Scottish landowners pretend that raptors are ‘thriving’ on driven grouse moors

Gift of GrouseWe’ve come to expect outlandish propaganda from the Gift of Grouse campaign group, designed to portray driven grouse moors as models of excellence for raptor conservation. But this time they’ve exceeded all expectation. Forget their usual unsubstantiated post-truth drivel, wholly disconnected to reality, because that’s got nothing on their latest effort, which takes the stretching of credibility to new depths.

The following press release from the Gift of Grouse is set to hit the headlines tomorrow:


An increasing number of birds of prey are thriving on Scottish grouse moors due to gamekeepers’ conservation efforts.

More than 10 different raptor species including golden eagles, red kites and hen harriers have been identified on prominent grouse moors this year. They are among the 86 bird species that have been recorded on estates in the Angus Glens.

A snap shot from a range of estates across the Angus Glens Moorland Group highlighted encouraging evidence with gamekeepers on Invermark Estate in particular sighting nine raptor species including buzzards and golden eagles. Some of these are nesting and successfully breeding on the estate.

A number of other estates also reported healthy numbers with Ballogie Estate, Royal Deeside, revealing a total of 15 buzzards regularly hunting on the moor. Figures from the Speyside Moorland Group were equally as strong with 12 species of birds of prey recorded on Strathspey Estate alone. Atholl Estate in Perthshire are also monitoring 12 different raptor species.

Garry MacLennan, head gamekeeper on Invermark Estate, said: “Scottish grouse moors are far from being raptor deserts, as some opponents of shooting claim. We have monitored a growing number of buzzards, kestrels, golden eagles and white-tailed eagles. Keepers and estate managers do recognise there are some areas of the country where there are fewer raptor species but there is plenty of hard evidence to show that raptors are successfully nesting on grouse moors.”

The findings from Invermark are part of annual surveys undertaken using SNH guidelines.  These surveys were conducted by Taylor Wildlife, an ecological consultancy specialising in upland environments.

Richard Cooke, manager of Invermark Estate, said: “The survey is an extremely helpful way for us to monitor the biodiversity of the estate and which species are benefitting the most from our habitat management practices. Throughout the year we carry out rotational muirburn and control predation under the general licence, including foxes, stoats and other mustelids in particular.  This is to the benefit of many ground nesting birds and is reflected in the rich birdlife recorded by the annual audit.

The Tayside Moorland Group has also carried out species monitoring at a number of estates throughout the region with Glenturret Estate in Perthshire recording no less than 12 different raptor species hunting and nesting on the moorland this year. The estate tally included several breeding pairs of hen harriers, a nesting pair of peregrine fledging four chicks, short eared owls and numerous red kites.

Conservation training, conscientious moorland management and favourable weather conditions can all impact positively upon species numbers found on Scottish moorland.

Figures revealed in Wildlife Estates Scotland’s latest annual report show that 11 accredited estates reported the presence of golden eagles, with seven of these reporting 19 pairs. Eleven estates also recorded sightings of hen harriers with four reporting 18 breeding pairs. Buzzards were also reported on 20 estates, with a total estimated population of over 920 birds.

It was also recently revealed in a national survey that golden eagle numbers have surpassed 500 pairs giving them a ‘favourable conservation status’ in the UK. Eagles have made a home on several moorland estates across Scotland with Millden Estate, a member of the Angus Glens Moorland Group, recording a particularly high number of sightings.

Jason Clamp, head gamekeeper on Millden Estate, commented: “We are fortunate enough at Millden to have regular sightings of golden eagles. Seeing several of these magnificent birds on a daily basis has to be one of the highlights of my job. We are also very careful to leave a sustainable population of mountain hares for birds of prey, such as golden eagles, to hunt.

At Millden our team of gamekeepers has taken a proactive role in ensuring that we have a suitable breeding habitat for various birds of prey such the merlin, of which we currently have four nesting pairs. This has been brought about through controlled heather burning ‘muirburn’, which creates micro habitats suited to ground-nesting birds like the merlin.

We are delighted that the golden eagle, a species of conservation concern, amongst many other species, has found a safe and suitable environment in which to flourish in such impressive numbers, where careful moorland management has been imperative.”


Wow! Where to start with this? It’s such ludicrously far-fetched bollocks it could have come straight from the mouths of gamekeepers and grouse moor managers. Oh, hang on…

Perhaps the idiots behind the Gift of Grouse campaign didn’t see the results of the latest national golden eagle survey, published just a few short weeks ago. You know, the survey that showed breeding golden eagles are still largely absent from driven grouse moors in the Eastern Highlands, just as they were in the last national survey conducted in 2003. Only 30% of known territories were occupied in this area – that’s a pathetic 34 out of 91 territories.

Perhaps the idiots behind the Gift of Grouse campaign didn’t see the results of the recent study on northern red kites, showing that illegal persecution on driven grouse moors in this region is just as bad now as it was in 1989.

Perhaps the idiots behind the Gift of Grouse campaign didn’t read the recent scientific paper showing hen harriers have suffered a ‘catastrophic decline’ on the driven grouse moors of NE Scotland.

Perhaps the idiots behind the Gift of Grouse campaign didn’t read the scientific paper showing peregrines continue to suffer a ‘long-term decline’ on the driven grouse moors of NE Scotland.

It’s all very well saying that raptors have been ‘sighted’ on grouse moors – of course they’ve been seen there – they are drawn to those areas precisely because of the absence of territorial breeding adults (as well as an abundant food supply). Nobody disputes that you can see raptors over these moors – the crucial distinction, which the Gift of Grouse idiots have carefully avoided, is how many raptors are breeding there? Remember, no breeding hen harriers in the Angus Glens for ten years!

It’s interesting that this press release refers to the grouse moors of the Angus Glens – a well known hotbed of illegal raptor persecution for over a decade. Here’s a map to illustrate the point:

Four grouse moor estates are highlighted in red (Invermark, Millden, Hunthill, Glenogil [with thanks to Andy Wightman’s Who Owns Scotland website for estate boundaries]). You see those purple dots? They represent confirmed illegal raptor persecution crimes. Are we seriously being asked to believe that raptors are ‘thriving’ in this region?

It’s also interesting to note that the ‘data’ behind the Gift of Grouse propaganda come from an ‘annual audit’ carried out by Taylor Wildlife consultancy. We’ve blogged about this group before – these are the ‘experts’ who claimed to have recorded 81 species of birds ‘feeding or breeding’ on an Angus Glens grouse moor last year. The problem is, their survey methods didn’t adhere to the usual industry standard – rather than conduct their breeding bird survey between March and June, when you’re supposed to do it, they conducted their survey between June and August, which is, er, after the breeding season!

Will we get to see this year’s report to scrutinise the methods and results? Highly unlikely – we’re still waiting to see their 2015 report but apparently it’s a secret and we’re not allowed to read it. Can’t think why.

Also of note in this latest press release is the reference to Glenturret Estate in Perthshire, another well-known driven grouse moor. We’ve blogged about this estate before, when it was claimed that Hen Harrier Day protesters might ‘disturb’ hen harriers – a species that has consistently failed to breed successfully on this moor. This year, they are claiming to have ‘several breeding pairs of hen harriers’ amongst other species. That’s interesting, because according to monitoring data from the Scottish Raptor Study Group, there was only one hen harrier breeding attempt on Glenturret this year, and, as has so often happened here in recent years, the nest failed for ‘unknown reasons’. Unfortunately it’s not possible to work out why hen harriers keep failing here because the estate has apparently refused to allow nest cameras to be installed.

Glenturret used to have lots of successfully breeding raptors, but these days, not so much. They certainly don’t have breeding golden eagles anymore because the eagle’s eyrie was burnt out last year. Here’s a photograph of the cliff face, taken in April 2015 – note the blackened hillside. Spontaneously combusting eagle eyries are a common problem on some Scottish grouse moors. Either that or golden eagles need to learn to discard their fag butts with more care.

We’ll add updates to this blog tomorrow when we see which newspapers have swallowed the Gift of Grouse guff hook, line and sinker. We’ll be particularly interested to see whether SNH issues a statement to rebutt the claims being made – SNH has access to the actual raptor breeding data via the Scottish Raptor Monitoring Scheme – let’s see them put it good use.

UPDATE 5 December 2016: “Risible, make-believe tosh”: RSPB responds to Gift of Grouse propaganda (here).

44 thoughts on “Scottish landowners pretend that raptors are ‘thriving’ on driven grouse moors”

  1. Totally agree with all you say, but It’s a shame you keep referring to “idiots” as this dilutes your message. They most certainly are idiots, but I would have thought you could find better language? Keep up the good work

  2. Clearly they have nothing to learn from the post truth, never trust an expert, big lie tactics of the alt-right.

  3. So how many raptors are there in the Angus Glens.
    If your in a position to state that they aren’t thriving, you must be in a position to say how many there are.
    As I’ve said before, things are seriously improving in this area.
    So much so that eagles were considered numerous enough to take young from nest and relocate.
    Why not compare number of crimes before and after vicarious liability.
    I live here, and much as 2 of these estates were absolute criminals in my opinion, they are changing.
    This weekend whilst out walking the dog I saw 44 kites, 3 buzzards 1 sparrow hawk and for the first time ever, a female hen harrier over my garden.
    If you was to just read your post, and didn’t live here, you would not appreciate that populations of everything seem to be on the up except buzzards and harriers.

    1. Alan, Nobody Denies that Raptors are prevalent over the Angus Glens…… They must be for the amount that turn up dead under suspicious circumstances

    2. “As I’ve said before, things are seriously improving in this area. So much so that eagles were considered numerous enough to take young from nest and relocate.”

      They wouldn’t take young from an eagle’s nest because the species was considered numerous.

      “This weekend whilst out walking the dog I saw 44 kites, 3 buzzards 1 sparrow hawk and for the first time ever, a female hen harrier over my garden.”

      This is just an anecdotal account, and cannot be proved either way, however if you consider three Buzzards and a single Sparrowhawk over the course of a weekend as a good news story, as well as a serious improvement, then I’m afraid we’re miles apart in what we believe healthy ecosystems should look like. The true test of tolerance is in the number of successful breeding attempts and productivity, but confirmed records of successful breeding of raptors on driven grouse moors are few and far between.

      “If you was to just read your post, and didn’t live here, you would not appreciate that populations of everything seem to be on the up except buzzards and harriers.”

      So, Buzzard numbers are not increasing in huge numbers, and are not “out of control”? Then, you should be having a word with your gamekeeping/shooting buddies and ask them why they want to cull Buzzards.

  4. Have they published the raw data of their peer reviewed expert surveys (all of which conform to accepted methodology)?

    Sadly many of the ‘Torygraph’ type papers will swallow the twaddle, all we can do is challenge and call them out in terms of evidence?

    1. Yes, I’m sure much of the UK’s media would have run with story, completely unchallenged of course, all in an attempt to deceive the public.

      Indeed, I wouldn’t be surprised if Landward and Countryfile are currently making special programmes based on the “evidence”.

  5. I agree with Alizeti that the criminals involve in raptor persecution are not idiots. If they were more would be caught. I know the large remote areas, the criminals have to commit the crimes in, give them a lot of cover.

    From the numbers of birds found dead with pellets or poison in them along with the evidence of trapping, must only be the tip of a very large iceberg (perhaps bloodberg).

    They can hide but not for ever, more watchers will curtail their criminal activity.

    Like so many people in high places that thrive on lies, if you shout them out loud enough the gullible will accept them. We’ve had too many examples of this mentality e.g. EU referendum and the Trump fiasco.


  6. Raptors may well be seen over grouse moors, before the gamekeepers spot them and then poison, shoot or trap them. The northern Red Kites are a good example, if they weren’t being heavily persecuted by all those killing estates they would have become numerous and dispersed into other areas – just like they did in the Chilterns. The only difference between the two are – guess what? that’s right – grouse moors.

  7. The photo of the burnt cliff face shows that the burning is completely contrary to the muirburn code. Yes it must have “gotten out of control”, but it should never have been started in the first place. There seems to be evidence of further non-compliant burning on the same face. Bad management….

    For what its worth, I dont think they are idiots. They are simply not very good a spinning lies into truth.

  8. For a start, it would be interesting to see lists of the 12 raptor species said to be present on several of the estates listed – not that we’re ever likely to!

    1. Last day I was on Invermark, I saw 2 sea eagles, 1 golden eagle, 1 Buzzard, 2 kestrels mobbing a perigrine and an Osprey. All within 1 square mile

      1. Again, just another anecdotal account that cannot be proven one way or the other. I could easily say that Bluethroats successfully bred in my back garden this year, but without satisfactory documented evidence, the record would be ignored by the birding community, and thrown out without any consideration – and rightly so.

        Have a word with your friends and ask them to release the reports for public perusal, or lobby them and demand that nest surveillance cameras be installed at all raptor nests, and then we’ll discover how good these estates are for breeding raptors.

  9. They’ve sold it to me!
    Though it would be great if the ‘The Gift of Grouse’ was renamed ‘The Gift of Raptors’.
    Even better if those shouting raptor estates invited the public in to see those raptors.
    How about some good PR for the estates; days out with the keepers, showing the public how they spend their days checking snares and traps, a trip to the stink pit to discard the dead foxes, stoats and weasels, perhaps a Mountain Hare culling day with another trip to the stink pit after the killing spree, or maybe a lesson in how to set fire to those inaccessible mountain sides where Golden Eagles soar?
    The Gift of Grouse – what an absolute load of bollocks!

