Natural England issues impotent gas gun guidance

Last September we asked the statutory conservation agencies Scottish Natural Heritage and Natural England to issue urgent guidance about the use of propane gas guns in the uplands (here). We, and others, were concerned that these devices were being used to prevent hen harriers from nesting on grouse moors.

Bird scarer 1 - Copy

Both organisations committed to investigating this issue (see here and here) and Natural England promised it would publish this guidance before the start of the 2016 breeding season. It failed to do so.

Meanwhile, further evidence of the (mis)-use of gas guns on grouse moors emerged, this time within a National Park (e.g. see here and here).

SNH then managed to issue some contradictory advice (see here) which left us none the wiser.

Now Natural England has finally responded with this:

Thank you for your email, and my apologies for the delay in replying. I am conscious of the concerns that have been expressed around the use of gas guns on some moorlands in England and we have been keen to clarify the legal position around their use.

In doing this, we have found that their use is much wider than solely in the uplands. As a result, we have worked with Scottish Natural Heritage to develop some guidance, setting out the circumstances when permissions may be required for the deployment of gas guns. This is attached for your information.

We are also in discussion with the grouse shooting industry, to develop some best practice principles for the use of gas guns. The aim is to provide simple advice on their deployment, and help to avoid disturbance to birds nesting on protected sites.

I hope this information is helpful. If you have any further queries, please contact John Barrett at, and he will be happy to provide further information.

Yours sincerely

Alan Law


Are you ready to see the ‘guidance’ that has taken Natural England and SNH nine months to produce? Hold on to your seats, here it is:

Gas gun guidance NE - Copy

In a nutshell, the ‘guidance’ is: make sure your gas gun doesn’t disturb breeding Schedule 1 birds. Oh, and if your grouse moor is part of a SSSI designation, you’ll need to ask permission first.

Yep, that’s it.

17 thoughts on “Natural England issues impotent gas gun guidance”

  1. Well, just when I thought NE couldn’t sink any lower in my estimation they have managed to do exactly that!! As, apparently, neither NE nor SNH were aware of the extent of their useage I wonder how many ORNEC lists actually include the use of gas-guns? Also I wonder if their use could be included within operation 28. “The introduction of game or water fowl management and changes in game and waterfowl management and hunting practices.”

  2. This simply confirms in my mind that NE and SNH are complicit in the continuing attacks on our birds of prey which visit grouse moors and the bodies in question are thus unfit for the task which confronts them at this point in time. I struggle to find any other reason for gas guns being on grouse moors other than the obvious task of not allowing specific birds the peace they require to nest. Isn’t it time that the RSPB came out and took a public stance on this, thus bringing the reality that birds of prey face on our Uplands fully into public view? I’m outraged by the tepid and frankly collusionary “advice” offered to the grouse shooting lobby … it is akin to putting an alcoholic in a distillery and asking them not to drink.

    1. I agree, I fail to understand why the advice is restricted to schedule1 species. This crop protection equipment is not selective. It will disrupt the breeding of all bird and mammals regardless of their status. I don’t know if it is already permitted to use this crop protection equipment to disrupt the breeding of species on the general licence but most species ( of bird) have general protection which means that nests are protected. I don’t see any way that the guidance squares with this issue?

  3. Apart from the red ‘no’ arrow from the top right box making no sense.
    What they appear to be saying is ‘if you want to set up gas guns and presumably any other scaring devices on a grouse moor to stop raptors breeding just make sure you do it before they form a territory and then everything is fine by us. No breeding raptors and no-laws broken, a win-win right?’
    Not quite.

    1. That’s absolutely ridiculous, basically they are saying “if we set up the guns before they start breeding, we’re OK” I’m sorry but do the staff at Natural England have any sense at all? It looks like the kid just out of University put together a flow diagram with more No’s in it to make it look good. they should be banning the use of gas guns (March to August). If you read the pages on the Government website for development projects guidance this is what it states, no works during that time, so I would say that this should be classed as disturbance and should therefore mean that no Gas Guns during that period also. It’s just not on, the game keepers know where the birds will nest if the’ve nested in that vicinity before and would probably place the guns in that area. I’m going to complain about this, one rule for one and one rule for another. Nothing new there!

