Gas gun in use on grouse moor in Peak District National Park

As regular blog readers will know, we have an interest in the use of propane gas guns on grouse moors in the English and Scottish uplands.

For those who don’t know, propane gas guns are routinely used for scaring birds (e.g. pigeons, geese) from agricultural crops – they are set up to deliver an intermittent booming noise and the audible bangs can apparently reach volumes in excess of 150 decibels. According to the Purdue University website, 150 decibels is the equivalent noise produced by a jet taking off from 25 metres away and can result in eardrum rupture. That’s quite loud!

The grouse-shooting industry has claimed these are used for scaring ravens, but we argue they are more likely to be used (illegally) to disturb hen harrier breeding attempts. We are interested in the deployment of these bird scarers in relation to (a) their proximity to Schedule 1 (and in Scotland, Schedule 1A bird species) and thus any potential disturbance to these specially protected species and (b) their use in designated Special Protection Areas and thus any potential disturbance caused.

We, and others, have previously blogged about specific instances of gas gun use on grouse moors (e.g. see here and here) and we’ve been pressing the statutory nature conservation organisations (Natural England & Scottish Natural Heritage) to issue urgent guidelines on their use, so far without much success (see here, here, herehere and here).

Meanwhile, grouse moor managers are still using these gas guns. The following photographs were taken on Sunday 22 May 2016 in the Peak District National Park:

Gas gun 1 Broomhead - Copy

Gas gun 2 Broomhead - Copy

Gas gun 3 Broomhead - Copy

Gas gun 4 Broomhead - Copy

This gas gun is on the Barnside Moor, which is part of the Broomhead Estate, owned by Ben Rimington Wilson, a spokesman (see here) for the grouse-shooting industry’s lobby group the Moorland Association. The grouse moors of the Broomhead Estate are part of a regional Special Area of Conservation (SAC), Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) and Special Protection Area (SPA), designated as a site of importance for short-eared owl, merlin, and golden plover.

Now, what’s interesting about the placement of this particular gas gun is that it lies a few metres outside of the SPA boundary, although the gas gun is pointing towards the SPA:

SPA OS - Copy

SPA close up - google map - Copy

What’s interesting is whether this gas gun was deliberately placed outside of the SPA boundary, to avoid having to ask Natural England for deployment consent? Although we would argue that even though the gas gun isn’t placed directly within the SPA, it is placed directly adjacent to it and the noise from that gas gun will definitely resonate across the SPA boundary line, potentially disturbing ground-nesting species such as short-eared owl, merlin and golden plover, for which the site was designated. (Hen harrier is not on the site’s designation list, presumably because when the site was designated, there weren’t any hen harriers nesting there, even though this is prime hen harrier habitat!).

But even though the gun isn’t directly placed within the SPA, it does sit (just) within the SSSI boundary:

SSSI close up - google map - Copy

This leads us to believe that the deployment of this gas gun will require consent from Natural England as it falls under the list of ‘operations likely to damage the special interest of the site’, namely, ‘change in game management and hunting practice’.

Has Natural England given consent for the deployment of this gas gun at this site? If so, how has it justified that deployment? If Natural England hasn’t given consent, is the deployment of this gas gun contrary to section 28 of the Wildlife & Countryside Act?

We don’t know the answers to these questions because we’re still waiting for Natural England to publish its policy on gas gun use, even though this guidance document was promised before the start of the 2016 breeding season!

Natural England needs to pull its finger out, pronto, and publish clear guidelines for use. If you’d like to email Alan Law, Natural England’s Chief Strategy & Reform Officer (he’s the guy who last September told us the guidelines would be available by early 2016) and ask him where that guidance document is, here’s his email address:

You may also remember that a couple of weeks ago, SNH gave their opinion of what we should do if we found a gas gun being deployed on a grouse moor (see here). It was a very confused statement, but part of their advice was that intentional or reckless disturbance of a Schedule 1 species (such as hen harrier or merlin) is an offence and any suspected incidents of this through gas gun use should be reported to the police.

In our view, this would be a big waste of time – we can’t see the police having any interest in investigating gas gun use, and even if they did, they probably wouldn’t know where to start. But, just as a test case, why don’t we report this gas gun to South Yorkshire Police as a suspected wildlife crime (potential reckless or intentional disturbance of a Schedule 1 species) and let’s see what they do with it.

Here is the information you need:

Gas gun grid reference: SK233978, Barnside Moor, Peak District National Park

Date observed in use: 22 May 2016

Please report this to Chief Superintendent David Hartley, South Yorkshire Police’s lead on wildlife crime:

We’d be very interested in any responses you receive!

And if you’re in email-sending mode, you might also want to sent one to Sarah Fowler, Chief Executive of the Peak District National Park Authority and ask her whether there is a policy for the deployment of bird scaring devices on sensitive moorlands within the National Park. Email:

21 thoughts on “Gas gun in use on grouse moor in Peak District National Park”

  1. Does anyone know if the Peak District Birds of Prey Initiative actually has any meetings of the partners? If they do I wonder if we could ask them to include the issue of the use of gas guns on grouse moors in the National Park. Presumably the initiative could agree and advise on a common position regarding the use of gas guns on grouse moors with statutory designations?

