National Trust set to initiate new grouse shooting leases in Peak District National Park

In April 2016 we published a video of an armed man crouching next to a decoy hen harrier on Ashop Moor, which is part of the National Trust’s Park Hall & Hope Woodlands Estate in the Peak District National Park.

That video footage sparked outrage and significant public pressure was placed on the National Trust to take action against its shooting tenant (believed to be Mark Osborne).

As a direct result of that public pressure, in June 2016 the National Trust announced that it was pulling the shooting lease four years early and the shooting tenant had been asked to leave by April 2018. The National Trust was widely applauded for its action.

In 2017 the National Trust announced it was seeking new tenants ‘to work with us to create a new exemplar model delivering outstanding moorland nature conservation with grouse shooting’. Not everyone agreed that grouse shooting should continue on these National Trust moors and a local campaign group, Moorland Vision, was established to encourage the National Trust to consider rewilding these moors. This group delivered a petition to the National Trust last summer and had the support of 15 local environmental groups.

Yesterday, the National Trust released a statement to say that it had selected three new shooting tenants under a five-year lease:

After a thorough interview process the National Trust has selected three new shooting tenants to work as partners on the High Peak Moors in Derbyshire. A fourth area of land will not be let.

The tenants will have the opportunity over the next five years to work in partnership with the Trust to demonstrate that less intensive forms of grouse shooting can be compatible with the charity’s High Peak Moors Vision.

Andy Beer, Regional Director for the Midlands said: “We’ve made our decision based on what we think is best for nature. The High Peak is a managed landscape and we have chosen tenants who have committed to work with us to carry out land management which is good for the birds, plants and insects. With regards to hawks, falcons and owls we’ve made it very clear that the High Peak should have more of these birds, and we expect to see an increase in their numbers over the next five years.

This partnership is a new way of working, one which operates transparently, works to the highest standards, and helps us deliver our conservation aims of the High Peak Moors Vision“.

ENDS

This public statement doesn’t provide much detail at all but Mark Avery managed to glean a bit more from a discussion with the National Trust (see here). Of particular interest was this:

  • some land, on the Kinder plateau, will be taken out of shooting altogether
  • another parcel of land (the Back Snake – north of the A57) will be run as a walked-up shoot by a local farmer/gamekeeper
  • another parcel of land (south of the A57 area of the Hope Woodlands) will be run as a driven grouse shoot by a consortium of GWCT members
  • a fourth parcel of land (known as Park Hall) will be shot by the age-old method of shooting over dogs

Here’s a map of the estate as published by the National Trust when they advertised the tenancies. The red area is the Hope Woodlands site (with the A57 running through it) and the blue area is Park Hall. The town to the north west is Glossop:

As Mark Avery commented, it looks like the National Trust is trying to appease everyone by incorporating different types of grouse moor management (and in one area, no grouse shooting at all), but not everyone is impressed. If you read the response written by Moorland Vision (here), the group makes some persuasive arguments and describes the new grouse shooting leases as “a lost opportunity”. And it’s not as though the National Trust had no other option but to allow grouse shooting – according to the Moorland Vision blog the Derbyshire Wildlife Trust had also submitted a bid to help manage some of the moorland around Kinder Scout and Bleaklow, but the National Trust appears to have dismissed this an an option.

There’ll be more detail to come about these new tenants and we’re particularly looking forward to finding out more about the ‘consortium of GWCT members’ who will be running the driven grouse shooting south of the A57. The GWCT knows all about this area (Ashop Moor) – a day’s grouse shooting here was a GWCT raffle prize last year – donated by William Powell (co-owned by one Mr Mark Osborne, the current shooting tenant whose lease has been terminated).

These moors are also part of the long-failing Peak District Bird of Prey Initiative – will the new tenants help to increase the number of breeding raptors on these moors? Rest assured, this will be closely monitored.

Case against Bleasdale Estate gamekeeper James Hartley: part 2

Today we attended Preston Magistrates Court in anticipation of listening to a case hearing in relation to the prosecution of James Hartley, a gamekeeper from the Bleasdale Estate in Bowland who is accused of a number of offences in relation to the alleged killing of two peregrines in April 2016 (see first court report for details here).

