Moorland Association blocks official statement on raptor persecution in Peak District National Park

Regular blog readers will be familiar with the Peak District Bird of Prey Initiative (BoPI). This so-called partnership was established in 2011 and was originally a five-year project which aimed to restore declining populations of some raptor species in the Dark Peak region of the Peak District National Park.

BoPI partners included the Moorland Association, The National Trust, Natural England, Peak District National Park Authority and the RSPB. Two local raptor study groups (the Peak District Raptor Monitoring Group and the South Peak Raptor Study Group) were also involved.

The BoPI was deemed necessary following years of evidence of wide scale raptor persecution on grouse moors within the region (e.g. see RSPB summary reports here and here). However, the Moorland Association put its own ludicrous spin on the situation by publishing an article to announce the launch of the BoPI but using the misleading headline: ‘Birds of prey thriving on grouse moors’.

By 2015, the BoPI had failed to meet any of its targets (see here). However, in a press release the Peak District National Park Authority said the BoPI would continue and claimed there was “renewed commitment” from the project partners as well as “new rigour and energy” to restore the breeding success of raptors in the Dark Peak.

Strangely, the BoPI failed to publish an annual report in 2016.

In late November 2017, the BoPI published its 2017 annual report, which was bundled together with the 2016 report (see here). Once again, the BoPI had failed to meet any of its targets and for the first time since 1984, there were no successfully breeding peregrines in the Dark Peak. This was clearly a failing partnership.

The results came as no surprise to anybody, but what was surprising, and as we blogged at the time, was that there wasn’t an accompanying press statement from the Peak District National Park Authority or from the BoPI – the annual report was quietly uploaded to a page on the Peak Park Authority’s website that you had to work quite hard to find.

Well now, after an FoI request, we know why.

There was a clear intention by the Peak District National Park Authority to issue a press statement on behalf of the BoPI, but this was blocked by project ‘partner’ the Moorland Association.

Here is the draft press statement produced by the Peak District National Park Authority on behalf of the BoPI with the intention of publishing it at the same time as the 2016/2017 report:

It was pretty measured and accurate, and all project partners had agreed to it, apart from the Moorland Association. Here’s the email from Amanda Anderson (Director, Moorland Association) to the Peak District National Park Authority rejecting the draft press statement, and written in the knowledge that if the project partners couldn’t agree on the draft statement by a set deadline, no press statement would be issued and the 2016/2017 report would be published on its own with no publicity:

And here is the response to Amanda from Rhodri Thomas of the Peak District National Park Authority, who clearly has a sense of humour (note his final sentence, in reference to the publicity about grouse moor owners wanting licences to kill Marsh harriers):

It’s quite clear why the Moorland Association would seek to block this press statement, given the dire results of the BoPI’s 2016/2017 report. Even a skilled PR manipulator like Amanda would struggle to conjure up any positive PR spin from such a catastrophic project failure.

What’s surprising is that the other BoPI partners would accept this situation and allow the 2016/2017 report to be published without any accompanying publicity. In their defence, it may be that the publishing deadline didn’t allow for any more discussion on the issue (the Peak Park Authority was obliged to publish the 2016/2017 report by a certain date because we’d asked for a copy via FoI and so the Park had to comply within the regulatory timeframe). Nevertheless, the press statement could still have been published, but with an additional disclaimer stating the Moorland Association did not agree with the report’s findings. That’s fairly standard practice in situations such as this.

But perhaps the other BoPI partners are not just sitting back and accepting the disruptive role of the Moorland Association in this partnership charade. Perhaps there are on-going discussions behind the scenes about how to address the problem. We’d like to think so, especially as we now also know, through this recent FoI, that it’s not just the Moorland Association that’s trying to prevent any negative publicity about on-going raptor persecution in the Peak District National Park. The local grouse moor gamekeepers are also complicit in this role, and we’ll be blogging more about that shortly.

We also now know that the Peak District National Park Authority, despite its best efforts to hold this partnership together, is struggling to see a future for the collaborative aspect of the BoPI. Good, it’s a bloody sham and the sooner the grouse shooting industry is prevented from masquerading as fully-supportive conservation partners, the better.

On a related topic, have a listen to this recent podcast interview with Amanda Anderson, which includes a discussion about the Moorland Association’s involvement in raptor conservation ‘partnerships’ (starts at 17.55).

UPDATE 14.30hrs: RSPB terminates involvement with failed Peak District Bird of Prey Initiative (here)

UPDATE 25 January 2018: Gamekeepers’ attempts to suppress Peak District Bird of Prey Initiative report (here)

31 thoughts on “Moorland Association blocks official statement on raptor persecution in Peak District National Park”

  1. And there was I thinking all the moorland ‘management’ orgs had agreed illegal activity was taking place and really wanted to do something about it. Did someone forget to tell Amanda? How can they object to: “The best hope we have is for law-abiding people within the game bird industry calling out those who operate outside the law”? Do MA believe this ‘initiative’ has been worthwhile? Why do the BOPI have an agreement that all partners have to agree? There’s no reason that couldn’t have been published to leave MA to publicly admit their own shortcomings and expose their deliberate obfuscation.