  2. I would hate to join the ranks of the law-breakers, and I know you people would never advocate any such course of action, but if I come across a gas gun in an inappropriate area it probably won’t stay in a usable condition for too long. Greater good and all that.

    1. I agree with your sentiments, Simon. What’s sauce for the goose, etc. and there’s a lot of law breaking going on by the shooting lobby.

      1. For those who don’t want to get directly involved, another option is to note where you found it exactly, then on your way home drop by your nearest xxxxx xxxxxxx or pub and loudly mention exactly the location. An unguarded gas cannister and some scrap metal/bit of gubbins won’t stay there for long after that.

    2. Law or no law, should I come across such in a national park, sabotage would be the order of the day!

  3. Article 6(2) of the Habitats Directive requires member states to take ‘appropriate steps’ to avoid deterioration or disturbance of European Sites and the features for which they are classified. The source of any potential disturbance need not be within the boundary of the European site – the question is not ‘Where is the source?’, but rather ‘Does it have the potential to cause disturbance?’ to SPA features. A gas gun firing into an SPA clearly has the potential to disturb birds for which the SPA is designated, and so the UK government must take action. If not, a few of us should make a formal complaint to the EC, which can be set alongside the complaint successfully made by the RSPB about general moorland management within SPAs.

    And that’s just Article 6(2)….. If setting a case gun out in this way requires assent or consent from Natural England, it’s by definition a plan or project, and falls to be assessed under Article 6(3) of the Habitats Directive too – the question being, ‘Will the plan / project have a likely significant effect upon the features for which the SPA / SAC was designated?”; if the answer if Yes, or Not sure – then an Appropriate Assessment is required. Gas guns blasting onto an SPA clearly has the potential to significantly affect the SPA, and so an Appropriate Assessment is required.

    It would be nice to think the RSPB might offer a view on this…..

    1. I emailed Sawdays and had a prompt reply:-
      “Thanks for your email.
      Broomhead have dropped out of Sawday’s for reasons of their own.”

      Hmmm – what reasons I wonder – no longer “Looking out for the environment” perhaps?

  4. I’ve emailed Law as follows: Has Natural England given consent for the deployment of this gas gun at this site?
    If so, how has it justified that deployment?
    If Natural England hasn’t given consent, is the deployment of this gas gun contrary to section 28 of the Wildlife & Countryside Act?
    When will Natural England publish the clear guidelines for gas gun use which you undertook to provide early in 2016?

  5. Emails sent. Well done to all who took the trouble and TY once more RPUK for bringing it to my attention.

  6. David Hartley is arranging for an officer to contact me to glean information apparently.I could be roamin in the gloamin at the time!

    Sent from Samsung Mobile on O2

  7. It is designed to disrupt breeding birds- there is no ripe barley.
    It will have an impact on the breeding birds within the SPA.
    Therefore it is contrary to the habitats directive.

    If there is any sign of an abandonned nest- phone the police.

    I’m not sure if the “consents” rules apply outside the SSSI.
    But the habitats directive applies to all competant authorities in charge of regulating things which could impact on the SPA. My guess would be that the authority in charge of the noise regulation under the EPA should be asked to regulate this impact. If they dont they would be in breach of the directive….
    Not sure if this is the Environment Agency or the Local Authority Environmental health? I suggest that somebody writes to both stressing that this missuse of crop protection equipment, under their regulation, is having a damaging impact on the SPA.

    If they both conclude that it is outwith their control then their needs to be a complaint to the EU stating that Englands regulation of crop scaring equipment does not provide adequate protection to natura sites.

  8. The ‘legitimate’ excuse usually given for the use of gas guns on grouse moors is that they are intended to scare off flocks of immature non-breeding Ravens. However, this is a complete sham because the Ravens are not actually causing any damage to grouse stocks, and of course if they were displaced by the guns going off, would simply move a relatively short distance to another part of the same moor. It’s time NE started to reject the unscientific basis for using them at all in such situations, particularly where ‘collateral’ disturbance to breeding birds is concerned. It’s a deliberately aggressive act by a profession effectively sticking two fingers up at the conservationists. Let’s be honest, the grouse moor managers are also effectively trying to make these areas unattractive for visitors, who they regard as nuisance and potential witnesses to their crimes.

  9. Received a reply from Chief Supt Hartley’s office this morning ….

    Thank you for your email. South Yorkshire Police have received a number of emails regarding the same issue which were sent directly to Chief Supt Hartley’s email address. This is not the correct process to report incidents or concerns. An Officer will be allocated to review the issues you raise and you will be updated. The officers will advise how to report further concerns you hold.

    It’s good to know that others have emailed ……. and I look forward to their reply regarding updates ……
    We’ll see ………….

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