‘No further comment’ from Natural England on latest missing hen harrier

Last week we blogged about a North Yorkshire Police search for a satellite-tagged hen harrier that had ‘disappeared’ on a grouse moor in the Yorkshire Dales National Park (see here).

We asked Natural England, on Twitter, when they would be making a statement about this. They didn’t respond.

So we emailed them. Here’s the response:

All we can tell you at this stage is that this situation is the subject of a police investigation. We are assisting North Yorkshire Police and cannot comment further“.

Bizarrely, Natural England then sent another response a short time later:

We have notified the police and other key stakeholders about a Hen Harrier that has stopped transmitting as we always do. We do not release proactive press statements unless we have evidence of a persecution [sic] and this is currently still an on-going investigation. Due to the transmission cycle of the tag we cannot be sure that the location of the last fix was where the tag actually stopped working. The tags only transmit for 10 hours in 58“.

Marvellous. So, no information about which hen harrier this is, where and when it was satellite-tagged, whether public funds had been used to pay for the tag, the date of the tag’s last transmission, and the name of the grouse moor where it ‘disappeared’.

It’s not clear why this information is being withheld. Understandably, if there was an impending police search, the information should not be made public so as not to jeopardise that search. But in this case, the police search had already taken place, which incidentally would have been a complete waste of time had the harrier been illegally killed on that grouse moor because, as per the NE protocol, Natural England had already sought the landowner’s permission for a police search to take place!

Photo of a police search on an unnamed grouse moor in the Yorkshire Dales National Park. Posted by North Yorks Police on Twitter, 15 Oct 2017.

Is there any other area of crime where the permission of a potential suspect is sought prior to a police search? “Oh, hi John, it’s the Police here. We have reason to believe your property is being used as a dealer’s crack den, mind if we pop round later this afternoon for a look? Would 2pm be convenient? Give you time to clear up and remove any potentially incriminating evidence before we get there”.

And what’s this about Natural England not releasing press statements “unless there’s evidence of a persecution” [sic]? That’s simply not true. Earlier this year Natural England issued a press statement about hen harrier Mick, another satellite-tagged hen harrier that ‘disappeared’ on a grouse moor in the Yorkshire Dales National Park (see here). There was no direct evidence of persecution in that case either, as Natural England lists Mick as ‘Missing, fate unknown’ in the long list of ‘missing’ sat-tagged hen harriers (44 of 59 now listed as ‘Missing, fate unknown’: that’s a massive 74.5%). It looks like Natural England is just making up its media protocol as it goes along.

Now, compare and contrast Natural England’s current attitude to releasing information about ‘missing’ hen harriers with the RSPB’s approach. Here’s what the RSPB published when one of its satellite-tagged hen harriers, Calluna, ‘disappeared’ on a grouse moor in the Cairngorms National Park on 12th August this year.

Why isn’t Natural England being this transparent? Who is Natural England shielding? How is Natural England’s silence helping hen harrier conservation?


16 November 2017: Hen harrier ‘missing’ on grouse moor in Yorkshire Dales National Park is ‘John’ – see here

Wise words from Glen Tanar Estate

There are a number of estates whose names crop up with depressing regularity on this blog, usually for all the wrong reasons.

Glen Tanar Estate isn’t one of them.

We have written about this estate over the years (e.g. here, here, here), as have others (e.g. here, here, here) but we’ve only ever had good things to say about its welcome approach to raptor conservation. Today’s blog follows that trend.

Glen Tanar sits on the eastern side of the Cairngorms National Park, an area that includes many intensively managed grouse moors and consequently is an area that continues to be plagued by illegal raptor persecution. This regional notoriety makes Glen Tanar’s positive attitude towards birds of prey even more remarkable.

[Estate boundary sourced from Andy Wightman’s Who Owns Scotland website]

Now, have a read of this blog recently written by Glen Tanar’s Wildlife Manager, Colin McClean, where he describes the grouse moor management at Glen Tanar. Colin’s approach should be a benchmark, not only for the other grouse-shooting estates within the Cairngorms National Park but for the entire UK grouse shooting industry.

