Ten days ago we blogged about a gas gun that had been photographed on the Broomhead Estate in the Peak District National Park (see here). This moor is designated as a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI), Special Protection Area (SPA) and Special Area of Conservation (SAC).
The SSSI and SPA designations are, in part, to provide protection for nationally important breeding bird populations, particularly short-eared owls, merlin and golden plover. As such, we believed the use of a gas gun would require consent from Natural England so we asked NE a couple of questions: (a) did the landowner apply for consent?; (b) did NE approve consent and if so, on what grounds? We also asked NE for a copy of the ‘appropriate assessment’.
Many of you also wrote to Natural England (thank you) and NE has now replied with this generic response:
Many thanks for getting in touch; In the case that prompted your enquiry I can confirm that a consent was issued for the use of gas guns to deal with a persistent problem of ravens attacking young lambs. We have contacted the estate who confirmed that although set up the guns have not been used this year. We have asked the estate to remove them as the consent has now expired.
You are right that the use of gas guns in the Peak District within the Protected Site (SSSI) could require Natural England’s consent depending on the specific species notified for that site. As a general rule consent is likely to be required where the following ‘operations requiring Natural England’s consent’ are listed in the notification papers:
- Erection of permanent or temporary structures
- Recreational or other activities likely to damage features of biological interest
- Game management and hunting practice and changes in game management and hunting practice
The use of gas guns within, or immediately adjacent to Protected Sites, notified for their importance for birds requires careful consideration during sensitive periods, for example during the breeding season or where roosting birds are present. Where protected sites form part of the Natura 2000 network a Habitats Regulation Assessment is completed.
In the Peak District consent for gas guns limits use to when they are required, on a reactionary, rather than precautionary approach to deter large groups of juvenile ravens from predating on lambs. Their use is restricted to defined areas and use controlled within those areas to minimise the impact on the notified features. Such restrictions include numbers of gas guns to be used, time which they can be used, buffer zones around nest sites and regular third party monitoring (by the Birds of Prey Initiative for example). The timing of deployment is also restricted to ensure breeding ravens are not disturbed.
Natural England is committed to working with land owners to seek solutions that can both deliver the land owners objectives whilst at the same time protecting important wildlife on the protected site.
Natural England Enquiries Team
So, this response answers our first question: Did the landowner apply for consent? Yes, he did.
The response attempts to answer our second question: Did Natural England approve consent (yes) and if so, on what grounds?
The response failed to provide a copy of the appropriate assessment.
The idea that Natural England gave consent for the use of gas guns ‘to deal with a persistent problem of ravens attacking young lambs’ is fascinating. According to our local sources, the Dark Peak “is largely raven free”. Indeed, if you look at the latest report from the Northern England Raptor Forum (Annual Review 2015), it says this:
Peak District Raptor Monitoring Group
Extent of coverage: Part upland and part lowland areas
Level of monitoring: Excellent coverage; all or most sites receive annual coverage. Breeding ravens appear to be seriously under-represented in the PDRMG study area. Just two pairs were recorded breeding successfully in the Dark Peak area in 2015. One pair failed at the egg stage. A number of new nests were recorded but there were no birds in attendance and all appear to have failed early. One pair failed at the small young stage in the south west of the Peak District for reasons unknown. However, a further successful pair was recorded by the Group away from the Dark Peak in Cheshire.
We’ve written again to Natural England and asked them, again, to provide a copy of the ‘appropriate assessment’ and/or any other assessment that Natural England staff completed when they approved consent for gas guns on this moor.