Heads up for Hen Harriers: the ‘partnership-working’ sham

Last week we blogged (here) about the results from this year’s Heads up for Hen Harriers project, a so-called ‘partnership-working’ initiative aimed at better understanding the threats faced by hen harriers in Scotland.

We were pretty scathing about this project. Everyone knows, thanks to years, in fact decades, of scientific evidence, that the main threat comes from illegal persecution on driven grouse moors so let’s not pretend this is still a big mystery needing to be solved. But we want to re-visit the project again just to drive home some salient points.

Have another look at the press release put out by SNH (here). We learned that this year the number of ‘participating’ estates had risen from five to 13.

Now, according to the SNH press release, “The thirteen estates participating in the project have cameras installed on their land to monitor hen harrier nests“.

This same claim was made in a press release from the Scottish Countryside Alliance (here). They said:

Thirteen participating estates, many of them managed for grouse shooting, installed cameras to capture what exactly was happening on and around hen harrier nests to improve our understanding of why nests fail“.

So, from these two claims, you could be forgiven for thinking that all 13 ‘participating’ estates had hen harrier breeding attempts this year, and that each of the 13 estates had nest cameras installed. That’s what these propagandists would like you to believe, but it isn’t actually what happened.

The term ‘participating’ needs some clarification. Yes, 13 estates had agreed to ‘participate’ in the project –  that just means that 13 estates (8 of which were managed as driven grouse moors) had agreed to host a project nest camera should there be a hen harrier breeding attempt on that estate this year.

What it doesn’t mean is that those 13 estates (including those eight driven grouse moors) all had hen harrier breeding attempts and all had nest cameras installed. They didn’t. Hen harriers attempted to breed on three of the 13 estates, and guess what? None of those breeding attempts was on a driven grouse moor.

So what the SNH press release should have said is something like: ‘Three of the thirteen participating estates had hen harrier breeding attempts this year, and those three estates each hosted a nest camera. None of these three estates is managed as a driven grouse moor‘.

By putting out misleading information suggesting that all 13 estates had hen harrier breeding attempts and that each estate hosted a nest camera, SNH is able to repeat the myth that ‘landowners and conservationists are working together to help the hen harrier’, and this allows other organisations like Scottish Countryside Alliance and Scottish Land & Estates to repeat the same myth and present a wholly inaccurate picture of ‘partnership working’. This perpetual myth then allows the Scottish Government to also pretend that progress is being made and therefore further measures to stamp down on the raptor killers isn’t deemed to be necessary.

It’s a total sham, facilitated by SNH, the Government’s statutory conservation agency, no less.

We also wanted to revisit the BBC’s Landward programme that covered this year’s Heads up for Hen Harriers project. The programme is still available on iPlayer for a limited period but to avoid losing it, we’ve uploaded a clip to YouTube. (NB: the visual quality of the clip is quite poor, thanks to rural broadband, and isn’t a reflection on the BBC, but the sound quality is good, and it’s what was said on that programme that is of interest here).

First to be interviewed was Brian Etheridge of the RSPB who stated that the relationship between failing hen harrier nests and land managed as a driven grouse moor was ‘striking’.

Next came Tim (Kim) Baynes, speaking on behalf of Scottish Land & Estates. The first question he was asked by the presenter was: “How frustrating is it for you that you always seem to be painted as the bad guys?“.

Ah yes, the poor, victimised grouse moor owners, it must be soooooo frustrating for them to be portrayed in such bad light. Let’s just ignore all the wildlife crime statistics from grouse moors, all the poisoned baits that have been found, all the poisoned raptors, all the illegal traps, all the shot raptors, all the burnt out raptor nests, all the trampled chicks, all the disappearing satellite-tagged raptors, all the consistently vacant raptor breeding territories, all the gas guns, all the banger ropes, all the inflating screeching scarecrows….those poor, poor victimised grouse moor owners.

If only the presenter had asked why hen harriers had failed to breed on any driven grouse moor in the Angus Glens for the last ten years.

Tim (Kim) played the victim card with the usual aplomb, agreeing that it was “really, really frustrating‘ to be portrayed in such poor light, especially when “one estate has got 81 bird species, you know, including birds of prey“.