We were particularly taken with his final paragraph:

Big bags are not essential and most of our guests are happy to spend a day chatting to friends in beautiful surroundings while watching the dogs tirelessly work. Perhaps only 10-20 birds will be shot. But amidst the chat and the income, the debate surrounding grouse shooting rages on. Jobs and economy on one side, raptor persecution on the other. Political scrutiny is now intense. For me there is little political threat to grouse shooting provided the sector obeys the law of the land. There are far too many jobs involved for politicians to take action lightly. However obeying the law is a must and this remains a challenge for some. The recent review of satellite tagging of golden eagles shows an unambiguous pattern of regular disappearances above grouse moors when they rarely disappear over anywhere else. For me its not the RSPB or campaigners like Chris Packham or Mark Avery who threaten grouse shooting. They are just campaigning for the law to be obeyed. The threat to grouse shooting comes from those who refuse to abide by the law and continue to persecute raptors. If a ban ever does come about, then the responsibility for losing all the traditions, all the economy and all the jobs will lie entirely at their door“.

Another Parliamentary question on conservation status of mountain hares

Last week we discovered that SNH had reported to the EU Commission in 2013 that the mountain hare was in ‘Favourable Conservation Status’ (see here).

This startling revelation was revealed after a Parliamentary question from Scottish Greens MSP Alison Johnstone. We wanted to know more detail about how SNH had made its assessment, and it seems we’re not the only ones. Alison has submitted a further Parliamentary question, as follows:

Question S5W-12001: Alison Johnstone, Lothian, Scottish Green Party, Date Lodged: 13/10/2017

To ask the Scottish Government, in light of the 2007 assessment regarding an ‘unfavourable/inadequate’ status, for what reason its 2013 Article 17 Habitats Regulations report to the EU Commission assessed the mountain hare population as “favourable”, and whether it will provide a breakdown of the (a) criteria it used and (b) the evidence it received.

Expected answer date 10/11/2017

Kudos to Alison Johnstone MSP!

The grouse-shooting industry has previously said that large scale culls no longer take place. Photographic evidence from the Cairngorms National Park in 2016 suggests otherwise.

Grouse moors are “centres of excellence” for mountain hares, claims deluded industry rep

You’ve got to hand it to Tim (Kim) Baynes, spokesman for the Scottish Moorland Group / Scottish Land & Estates / Gift of Grouse, his ability to spin even the worst of the grouse-shooting industry’s excesses is becoming legendary (e.g. see here, here, here). He’d probably even give Amanda Anderson (Moorland Association) a run for her money in the propaganda game.

In his latest offering, Tim (Kim) argues that managed grouse moors should be seen as a “Centre of Excellence” for mountain hares!

That’ll be the intensively-managed grouse moors that slaughter hundreds, no, thousands of so-called protected mountain hares, just to protect a ridiculously and artificially high number of red grouse which will later be used as live targets, shot for ‘sport’.

Here’s a ‘Centre of Excellence’ for mountain hares, photographed on an Angus Glens estate:

This “Centre of Excellence” nonsense is included in Tim’s (Kim’s) response to the Scottish Parliament’s Public Petitions Committee which is seeking stakeholder commentary on OneKind’s recent petition calling for greater protection of mountain hares.

Here’s Tim’s (Kim’s) submission, on behalf of the Scottish Moorland Group:

 Scottish Land & Estates_Petition PE1664_mountain hare_response

There are other gems within his submission, including an argument that from an animal welfare perspective, the culling of mountain hares is “not fundamentally different” to culling deer. Quite how he reaches this conclusion is a bit of a mystery – aren’t deer carefully stalked for hours and hours, with the shooting party quietly creeping up on a single deer to get close enough for a clean rifle shot without the deer knowing anything about it? Not sure how that equates with hundreds of mountain hares being forced to run uphill, probably terrified and racing for their lives, only to be shot in the face by a line of shotgun-toting ‘sportsmen’ when they reach the top.