  2. I listened to the podcast interview with AA, one would think that all is good in the world of driven grouse shooting to listen to this mixture of gushing enthusiasm, spin and tripe, I wasn’t sure whether to laugh, cry or vomit. The truth is of course that whether on RPPDG, the PDNPI or the HH Delivery group the MA purpose is to obfuscate, block, subvert and prevent REAL progress unless it is to the favour of DGS. One must admit she is very very good and plausible most of the time, unfortunately many of us know the truth and that number of people can only grow until the all the people know the truth and xxxxx xxxxx xxxxx xxxxx xxxxx xxxxx.

    As far as the PDNPI is concerned the other partners should go it alone and expose grouse shooting for what it is a pastime, hobby, business whatever as dependent on wildlife crime to be successful because it seems the participants believe that based on their behaviour.

  3. Great work again RPUK. Very revealing as to the type of bodies involved in organised crime.
    If the RSPB really is committed to stopping raptor persecution, they should highlighting the issue to their membership extremely prominently.

  4. These are the people who are major partners in the brood persecution scheme.
    Negotiating with c******s and criminal apologists was never going to work.
    Now the RSPB has learnt you can’t, it will hopefully take us in a more purposeful direction. Licensing and then ban but preferably vice-versa.

  5. 2015 BoPI claimed there was“renewed commitment” …. “new rigour and energy”
    2017 BoPI ‘looking for renewed commitment from moorland owners and managers… and a strengthening of this commitment’.
    Please no more ‘commitment’ it might mean coming into the cities to blast Peregrines off churches.

  6. Why does the RSPB remain silent? Are they so intent on absolute diplomacy that they don’t want to upset the (bad) apple cart? I so wish they would be more forthright in circumstances like this, especially in informing their members of the deviousness practiced by the game shooting bodies. They have it within their power to blow the whole rotten mess apart, but stay strangely quiet. I gave up hope with Natural England some time ago, who are clearly not fit for purpose and under too much political control.

  7. Totally off piste I know but I hope you will forgive me .
    At a time when the great and the good, the landed classes, toffs and right wing celebs have high jacked Robert Burns into their ranks and are fundraising eye watering amounts for their various nefarious activities through Burns nights. Can I recommend reading again “Now Westlin Winds” ( or “A mans a man” ) or listening on you tube ( my favourite is Dick Gaughans version.) This was written in 1783 and unfortunately very little has changed except that they were despised then (by a ploughmen , hardly a townie) and are still despised now.

  8. Guy Shorrock RSPB Investigations

    Just as a minor point of clarity, in relation to the response from Amanda Anderson of the 29/11/2017 about ‘confirmed’ incidents – the NWCU do not centrally record raptor persecution incident data. The only sources of this type of data are the records maintained by RSPB Investigations and the government’s wildlife poisoning data (gathered under the Wildlife Incident Investigation Scheme). As I mentioned in your blog of the 22/11/17, for the recent map produced by the RPPDG nearly all the data for shooting, trapping and nest destruction was supplied by RSPB. We have a clear record of confirmed raptor persecution incidents in the Dark Peak, with the usual caveat that the vast majority of offences will simply go undetected and unrecorded. We also know that the breeding success of species like peregrines and goshawks remains very low in this area. In common with much of our uplands, we are in no doubt that raptor persecution continues to be the main issue preventing the recovery of breeding populations of raptors in the Dark Peak.

  9. Like Paul, I have listened to Amanda Anderson on the blog. Did it in three sessions with a bucket handy! There is no doubt that she is a very clever lady. Some of what she says is true – not least the damage that has been done to the ground in the past and the current steps being taken for its reparation. No admission, though, that this damage had any connection with DGS. It was the farmers doing it for the benefit of their sheep. To a total outsider she would come across as being very plausible and reasonable, though I have to question the judgement of anyone who believes that Littondale is in the back of beyond and so remote that you’re only likely to find it if you’re lost! She’s trotted this tale out on at least two occasions to my knowledge. Maybe she should get out more.
    I’m looking forward to hearing more about the RSPB’s Upland Skies initiative. Something positive for a change.

  10. Amanda is very good at waffle. Avoiding raptor persecution until asked. But then extolling the virtues of those pillars of the moors, “the gamekeepers”.

    Amazing how a “few bad apples” can achieve such low numbers of Hen Harriers over such a wide area.

    Does MA offer fuel allowances to transport “bad apples”? How do they cover such a wide area of England and Wales?

    A sickening report of utter contempt.