  10. I dont think they are idiots, wish they were. They know what they are doing, they have had years of killing wildlife raptors ie info passed down from father to son. They know the lay of the land. They know the places raptors will go and nest. ie remote corries. They can be out and about when others are not ie walkers. One thing we can do to hinder them is to encourage hillwalkers to look around them for suspicious items like poison baits, traps etc. and report them. Also for hillwalkers to go to more remote areas where walkers do not normally go. As an aging hillwalker/climber when younger we took great delight in going to more remote areas. We concentrated more on the west of Scotland and the North, but I,m sure Walkers from the east coast that love their Raptors could be asked to keep an eye out for any traps, poisons, shooting etc. etc. when there are in remoter eastern areas. The Gamekeepers would never know when there were walkers nearbye. I would suggest contacting Walking/Climbing clubs in the east of Scotland and ask them to take part in keeping an eye open for any persecution going on. I think a lot of them would be only to glad to take part if asked.

  11. If they believed their evidence of thriving raptor and other bird populations was sound, surely they would publish the results? Withholding the information without any explanation other than “it’s secret” is just not good enough and highly suspicious. Perhaps they seriously worry that it would be torn to pieces? They talk about killing foxes, stoats and weasels as if they’re doing wildlife (and us) a favour, but this only indicates a disconnect with nature and a poor understanding of ecology. There’s even an implication that the raptors are thriving because of this predator control, but of the species they list only hen harriers nest on the ground.

    It was evident during the Westminster Hall debate that a common tactic being adopted by the shooting community is to state confidently and frequently that raptors are thriving on grouse moors. Then it becomes a case of our word against theirs, thus blocking any real progress. There is also a tendency to dismiss the testimony of ‘experts’ in favour of country bumpkins who learned everything they know from their fathers and grandfathers. Then there’s all the hype about gamekeepers being “the true guardians of the countryside”! Unfortunately all this resonates with people in powerful positions, and to be honest until RPUK came on the scene I wasn’t particularly aware of the truth being disseminated so effectively, based on good quality science and investigative journalism, not auld wives’ tales.

    Keep up the good work and we’ll get there eventually.

  12. One way, possibly, to call these people out is when they set up their stalls at the Highland Show, where ever, to go there and ask them publicly to produce the evidence behind their ‘findings’….and to tell them you are not going to leave until they do so. Take a camera(person) with you (for evidence) and be pleasant but firm. When you are thrown out you will have it all on camera.

    This, I believe, is one of the better ways to fight these liars. Take the fight to them and put them publicly ‘on the spot’ whenever and where ever you can.

    I am sure that some of the ‘brains’ here on the blog can expand on this!

    We need to become more militant!!!!

  13. I was trying to list their “no less than 12 different raptor species” in my head … it’s quite a list

    1. It must be quite a list, and presumably must include Hobby, Honey Buzzard, Marsh Harrier or Montagu’s Harrier in the twelve.

      So, we have the shooting industry stating that more than one driven grouse moor estate claims to have more than twelve species of raptors, and that birdlife is plentiful on grouse moors, yet at the same time, we have representatives from the same industry claiming that birds of prey are out of control, and they are decimating all other forms of wildlife.

      It can’t be both.

      1. Don’t forget Marsh Harrier, they must have seen one of those & what about Imperial Eagle? Me thinks they should name be naming or photographing them, they have night vision I’m sure they can afford a camera! 🙄 Let’s see, Merlin, Buzzard, Red Kite, Peregrine, Sparrowhawk, Goshawk, Golden & Whitetail Eagle, Osprey, Hobby, Hen Harrier, Rough Leg or Honey Buzzard? Best we get on them moors then it’s a Birders Paradise. Think of the money they could make, few hides, parking, cafe. But in the meantime I’ll bring the flask & sarnies if anyone else wants to supply the cakes, fresh cream though.

        1. Actually 12 is just about possible if owls and raven are included, which are all species in ‘Raptors. a Field Guide to Survey and Monitoring’ by Hardey et al. 2006.
          Not saying i believe their claim though.

  14. It is tempting to describe these people as idiots but I fear this is not the case; from the point of view of their objectives the press release is very clever. It doesn’t matter if the content is complete rubbish – they know that it will get printed uncritically in various newspapers and other outlets and be heard and agreed with by all the ‘right’ people. As the saying goes:a lie is half way round the world before the truth has got its shoes on.