Ah yes, of course, the old 81 species claim again. We’ve blogged about this before (here) but it’s worth reiterating. This is the ‘study’ that was undertaken on Invermark Estate (Angus Glens) in 2015 that claimed there were 81 species of birds ‘either breeding or feeding‘ on the grouse moor. The findings of this ‘study’ were used at a parliamentary reception at Holyrood (see here) to celebrate the so-called conservation value of driven grouse moors. Unfortunately, the study report has never been made public, despite repeated requests to see it, which is a shame because we’d really like to know how a study undertaken at Invermark between June and August could possibly measure the breeding status of many bird species when the usual (proper scientific) survey technique is to conduct a study from March to June…you know, during the actual breeding season. Perhaps the surveyors saw some random birds flying overhead and decided to include them on the list of ‘breeding’ or ‘feeding’ species to boost the numbers. That would be a bit like Bristol claiming that the management of the Severn Bridge was so good it supports Bearded Vultures (here), or the ground keepers at Regent’s Park claiming that their management was so good that the Park supports Cory’s Shearwaters (here).

It’s amazing, isn’t it, how so-called ‘studies’ that apparently show driven grouse moors in a positive light are allowed to be kept secret so nobody can scrutinise the methods or results but can be celebrated by MSPs at a parliamentary reception, and yet studies that are commissioned to assess the illegal persecution of raptors on driven grouse moors are required to include a “robust statistical analysis of all the data to support any conclusion” (see here).

26 thoughts on “Heads up for Hen Harriers: the ‘partnership-working’ sham”

  1. Re your final para….actually its far from amazing. It’s when we’ve have witheringly come to expect. In the league of liars and deceivers these guys leave the rest for dead.Given their association with the well heeled and well connected what else should we realistically expect?
    Kicking and screaming is the only way these people will comply. As they never fail to prove, with unflinching consistency.

  2. If SLE represents all (or nearly all) estates, why are only 13 participating? Surely the whole organisation is behind the project? It’s almost as if they are saying….only 13 are taking part because most refused.

    1. And I’d guess that we’d all come up with pretty much the same answer as to why we think they’d refuse!

  3. Hi. So Scottish Natural Heritage says, in print, on it’s media center:

    “The thirteen estates participating in the project have cameras installed on their land to monitor hen harrier nests. ”

    There is NO mistaking the meaning of that sentence. So as a journalist, I read that as saying that there must be a minimum of 13 cameras installed, possibly more if there is more than one nest at one of the participating estates.

    Are you telling me that there were not/are not 13 cameras installed. Than in fact only 3 cameras were installed?

    So are we to conclude that either Scottish National Heritage are either (a) totally inept and perhaps incompetent (b) not actually doing their due diligence and fact checking, or (c) Deliberately and knowingly not reporting the facts correctly ?

    I’m not paying tax in Scotland, but if I were, I’d definitely have a view on that.

      1. (a) and (b) are generally correct statements about SNH, but the real answer to this specific question is (c).

    1. In one area in the north there were I believe, seven potential nest sites but only two nesting pairs could be found. This meant that only two out of seven cameras were actually placed.

  4. I am genuinely on the verge of throwing up right now. I can’t say what I think of Dougie Vipond it would be edited out and as far as the SNH guy making out that because a fox attacked a nest and that resulted in the death of one chick, that means we need to ‘work with’ estates to control foxes , they are the problem – who actually pays your wages son? After all the great work that Mark A, Chris P and RPUK and others have done we get this complete and utter white washing shite. Disgusted. Kim’s quoting that report is such an utter joke – do we need to see it to know its junk? 81 species – wow! Unfortunately Naturalist and broadcaster Mike Dilger has counted 85 species of birds in or flying over his smallish suburban garden, puts it in context doesn’t it. And how many of the 81 species were actually on the grouse moor rather than the corners of the estate that might be policy woodland, lake, conifer plantation? Scunnered.

  5. To be fair to SNH they are probably currently engaged in a world record attempt at paper shuffling. Too busy with that for any real work.

  6. Despicable deceit by Scottish Natural Heritage. A disgraceful ploy by the organisation. They have always been utterly hopeless at addressing the raptor persecution crisis in the country but this is a serious shameful sham.

  7. When will we see some of our MSPs standing up at Holyrood and asking these same questions?….the buck stops with our government.

  8. Trumpeting about having “thirteen estates participating in the project” is fairly meaningless unless you include some idea of how many such estates there are that could take part. Are there any estimates regarding the number of relevant estates there are in Scotland?

  9. the usual disdain shown by the estates/landowners for wildlife and whilst receiving grants paid for by us. I those estates were challenged about what happened to the cameras their reply would be that someone must have stolen them..

  10. Keepers will obviously know which nests have cameras and leave well alone. Hence this “study” is designed in such a way that it will inevitably fail to detect the major cause of nest failures on driven grouse moors.

    1. A keeper I know once informed the RSPB of a harrier nest he had found on his patch, took the RSPB Officer to the site and reported back on its subsequent success, but failed to mention that he had wiped out three other nesting pairs on the same grouse moor. A tactic designed to pull wool over the eyes, or taking the piss to be more accurate.

  11. It is not good that debate is so ill-informed- the best solution is to keep providing high-quality information as RPUK does- the likes of BBC producers and presenters, and politicians, and the public need to be informed of the facts, since they are so damning of the driven grouse industry. It is to hammer home the point that it is the pressure to have such high levels of red grouse every year that is at the root cause of all this, and this necessarily causes persecution because raptors are incompatible with these levels- as are many other species at their natural population level. The shooting community’s largely defensive reaction will be counter-productive to them eventually, if they do not change to become more responsible in this and other issues like lead shot. When the tide turns they will be the victims of their own intransigence and they will only have themselves to blame.

  12. Sometimes I look for positives in stories, sadly when it comes to persecution issues, and the blatant lies and propaganda from the shooting industry (supported by mainstream media), positives are few and far between.

    However, this whole sham has thrown us a small positive. If these estates are content to have cameras operating on their land, then I’m sure there won’t be any complaints when surveillance cameras are installed to catch the criminals at work!

  13. The bottom line on what we’ve seen from the videos is 3 out of 3 successful nests, any nest recorder will tell you that rarely do all eggs and chicks survive, this is not new this is just more stalling tactics, we know why young harriers and other raptors aren’t making it to maturity it is already being proved time and time again with young satellite tagged birds disappearing over grouse moors, whilst our dairy farmers struggle to make ends meet, forced to removing milk from the shelves in supermarkets that are selling it for less than what it costs to produce. pig and chicken farms are closing due to the price of feed, these same grouse moors are claiming millions of pounds in agricultural subsidies to produce vast areas of heather for grouse! There is no set aside, no hedgerows or trees, no scrub, thousands of pounds for producing bloody heather for grouse while real farmers struggle. How can this be, people who can’t work through sickness or disability have to go through the indignity of being means tested to get simple benefits to help them exist whilst multi-millionaires are given benefits to provide fun.

  14. This scheme reminds me of a Mullah Nasrudin sufi joke-parable.

    Mullah Nasrudin is one night looking for something next to a lamp post in the street. A friend is going by and asks what he’s doing. The Mullah says, “I’m looking for my key which lost.” The friend decides to help and searches the ground under the lamp post.
    Half an hour later the friend asks,”Are you sure you dropped your key here?”
    Nasrudin replies, “Oh no I lost it in my house’.
    The friend screams, “Why in hell’s name, are we searching here?”
    Nasrudin smiles and says, “There much more light here.”

    And thanks RPUK for the ‘when you hear the sound of hooves don’t look around for zebras’ quote. That was brilliant.

  15. It was not foxes which wiped out the breeding Hen Harrier population of English grouse moors. We need to clearly distinguish between natural predation, which the great majority of species endures under natural circumstances, and the wholly unnecessary and illegal killing of raptors in general, Hen Harriers in particular, at the hand of man. Let’s not get bogged down in their contrived diversions from the real issue.

  16. Brilliant, RPUK, say it like it is. I’ve long known that certain SNH “advisers” (one in particular) have been, let’s say, erring in favour of the grouse shooters on various issues connected to raptor persecution. The question is why? Knowing who I believe to be the main guilty party, I doubt if any corruption involving backhanders is concerned, but my main suspicion is that a small number of influential SNH Officers are basically in it for an easy life, and avoiding conflict with landowners and powerful forces they know could make life unpleasant for them. I also suspect a degree of pressure coming from within SNH, at management level, to appease landowners in general. I would hesitate to say that any more than a small minority of SNH staff adopt such an approach, but in recent years some newly appointed officers come from hunting and shooting backgrounds themselves, and can be somewhat disapproving towards what they regard as “the fluffy bunny brigade.”

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: