SNH responds to query re: use of gas guns on grouse moors

Last week we blogged about the deployment of gas guns on grouse moors and how we were still waiting for guidance on their use from SNH and Natural England; guidance that had been promised before the start of the 2016 breeding season (see here). We were/are concerned that these devices were/are being used to deter hen harrier breeding attempts. If they were/are, this would constitute an offence of causing reckless or intentional disturbance.

Bird scarer 1 - Copy

SNH has responded with the following statement:

Thank you for your email.

I note your concerns about the use of propane gas guns, which may have the potential for disturbance of protected bird species. We are not in receipt of specific evidence of an impact on breeding or nesting birds but we would welcome any information you may have regarding this or any related concerns of improper use of gas guns. This information should be forwarded to Intentional or reckless disturbance of Schedule 1 nesting birds is an offence, and any suspected incidents of this through gas gun use should be reported directly to Police Scotland on 101.

Although we do not have specific information, we are working with Natural England to provide best practice guidance on the use of this equipment to minimise the likelihood or potential of disturbance in the vicinity of protected species. We currently expect to make this available later this month. The use of gas gun equipment is regulated by Local Authorities under the Environment Act and we are not currently considering separate licensing under the Wildlife & Countryside Act. We will, however, continue to assess on a case-by-case basis any licence application to disturb scheduled birds.

Thank you for your concern.

Andrew Bachell, Director of Policy & Advice, SNH

We found this statement to be contradictory and confusing. SNH says it doesn’t have any evidence of an impact on breeding or nesting birds. Has SNH investigated any of the previous reports it has received about these gas guns being used on grouse moors? If SNH hasn’t investigated, then of course no evidence will be available.

SNH says it wants to hear about any concerns but then says improper use could constitute an offence which should be reported to Police Scotland. Can anyone imagine Police Scotland investigating the use of a gas gun in the middle of a remote grouse moor? No, neither can we. And if the schedule 1 bird has already been ‘disturbed’ by the gas gun and has since cleared off, then if the police did miraculously attend, there’d be nothing to see anyway and therefore no evidence of an offence.

SNH says gas gun use is regulated by local authorities under the Environment Act. But this legislation relates to statutory nuisance, ‘noise emitted so as to be prejudicial to [human] health or a nuisance’. This legislation does not relate to the illegal disturbance of Schedule 1 birds.

SNH says it is working with Natural England to provide best practice guidance, but in a later response to one of our blog readers (see comment from blog reader Andrew here), SNH says ‘there is insufficient evidence to warrant the production of guidance’ and then admits that ‘SNH guidance is not enforceable by law should an individual decide not to adhere to it’.

SNH says it is not considering separate licensing under the Wildlife & Countryside Act ‘but will continue to assess on a case-by-case basis any licence application to disturb scheduled birds’. But if gas gun use is unlicensed, then nobody will be submitting a licence application for use because they don’t need to.

Confused? We are.

The best advice we can offer to anyone who finds a gas gun in use on a grouse moor in Scotland is to report it to RSPB Scotland. Email: [please note the underscore at beginning of email address] Tel: 0131-317-4100.

We’re still waiting for a response from Natural England about their gas gun ‘guidance’.

24 thoughts on “SNH responds to query re: use of gas guns on grouse moors”

  1. Surely some official body should have the authority (or nous) to make enquiries as to the objective of operating the gas-gun in this situation. Can anyone think of any purpose, other than that which we suspect, behind the gas-gun being there? Maybe the body which ought to be pursuing enquiries is the same one as has just, effectively, backed out of the matter.

    1. Like I said..they probably fell off the back of a truck…you could always take them back and install them in the estates lodges garden… Or the yard of the gamekeeper.
      Something I have heard was done…by my ehr…never mind.
      Council did not respond to my reports of a noise nuisance and pointed to the “guidelines”.

  2. Yes confused.
    I also had a contradictory reply from Andy Turner (spokesperson for Andrew Bachell)
    who wrote
    ‘To date SNH have received a total of 3 reports of incidents (date, location, circumstances). In our view this is not sufficient to warrant the production of guidance on gas guns ahead of the 2016 bird breeding season, independent to that already available via the NFU
    So another self regulated disaster on the uplands.
    Strange how self regulation only seems to apply to certain people.