  15. You slightly lose the plot today (understandably) with your language, normally its first class understatement and your analysis ; you deserve an award and perhaps a friend can give it a first once over ?

  16. Perhaps it’s time all nests and breeding attempts by birds of prey should, by law, be notified to the BTO or RSPB thus allowing follow up monitoring. I wonder how many, located on grouse moors, would be notified.
    Les Etheridge.

    1. Could someone please find out if the surveys involved in determining these thriving populations of raptors on grouse moors were carried out by Schedule 1 species licence holders? If so, it is a condition of licence that findings be reported to Scottish Natural Heritage. My understanding is that theoretically disturbance licences are issued by SNH through the Scottish Raptor Study Group, and I doubt that many (if any) of the gamekeepers involved are members of that organisation. All records are held by the Scottish Raptor Monitoring Scheme, a partnership between the SRSG, SNH, the Scottish Ornithologists’ Club, Rare Breeding Birds Panel and others. There is no need for any other organisation to become involved, and it is extremely doubtful that the dedicated voluntary raptor surveyors would agree to data being made available to any group associated with the grouse or game shooting industry.

  17. I live here too Alan, and know what type of behaviour takes place prior to, and during, nesting time and what areas are burnt to discourage any prospective parents. I also know which areas are burnt and why. I also know the family connections that Taylor Wildlife has had with Invermark over generations, with close family still employed by the estate. It might be all above board, though the timing and methodology of the surveying would indicate otherwise, but why use a company with such close connections at such a sensitive time.

    1. Also if you look at Taylor Wildlife’s website you can surmise that most of Laura Taylor’s employment comes from shooting estates (i.e. tick surveys; deer management etc) and she is “good friends” with the SGA. She has also been an employee of GWCT for 5/6 years. “He who pays the piper, calls the tune” springs to mind.

  18. this is the way the government, the landowners operate now. XXXXX XXXXX tells lies all the time, quite happily… Countryside Alliance, Scottish CA, game keepers Ass, the whole lot of them just lie and then most people believe them…………we need a far stronger opposition

  19. Good point Iain G. It would be VERY interesting to know if the ‘surveyors’ had the correct disturbance licenses to carry out their work.

  20. This rings of Donald Trump like tactics. Perhaps in the future, there will be an official term for this kind of hogwash, where people do whatever they like, sod the law, sod what intelligent people know, and sod the environment. It is the shame of our generation, this kind of crap. We need to get very very tough on them and come down HARD, no tiptoeing around this anymore by the law. If the law won’t do it, then the people must do it.

  21. Hello everyone,

    I work for Taylor Wildlife, who have been subject to a lot of speculation on this website recently. As with any other ecological consultancy, client confidentiality would normally prevent us from discussing specific surveys and data. However, in this instance the client (Invermark) have made the data public which means I can take this opportunity to clarify a few points. The Taylor Wildlife summary report can be found on this link.

    Over the past two field seasons (2015 and 2016) Taylor Wildlife staff have been surveying on the Invermark Estate as part of the Basic Payment Scheme Farm Environment Surveys. This Government scheme requires us to undertake bird surveys using a modified version of the Brown and Shepherd methodology. This methodology is usually used for recording upland waders but for the purposes of the scheme we are required to record all species we encounter on surveys. We are not required to disturb the nests of Schedule 1 birds and our surveyors work completely within the law. The SGRPID/SNH guidelines we (and any other consultancy undertaking surveys) are bound by for the scheme are on the link below (page down to Annex A).—bps/

    As I am sure you will all appreciate, we have no control over how our data is interpreted by others once it is published, so I would ask you to take a look and make up your own mind. At the end of each survey season we are required to submit our data and report to SNH/SGRPID for review. We also give our data to the relevant organisations such as Butterfly Conservation, The Mammal Society or Birdtrack (via the bulk upload option).

    There seems to be a misconception that Taylor Wildlife provided the majority of the data used in the Gift of Grouse statement. However, we only collected data on Invermark so that is the only part I can pass comment on. Two years of Invermark data starts to give us a baseline, more data collected in the coming years may help us to identify trends and hopefully provide useful data for informed land management decisions in the future. In my opinion the more data collected in upland environments the better.

    If anyone wants to contact me to discuss the above, then please feel free to do so, my email address is

    Andrew Whitelee
    Senior Ecologist
    Taylor Wildlife

Leave a Reply

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

You are commenting using your 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: