GWCT responds to hen harrier decline with calls for a ‘limited cull’

This is just astonishing.

Following this morning’s news that the UK’s hen harrier population has descended further in to decline, the Game & Wildlife Conservation Trust (GWCT) has published the following response:

The GWCT says the results of the national hen harrier survey indicate that balance in moorland conservation and management in the UK is needed more than ever.

Many birds of prey have now largely recovered their numbers, with buzzards, sparrowhawks and ravens commonplace species. Such a full recovery of numbers and range is not the case for all birds of prey. Though the hen harrier has increased in range and number from a few pairs on Scottish islands in the early 20th century to the estimated 545 pairs in 2016, there is still work to do on their conservation.

This ground-nesting species is attracted to grouse moors where gamekeepers manage the heather, the fox numbers, and provide plenty of young grouse for them to eat. The GWCT’s research has shown a cyclical relationship between harriers and keeping. With plenty food and protection from foxes, harrier numbers can increase. If predators eat too many grouse chicks, the grouse moor becomes unproductive, making the moor redundant. Without gamekeepers there is less food, heather or fox control, so the harrier population cycles down again. Declines and rises in harrier numbers are not always linked to grouse management.

The GWCT believes the UK’s objective must be to enhance the community of raptors in the country as a whole. In some species this will need improvements in food supply or nest protection. In other places reducing the predation pressure by raptors, including hen harriers, on wildlife using the most satisfactorily humane methods will encourage their protection and conservation.

Dr Adam Smith said: “We need an adaptive approach whereby agreements are reached between landowners and government, allowing sustainable numbers of both raptors and prey to be achieved. We welcome Defra’s plan to study how to regulate the impacts of harriers on grouse in a non-lethal trial in the interests of both species. This is overseen by Natural England and supported by many organisations including the Game & Wildlife Conservation Trust, who first suggested licensed control in 1998. Grants, intra-guild effects, limited culls, target predator densities and other mechanisms should be used in this way to serve the long-term interest of raptors as well as game species and other wildlife.

“The GWCT condemns crimes against wildlife. We are committed to finding an effective and practical resolution to the conflict between red grouse and raptors. Wildlife crime only serves to delay a satisfactory resolution of the conflict.”


Are they for real?

Here we have the news that in England in 2016 there were just four territorial pairs of hen harriers (resulting in just three successful breeding attempts, none of which occurred on a driven grouse moor), where there is the potential for over 300 pairs.

Compare that with the unsustainable, artificially-high density of red grouse produced on driven grouse moors (this density is between 10-100 times higher than the ‘natural’ density), and you’ve got GWCT talking about the “need to reduce the predation pressure by raptors, including hen harriers” which could be achieved by, amongst other things, “limited culls“?

What?!! Without resorting to a torrent of swear words, we’re actually lost for words. Actually, the magnitude of what they’re proposing deserves a swear word. What the actual fuck? As has been said over and over again, if a business model relies on the removal of a protected native species, it isn’t environmentally sustainable. If that business model has practically eradicated, illegally, that protected native species, the business deserves to be closed down.

GWCT are right in that “a balance in moorland conservation and management is needed more than ever” but the idea of culling a species that is just about to fall off the precipice in to breeding extinction, thanks to systematic illegal persecution, is insane.

Balance on the UK moorlands will only be restored if (a) the illegal persecution stops and (b) the clamour for ever-increasing bag sizes (# of grouse shot) stops.

UPDATE 3pm: GWCT back-pedalling on hen harrier cull idea (see here)

34 thoughts on “GWCT responds to hen harrier decline with calls for a ‘limited cull’”

  1. WTF? No doubt a healthy balance between raptors and prey species existed before the dark side started to manipulate things in order to increase the number of grouse available for so-called sporting purposes! Hen Harriers and other raptors would have preyed upon that surplus of Red Grouse – a wild indigenous species – which the shooting fraternity now regards as theirs upon which to base their dubious and destructive activities.