As usual, Tim (Kim) misses the whole point of the argument, which isn’t necessarily about whether mountain hares should be managed, but is about the questionable sustainability of large-scale culls on intensively managed driven grouse moors. Nobody disputes that mounatin hares can do very well on these grouse moors – of course they do well, all their natural predators have been removed! But there’s no way that gamekeepers can know the impact of these large culls on the wider mountain hare population, despite Tim’s (Kim’s) unsupported claim that they can, and despite his unsupported claim that “estates have operated voluntary restraint for a long time”.

Nobody knows what impacts these culls are having because there isn’t yet an effective and approved counting method for estimating mountain hare abundance, although Dr Adam Watson’s long-term scientific research on mountain hare abundance on grouse moors in north east Scotland suggests there have been significant declines (his research is due to be submitted for peer-review publication shortly, we understand).

There is currently no requirement for gamekeepers to conduct counts either before or after these culls take place, and no requirement for cull returns to be submitted to SNH, even though SNH has a statutory duty to ensure that any management of this species is undertaken sustainably! At the moment, SNH is relying upon the word of the grouse-shooting industry to assess sustainability, which is astonishing given what is known about the industry’s untrustworthiness on other conservation issues.

Here’s a topical drawing sent in this week by Mr Carbo:

Satellite-tagged hen harrier ‘disappears’ on Yorkshire Dales National Park grouse moor

North Yorkshire Police have today been searching an unnamed grouse moor in the Yorkshire Dales National Park for a ‘missing’ satellite-tagged hen harrier:

Here’s a map of Craven District in North Yorkshire (outlined in red), covering part of the Yorkshire Dales National Park and nestled inbetween the Bowland and Nidderdale Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty – all raptor persecution hotspots:

It’s good to see North Yorkshire Police out in force to conduct this search. We’ll await an official press release from North Yorkshire Police and Natural England for the details about this particular satellite-tagged hen harrier.


23 October 2017: ‘No further comment’ from Natural England on latest missing hen harrier – see here

16 November 2017: Hen harrier missing on grouse moor in Yorkshire Dales National Park is ‘John’ – see here

Green MSP lodges Parliamentary motion calling for moratorium on mountain hare culls

Following the news on Friday that ten conservation and outdoor organisations have renewed a joint call on the Scottish Government to provide greater protection for mountain hares (see here), Scottish Green Party MSP Alison Johnstone has now lodged a Parliamentary motion calling for ‘urgently required’ action:

Motion S5M-08225: Alison Johnstone, Scottish Green Party, Date lodged: 12/10/2017.

That the Parliament acknowledges the concerns of a coalition of 10 conservation and outdoor organisations regarding the poorly-known status of mountain hare in Scotland, which they believe is threatened by heavy culls on intensively-managed grouse moors, and considers that a moratorium on these culls is urgently required.

Parliamentary motions are used by MSPs as a device to initiate debate or propose a course of action. Other MSPs can sign up in support of lodged motions. Motions remain current for six weeks and in order to progress they require support by at least 30 supporters from more than two political parties.

For Scottish blog readers, please consider emailing your MSP to ask them to support this motion. If you’re not sure who your MSP is, you can find out here.

The pressure on the Scottish Government to act on this issue is not going away. Well done Alison Johnstone MSP, well done to those ten conservation/outdoor organisations who have asked, again, for a temporary ban on mountain hare culling, and well done to animal welfare charity OneKind whose petition calling for greater protection of mountain hares is still under consideration by the Parliament’s Petitions Committee.

Photo shows a pile of bloodied mountain hare corpses that were being used as a stink pit on an Angus Glens grouse shooting estate.

Scottish Government under more pressure to protect mountain hares

RSPB press release:


A coalition of ten environmental and outdoor organisations have repeated their appeal to the Scottish Government to introduce urgent safeguards for mountain hare populations.

