General Licence Restriction suspended on Raeshaw Estate while judicial review underway

Regular blog readers will recall that in November 2015, SNH served two General Licence Restriction Orders on the Raeshaw Estate and Burnfoot Estate in response to alleged raptor persecution crimes (see here). This was the first time these GL restriction orders had been used since they became available on 1st January 2014.

The alleged offences on Raeshaw Estate, a grouse moor near Heriot, Scottish Borders, related to ‘the illegal placement of traps’. The alleged offences on Burnfoot Estate, a grouse moor in Stirlingshire, related to ‘the poisoning of birds of prey and illegal use of traps’. No criminal prosecutions were brought for any of these offences.

The GL restriction orders were due to run for three years, from 13th November 2015 to 12th November 2018, and would restrict the killing of certain ‘pest’ species (e.g. crows) that are usually permitted under the General Licence.

However, the restriction orders initially only lasted for six days because the estates appealed the decision (see here).

On 3rd February 2016, SNH reinstated the restriction orders after dismissing the estates’ appeals (see here).

On 7th February 2016, both estates denied any wrongdoing and indicated that they would try for a Judicial Review of SNH’s decision (see here).

It now appears that one of these estates (Raeshaw) has successfully applied for a Judicial Review, which is set to be heard on 20th May 2016. A Judicial Review is not about whether the principle of applying a General Licence restriction order is fair or unfair per se, but is more about the process underlying SNH’s decision. Did SNH act lawfully and follow the right procedures when it made the decision to apply GL restriction orders to these two estates? That’s what the court will have to decide. Obviously, the result of the Judicial Review, whichever way it goes, will have implications for the future use of the GL restriction order.

Meanwhile, in another twist, the GL restriction order on Raeshaw Estate has once again been suspended while the Judicial Review is underway. It’s not clear to us who instigated this suspension. The Estate may have applied for a temporary suspension to enable the killing of ‘pest’ species at this crucial time of year. Or, SNH may have decided to temporarily suspend the restriction order for fear that, if the Judicial Review goes against them, they may be subject to a lawsuit by the Estate for loss of earnings.

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The Burnfoot Estate does not appear to be directly involved in the Judicial Review, which makes sense because the decision from the Raeshaw judgement will be equally applicable to Burnfoot so two Judicial Reviews on the same subject would be a waste of money. So consequently, the General Licence restriction order on the Burnfoot Estate is still in place – they are not permitted to kill ‘pest’ species as they would have done under the General Licence. We know from a recent FoI that SNH has not received any applications for an individual licence that would permit individual gamekeepers to carry out ‘pest’ control on this estate.

Let’s hope the Judicial Review for Raeshaw on 20th May results in a timely decision and that we don’t have to wait for months on end for a pronouncement. We’re pretty sure that there are other potential General Licence restriction orders for other estates sitting in SNH’s ‘pending folder’ (at least there should be) but, understandably, SNH may be reluctant to begin proceedings while this Judicial Review is still underway.

RSPB complaint sparks European legal action over grouse moor burning

This morning the European Commission has taken the first steps in legal infraction against the UK Government in relation to the burning of blanket bog in Special Areas of Conservation (SACs) in northern England.

The legal action follows separate complaints by the RSPB and Ban the Burn (from Hebden Bridge) in 2012.  These complaints related to decisions made by Natural England over the management and protection of part of the South Pennine Moors SAC and Special Protection Area owned and managed by the Walshaw Moor Estate Limited for grouse shooting.

Since then the RSPB has discovered that Natural England consent to burn protected blanket bog is confined to and almost routine on grouse moors in 5 SACs in Northern England.  This is part of the intensification of management of these special areas witnessed in recent years to produce increasing numbers of red grouse for driven grouse shooting. (See details of RSPB’s complaint here). These consents from Natural England are estimated to affect around 73,000 ha of deep peat soils that should be conserved as healthy blanket bog. The burning undermines the ability to restore these internationally important habitats, and protect their wildlife and associated ecosystem services.

This map shows the areas of concern: white areas show blanket bog in Special Areas of Conservation where Natural England has consented to burning; brown areas denote deep peat. The large circle denotes Walshaw Moor. Map source: RSPB (here).


While the details of the European Commission’s legal action is not yet known, it appears the Commission shares the concerns of the RSPB and Ban the Burn over bad application of the Habitats Directive and presumably the EC is not satisfied that the UK’s proposed actions would be sufficient to safeguard and restore the protected blanket bog habitats of European and global conservation importance.