      1. This was the self-regulatory part of the letter
        ‘At a Partnership for Action Against Wildlife Crime Scotland (PAW Scotland) Raptor Group meeting earlier last year all partner organisations were asked to pass any incidents relating to the deployment of gas guns on high grouse moor (where there is a potential to impact on breeding birds) to SNH for consideration as to whether guidance is necessary and if so, what form this should take.’
        Maybe the uplands should self regulate their own laws, have their own police and judiciary.
        Oh wait a minute they already have.

    1. A WCO with initiative (we have some down here south of the border) should soon be able to sort it out. A similar case, involving a quarry in Peregrine country, was quickly resolved by such means.

  3. Gas guns are used to prevent birds from feeding on crops, so I can see no reason for them to be sited on a moor ? Where is the conflict SNH, Ban them from moors.

    It seems to me, that ” best practice guides “, just means that the estates continue doing whatever they want. If you catch them, you just write another report, and have another meeting ? FINE THEM HEAVILY.

    Council environment departments seem to have no authority over farms or estates, at best, they will ‘have a word’, which is toothless, and everybody knows that…… waste of space.

  4. I’m not confused at all. This is exactly the sort of woolly response we’ve come to expect from SNH. Virtually any complaint about the behaviour of landowners or their agents is fobbed off with this sort of obfuscated reply. Not good enough. There’s a difference between not having teeth and not having a backbone.

  5. While its always wise to be concerned about specially protected birds, we should not AND neither should SNH, forget that all nests are protected. These guns are intended to deter or stop breeding, surely if any nest has been established then its an offence to disturb the nest? Even if its a species on the general licence, is this form of nest destruction by disturbance considered to be an approved method of control? The new environment minister is going to have to gird their loins. We need laws that are fit for purpose and we need a government conservation agency that cares about its job.

    1. You’re correct – There would appear to be conflicts of interest in trying to be all things …. These gas guns are potentially creating areas barren to wildlife maybe 1/4 mile radius or more around the set-up point.

      if the effective disruptive distance is 1/4 mile – the area affected is 125 acres.

      if the effective disruptive distance is 1/2 mile – the area affected is 500 acres.

      Clearly the further from the discharge the less the influence. Either way that’s an awful lot of habitat taken out of the system – What about it SNH ? – That took me 5 mins. Let’s see your working !

  6. circusmaxim makes a very good point. Section 1(1) of the WCA provides that a person intentionally destroying an active nest is guilty of an offence. This is a basic provision applicable to all wild species, unless licensed otherwise. There are two primary difficulties in relating the gas-gun issue to that legislation. It would appear that the act of disturbance has to be specific to a particular, already identified, nest. If the person setting up the gas-gun had his attention drawn to the fact that there was a specific nest, his act in proceeding with the disturbance of the nest could be held to have met the ‘intentionally’ provision. There then remains the question of whether his actions damaged or destroyed the nest. Would failure of the nest constitute damage or destruction? A smart-a*** lawyer would argue that the nest had not been damaged or destroyed, it still being intact. He might also argue that it was pure supposition that the failure of the nest occurred because of the presence of the gas-gun and that it might have been predated or failed due to adverse weather. A similar situation exists in relation to forestry operations carried out during the breeding season. Hundreds, if not thousands, of nests of ground or shrub nesters must be destroyed each year through massive tree-felling monsters rampaging through the undergrowth – yet no questions are asked. Precautions are only taken (sometimes) when there is a large identifiable nest up in a tree and these are not always effective.

    1. Same goes for the farmers’ actions where I live;
      they spread nitrate fertiliser on the land just at the time when Curlews are sat on eggs.
      I have evidence of paper sludge and sewage sludge being spread over rough grassland when Skylarks and Meadow Pipits (amongst other ground nesting birds) are nesting, large tractors crushing the soft vegetation, and this process permitted by the Environment Agency.
      Much of this land is under the CROW Act which says that between 1st March and 31st July dogs must be kept on a short lead (to protect ground nesting birds).
      I’ve reported such to the RSPB but they have showed no interest.
      And I thought the ‘P’ in RSPB stood for Protection?
      Say it all really.
      At least a Ban on Driven Grouse Shooting will be a start.

