Gas gun on Broomhead Estate: an update

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.

29 thoughts on “Gas gun on Broomhead Estate: an update”

  1. Is anyone able to ask local sheep farmers for their opinion of this statement by Natural England ?

  2. Well done RPUK. Once more you’ve exposed a “nod and a wink” culture which seems to be omnipresent in our Government Agencies charged with protecting our birds and environment.

  3. Fascinating. It’s worth having a look at the Raven species account in the BTO Bird Atlas. A visual interpretation of some of the breeding relative abundance change maps could suggest that the strongest positive changes in abundance are away from grouse moors. The text account also states – “the only unoccupied upland area is the North York Moors”

    Go speculate.

  4. You mean someone says “ravens are predating on lambs” and Natural England agree to the guns with no assessment? This is all getting farcical, apart from the seriousness of it.

  5. I wonder if failing to comply with the requirements of the habitats regulations is an offence?
    If natural England could make that decision then they must have a good up to date information Base on the status of breeding and non-breeding ravens within and around the site. This would certainly be the case if the ravens were a notified component of an upland bird assemblage in the SSSI….. Wouldn’t they?

    1. I just checked and the ravens are a key component of the upland breeding bird feature of the SSSI however, maybe I am not using the website properly, but I can’t see anything to suggest that they have ever monitored the condition of this feature? Can anyone find any evidence?

  6. As a resident of the High Peak and someone who’s daily commute to work takes me over Axe Edge and past the Roaches in both directions every weekday on the A53, I can confirm that ravens, one of my favourite birds, are indeed a rare sight, certainly in this part of the Peak District. That’s not to say I never see them but, it’s not even a guaranteed monthly occurrence. This is surprising as the area boasts some prime habitat for them for foraging and roosting. The same could be said for any of the large raptors, buzzards, kestrels and the occasional peregrin being about the only raptors that are to be observed on my commute. I have also seen a red kite on two occasions, years apart, and I been doing this job for the last 9 years. That’s an appalling state of affairs. These birds are being failed on a daily basis by organisations that should be there to look after their interests.

  7. Natural England is there to rubber stamp the decisions of landowners: Tory donors making life easy for Tory donors. Go figure.

  8. In the case of corvids, ravens in particular, I would have doubts as to the effectiveness of gas guns. They would have more of a deterrent effect on almost every other species, including raptors and almost all other ground nesting birds in the immediate area. I would also be interested in the opinions of local farmers, not just in the immediate vicinity but on farms bordering the “effective area” of the gas gun. There should, quite simply be a blanket ban in SSSIs and SPAs. What doubt can there be that these are affecting the natural environment ? – If NE can’t adopt a rigid stance against the use of gas-guns, I can’t accept they are anywhere close to fulfilling their intended role.

  9. Yes, those areas of burned heather in the background, and the bilberry in the foreground must attract an awful lot of pregnant ewes and pesky ravens.
    Can’t remember the last time I saw ravens in any numbers in the Dark Peak. Oh, wait, yes I can. Never!

    Someone at Natural England really needs to start doing their GCSE homework before rubber-stamping these ridiculous applications for gas guns and damaging access tracks to grouse butts.

  10. If the gas guns are only used as a reactionary measure and not a precautionary one, then why were they not used this year? Was there nothing to react to? If not then they were presumably there as a precaution?

  11. Knowing a little about sheep farming in the area, and looking at the backdrop to the pictures it doesn’t look like an area where they would have ewes to lamb, ewes and lambs go to the moor when old enough to cope with keeping up with ‘mum’ and (generally) big enough to stop any chance of predation by foxes or corvids

  12. As a High Peak resident, and in the interests of scientific accuracy, I’d have to disagree with your “local sources”, and with Benjamin above on the abundance of Ravens in the Dark Peak (though Benjamin and I live in slightly different parts of the Peak a dozen miles apart, and we’re both on the opposite site of the watershed to the moor in question).