The European Commission’s action is a significant step in reforming the way our hills are managed and securing the long-term conservation of these important areas. The RSPB and Ban the Burn both deserve credit and appreciation for pushing this forward and it’ll be fascinating to see how the grouse shooting industry and their friends in UK Government respond.

Martin Harper, RSPB’s Conservation Director has blogged about this news today (see here). But it’s a blog of two halves. The first half demonstrates that the RSPB has got plenty of backbone and isn’t afraid to act, undoubtedly against the wishes of DEFRA and Natural England, when it sees fit to do so. That’s brilliant.

But in contrast, the second half of the blog is utterly bewildering. Here Martin reiterates the RSPB’s softly softly approach to dealing with the illegal persecution of hen harriers on driven grouse moors. He maintains that DEFRA’s Hen Harrier Recovery Plan ‘offers a real chance of progress’. We fundamentally disagree, particularly on the subject of brood meddling, which essentially is just legalised persecution.

What we really struggle to understand is how anyone, especially a senior RSPB employee, who has seen that video of an armed man, on a grouse moor, with a decoy hen harrier, can still think that the grouse shooting industry is capable of compromise and reform. It so clearly isn’t.

E-petition to ban driven grouse shooting HERE

Peak District National Park Authority responds to decoy HH video

The Peak District National Park Authority has responded to the video of the armed man, with a decoy hen harrier, on a grouse moor within the Peak District National Park.

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Sarah Fowler, PDNPA Chief Executive, had initially responded very quickly on Twitter, saying the video was “alarming and suspicious“.

The PDNPA has since published a full statement on its website, as follows:

Our position on the illegal persecution of birds of prey.

There has been a great deal of comment on social media regarding the illegal persecution of birds of prey in the Peak District National Park.

Without getting into the details of the specific incident that sparked this latest debate, I want to make clear in the strongest possible terms that we are appalled by the persecution of any protected species, whatever the circumstances.

There is never any excuse for this behaviour and we will always work with the police and our other partners to support any investigation. But it is important to point out that we can only take direct action if the persecution takes place on land owned by the National Park Authority not just within the National Park boundary. In fact on land where we own the shooting rights we have not allowed shooting since 1981 allowing agreements to expire. This current incident was not on National Park Authority owned land.

We recently acknowledged the disappointing results of the Peak District Bird of Prey Initiative and we are working with our partners to reverse the fortunes of birds of prey.” Sarah Fowler, Chief Executive, PDNPA.

It came as a bit of a surprise to us that the Peak District National Park Authority doesn’t, actually, have much (any?) authority, at least on this issue. It’s good to hear they don’t permit shooting on land they own, but as that only amounts to 5% of the Peak District National Park it’ll make some difference, but not a lot.

Since reading this statement, we’ve been doing some reading-up on the role and powers of a National Park Authority, and we’re kind of left wondering ‘what’s the point’? Well, there is a point and a role for the PDNPA, but mostly, it seems, in planning. Incidentally, during our recent research we found a fascinating retrospective planning application that relates to some work that has already been carried out on a grouse moor within the PDNP. It highlights the role that the PDNPA does (or could) play in the way these grouse moors are managed, regardless of ownership…but more on that in a different blog.

We also found this amusing news item on the PDNPA website. How the hell they managed to win this award is anyone’s guess. Apparently the Peak District National Park ‘has been monitored to ensure that sensitive environments and species are being properly looked after to preserve wildlife and landscape diversity’. Er, perhaps the judges should have a read of this. It documents the complete failure of the Peak District Bird of Prey Initiative over a number of years. Having seen the video of that armed man on a grouse moor with a decoy hen harrier, it’s not hard to work out where the problem lies.

So it seems, as Mark Avery pointed out yesterday, that it’s now all eyes on the National Trust as the only organisation with any power to take direct action, subject to the findings of their investigation. Their decision on how to respond could have important ramifications. This could get very interesting indeed.

By the way, it was good to see the BBC picked up on the video of an armed man, on a grouse moor, with a decoy hen harrier, and they gave the story significant prominence on the front of their ‘England-News’ website yesterday (here).

The petition to ban driven grouse shooting has passed 33,000 signatures. Is your name on it? Do your friends know about it? Your family? Your colleagues? Don’t assume they know about it – put it in front of them! PETITION HERE.


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For those who don’t know, the blind lady is Amanda Anderson, Director, Moorland Association.