The group (1) is asking for a temporary ban on all mountain hare culling on grouse moors until measures are put in place to ensure their numbers can remain at acceptable, sustainable levels.

The Scottish Government has a duty to maintain mountain hare populations in a state of good health, otherwise it may be in breach of its legally binding international obligations for this species. However, mountain hares are now routinely culled on a large scale across many grouse moors in Scotland (2).

In 2014, the coalition warned the Scottish Government that the ‘voluntary restraint’ that was claimed to be in place was unlikely to protect these mammals from wide-scale culls on grouse moors, including in the Cairngorms National Park.

Since then, there have been multiple reports of culls being carried out across the country – suggesting that voluntary restraint has been ignored. These culls are believed to be having a serious negative effect on hare populations. In some areas it has been shown that the culls are leading to severe population declines and potentially even local extinctions.

Duncan Orr-Ewing from RSPB Scotland, said: “The Scottish Government needs to do more to safeguard these iconic species of our upland areas. In 2014 we had serious concerns that the notion of voluntary restraint would be ignored by many in the grouse shooting industry and, with the evidence of culls continuing on many moors over the last three years, it seems that these fears have been well founded.

The start of the mountain hare season has already begun meaning hare populations will continue to be put at risk by unregulated culls that we believe, are resulting in localised disappearance of hare populations. We still do not know what impact these large scale culls are having on mountain hares’ wider conservation status and this could mean that the Scottish Government may be in breach of its legally binding international obligations for this species.

We trust that this issue will also be considered by the forthcoming independently led expert group, announced by the Cabinet Secretary for the Environment at the end of May 2017, which will be looking at how grouse moors can be managed sustainably and within the law.

Susan Davies, Director of Conservation, Scottish Wildlife Trust said: “Mountain hares are an iconic species that act as an indicator of the ecological health of our uplands, and seeing them gives much pleasure to hillwalkers and tourists alike.

“There has been continued and widespread culling throughout the period of voluntary restraint that was called for three years ago to allow research to be carried out. This suggests that some grouse moor managers have no concern for the long-term viability of mountain hare populations.

“We believe that grouse moor managers have a responsibility for this important native species. Lethal control should be halted until there is both accurate information on the number of hares culled, and the true effect of these culls on the health of the hare population is known.”

Alison Johnstone MSP said: “The mountain hare is a true icon of our upland areas and an important part of our natural heritage. The unnecessary and unregulated culling of mountain hares on intensive grouse moors across Scotland is damaging populations of this species beyond recovery. I have previously asked the Cabinet Secretary to ban these culls, at the very least in our National Parks and I support the call from these 10 organisations for the government to do more to safeguard populations of mountain hares and implement a moratorium on culls until work can be carried work to assure those concerned that any necessary mountain hare management can be sustainable.”

Notes for editors:

  1. The organisations which make up the coalition are: RSPB Scotland, Scottish Wildlife Trust, Scottish Raptor Study Group, Badenoch and Strathspey Conservation Group, Cairngorms Campaign, National Trust for Scotland, Royal Zoological Society of Scotland, Mammal Society, John Muir Trust and Mountaineering Scotland.
  2. Mountain hares are protected against unsustainable and indiscriminate killing by the European Union’s Habitats Directive. However, they are now routinely culled on a large scale on many grouse moors. This practice has developed relatively recently, in the belief that it protects red grouse against the tick-borne louping ill virus and so increases the surplus of grouse to be shot at the end of the summer, despite the lack of scientific evidence to support this claim.
  3. The mountain hare is Britain’s only native hare and plays a vital part of the complex ecosystem of Scotland’s uplands and moorlands, including acting as an important source of prey for golden eagles, one of Scotland’s most well-known birds.
  4. Mountain hares are understood to spread very slowly from one area to another, meaning culls may have significant detrimental impacts on local populations.
  5. In December 2014, Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) along with other partners, announced the beginning of a three year study to trial methods of measuring mountain hare numbers to better inform their monitoring, how to assess their population status, and identify appropriate management measures. As part of this, SNH called for a voluntary restraint of large scale mountain hare culls on grouse moors.