      1. Ditto Lapwings in the Lune valley, Lancashire. Tractors just mow all the nests with chicks. One hill farmer up a side valley goes around the field first and marks the nests and then mows around them but he is a very rare species. And again RSPB don’t show an interest presumably because someone has to write a paper about it. At least they could do a small scale survey and check out if it is true.

    2. It is an offence in Scotland to prevent a bird from gaining access to its nest, so the smart-arsed lawyer would have to get around that one by showing that loud explosions within the vicinity of a harrier nest would not have that effect.

      1. Jack Snipe is spot on! Section 50 and Schedule 6 of the Nature Conservation (Scotland) Act 2004 (the legislation which added ‘recklessly’ to the provisions covering disturbance of Schedule 1 species) added ‘obstructs or prevents any wild bird from using its nest’ to Section 1(1) of the WCA. It also amended ‘destroys’ to ‘destroys or or otherwise interferes with’ any nest covered by that Section.

        In England and Wales the term ‘recklessly’ was added to the provisions relating to disturbance of Schedule 1 species by the CROW Act 2000, but I can find no reference to any additions or amendments analogous to those referred to above.

        There was an interesting case reported from Cumbria recently whereby contractors, felling a tree close to a hedgerow in which there was a Blackbirds nest, possibly caused it to fail. They did not destroy either the nest or the young but they parked their chipping machine ‘immediately adjacent to the nest’. The existence and location of the nest was pointed out to the operatives, but they didn’t move the machine. Had there been a similar provision to the ‘obstructs or prevents any wild bird from using its nest’ in English legislation, there could well have been a case to answer. I had some correspondence with Natural England on that matter at the time and will now seek their views as to why legislation relating to England and Wales apparently does not incorporate such a provision.

  7. I asked Andy man for answers re SNH and gas guns.

    My email:

    I have been made aware of the use of propane powered bird scarers on moorland. This seems to be against the protection of birds act, especially for the rare and severely endangered Hen Harrier, the shooting estates seem so determined to eradicate.

    Why are these scarers allowed on moorland?

    Why has their use not been stopped when endangered species are likely to be disturbed from their breeding territory?

    Much more needs to be done to bring the shooting estates into the 21st century from their Victorian enclaves. Compliance with laws and environmental issues would be a start.

    Perhaps SNH should start with stricter control of these environmental terrorists, the shooting estates and bring them to justice when they do wrong. You know they do.


    Andy man answers with:

    SNH has recently published a statement on our website in relation to the use of gas guns, which will hopefully help answer your questions. The statement can be viewed at:


    Andy Turner


    Of course the GG’s will be in place to put off nesting hen harriers before nesting, therefore, no crime committed???? An easy acquittal for any lawyer to arrange. It stinks.

    Andy man gave no comment re the remainder of the email, I wonder why?

    1. Talk about ‘head in the sand’.
      It is almost as if they are saying a few Hen Harriers disturbed is not a big deal.
      No questioning what they are doing scaring birds in the uplands in the first place,
      The grouse lobby must be ecstatic.
      Maybe this man Mark Russell can wake this shower up.

  8. “…….. any suspected incidents of this (the offence of intentional or reckless disturbance of Schedule 1 nesting birds through gas gun use) should be reported directly to Police Scotland on 101”.

    Ah yes, that should guarantee immediate action followed by a prosecution then!!! Did anyone spot that cow flying across the moon just now?

  9. Do you not all think it highly unlikely that SNH have funds dedicated for the scientific investigation of misuse of of gas scarers, or for that matter the misuse of dustbin lids or trumpets. Where is your real world perspective? SNH have suffered the same cutbacks as most government departments. Misuse of a gas scarer whether on a grouse moor or in a public toilet is a police matter, if reported they are obliged to investigate wildlife crimes
    so just report it to the police.

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