Her companion is Robert Benson, Chairman, Moorland Association.

Thanks to the blog reader who sent this in. Priceless!

If you want to see more hen harriers in our uplands, where they belong, take the guide dog’s advice (nothing wrong with his vision) and sign the E-petition to ban driven grouse shooting HERE

Another red kite shot in North Yorkshire

North Yorkshire Police are appealing for information after the discovery of a critically injured red kite near Harrogate.

The wounded kite was discovered on Saturday 23rd April 2016 on farmland near Nidd, Harrogate and was taken to a specialist vet. X-rays revealed it had been shot. The vet believed the bird had been shot while in flight and had survived, unable to fly, for up to two days.

Unfortunately its injuries were so severe the kite had to be euthanised.

Press release from North Yorks Police here.

A big well done to the police for getting this appeal for information out so quickly – kite found on Saturday, press release (with photos) out on Wednesday. That’s a fantastic response.

Sick to the back teeth of hearing about the illegal killing of raptors? Help bring it to an end by signing this e-petition calling for a parliamentary debate on the future of grouse shooting – HERE

Red kite shot Harrogate April 2016

Red kite shot Harrogate x ray April 2016

Moorland Association response to armed man with decoy hen harrier on a grouse moor

The Moorland Association (A sad morons coalition for you anagram fans) has issued a statement in response to yesterday’s video of an armed man, on a grouse moor, with a decoy hen harrier.

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Statement from Amanda Anderson, Director:

The Moorland Association condemns all acts of wildlife crime and supports the prosecution of those who break the law.

We were not aware of the events leading to the release of this video clip but understand it is alleged to have been filmed in February. We learnt yesterday that since then the police have conducted their enquries and have decided to take no further action. We were not contacted as part of that investigation. From the clip, it is very difficult to make out any detail at all, either of a person or a decoy.

The identity of any person allegedly filmed is unknown, as is the location. No crime has been committed as far as we can see. Making judgements based on assumptions of the content of this clip, or indeed the intentions of those who have produced it, would be pure supposition and not something we are going to enter into“.

So there we have it. A predictable, complete and utter denial from the organisation representing grouse moor owners.

According to Amanda, she found it difficult to see the armed man or the decoy hen harrier. Perhaps she had a bit of medicated grit in her eye, and its toxic properties have corroded her retinal cells, because everyone else who’s seen the footage (or at least those who don’t have a vested interest in protecting the grossly damaging activities of the grouse-shooting industry) has been able to see an armed man sitting on a grouse moor, close to a decoy hen harrier.

Sure, the image quality is poor, but then it was filmed from a distance of 1km so all things considered, it’s actually pretty good. And it was good enough for the police to launch an investigation, it was good enough for the National Trust to launch an investigation, and it was good enough for the Chief Executive of the Peak District National Park Authority to tweet yesterday: “This video is alarming and suspicious“.

Perhaps we can all have a whip round to help pay for some urgent corrective eye-surgery for Amanda?

Actually, that would be pointless. No amount of surgery can help someone with wilful blindness, for that is what she, and the rest of the grouse-shooting industry, is suffering. This contrived ignorance is as deliberate as it is predictable.

We asked yesterday whether the Moorland Association’s claims about operating a zero tolerance policy towards hen harrier persecution were sincere or fake. The answer is evident.

All negotiations with this outfit should cease immediately. There’s no compromise to be had here, their intentions are clear. The Raptor Groups and the RSPB should pull out of the failed Peak District Bird of Prey Initiative charade and stop pretending that there’s any hope of effective partnership-working with these people. There isn’t.

There is hope for change though. And that comes in the form of getting a political debate on the future of driven grouse shooting. 100,000 signatures are needed to bring about that debate; we’re almost one third of the way there already. Make your voice heard, sign this petition and ask others to sign too (HERE).

Let’s show these charlatans we mean business.

National Trust response to armed man with decoy hen harrier on a grouse moor

The National Trust has issued a formal statement in response to the video of an armed man on a grouse moor sitting next to a decoy hen harrier.

Remember, this wasn’t just any old grouse moor. It was a  National Trust-owned grouse moor, within the Peak District National Park, and a participant moor in the Peak District Bird of Prey Initiative.