  11. ‘96% of the black grouse in the country live on the margins of grouse moors’ i.e thanks to vast areas of upland being ‘managed’ for red grouse the core habitat of black grouse has been devastated and it’s relegated to hard pressed minimal populations round the edges. If predator control is helping the last vestiges of the black grouse population then that’s probably due to being driven to unnaturally low numbers in the first place thanks to DGS. No mention of habitat management without predator control at Strathspey which is working for black grouse AND capercaillie. ‘Bracken grows to six feet and nothing grows beneath it’ – absolute bollocks, its canopy can actually help some woodland plants survive in more open areas, such as bluebell and dog violets the latter which is the food plant for fritillaries – and don’t waders like nesting amongst bracken? We really, really need to put forward a detailed critique of what’s actually being pushed off the hills – juniper, dwarf birch, bats, umpteen butterflies and moths, song birds etc, etc, etc. And of course how did the species that are supposed to do well with DGS manage before it and could do better without it, no foreign conservationists are racing to set up driven grouse shooting to help their wildlife funnily enough. How can they claim they create a habitat mosaic when in the same breath they talk about not having scrub or bracken and they certainly don’t like mature trees. Old heather and young heather big effen deal!

    1. I agree with almost everything Les Wallace says, but I’m not so sure I’ve noticed many waders nesting in vast areas of hillside bracken. In my experience most moorland waders nest in tussocky grass or rushes. If it is different elsewhere in the country, I’d be happy to stand corrected. He does make a good point about the late growing bracken providing ideal conditions for spring flowers like bluebells, etc., a point often missed by those who favour wiping out Japanese Knotweed along riverbanks. Most attempts at eradication of the knotweed and Indian balsam have either been a complete failure, or followed by replacement with coarse grasses which also inhibit vernal herbs. Various ideas have been presented regarding the decline of Black Grouse, but whether the precise cause or causes have been fully identified seems to remain debatable. The lack of mixed-age heather has been suggested as one, with varying degrees of success claimed by cutting rather than burning, although apparently cutting does not stimulate new growth from root systems as effectively as burning. The ideal situation is likely to be to let nature take its course, leading to a mature dwarf shrub heath/blanket bog habitat with a far richer mosaic of vegetation types and biodiversity in general. To conserve suitable habitat for open country species like Hen Harrier, some control of tree regeneration would have to be effected in suitable zones. Light grazing by hill cattle could contribute. Woodland encouragement (rewilding) should be targeted on heather-free hillsides.

        1. lizzybusy, I haven’t had any experience of it on any of my three main study sites, and to be honest haven’t come across any published research except relating to Black Grouse. However I would imagine (and take for granted) that it is considered bad practice and probably illegal to carry out cutting during the bird breeding season. In my experience there is a limited range of species which nest in long heather, of course including Hen Harrier, Short-eared Owl and Merlin. It would obviously be folly for grouse moor managers to cut during the grouse breeding season! The overwhelming majority of passerines which nest in heather are Meadow Pipits, and my surveys of territorial occupation indicate densities of up to 145 nesting pairs per square kilometre. Burning over large areas in early spring, often just prior to laying time, can cause very considerable reductions in nesting densities. Other species affected would include Stonechat and, to some extent, Skylark. Sorry I can’t be any more informative than that. Rather surprisingly, some harriers will occasionally nest among recently burnt heather in traditional territories.

          1. Thank you once again for your educational comments. You and the amazing birders on this site are truly incredible!

            I was thinking in terms of curlews but that shows my ignorance, doesn’t it!

            That density of passerines is incredible!

      1. Thanks iain, my comment re waders nesting in bracken was based on a comment someone else made – not direct personal experience (during the breeding season I like to keep myself as far away from breeding birds as possible), which is why I qualified it with a question mark. This issue with ‘nasty’ bracken comes up all the time with the grouse shooters – after all it’s no good for grouse – as another part of their essential ‘management’. Would be great to get some pics of what actually grows under and amongst bracken and of the wildlife that depends on it such as fritillary butterflies to dispel the crap. The species which I’ve found don’t have anything growing under their canopy are non native invasives such as snowberry, cherry laurel, rhododendron and Portugese laurel. And what do a lot of these have in common – that they were originally put out as game cover plants. Yeah there’s a reason why these species rather than other non natives got a headstart in wrecking the biodiversity of our woodlands in particular – another part of our wonderful huntin, fishin, shootin ‘legacy’. Glad to say in the last issue of Broadleaf (winter 2018) the Woodland Trust has recognised what a massive problem this is nationally with these and other species knocking hell out of our biodiversity and hammering songbird populations especially (Songbird Survival is strangely reticent about this issue) and also made a point to mention that planting for game was a big driver. In the same issue they pointed out that the persecution of the pine marten by gamekeepers was highly likely to have led to the loss of red squirrel territory to greys and this is the danger of removing an element of an ecosystem. Not bad when you get two relevant and honest (thereby negative) observation of what the shooters have really done for our wildlife in a magazine about woodland conservation.

  12. One thing is certain, the involvement with Rhodri Thomas will cause absolutely nothing to happen. A more cold dead hand I have yet to find in this world.

    1. John,

      We’d have to disagree with you. We don’t know Rhodri personally but having now seen a fair bit of the correspondence associated with the BoPI it is very clear that Rhodri has pushed hard for raptor protection in the Dark Peak. The project’s failure is not as a result of apathy on his part.

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