      1. ‘they should be banning the use of gas guns (March to August)’
        Yes, but even sooner to protect early breeders like Golden Eagles but why not just ban them altogether.
        Does any of this come under the terms of the General Licence or is it just a free for all?

  4. Looking at the photos of Gas Guns I am sure that the hose between the gas canister and the gun could perish and develop leaks in the harsh weather in the uplands of England and Scotland. I am sure that it must cost the estates a lot of money to replace the hoses on these gas guns. It must be a big cost to them and replacing the hoses must eat into their profits. They look very fragile.

  5. I’m also going to be writing to Mr Barrett. I always try my best not to attack anyone personally in SNH or any conservation body, and I won’t in this comment to RPUK because it would probably be redacted, but presumably like others who have to deal with them, I’m aware of the incompetence of at least one of their principal ornithological advisers. On many occasions I’ve had to put up with some really silly suggestions, opinions and ill-advised decisions relating to mitigation measures for developments, illegal activities on SPAs, etc., and I may as well have been dealing with a robot lacking any artificial intelligence. The problem is that corporately in my experience, officers at management level in SNH show various degrees of indifference to bird conservation issues. Staff who try to be effective are virtually told to leave well alone and return to their desks. I’ve even had developers tell me that SNH’s advice was not to worry about birds too much, because birds can fly away somewhere else! On one occasion this advice was applied to a locally important population of breeding Water Rails! Allegedly due to shortage of resources they focus on ‘EPS’ (European Protected Species), so species which are merely protected by UK legislation are often neglected. This can mean that a Pipistrelle bat (the mammalian equivalent of a House Sparrow) can have money thrown at it, whereas this would never happen for a common bird like a Song Thrush. I’ve got nothing against Pipistrelles, but surely we should have a bit more proportionality. SNH sometimes even turns down hard-won negotiated offers of mitigation by developers, because “they’re not necessary to comply with legislation” and other pathetic excuses. They really do behave as if they aim to please the establishment, rather than do their jobs properly. I have to qualify that not all are incompetent, but it seems to be the case that the more incompetent staff end up in positions of higher management authority. This useless guidance note doesn’t surprise me in the slightest, only serving to confirm my long held opinion that SNH is a paper tiger. Sadly it can lead to good people abandoning ship. It’s a sair fecht, as we say in the Scottish vernacular. Rant over.

  6. It might be worth repeating the following relevant comment which I posted under another topic:

    “This is both feeble and ridiculous. I can think of NO circumstance that could justify the use of gas guns on a grouse moor, other than to harass Hen Harriers at traditional nesting territories. The only alternative, contrived justification the keepers have come up with is that the guns are to scare off flocks of non-breeding immature Ravens. However such flocks are few and far between and concentrated in relatively small areas. They occur on grouse moors only when vole population cycles are at their peak, suggesting that they are interested primarily in feeding on voles. I have watched such flocks on many occasions and have never seen any signs that they are preying upon grouse nests, although I suspect they may take the occasional grouse chick (later in the season of course). In fact in years when Raven flocks occur, larger numbers of young grouse are reared, but this is probably connected to the availability of an abundant food supply for foxes and other ground predators. It also appears to be the case that harriers take far fewer grouse chicks when vole numbers are high. As for scaring the Ravens, the guns are unlikely to scare them off the moor altogether, just displace them slightly. It’s farcical, but SNH and Natural England prefer to take the word of criminal gamekeepers rather than advice from proper ornithological experts. In my own experiences dealing with SNH, I find this generally to be the case.”

  7. Dear John Barrett
    I would like to cut my hedge in mid -may. In order to scare off all of those pesky birds that nest in the hedge and inconvenience me, can I set up a gas gun? Your guidelines seem to say that this would not be an issue.

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