natural for Hen Harriers to be predated by native predators, and although I understand the logic that says we should redress the balance of nature which we have disturbed, if we go down that line we’re being hypocritical, not to mention the process being eternal. I’ve heard gamekeepers so often putting forward the same argument regarding raptors, the usual “they’ve got no natural predators” nonsense. In principle I don’t have a problem with reintroducing wolves, which would probably reduce the fox population to some degree, but do advocates really believe that wolves will displace or prey upon foxes but leave ground nesting birds like harriers alone? A number of studies have assessed the predation level by foxes, and it works out at no more than one in three harrier nests failing due to fox predation (probably less than the impact of human persecution), where foxes are uncontrolled; a far smaller number succumb to mink or stoat predation, and even fewer to “weather”, which tends to be blamed when no other specific factor has been identified. Some scientists from the Langholm project suggest that crows are “vicious predators” of harrier chicks, but offer no scientific or observational evidence to support that assertion, and in approximately 160 harrier nests closely monitored I have never witnessed a single such incident. Neither have my closest colleagues in my local raptor study group. I can’t say it never happens, but if it does it must be very rare. Remove human persecution from the equation and natural predation does not inhibit recruitment, so going down the route of fox control serves no fruitful purpose, and only generates further controversy and confusion. The use of chemical deterrent has apparently been successful at a few experimental sites, but there are questions over the legality of its use so I would not recommend it. I know it’s hard to accept when we keep watch on “our” harrier nest and it is predated by a fox, but we shouldn’t get too emotional about it. Foxes and harriers have co-existed since time immemorial, just like harriers and grouse.

    1. I don’t think either fox or pine marten for that matter are the real cause of the decline in caper and other birds, it’s just a good point that larger predators can prey on or displace smaller predators so the claim that bringing back lynx will be a danger to ground nesting birds can be contested, a valid point to counter nonsense. IF there is any genuine imbalance re predation a wider range of predator species will help correct it. There’s some evidence that otters have suppressed the numbers of smaller mink, another point many keepers don’t like being told. I also believe there’s a world of difference between what the RSPB do, very carefully considered predator control – fencing and culling, when there seems to be a genuine problem, e.g possibly inflated fox numbers caused by access to waste food or perhaps some of the 50 million game birds released into countryside each year and the rabid let’s kill predators ‘solution’ to every problem advocated by the Tweed set. The hypocrisy of those saying we must cull pine marten to save caper who simultaneously push for bird killing deer fencing for woodland regeneration rather than proper deer culling is staggering, but we are used to that aren’t we?

      1. I don’t know why the English Hen Harrier recovery strategy doesn’t include the release of eagles to disperse “to dense” harrier populations…rather than brood maladministration?

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