Photo by RPUK

Mr Hartley has pleaded not guilty to the alleged offences and today’s hearing had been initiated for the court to hear legal arguments from both the prosecution and defence before the onset of a potential trial.

At some point between the first hearing in September 2017 and today’s hearing, this case has been elevated to be heard by a District Judge rather than by magistrates. We don’t know the reason for this.

Legal arguments were not heard in court today, and a further date for those arguments to be heard has been set for 14th March 2018.

In addition, defence barrister Justin Rouse QC requested that District Judge Goodwin direct, under the Contempt of Court Act 1981, Section 4(2), “no publication of preliminary interests“, due to what he described as “inappropriate reporting of the previous hearing“. No details of the alleged inappropriate reporting were given in court.

District Judge Goodwin agreed with Mr Rouse’s concerns and, in the interest of avoiding the substantial risk of prejudicing the case, she directed that “nothing pertaining to the legal arguments may be published prior to the conclusion of this case“.

At the end of today’s hearing we asked District Judge Goodwin for clarification on this point and she told us that as of today we may not publish anything about the specific legal arguments that are due to be heard on 14th March (although we can report on these legal arguments at the conclusion of this case), but we were free to report that today’s hearing took place and we are free to report on the trial (if it proceeds) as long as that reporting is fair and accurate – the usual caveats for reporting on legal proceedings.

Given this direction from District Judge Goodwin, we will not be publishing any blog readers’ comments on this particular case until it has concluded.

Depending on the outcome of the legal arguments to be heard on 14th March 2018, and District Judge Goodwin’s judgement (which she said would be ‘reserved’ – which means she won’t make a judgement on the day of the hearing but will take time to consider the legal position and announce her judgement at a later date), a preliminary trial date has been set for 23 April 2018 and is expected to conclude on 30 April 2018.

GWCT’s North of England Grouse Seminar 2018

The GWCT is hosting another North of England Grouse Seminar on March 8th at The Morritt Hotel & Garage Spa, Greta Bridge, nr Barnard Castle in County Durham.

Here’s the planned programme:

What an exciting line-up! First some news about how intensive grouse moor management has caused the rapid spread of disease across moors in England & Scotland.

Then some science that shows if you kill off predators, waders will have improved breeding success (duh!). Oh, and so will your red grouse, meaning there’ll be more birds for you to kill later in the year. Not that that’s your primary motive – no, you’re all about wader conservation and any side benefits that help increase your already-way-too-high red grouse population are simply unintended.

Then a bit about how great it is to repeatedly burn the heather on your grouse moor (as long as you ignore the widespread environmental damage this causes). It’s no big deal, it’s just like getting your hair cut. The fact that moorland burning has been detected in 55% of Special Areas of Conservation and in 63% of Special Protection Areas, (sites that are designated under EU legislation for their conservation value) and yet many are in ‘unfavourable condition’ with burning identified as the primary cause, is nothing to worry about.

Then after a spot of lunch, there’s an as yet to be revealed guest speaker from Natural England, talking about er, something.

Perhaps it’ll be someone coming along to reassure the room full of grouse moor owners that they needn’t worry, Natural England is doing its level best to ensure the last known fixes of all those missing satellite-tagged hen harriers remain a secret. [Incidentally, we have an update on this – blog coming soon].

Or perhaps it’ll be someone coming along to advise grouse moor owners how to get a licence to kill marsh harriers.

Then there’s some stuff about black grouse, and then a chance to hear the ‘final results’ from the Langholm 2 Project. Perhaps this time Dr Sonja Ludwig will be allowed to answer any questions about the science by herself, instead of being bulldozed off stage by someone who clearly doesn’t understand etiquette, nor science, and doesn’t like buzzards.

You don’t have to be a grouse moor owner to attend this seminar. If you’ve got a spare £40, you can book your ticket here.

Wildlife minister Therese Coffey stifles wildlife crime reporting

Back in November 2017, Labour MP Kerry McCarthy tabled the following parliamentary question on wildlife crime reporting:

A perfectly reasonable question, and probably an attempt by Kerry to drag the Westminster Government up to the standard of the Scottish Government, which, since the Wildlife and Natural Environment (Scotland) Act 2011, has had a statutory obligation to publish an anual wildlife crime report.