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Statement from Jon Stewart, General Manager, National Trust (Peak District):

As part of our High Peak Moors Vision and as a conservation charity, the National Trust is committed to protecting birds of prey and working closely with partners and tenants in managing the moors. We are aware of a report of a suspicious incident being investigated by the police, which took place in February this year on land in the Peak District which we own and lease out for grouse shooting.  We have been awaiting the results of their investigation before following up ourselves.  We now know the police have reviewed the footage but are taking no further action, so we will now be carrying out a full investigation of our own. We are treating this very seriously and will not be commenting further pending the results of that investigation.”

It’s good that they’ve bothered to issue a statement, and it’s good that they are launching their own ‘full investigation’, although it would have been better had they launched this investigation back in February, when they were first made aware of this video. They needn’t have waited for the results of the police investigation to launch their own internal investigation.

Nevertheless, they’ve said they’re investigating and they’ve said they are treating this “very seriously”, so let’s see just how seriously they’ll manage this. They know the identity of the estate where the footage was filmed (on the Snake Moors, according to a comment given by the NT to Mark Avery this morning), and presumably they have a contract with the shooting tenant of that estate that will allow them to take action against the tenant if there is evidence to suggest the tenant has breached the conditions of the contract.

As we understand it, the National Trust re-assessed its contracts with its three grouse moor tenants within the Peak District National Park following the earlier case of raptor persecution that was uncovered on the NT Howden Moor, resulting in the conviction of gamekeeper Glenn Brown (see here). It is rumoured that the revised contracts include a clause detailing the specific type of predator control techniques permitted on NT land. We wonder if the use of a decoy raptor was specifically mentioned in the new contract?

We await the findings of their investigation, and news of what action the NT will (or won’t) take with great interest. Let’s hope they get this right.

Red kites shot in the Thames Valley

Thames Valley Police are appealing for information after the discovery of two injured red kites, both suffering from shotgun wounds.

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Both kites were discovered in Oakley Wood, near Crowmarsh Gifford, Wallingford, Oxfordshire. One was found on 29th March 2016 and the second was found on 5th April.

Both are now in the expert care of Tiggywinkles Wildlife Hospital.

The Police have revealed that a third red kite had been found in the same wood on 22nd March 2016, although the cause of death is not known.

Anyone with information is asked to call  Thames Valley Police on 101, quoting reference #URN 372 06/04/16.

Well done to Thames Valley Police for issuing an appeal for information (here).

Photographs of the two injured kites and their x-rays provided by Tiggywinkles.

Raptor persecution and social media

British Birds logoThere’s an interesting editorial in the current edition of British Birds.

Written by RSPB Senior Investigations Officer Guy Shorrock, it’s about the use and role of social media in tackling the endemic problem of raptor persecution – see here.

Well done also to British Birds for including another short piece on raptor persecution and for promoting the e-petition to ban driven grouse shooting.

Faking it

On Wednesday 24th February 2016 at around 11am, two birdwatchers were out walking on the moors in Derbyshire hoping for a view of a ringtail hen harrier that had been reported in the area the day before.

One of these birdwatchers spotted a grey raptor with black wing tips, perched approx. 1km away and the observer believed he was looking at a male hen harrier. As he was explaining the location to his colleague so he too could see the bird, his colleague said: “An armed man dressed in camouflage has just jumped in to the heather no more than 10-20m from the bird”. Both observers scanned out from the bird and saw the armed man crouching in the heather, and they also noticed a green Land Rover parked on the moor, approx. 500m from the bird.

The two observers sat and watched for a few minutes while deciding what to do, and then managed to film some footage via digiscope. Here’s a still image from that footage:

Fake Hen Harrier (1) - Copy

As soon as the two observers had stopped filming, the armed man immediately ran over to the bird, picked it up and walked hurriedly away in the opposite direction to the observers.

What the two observers had witnessed was, of course, a fake hen harrier. Some might call it a decoy, but that would imply that the fake hen harrier was being used as a lure to draw in a real male hen harrier who would probably want to attack the decoy as part of his territorial defence strategy. While the real hen harrier was busy attacking the decoy, anybody crouched nearby with, say, a shotgun, would be given an easy opportunity to shoot and kill the real bird.

But surely that’s not what was happening on this moor. This isn’t just any moor. We’re not going to name the moor/estate because we need to protect the identities of the two observers and also the identity of the person who sent us the footage. However, Derbyshire Constabulary is aware of the location, as is the National Trust. What we can say is this moor is a driven grouse moor, on National Trust property, within the Peak District National Park. It is also part of the Peak District Bird of Prey Initiative.

