MSP urges closer cooperation to protect hen harriers – a futile request while illegal raptor killing continues

Following the recent news that yet another hen harrier has been found dead in suspicious circumstances (here), Hen Harrier Species Champion Mairi Gougeon MSP has taken the opportunity to call for conservationists to work in closer cooperation with the game shooting industry.

Here’s an article in yesterday’s edition of The National:


SCOTLAND’S big landowners have backed an SNP MSP’s call for all sides to work together to end persecution of hen harriers.

Species champion Mairi Gougeon spoke out after Police Scotland launched a probe this week into the death of a hen harrier found with “unexplained injuries” near Dunoon in Argyll.

The Angus North and Mearns MSP urged all sides of the debate on raptor persecution to come together to find a long-term way to help the hen harrier flourish.

The death of the satellite-tagged bird, named Kathy, is one of a number of high-profile cases involving hen harrier.

Earlier this year a bird was reportedly shot in Leadhills, while satellite-tagged Calluna went missing near Braemar, Aberdeenshire, and a four-year court case over the alleged shooting of a harrier on Cabrach Estate in Moray was dismissed.

A recent survey showed a 27 per cent fall in Scotland’s hen harrier population – down to 460 pairs – since 2004. Illegal persecution of the bird is thought to be a major factor in its decline. It has been suggested some estate staff kill the birds to protect game-bird species such as grouse.

Heads Up for Harriers is an initiative from the Scottish Government’s Partnership for Action against Wildlife Crime to get land managers to protect harriers.

More than 20 of Scotland’s estates have signed up for the project. It reported its highest number of fledged young hen harriers, 37, in 2017, and Gougeon is keen to do more to bridge the gap between estates and conservationists.

Gougeon said: “I’m under no illusions about how contentious this issue is. I know it won’t be resolved overnight but I take my role as a species champion very seriously.

One of the main reasons why the hen harrier population hasn’t flourished is the fact there has been illegal persecution of this species over a long period.

Almost half of Scotland is capable of supporting a hen harrier population. There are a number of ongoing projects – including Heads Up for Harriers – geared towards trying to sustain and grow the population in the future.

Heads Up for Harriers is not without its critics and may not be an immediate panacea but it is a promising step in the right direction.

More estates need to sign up to the project before we can assess whether or not it is successful.

We also need to look at other potential solutions such as diversionary feeding.

We need to take every available measure to crack down on the serious crime committed against raptors and to tackle the illegal persecution that takes place.

At the same time we cannot tar all estates with the same brush. We must acknowledge the positive steps some estates and gamekeepers are taking to promote the species.

We need conservation groups and shooting interests to set aside their natural distrust and to try to work together“.

‘Species Champion’ MSPs agree to provide political support for Scotland’s wildlife, under a scheme organised by environment groups.

Tim Baynes of landowners’ group Scottish Land and Estates said: “We are committed to playing our part in helping to restore this iconic species.

We support Mairi Gougeon’s call for greater co-operation and collaboration and look forward to working with other organisations with the same objective at heart.

We are concerned about the fate of the hen harrier found near Dunoon.

This bird has been found in area which is heavily afforested and a long way from any grouse moor. We echo the police appeal for information.”


Photo of satellite-tagged hen harrier ‘Annie‘, found shot dead on a Scottish grouse moor in 2015, shortly after the Heads Up for Hen Harriers Project began [photo by RSPB Scotland].

Full credit to Mairi for being quick off the mark and using her position to reiterate in the national press that, “One of the main reasons why the hen harrier population hasn’t flourished is the fact there has been illegal persecution of this species over a long period”. That’s exactly what the Hen Harrier Species Champion needs to be saying and we applaud her for doing so.

But this idea that ‘conservationists need to be working closer with the gameshooting industry to tackle illegal raptor persecution and then everything will get better’ is indicative that Mairi is new to this game – and she is. That’s not her fault and she’s taking the position that every other reasonable person takes when they first join this ‘debate’ – that of thinking that if only both ‘sides’ would sit and talk/cooperate then this whole sorry mess could be resolved. Mark Avery wrote a detailed blog about this earlier in the year (see here), and although it’s slanted towards ineffective long-term talking in England, the same applies to Scotland.

The bottom line is that as long as one ‘partner’ (or in this case, many partners) continues to deny the extent of illegal persecution (e.g. see here) even when the evidence continues to mount that the illegal killing continues, then that ‘partnership’ is doomed to fail.

In the case of hen harriers in Scotland, the so-called Heads up for Harriers ‘partnership’ has been a scam right from the start – we’ve blogged about it a lot (e.g. see hereherehereherehere, here) and only recently this view was aired in Parliament by MSP Andy Wightman (see here). We are currently pursuing an FoI with SNH to expose what we believe is a very serious political cover up about this project (see here) – more on this in the new year.

And all the time this ‘partnership’ has been running, hen harriers have continued to be killed.

Conservationists are tired of the rhetoric, tired of the propaganda, tired of the lies, tired of the ineffective judicial system and tired beyond belief of the never-ending illegal killing.

For hen harriers to start recovering in Scotland (and in England), no amount of ‘closer cooperation’ between conservationists and the game shooting industry will ever work. Only one thing will work – and that is for the raptor killers to stop their criminal activities. And as they can’t (or won’t) do it after 60+ years of self-regulation, then they only have themselves to blame as the strength of public disgust brings about enforced political change.

Have a read of the first comment under the article in The National – nobody’s fooled by this scam anymore and no amount of Xmas goodwill is going to change that:

Bruce Anderson: Scotland’s big landowners have signed up for this because it is just the latest in a long line of window dressing ‘partnerships’ which provide cover and a veneer of respectability for the routine criminal destruction of protected wildlife across nearly all Scottish grouse moors. Mari Gougeon has done some very good work championing hen harriers but she is naive if she thinks that ‘working together’ with Tim Baynes and the grouse industry will have any effect on the organised crime and big money that have left huge ares of Scotland devoid of hen harriers and other protected raptors.

UPDATE 27 December 2017: ‘Closer cooperation to protect hen harriers’ – what does that mean, exactly? (here)

27 thoughts on “MSP urges closer cooperation to protect hen harriers – a futile request while illegal raptor killing continues”

  1. Wouldn’t it be great if Tim Baynes could get say 10 intensely managed grouse moors in SLE signed up to Heads up for Harriers and to get 5 of them to host a Harrier nest?

    Of course it would but it is unlikely to happen and xxxxx xxxxx xxxxx xxxxx xxxxx xxxxx are prepared to continue to persecute raptors until and after licensing is brought in if past experience is anything to go by.

    1. Regardless of gaining yet another xxxx for my contribution I’d like to wish the good people at RPUK , contributors, readers, the whole of RSPB, Mairi Geugeon, and any intensive grouse moor owners prepared to join Heads up for Harriers a Happy Christmas.

  2. It’s a weary record now, working together to resolve the issues of raptor persecution.
    As per many others, I thought that we could work together to resolve this issues, it has become clear over time that only one side really wants to work to find a solution.
    From all the work that has been done within such partnerships we can see that as far as shooters are concerned, these partnerships are really about PR and damage limitation, some organisations would do much better to walk away when it becomes clear that you are dealing with more of the same (See RPPDG maps).
    If shooting interests really wanted to see an end to raptor persecution then it would end, what they want is to carry on killing raptors but without the stigma of illegality damage to their reputations.
    What we have seen is methods have evolved to make detection as difficult as possible (night vision, thermal sight etc). We only ever see the birds that don’t die immediately.
    If you look at populations and breeding success you can get a very clear picture of where the issues are and why they still exist, I am afraid Mairi is just another name who will be replaced by another with the same good intentions, encouraged by the same organisations to keep up the same cycle.

  3. Well done again to Mairi for raising the profile of raptor persecution in Scotland which on the intensively managed grouse moors must be at the highest levels ever. Yes Mairi is new to this and doesn’t yet understand the depth of criminality involved and that decades of talking to the godfathers of these estates hasn’t made the slightest difference, indeed for the likes of hen harriers the situation is seriously worse. Hopefully Mairi will soon see the reality and won’t be fooled for long.
    A big well done to folk like Andy Wightman & Bruce Anderson for telling it like it is.
    Shame on Scottish Natural Heritage for its contemtious coverup.

  4. Thank you Bruce Anderson. The Ladder Hills initiative of 1998 has not been forgotten .. conservationists worked in comjunction with estates .. and … the situation got worse. This plays right into the criminals hands.

  5. Christ, we have been asking them nicely to obey the law since 1954. Here’s an innovative idea lets start some MORE dialogue ( which will mean we will not really have to do anything of another 63 years, but it will look like we are) and this time we will ask them pretty please . This the problem with someone (however well intentioned ) coming to this late . We are dealing with a criminal group who are rich and influential and as fly as a barry load of monkeys , the more you suggest discussion and comprise with this disgusting group of human beings the more they sense weakness. Round and round we go again.

  6. I don’t want to detract from the positive work that Ms Gudgeon has done in continuing to profile this issue but we need a species champion that has enough experience to know that partnership working has been tried umpteen times without success. Collaborating will just give the game shooting industry more opportunity to window dress – as Bruce Anderson said. Christ, by the time all this posturing is over, the Scottish harriers will go the same way as the English ones…

  7. I love rhetoric of those who make Raptor Persecution Scotland possible as a force for good in a country where an anachronistic regime control what lives and dies on our natural landscape. Like many of my kind, I donate, petition, email along with other ways of campaigning to save the wild creatures of this Earth, along with their fragile and threatened habitats. The same cruel and selfish crew rule the roost throughout the planet. They are hunters and poachers of endangered species. Their perverted ideas of hunting, as seen in trophy shooting, has become a powerful industry. with much influence over corrupt regimes, as has been seen in Zimbabwe and South Africa. Add to this, the irrational and deluded demand for animal parts, such as Rhino horn and Pangolin scales, for medicinal purposes, and we have the ineluctable driving forces in the Sixth Great Extinction. Meanwhile, back in the ranch in the USA, Donald Trump & Sons, trophy shooters extraordinaire, are trying to remove or weaken all the protective laws that have helped save many species of wildlife, and crucial habitats. What hope have we got, when the world is governed by those who have no compassionate intent towards the beleaguered creatures that will soon become extinct genetically? Even among “advanced” thinking nations, we have that irreconcilable and determined lobby that will not give up its hunting “traditions”, and insist in maintaining them, by slaughtering millions of migrating birds each year, or hanging dead wolves from their roof racks.

    Of course, we have decent and sincere politicians in our political parties, and they are to be commended for bringing wildlife persecution and animal welfare issues to the attention of our Government, but I have to concur with those who believe that naivete is being shown when dealing with our dominating class of landowners involved in game shooting. Scotland has serious problems with the running of its Police, Fiscal and Judicial services, as can be found in our daily newspapers, with many serious accusations of ineptitude. How do we hope to find satisfactory solutions to the problem of the persecution of the Hen Harrier and other Birds of Prey? We can hardly contain the assaults with fist and knife, rapes, child molestation, drug dealing, people trafficking, alcohol abuse and domestic incidents, arson and vandalism. Our courts are among the busiest in Europe. Add to this, the poverty, serious health problems, low life expectancy, alcohol and drug abusers crowding our hospitals along with older people with no one to administer to them at home, and the perpetual problems of the NHS.

    In other words, we, the champions of the Hen Harrier and other persecuted birds, will have to accept how far back in the queue we are in hoping to find a solution to the continued slaughter. The rich and politically influential forces working against us just scoff and make pretentious statements to fob off those politicians of good and humane intention. The way the world is going, changes in who runs the planet may come sooner than expected. Our collective defiance of making the changes necessary to stop climate change and a runaway reaction, culminating in grossly magnified disasters, such as forest fires, floods, tsunamis, rising ocean levels, collapse of fish stocks as a result rising ocean temperature, over-fishing and pollution by plastic and chemical waste. This compounded, by a rising world population and the ensuing problems of mass migration, leading to wars. We should not despair, as the forces of common sense and a change in the politics and economics of how our country and the world is run, could see the removal of the landed forces of reaction, along with all the other constipation forces who, at present, misgovern the world and its natural environment, and require a purgative to remove them. Whatever form that may come in, is immaterial, as long as their grip is removed for good, and we can get on with restoring our own, and the rest of the world environment. I hope I have not appeared too naive in my musings.