Now in its 5th year of reporting, the Scottish Government reports are still a long way from being perfect, largely due to issues with Police Scotland withholding data (and we’ll be blogging more on this shortly), but at least the Scottish reports are heading in the right direction as they focus specifically on the six national wildlife crime priorities (badger persecution, bat persecution, CITES issues, freshwater pearl mussels, poaching, and raptor persecution).

However, Wildlife Minister Dr Therese Coffey seems to have other ideas about wildlife crime reporting. Here is her response to Kerry’s question:

So according to the Wildlife Minister, there’s no need for any additional reporting on annual wildlife crime statistics because the Office for National Statistics and the Ministry of Justice already has this covered.

What the Wildlife Minister failed to acknowledge is that these ‘official statistics’ are not detailed enough to identify wildlife crime at the national wildlife crime priority level. Nowhere near.

The only ‘officially’ recorded wildlife crime at present is an obscure set of offences (apart from the important COTES regs) such as some relating to fisheries, sharks, whales, hedgerows and limestone pavements (sourced from the Home Office Counting Rules for Recorded Crime’, under the sub-heading ‘Miscellaneous Crimes Against Society’):

That’s it. So if you see someone shoot a golden eagle on a grouse moor in northern England and you report that to the police, it will be logged in the police control room and given a reference number, but because it isn’t a ‘notifiable’ crime, no report will be sent to the Home Office, so there’ll be no record of it in the ‘official’ statistics.

In November 2017, a consortium of environmental organisations operating under the umbrella group Wildlife & Countryside LINK published a damning report on how wildlife crime is currently recorded in England & Wales and is urging policy makers to address this issue. The report was spot on. To effectively tackle wildlife crime we need to know the scale of the crime being committed. Without properly recorded stats, this is impossible.

Either Therese Coffey doesn’t know about the limitations of the current wildlife crime recording policy (in which case she needs to employ better advisors), or if she does know about these limitations, her answer reveals a distinct lack of interest in monitoring the crime statistics relating to the six national wildlife crime priorities (with the exception of the COTES regs which cover CITES issues).

Either way, it’s yet another example of how little interest the Westminster Government has in tackling illegal raptor persecution and all the other wildlife crime that is allowed to flourish under this Government’s reign.

Can we please just have some honesty about the Heads up for Harriers project?

The controversial Heads Up for Harriers project got another airing at the weekend, this time on BBC Radio Scotland’s Out of Doors programme.

For those who missed it, you can listen to it on the BBC iPlayer HERE for the next 27 days (starts at 01.58, ends 07.39).

For the sake of posterity, here’s the transcript, and our comments are below:

Mark Stephen (presenter): Last year we covered the launch of an ambitious project to put cameras in hen harrier nests on grouse moors to see why the bird’s population numbers are so low. Now, we’d best not underestimate the challenge of this project in getting access to some moorland where privacy is treasured. The results are in and one of the main drivers behind Heads up for Harriers is Professor Des Thompson of Scottish Natural Heritage. Des has been talking to Euan.

Des Thompson: The hen harrier is one of our most special birds of prey, it’s a fantastically beautiful, graceful bird. It’s one of our most endangered birds. In the UK we’ve got hardly any birds nesting….[interrupted].

Euan McIlwraith: Is that just because they have a habit of taking grouse and they’re not welcome on the moors? Is that the main reason?

Des Thomson: Well historically that’s certainly been the case Euan, they’ve not been welcome at all on the intensively managed grouse moors. But they’re doing very well in the Outer Isles, we’ve got roughly just under 500 pairs at the moment but not doing anything like as well on the grouse moors.

Euan McIlwraith: So we should have them throughout Scotland or is it just mainly on the moorland?

Des Thompson: No, we should have them throughout Scotland, I mean historically they’ve nested in lowland areas but their best habitat and the best foods for these birds [is] on heather dominated areas.

Euan McIlwraith: The project last year, Heads up for Harriers, what was the idea of the project?