It’s great to see continued pressure being placed on the Scottish Government, and we’re especially pleased to see Mountaineering Scotland add its voice.

The Scottish Government (and it’s statutory conservation agency SNH) is exhibiting wilful blindness over this issue. There’s no other explanation for it. The Scottish Government has repeatedly said it does not support mass culls of mountain hares, and three years ago called on grouse moor managers to practice ‘voluntary restraint’ – a request that has been blatantly ignored by the grouse shooting industry, who have denied there is even a need for it (see here). And yet still the Scottish Government has not acted.

We’ve recently discovered that SNH has reported to the EU Commission that the mountain hare has favourable conservation status, despite strong scientific evidence (particularly from Dr Adam Watson) of local population declines. We are waiting for SNH to provide more detail of the scientific evidence it used to make this assessment because frankly, given the paucity of information on population size, we don’t understand how SNH was able to reach this conclusion.

The Scottish Government has committed to investigate the issue of mass hare culling on grouse moors, as part of the independent review of grouse moor management that was announced in May 2017. However, five months on we haven’t seen any sign of progress on this review – as far as we’re aware the panel hasn’t even been named, let alone the actual review getting underway.

Meanwhile, open season on mountain hares has come around again and we can expect to see more unregulated massacres taking place across many driven grouse moors, all in the name of ‘sport’.

Media coverage:

BBC news here

Mammal Society here

Scottish Gamekeepers Association here

Scottish Moorland Group here

Scot Gov says mountain hare has favourable conservation status – but on what evidence?

Last month, Alison Johnstone MSP lodged a series of parliamentary questions relating to the conservation status of mountain hares (see here), including this one:

Question S5W-11180: Alison Johnstone, Lothian, Scotish Green Party. Date lodged: 8/9/2017.

To ask the Scottish Government what reports it has made to the EU Commission in the last 10 years regarding the population status of mountain hares, and what summary conclusions these included regarding the species’ health.

Dead mountain hares being transported on Farr Estate, Feb 2017 (photo by Pete Walkden)

As many of you will know, the mountain hare is listed on Annexe V of the EU Habitats Directive (1992), which requires member states to maintain this species in favourable conservation status. The Scottish Government has a legal obligation to report to the European Commission on the health of the mountain hare population.

The Scottish Government’s answer to Alison’s parliamentary question is surprising, to say the least:

So, although SNH (the Scottish Government’s statutory conservation advisor) has absolutely no idea what impact the mass culls have on the mountain hare population (because, unbelievably, there is no legal requirement for estates to provide cull return data to SNH outside the close season, and, there isn’t yet an agreed survey method for monitoring mountain hares), and given the on-going concerns about documented mountain hare declines (e.g. see here), the Scottish Government has told the European Commission that mountain hares have a favourable conservation status.

How on earth has SNH reached that conclusion?

What’s missing from this parliamentary answer is any of the required detail needed to understand SNH’s assessment of the mountain hare’s conservation status. For example, what criteria, exactly, did SNH use to assess each of the four parameters (range, population, habitat, and future prospect)? Presumably there’s a certain threshold that must be reached for each individual parameter before the mountain hare can be considered to be in ‘favourable conservation status’? What were those thresholds and what scientific evidence, exactly, did SNH use to determine whether those thresholds had been met?

The answers to Alison’s other parliamentary questions were as follows:

Yet another buzzard found shot in North Yorkshire

The reputation of North Yorkshire as a raptor persecution hotspot is well known. Here’s yet another victim to add to the long, long list….

This buzzard was found injured at Dunnington (a village to the east of York) on 29 September 2017. It was taken to the vets where an x-ray revealed shotgun pellets lodged in the bird’s head and wing. Based on the extent of its injuries, the bird was euthanised.

Anybody with information about this crime, please contact PC Jez Walmsley at Malton Police Station (Tel. 101).

Images courtesy of Jean Thorpe.

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