  8. So just what additional co-operation can those of us on the conservation side provide? No additional talking, meetings, press articles etc. is going to stop these illegal acts. This latest initiative, though no doubt well intended, will provide yet another smokescreen for the dark side to hide behind whilst the carnage continues. Do they not see that the answer lies in their hands: SIMPLY STOP KILLING PROTECTED SPECIES!

  9. Ok, so lets try dialogue one more time shall we.

    Do you kill raptors?
    A few of us do yes, but we don’t know exactly who they are, otherwise we would tell you of course.

    Will you stop killing raptors please?
    Most of us don’t so there is no problem there.

    Can we monitor Hen Harrier nests on your land please?
    No, but I’m sure my neighbour won’t mind because he doesn’t shoot grouse. ( I’ll then take any credit for breeding successes as if they were my own.)

    Would you like us to get some long term independent scientific research to help you with you conservation work? No need, but thanks anyway, we have some close friends that have already done some which is much better.

    Would you like us to fit sat tags to a few of your birds so that we can find out what happens to them when they fledge?
    Sat tags…pah! Those things are rubbish. One minute they are sending back good information, then they just break and bury themselves in the ground. They didn’t work on Sea Turtles so why would they be any good on a Hen Harrier?

    Are you not worried about the extend of lead that is left on the ground after a shoot.
    Erm, not really, we have servants called pickers up that wonder about cleaning the area when we have gone.
    ( Mind you, I have never actually seen them because we are being driven along in the back seat of a Range Rover with a glass of bubbly by then,ha ha.)

    What do you think of “proper country people?”
    A lot of my friends are country people, indeed many of them work for the same merchant banks. We have servants who actually live out there for us, keeping it nice for us when can get a weekend away.

    I bet it’s great up there on the moors seeing all those birds that the gamekeepers look after so diligently. Apparently there are lots of different ones?
    Yes, some go left and some go right and a few go right over my head.
    Well I really meant the different species.
    Ah yes, the Stone Curlews and Plovers. My old friend Beefy once told me that he had seen a Lapwing as well.

    Do you ever worry about the ethics of vermin control?
    To be honest with you, it’s never been the same since the Kinder Trespass. The bastards are all over the place now with their rescue dogs and woolly hats.
    Well I was actually referring to creatures like stoats and foxes.
    Oh I don’t think there are any of those. Apparently social services have sorted them out.

    Well we did try!

  10. I know Mairi Gougeon is well meaning and honest, but she seems a bit naive. I suppose we should reserve judgement until we are further down the line, to see if she wakens up to the fact that the grouse shooting mob is entirely not to be trusted. The idea that those of us fighting for the law to be upheld, should be “working closer” with the bodies that cannot control their own criminal element, is ironic to say the least. They have had plenty time to cooperate with the current legal situation, which has been in existence for over sixty years! There are fundamental issues at stake, some of which can never be resolved while the shooting establishment maintains unscientific views on the impact of predators. These are ingrained to their very soul. Mairi Gougeon is following the interested parties’ and SNH lines in simply believing the false interpretation of economics, which leads to the dangerous presumption that grouse shooting makes a significant contribution to the Scottish economy. A careful and objective analysis of this claim needs to be carried out to discover what is the true extent of such a statement. There are certainly large sums of money involved in driven grouse shooting, but to what extent is this cash circulating throughout the economy rather than within the narrow circle of estate owners and grouse shooters? What is the tax situation and who owns the land, which is currently changing at a faster rate than previously due to the marketable value of grouse moors increasing on the international money markets? More and more grouse moorland is allegedly owned by various offshore tax havens, circumventing the so-called contribution to the local economy.