What’s the Peak District Bird of Prey Initiative? It’s a partnership approach to restoring raptor populations in the area, established in 2011 following concerns (here and here) about declining raptor populations in the Dark Peak. The partners include the Moorland Association, Peak District National Park Authority, English Nature, National Trust, the RSPB, and more recently, Derbyshire Constabulary. So far the Initiative has failed spectacularly (see here).

But all is not lost, as according to a statement by Amanda Anderson, Director of the Moorland Association:

We are renewing our action plan and redoubling our efforts to ensure that this brings improved results.  The partnership has also agreed that this work needs to be extended to cover other species, notably goshawk and hen harrier, and to include the South West Peak.”

And Sarah Fowler, Chief Executive of the Peak District National Park Authority said:

We will be using the new rigour and energy recently brought to the project to seek to restore breeding success of our iconic bird of prey species in the National Park. We will be seeking a greater level of commitment from partners in the Initiative to reverse the fortunes of birds of prey.”

Nope, nothing there about using a decoy hen harrier to lure in a real hen harrier so it can be killed, illegally, with ease, so there must be another explanation.

Perhaps the grouse-shooting industry will tell us that the decoy hen harrier was being used legitimately to lure in crows. Crows and other so-called ‘pest’ species would be attracted to a decoy raptor as they’d try to mob it in an attempt to harass the ‘predator’ into leaving the area. Luring in crows with a decoy would allow a gamekeeper to lawfully shoot the crows at close range. But hang on, let’s think about this. Gamekeepers already have several methods of luring crows, e.g. crow cage traps, Larsen traps, clam traps etc, all of which are effective techniques and don’t require the gamekeeper to be present for hours on end, thus freeing up his time to undertake other ‘vital conservation’ work such as torching the heather or spreading toxic veterinary medicines across the moor. And why choose a male hen harrier as the decoy species and go to all the trouble of having to make it? Why not use a readily available crow decoy that can be bought online for a couple of quid? Or a plastic eagle owl decoy, also cheap and readily available to buy at most garden centres? Nope, ‘It’s a hen harrier decoy to attract crows’ would be a wholly implausible explanation. There must be another reason why this armed man was observed crouching near a fake hen harrier and why he took off with it as soon as he realised he’d been seen.

Perhaps this armed man’s behaviour was part of DEFRA’s Hen Harrier Recovery Plan? Er, nope, can’t see anything in the plan that says sitting with a shotgun close to a fake hen harrier will contribute anything towards this species’ recovery. There must be another explanation. But what can it be?

Why don’t we ask some of the partners in the Peak District Bird of Prey Initiative, and some of the organisations signed up to DEFRA’s Hen Harrier Recovery Plan, what, exactly, they think is happening in this video?

Do they think it might show the preparation of an imminent wildlife crime? Even though the footage doesn’t show illegal activity per se, the observed scene has all the hallmarks of potentially turning in to something much more sinister. Don’t know about you, but it makes us wonder about those five male hen harriers that ‘disappeared’ last summer.

All of these partners and organisations have said, repeatedly, that they operate a ‘zero tolerance’ approach to illegal raptor persecution, so now’s their opportunity to demonstrate it. What action, if any, do these organisations intend to take in response to this footage? Their responses (which we’ll publish here) will tell us whether they’re serious about implementing a zero tolerance approach or whether they’re just faking it.

So, two questions. How do the individuals (below) explain what is happening in this video, and what action do they intend to take? Emails please to:

Sarah Fowler, Chief Executive, Peak District National Park Authority:

Jon Stewart, General Manager, National Trust (Peak District):

Amanda Anderson, Director, Moorland Association:

James Cross, Chief Executive, Natural England:

Martin Harper, Conservation Director, RSPB:

Sgt Darren Belfield, Police Wildlife Crime Coordinator (Derbyshire Constabulary):

Philip Merricks, Chairman, Hawk & Owl Trust:

Andrew Gilruth, Director of Communications, Game & Wildlife Conservation Trust:

Rory Stewart, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State, DEFRA:

For those of you who share our view of what was probably going on in this video, you might want to consider joining 31,000+ people who have had enough of this disgraceful charade by signing HERE

UPDATE 11.20hrs: Mark Avery’s view on what should happen next – here

UPDATE 27th April 2016: National Trust response to video here

UPDATE 27th April 2016: Moorland Association response to video here

UPDATE 28th April 2016: BBC news has an article on this story here