  2. This sort of reasoning and misinformation has been witnessed on other wildlife conservation and animal welfare issues. On 6 June 2017, A Holyrood Committee meeting took place at which evidence was being taken on a Bill, which would see a ban on the use of any wild animal in circus, coming into Scotland. Martin Burton, chairman of the Association of Circus Proprietors of Great Britain, told MSPs that the “economic impact of the Bill on wild animal displays in “shopping centres would be massive”. Countries such as Romania, Colombia, Peru have banned wild animals in circuses, and programmes of resettlement of such animals have been underway, taking the Big Cats, Elephants etc., to reserves specially prepared for them, by international animal welfare charities. We have all been made aware, since the inception of RPS, that that kind of exaggerated statement is to be expected from any organisation representing some activity, that may have animal abuse and poor conditions occurring on its watch. There was also the arguments put forward for tail-docking of two breeds of dogs, that were accepted by the Conservative and SNP parties, and justified on the grounds of the ultimate welfare of such dogs. The discussion on stink holes to trap “vermin”, was brought on by the Labour and SNP parties. One would expect the Conservatives to be backing game bird shooting and predator control, and anything to do with other blood sports. However, I would wish that the SNP would take the stance of condemning any activity that ranks of illegal activities in its programme for predator control; not weaken existing laws that prevent dogs of all breeds from experiencing mutilation, to suit the shooting lobby. All of this encompasses the persecution of the Hen Harrier, which is another animals that is “getting in the way”. of those valiant heroes of management of our moorlands, the gamekeepers.

    When the Bills become laws or whatever, will they be some form of compromise, to let the subject wallow for more years, until the suffering reaches well-witnessed individuals who are not prepared to let it continue, and thus begins the cycle of protest again. We need to make our MSPs understand that we have the ideal of making our countryside more humanely managed. We also have to get access to the drafters of animal welfare laws, when the bias it in favour of the offender, thus making it difficult for proper sentencing to take place. I hope the day comes, when the whole edifice of obstruction to attain protection for our Birds of Prey, and other maligned creatures, is dismantled, to show who and what has been involved in preventing justice to prevail. Also, that certain of our MSPs become less gullible in believing the specious arguments of the blood sports organisations.

    1. Eloquent and intelligent as usual Greer Hart and I agree with every word but ,HOW do we bring about change.

  3. The positive take on this crass statement is that GWCT will lose even more credibility with the general British Public, and will be seen even more for what they are.

    1. Realistically, I doubt that the vast majority of the general British Public has ever heard of the GWCT or, indeed, of the plight of raptors on our moorlands. When canvassing support for Mark’s most recent petition to ban DGS, I found that very few people had even the slightest inkling of what goes on in our upland areas. I’ve no doubt that the dark side is fully aware of this high level of ignorance and feels that its position is secure.

  4. I would not allow any gamekeeper assciation, or any organisation which is related to grouse shooting, to volunteer ANY evidence on protecting or ‘managing’, birds of prey, as the only ‘evidence’ they offer, is justification for something which is ALREADY illegal. When they can be trusted to really manage for the benefit of wildlife – then, time enough for them to be invited – but not until then.
    They have far too much say in this justification of wholesale slaughter of this country’s natural assets, already!

    1. But we all know that burning the heather creates essential environmental niches for aerobic detritivores (eg nematodes). This rubbish about golden plover and lapwings, everyone knows unimproved or semi improved grasslands are their preferred habitat.

  5. It’s pure comedy and pompous comedy at that. They are trying to speak with authority, sounding reasonable, to give those outside their clique the appearance that “we are on the case,” whereas the underlying message is “do nothing.”

    Personally I vote for direct action on grouse moors this season. I am quite happy to get myself arrested. They can shoot me if they want, but I am going to park myself directly in front of the grouse butts at a shoot and not move until the pompous idiots who pay for this privileged have had their bloodlust thoroughly spoiled.

    There are certainly other people who are willing to participate in this.

  6. The GWCT’s response is essentially a dog whistle to the criminals and moorland mafia which says “carry on killing them lads”.
    Now they’re effecting faux outrage at being called out for it and playing the victim – tactics straight out of the Countryside Areliars playbook. Nice deflection.