  11. Raptor persecution will continue as long as people are allowed to shoot. driven or walked up, it doesn’t matter, estate owners, managers, keepers or individuals will pay lip service pledging to uphold the law, but most if not all will continue to kill raptors. just more secretly. killing a raptor is no different to them than killing a stoat or weasel. they are all vermin in their eyes, I know this from personal experience, we may ban driven grouse shooting but it will make no difference. a total ban on shooting is the only answer, this will never happen, and I wouldn’t want to see it. we need to come to some sort of compromise with these people. we focus on the grouse moors, but there are many raptors killed on small “shoots” run by armature enthusiastic individuals on lowland farms, goshawks, sparrow hawks and even peregrines are found on some of these armature “hobby “shoots. to suggest reintroducing hen harriers to new areas is stupid! they will be persecuted just the same. the authorities need to involve other people in their research, people that know the situation and have experience with keepers and raptors, the PHD students that most of the “expert” authorities employ mean well but really don’t know what’s going on.

    1. Andy Wightman did his research and gave a blistering performance , its called telling the truth , she did not even acknowledge his contribution it was nothing short of rude .She stuck firmly to her party’s non interventionist policy. The same evidence was there for here if she wanted to use it , she made a conscious decision to ignore it and go along the “lets all sit down and talk about this” route . I wonder who advised her? another Angus MSP or the chuckle brother from the Glens? In a way I think she has possibly done more harm than good, giving the dark side another platform for their smoke and mirrors.
      We have been encouraged to congratulate her , my congratulations go to A W and the Greens .

    2. If ‘a total ban on shooting is the only answer’, why wouldn’t you want to see it? There is no room for compromise with these people. It is them who are out of order. These birds are protected by law which is there for a purpose. We don’t have the right, either legally or morally, to diminish the level of protection which this affords them – whether Schedule 1 or otherwise. The same rules apply at both an amateur and professional/business level.

    3. Keith, I have mixed feelings about your comment, although I concede that much of what you say is logical and true. However, unfortunately in life there are certain issues for which there is no room for compromise, and the brutal, unnecessary killing of wildlife for recreational enjoyment is one of them. Those who seek compromise, if successful, would still leave plenty of unease and discontent among others with a stronger ethical perspective, including a very large proportion of the disenfranchised general public. Really we have to carry on the fight on two fronts: a short term or immediate demand that the current legislation is enforced with as much ruthlessness as perpetrated by the criminal persecutors of raptors, and a longer term objective of wiping cruel so-called ‘field sports’ from a modern, civilised and compassionate society. I’d suggest a need to clarify the oft-quoted muddied distinction between conservation and animal welfare. The two can and should be entirely compatible, certainly not mutually exclusive, as implicitly conveyed by wildlife trusts, who are prepared to demonise and inflict cruelty and unpleasant death upon ‘unpopular’ non-native species like Grey Squirrels.

    4. raptors do seem to be shot even on edge of our capital. A buzzard could regularly be seen by commuters sitting on a lamppost on approach road 50yds from the city bypass. not seen for some months. in the snowlast week I walked past rather than cycled and took shortcut over long grass verge which passed under that lamppost. immediately below lamppost – on this grass that v few ever walked on, 2 gun cartridges.coincidence perhaps, but rarely a rabbit even seen around there

  12. Maybe a couple of RPUK readers who are well-informed *and* constituents of Ms Gougeon should go to one of her surgeries and offer to brief her on the historical situation. Physical presence might do better than written words?

  13. David, I suspects she really knows what’s going on, but is toeing the party line and has been instructed not to upset the Lairds. Nothing progressive about the SNP, Tartan Tories if ever….

    1. Mairi Gougeon is making a mistake with this but she is still operating several levels above such a small minded and ridiculous conspiracy theory.

  14. Has anyone maintained an inventory of the multitude of talking shops that have been around since the birds have been protected?

    All were invented by the shooting industry as a way of stalling the calls for tighter regulation and they have all failed as soon as it was apparent that politicians could start to see through the smoke screen.

    In every occasion, the killing has continued while talking has acted as a distraction. Usually the length of a talking shop is about 5-6 years…just out of sync with a governments life cycle.

    The solution that has been offered to politicians after every failed dialogue has been ” we need a proper talk before change is implemented and this time we really mean it”.

    Its a stuck record…but thankfully we are now in the digital age.

  15. We’ve been there done that and frankly it doesn’t work. they carry on killing them regardless as they think talking in itself is the answer because it gives them a cover to carry on.
    If however we really knew who the good guys were and they were prepared to stand up against the many criminals in their midst it might be worth trying. Otherwise all talking does is offer a false promise.

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