    Here in the Kinder Scout area I get them overhead over my house pretty much every day (suspected breeding pair in nearby quarry, admittedly) and see them regularly (75% of visits?) on local walks in all directions. I walk widely and these are definitely not the same pair. I’d say they’re pretty common, and increasing, in the Dark Peak. Your own quote from the PDRMG says they’re “seriously under-reported” – under-reported, not under-encountered.

    I’ve no idea whether they’re genuinely a problem for lambs (I doubt it, but I’m not a farmer) and the gas guns seem a disproportionate and inappropriate response. But if we’re going to argue for evidence, we need to be accurate ourselves.

    1. Thanks, Dave.

      In the interests of accuracy, our quote from the NERF Annual Report said:

      “Breeding ravens appear to be seriously under-represented in the PDRMG”

      Not, as you suggest, “under-reported”.

      1. Fair point – my mistake. But I still maintain they’re commoner than is being suggested here.

        1. Yeah, NE know they are throwing a spanner into the works here by claiming ravens are the target. Get people talking about everything else except that they issued a licence for a gas gun designed to disturb the nesting of very rare birds (on a SPA/SSSI).

    2. Hi Dave, as I said, it’s not that I don’t see them but, it’s infrequent and a great deal less than I would expect. I’m very happy that you see them on an almost daily basis. I would like that to be the case in my neck of the woods. That it isn’t I think possibly speaks volumes about land management and game keeping practices in the area.

  13. I don’t actually believe ravens kill lambs. I am happy to be corrected, but a lamb is pretty big and on its feet within a few minutes of being born. Surely pensioners would be easier targets for the ravens.

  14. Maybe this is what is meant by the term ‘increased scrutiny of legitimate activities’. In other words we would have got away with this if other people didn’t know the law.

  15. To say the gas guns are there to scare Ravens is very much a tall story. Yes the first few blast may scare then, but certainly not for long, once they had figured out there was no danger to themselves. Ravens are intelligent birds, seemingly more intelligent than who ever came up with or believes this scam! Indeed Ravens often respond to gunshots by being attracted to it, having learned an animal is likely to have been killed ( or wounded ) and therefore there is a potential meal for them.

  16. This exposes a much wider and serious problem that you might want to dig into RPUK. Namely the evidence / non-evidence provided by successful applicants for lethal control of birds and the level of scrutiny the country agencies (don’t) apply before issuing licences. Then maybe look at the quality (complete absence?) of the monitoring and reporting of compliance to licence conditions which, importantly, is a condition of the licence being issued in the first place.

    1. Anon – I totally agree. From memory, going back to the initial award of licences to control buzzards, the evidence of harm was judged by NE as being highly reliable because it originated from the actual workers involved on the ground, namely the gamekeepers!
      Similarly, I think, at least in some cases, the compliance monitoring involves receiving activity reports written by the gamekeepers themselves. It’s a complete joke.

  17. Something that may be worth looking into (regarding both this and other applications for consent for use of gas guns) is who actually ‘farms’ the land. Certainly here in the North Penines the farmers of land surrounding moorland (sometimes tenants of the local Estates) have ancient grazing rights on moorland (called ‘gaits’..1 gait is the right to graze a ewe and a follower on the moor). Interesting as this is (isn’t) what I am getting at is that it is unlikely the Moorland owner is the farmer. This is certainly the case on East Arkengarthdale Estate where a gas gun is still operating.

    Whether this makes any difference to the application I know not?

  18. I concur that corvids are way too clever to be bothered with gas guns.
    They habituate to them immediately.
    In fact, many birds do.
    Just watch the reactions of birds such as adult Woodpigeons which are intelligent enough to avoid many decoying techniques.
    After a very short time they barely flinch when the gas gun fires even quite close to them.
    However, gas guns used in conjunction with concealed shooters now & then – that’s a very different story…..

    Keep up the pressure !

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