  7. ‘The GWCT’s research has shown a cyclical relationship between harriers and keeping. With plenty food and protection from foxes, harrier numbers can increase. If predators eat too many grouse chicks, the grouse moor becomes unproductive, making the moor redundant. Without gamekeepers there is less food, heather or fox control, so the harrier population cycles down again.’
    Am i the only one thinking this is a load of bollocks or is it just that the rest of it is even more bollocks?
    Where is there the bit in this ‘cycle’ when there are no gamekeepers?

    1. They’re probably referring to Langholm 1, and trying to use this single example to extrapolate to all other driven grouse moors. Forgetting to mention, of course, that Langholm wasn’t/isn’t representative of any other driven grouse moor (keepers were forbidden from killing raptors at Langholm during the trial so of course their population expanded when predators were removed).

  8. I am so glad that they seem to read this , here we go- your business model is outdated, it can only exist by breaking the law of the land , it is not wanted or needed, the countryside and the birds and animals in it do not need you to manage them thank you very much .It is also degenerate and disgusting and immoral in every way. You are going to go out of business very soon ,anyone thinking of in investing in your business would be foolish. Your otherwise unemployable flunkies are going to have to find real jobs in the real world. We are on your case, it is you who will have to change, we are not going to go away, and we are getting stronger and stronger and more and more pissed off . See you up on a moor sometime in August, you can bet on it.

  9. Even for the gutter plumbing GWCT this is extraordinary but probably an honest comment from their warped minds and of course utter tripe.Not so much denial of the current illegality that supports ridiculous numbers of grouse more a green light for it to carry on regardless of the law. truly shocking from people who claim to be science led more the sort of tripe we expect of the SGA/NGO or CA/ MA.

  10. It becomes clearer with every game industry press release that the conflict between true nature conservationists and game shooting is irreconcilable. The only credible solution ultimately is to consign grouse shooting to history where it belongs. Forget licensing and the never-ending battle to motivate the law enforcers into meaningful action, it’s time to wipe out the systemic problem. To do this we need to engender greater public and political sympathy, for which we need the wholehearted support of RSPB, bird clubs and dare say it, Raptor Study Groups.

    1. There’s no realistic prospect of DGS being banned anytime soon. There is though a real chance of a licensing system being introduced. We should concentrate our efforts on that.

      1. That’s probably quite realistic Dave, but in my opinion over-pessimistic. It is also my opinion that a licensing system, if successful as being considered for Scotland, will actually take us backwards. There is a very serious risk that licensing will not only consolidate grouse shooting as a legitimate ‘sport,’ but that the price to pay will be a Defra-type ‘Action Plan’ which will maintain artificially suppressed numbers of Hen Harriers throughout the UK. It is also a distinct probability that harrier persecution will continue, but a lot more discretely than before. It’s also worth remembering that grouse moor (mis)management affects far more than just harriers, and is both ecologically and environmentally harmful. It’s an archaic practice, and licensing won’t stop it.

  11. Reading between the lines I cannot fault the argument that one way to cut wildlife crime is to decriminalise crimes against wildlife. What statements like this highlight is a real need to invest in mental health resources in rural areas. It might also be worth trying to find out why many of our politicians are taken in by such nonsense.

  12. As the former commentator in the Main Arena for thirteen years at the annual CLA Game Fairs in England, Scotland and Wales I had ample opportunity to listen to conversations between gamekeepers, fox hunters, hare coursers, gun dog breeders and the landowner game shooting fraternity. However, when I had to hand over the microphone to one of these aficionados to enable them to ‘sell’ their ‘sports’ it never failed to enrage me when they invariably started their half hour of propaganda with the words “without field sports this green and pleasant land of ours would not exist”. Of course their audiences were in the main their acolytes who were only too pleased to agree with them. Rye Grass Green it may be (until it is silaged to an inch of its life), but ‘pleasant’ and wildlife friendly? I don’t think so. I also had the opportunity to visit the stalls of the ‘regulars’, including those of the GWCT, BFSA, NGA, BASC, Shooting Times and their ilk. At first I admired the (then) Game Conservancy to the extent that I joined them for a few years on the basis that they were doing good work via the Allerton Project, in studying the relationship between predators, habitat loss and the on-going decline in songbirds, especially on farmland. I also admired Dick Potts’ work on trying to reverse the causes of the Grey Partridge drastic decline – albeit to ensure there were still Partridges to shoot!

    You may well ask why I continued to commentate at gamefairs for thirteen years when I have always been a dyed in the wool conservationist. The answer is – it was the perfect way to listen to what REALLY happens in the world of most (but not all) shooting/hunting estates, and to say it was an eye opener is to seriously understate the case. In the end I began to voice my case – and suffice to say I was not asked to commentate again!

    To return to Hen Harriers I was in for yet more enlightenment when, as founder/Director and current Hon. President of the World Owl Trust I found myself in Perthshire in the mid-1990’s trying to ascertain whether European Eagle Owls were breeding in that area (they were) and this involved visiting shooting estates and talking to the landowners and their gamekeepers – and I was in for a surprise. Most of them were willing to talk sanely about Foxes, Buzzards and Peregrines – but when I mentioned Hen Harriers, almost to a man, their eyes grew blood red and all politeness and sanity evaporated! And that was over 20 years ago, and I think we would all agree that matters have grown worse, not better since then. If like me, any of you have had the ‘joy’ of giving a lecture at an Agricultural College which has a course for budding gamekeepers, you will know full well why this is the case. The first thing these young men are taught is the best means to control (eliminate) ‘vermin’ both fur and feather, so don’t be fooled into thinking we are doing battle with a dying race of ‘old school’ ageing gamekeepers. The appalling recent videos clearly show that the young gamekeepers are all too keen to carry on the ‘tradition.

    I am sorry to write such a long ‘rant’, but I am well and truly sick of hearing the same old words, words, and more words and promises from the judiciary, government ministers, Chief Constables and especially the Crown Prosecution Service. When can we expect action instead of crocodile tears?

    As for the Game Conservancy Conservation (ha!) Trust, all I can say is “What the hell happened to you”. The same applies to the Hawk & Owl Trust of which I was once a Trustee. As a member I am ashamed of your part in the hair-brained ‘meddling’ scheme and I am sure our old Chair person, the wonderful Barbara Handley, is looking down on you in horror. Why can’t you see that you are being conned by the ‘pleasure killers’?

    Thanks again RPUK. Never go away.

    1. Great comment Tony. That is one of the most accurate insights to what we’re up against than I’ve read yet. I don’t have your experience, but spent several years working in a Regional Park which included four grouse shooting estates, and couldn’t help getting to know not only the gamekeepers, but allegedly internationally respected grouse specialists. In later years I was often in a position to eavesdrop on keepers’ talk in local pubs, which was very enlightening, especially as the evening drew on and their tongues became looser. I always remember one grouse moor manager, while discussing raptors in general, getting quite red-faced and saying to me… “I’ll tolerate the Peregrines, so long as we are able to reduce the brood size [to one chick per pair], but I will never, ever tolerate a harrier on the moor.” His keepers were instructed to shoot on sight, which they were perfectly happy to do, having been indoctrinated at training college and succumbed to peer pressure. Received wisdom is a dangerous thing.

  13. Iain and Tony have the right of it the more you listen and rub shoulders with ” the dark side” the more of the poison in their minds you discover whether that is about raptors especially harriers, foxes or people of our persuasion until you hear it for yourself it is literally unbelievable and despite the years of pressure it hasn’t changed.

  14. Ehh? How does the GWCT’s statement “intra-guild effects, limited culls, target predator densities and other mechanisms” translate into “possible research into effects of raven population on wading birds”! Given that the GWCT had issued a press release about the results of the national hen harrier survey and their claim that balance in moorland conservation and management in the UK is needed then I think it was reasonable to assume the term “intra-guild effect” referred to hen harrier predation on grouse. It was therefore perfectly reasonable to conclude that the”limited culls and target predator densities” referred to hen harriers. The GWCT can’t honestly expect readers to conclude that the “intra guild effects” they mention in their press release refer to Ravens on wading birds! It’s utterly ridiculous! Keep up the superb work.

    1. As far as I’m aware IGP specifically relates to predation on competitors – for example lion killing cheetah, otter killing mink etc (not as a food source but as a means to reduce competition for what is available).

      1. That was my understanding also, so was puzzled as to what GWCT was referring to specifically. Anyone got any suggestions?

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