Des Thomspon: Well there’s two things we’re trying to do with Heads up for Harriers, one is just encouraging people to report their sightings of these birds, I mean they’re just so beautiful to see, and we’ve had a fantastic response from people throughout the country, just giving us information on where they’re seeing these birds and we can follow up to see how these birds are faring. But we’ve also recognised that on grouse moor areas they’re either absent or not doing well, so we’ve wanted to work with estates and conservationists to encourage these birds to settle. Where they’ve settled, with the agreement of the estates we’ve put out nest cameras to see what’s happening to the nests. If nests are failing, why? Is it because of foxes, crows, or disturbance or some other factor?

Euan McIlwraith: That was last year, what kind of results have you got?

Des Thompson: Well we’ve been very lucky because we’ve now got more than 20 estates participating.

Euan McIlwraith: Was that a hard thing, to persuade people?

Des Thompson: Yeah, it was actually, if I’m frank with you Euan. We’ve had to develop a very strong partnership involving Scottish Land & Estates, RSPB, Scottish Raptor Study Groups, SNH and other people, bringing them together, having candid conversations, which is sort of code for quite difficult discussions, but in the end we’ve had estates coming forward saying, ‘Ok, bring it on, we want to have hen harriers settle in our areas, we want to show that we can look after them’. Now, we’re not being naive, there are quite a number of estates I’d like to see joining the scheme, they’ve not come forward yet, and I would like to reach into these estates to see if we can get them to come on board.

Euan McIlwraith: So what did you do? Did you put cameras beside the nest and just monitor how many survive?

Des Thompson: Yes, we’ve had some fantastic people working with us, one person in particular, Brian Etheridge, who this year won the Nature of Scotland Species Champion Award, has been brilliant at working with estates, going out working with estate staff, locating nesting hen harriers, finding the nest, cannily putting out the camera and then re-visiting it to see how the birds are faring.

Euan McIlwraith: So what kind of results have you had?

Des Thompson: Well a sort of mixed bag, pretty much what you’d expect across the country. We’ve had some nests being predated by foxes, we’ve had some nests failing for natural reasons, but overall across all of our nest sites we’ve had 37 fledged harriers from the nests which is a great result.

Euan McIlwraith: So that would imply that if it went on, you should be able to re-populate Scotland?

Des Thompson: I don’t know about re-populating Scotland because we’ve still got a lot of estates that we need to reach in to and you’ll know that the Scottish Government has recently set up an expert group to look at the management of driven grouse moors, and there’s still a number of moors that we need to reach in to, to try and influence management.

Euan McIlwraith: What about the success rate of the chicks because they’re normally, I presume, 3 eggs laid and survival would be one?

Des Thompson: Yes, I mean in some cases four, five or even six eggs if we’re lucky, most of the chicks will fledge and that’s where it gets very difficult. Some are predated, some unfortunately are being persecuted, they’re either being poisoned or killed, the females tend to stay on the moor, the males migrate very long distances because they’re feeding on much smaller prey.

Euan McIlwraith: But the results, I’m led to believe, compared to England were much more impressive?

Des Thompson: Well, they are, but you would expect me to say that. Well in England, we’ve got virtually no hen harriers nesting. We don’t have the sort of partnership working we have in Scotland so I think we’re extremely fortunate. But I think its fair to say that raptor conservationists, a number of raptor conservationists are impatient for change, they want to see the fortunes of hen harriers much better, and I think they’re absolutely right, so that’s why I want to really throw down the gauntlet to those remaining estates where there’s intensive driven grouse shooting and to say we really would like to work with you, to see if we can extend the scheme.

Euan McIlwraith: Because it’s in their interests, isn’t it, if you can actually say, ‘I’ve put a camera on the harrier nest, they’re surviving, it’s not us’?

Des Thompson: Well I think it is, Euan, but I think also reputationally, for the wider brand of Scotland, why would we not want to see hen harriers in the wild uplands of Scotland, it’s such a fantastic spectacle, especially in spring when you’re getting males flighting, I mean it’s a wonderful thing to see so it’s in their interests to do so.

ENDS

Photograph from a 2017 Heads up for Harriers nest camera:

For God’s sake, when are we going to get some honesty about the Heads up for Harriers project?

Let’s just be clear – the purpose of installing nest cameras is not ‘to find out what’s happening to these birds’ – we already know what’s happening, and Des even alluded to this in his interview. On intensively managed grouse moors, breeding hen harriers are not tolerated. They are illegally killed and this has been going on for decades, in England and in Scotland.

We know that at some nests the breeding attempt can and will fail, from a number of natural causes, but that’s perfectly normal. These types of failures are NOT the cause of the declining hen harrier population, nor the reason behind the persistent absence of breeding hen harriers on driven grouse moors – that is down to illegal persecution. It’s a fact, accepted by Governments, by statutory agencies, by police forces, by conservationists, in fact by everybody except those involved with the driven grouse shooting industry.

So let’s stop pretending that we need the Heads up for Harriers project to determine ‘what is happening to hen harriers’. No, the real reason for wanting these estates to sign up for the Heads up for Harriers project is to prevent them from killing nesting birds. If they know there’s a camera pointing at the nest, the gamekeepers will not touch those birds.

In this interview, when discussing the results from the 2017 breeding season, once again it was glossed over that none of the seven estates with nest cameras were intensively managed driven grouse moors (we’ve blogged about this quite recently, here, and we’ll be saying more in the near future). Those estates with cameras are not known as raptor persecution hotspots and they do not have a reputation for killing hen harriers. These are relatively progressive estates that do tolerate hen harriers and have done for some time, with or without this project. To claim this as a project ‘success’ is wholly misleading.

And while it’s true that of the 21 estates that have signed up for this project, some ARE intensively managed grouse moors (including a number in the Angus Glens), not one of those driven grouse moors has produced a hen harrier breeding attempt. Its all very well signing up for the scheme and using this for a bit of PR value, but until they support a hen harrier breeding attempt, their ‘participation’ is meaningless.

And even if some of those intensively managed grouse estates did manage to support a hen harrier breeding attempt, that wouldn’t stop the illegal killing of the fledglings. As we’ve seen over and over and over again, as well as breeding adults, dispersing young harriers are also illegally killed on driven grouse moors, and this would take place beyond the view of a nest camera.

And please, Des, stop also pretending that there’s ‘a very strong partnership’ between SLE, RSPB, SRSG, SNH and others involved with this project.

There is not!

Sure, there is partnership working with ‘decent’ estates (i.e. those that don’t kill raptors), as there always has been, but the relationship between raptor conservationists and the driven grouse shooting industry has never been worse!

We’ve seen grouse moor estate owners telling raptor workers they’re no longer welcome (here), we’ve seen a Director of the Scottish Gamekeepers Association repeatedly making outrageous and false accusations about raptor workers (here), we’ve seen the Director of the Scottish Moorland Group falsely accuse raptor workers of producing “deeply flawed” peer-reviewed science (here), we’ve seen the Chairman of the Scottish Gamekeepers Association falsely accuse the Scottish Raptor Study Group of ‘driving [gamekeepers’] wives, children and grandchildren from their homes‘ (here), we’ve got the Scottish Gamekeepers Association refusing to attend PAW Scotland Raptor Group meetings through a perceived lack of trust (here), and we’ve got SLE refusing to tell the RSPB (a Heads up for Harriers project partner) the names of the participating estates in this project (here).

Does that sound like ‘a very strong partnership’ to you?

Come on, stop with the spin, stop with the secrecy, stop with the pretence. We’ve had enough. And no, we’re not “impatient for change” – raptor conservationists’ patience has been tested to the limit over several decades – it’s no surprise it has now run out.

Previous blogs about the Heads up for Hen Harriers project: see hereherehereherehere, here, here, here, here

Compare & contrast: two cases of the illegal storage of poisons

Well this is fascinating.

In December 2017, a pest control company and one of its directors was sentenced for the illegal storage of poisons, following an HSE investigation in to the alleged secondary poisoning of a tawny owl (by rodenticide).

During the investigation, a number of poisons not authorised for use were found improperly stored at the premises. In addition, part used canisters of Phostoxin (a compound that reacts with moisture in the atmosphere or the soil to produce phosphine, a poisonous gas, used to control rabbits within their burrows) were found stored inside a filing cabinet within the workplace.

Rodent Service (East Anglia) Limited of Cooke Road, Lowestoft, Suffolk pleaded guilty to breaching Sections 2 (1) and 3 (1) of the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974. The company has been fined £100,000 and ordered to pay costs of £10,000. The company was also ordered to pay a victim surcharge of £170.

Donald Eric Martin, Director of Rodent Service (East Anglia) Limited also pleaded guilty of an offence of neglect by virtue of S37 of the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974. He was sentenced to a six months in prison, suspended for 12 months, and ordered to pay costs of £1000 and a victim surcharge of £115.00.

Details of this case can be found on the HSE website here (thanks to one of our blog readers, Mick, for drawing this to our attention).

Now, compare the outcome of this case with that of the recent case involving the discovery of an illegal poisons cache found buried in a hole in woodland on Hurst Moor, a grouse moor on the East Arkengarth Estate in North Yorkshire.

In the East Arkengarth Estate case, the RSPB had discovered a number of poisons, including Cymag (another fumigant with similar properties to Phostoxin), Bendiocarb and Alphachloralose and had identified a gamekeeper who was filmed visiting the cache. However, the Crown Prosecution Service refused to prosecute due to ‘procedural concerns’ but North Yorkshire Police, quite reasonably, considered the gamekeeper unfit to be in charge of firearms and removed his firearms certificates.

The gamekeeper appealed this decision (with the help of the BASC Chairman as his defence lawyer!) and the court held that although it was accepted he had stored dangerous poisons at an unauthorised location, removing his firearms certificates was deemed ‘disproportionate’ and they were duly reinstated.

Although there are differences between these two cases, there is one very clear parallel. Both cases involved professional pesticide users who should have completed COSHH risk assessments and training and thus known there are very strict rules and regulations about the storage and use of these inherently dangerous chemicals.

In one case, not connected with the grouse shooting industry, the company (and its Director) was absolutely thrashed by the court for such serious offences.

In the other case, directly linked to the grouse shooting industry, there was no prosecution, the gamekeeper was considered fit to be entrusted with a firearm, and there was no subsidy withdrawal for the estate as the poisons cache was found in a small plantation, not on agricultural land (see here).

In other words, there were no penalties or consequences whatsoever for the East Arkengarthdale Estate and its employee.

Amazing, eh?

SNH claims ‘not in public interest’ to explain decisions on General Licence restrictions

The ability for Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) to impose a General Licence (GL) restriction order on land where there is evidence of raptor persecution taking place came in to force on 1 January 2014. This measure, based on a civil burden of proof, was introduced by then Environment Minister Paul Wheelhouse in response to the continuing difficulties of meeting a criminal burden of proof to facilitate a criminal prosecution.

Four years on, SNH has only imposed four GL restrictions. The first two were imposed in November 2015 (one for Raeshaw & Corsehope Estates in the Borders and one for Burnfoot & Wester Cringate Estates in Stirlingshire). Then there was a temporary halt for almost two years as Raeshaw & Corsehope Estates made a legal challenge which resulted in a judicial review in January 2017. The court’s decision was announced in March 2017 and SNH was found to have acted properly and lawfully. Since that decision was announced in March 2017, SNH has imposed two more GL restrictions: one for Edradynate Estate in Perthshire in September 2017 and one for an unnamed mystery gamekeeper in Aberdeenshire in September 2017.

In early October 2017 we submitted an FoI request to SNH to find out how many more cases were currently under consideration for a GL restriction. We were pretty shocked with the response:

“At the time of your request, no General Licence restrictions were under consideration”.

This surprised us as we knew of at least nine other cases that would potentially qualify for a GL restriction. Those nine cases were as follows:

Newlands Estate, Dumfriesshire. Gamekeeper William (Billy) Dick was convicted in 2015 for killing a buzzard on the estate in April 2014. He had thrown rocks at it and then stamped on it. The estate owner, Andrew Duncan, was prosecuted for alleged vicarious liability but then the Crown Office dropped the prosecution in April 2017, saying it wasn’t in the public interest to proceed (see here).

Brewlands Estate, Angus Glens. A gamekeeper was prosecuted for the alleged repeated setting of a pole trap on this estate between 9-17 July 2015. The Crown Office dropped the prosecution case in April 2017 because the video evidence was deemed inadmissible (see here). Another gamekeeper on this estate thought this result was hilarious.

Unnamed pheasant-shooting estate, Lanarkshire. In September 2015 a set pole trap was discovered on a bench directly outside a pheasant-rearing pen on an unnamed estate. Police Scotland apparently dropped the case, for unknown reasons.

Gamekeeper in Ayrshire. In May 2016 a named gamekeeper was charged after allegedly being caught using gin traps on a neighbouring farm of the estate on which he was employed. The Crown Office dropped the prosecution in March 2017 after reportedly ‘getting the dates wrong on its paperwork’ (see here).

Invercauld Estate, Aberdeenshire. In June 2016, walkers discovered a number of illegally-set spring traps staked out on a grouse moor. Two of the traps had caught a Common Gull by the legs. The bird had to be euthanised. There was no prosecution. ‘Some action’ was taken by the estate but whatever this action was it has remained a closely-guarded secret between the estate, the Cairngorms National Park Authority and the Scottish Government (see here).

Glendye Estate, Aberdeenshire. In January 2017 a number of illegally-set spring traps were discovered on a grouse moor on this estate. The Estate Factor and gamekeeper reportedly removed the traps and denied all knowledge of who had set them (see here). According to Police Scotland, there was insufficient evidence for a prosecution.

Leadhills Estate, South Lanarkshire. On 4th May 2017, witnesses observed the alleged shooting and killing of a hen harrier on this estate. Police Scotland appealed for information (see here & here). As far as we’re aware, there are no impending prosecutions.

Leadhills Estate, South Lanarkshire. On 31 May 2017, witnesses observed the shooting and killing of a short-eared owl on this estate. The corpse was retrieved and sent for a post-mortem. Police Scotland appealed for information. As far as we’re aware, there are no impending prosecutions.

Unnamed grouse shooting estate, Monadhliaths. On 7 June 2017, a member of the public found a buzzard caught in an illegally-set spring trap that had been staked out on an unnamed grouse moor in the Monadliaths. The buzzard was released. Police Scotland appealed for information. Inspector Mike Middlehurst of Police Scotland commented, “Unfortunately, there are some who continue to deliberately target birds of prey; there is nothing accidental in the setup of these traps“. As far as we’re aware, there are no impending prosecutions.

In late October 2017 we submitted another FoI to SNH to ask about these specific cases, to find out if any were under consideration for a GL restriction and if not, why not.

SNH has now responded as follows:

Part of this response makes sense, but part of it makes no sense at all.

As we’ve said on this blog before, it’s perfectly right and understandable that if SNH is actively considering a GL restriction for a particular estate or individual, then those details should not be published until the decision to impose a GL restriction has been made and the estate/individual has had a chance to appeal that decision. We fully accept that position. [And we note that according to the above response, SNH is now actively considering two cases for a potential GL restriction, although we don’t know whether those two cases are included in our list of nine potential cases. Time will tell].

However, if a decision has been made NOT to impose a GL restriction, for whatever reason, we do not accept, as SNH claims, that publishing that information would ‘prejudice the process’. How could it, if the decision has already been made?

We also don’t accept, as SNH claims, that ‘it is in the public interest not to release the information’. How can this lack of transparency possibly be in the public interest?

Defining what is meant by ‘public interest’ is a tricky thing to do. This article from The Guardian in 2012 provides an excellent overview from the perspective of various journalists and explains that it can be more of a philosophical interpretation rather than a definition set out by statute. However, the Press Complaints Commission defines it as ‘including but not confined to detecting and exposing crime, or serious impropriety; protecting public health and safety and preventing the public from being misled by an action or statement of an individual or organisation‘.

In the nine cases we’ve listed above, information about the crimes that were allegedly committed are already in the public domain, so it’s difficult for us to understand that if SNH has made a decision NOT to consider a GL restriction in any of those cases, why SNH believes it to be in the public interest NOT to explain those decisions.

We’ll be appealing SNH’s decision to withhold this information from the public.

High risk of eating contaminated red grouse after inadequate safety checks

Intensive grouse moor management not only has catastrophic consequences for the environment (and especially for raptors), but the end product carries serious public health risks, too.

A couple of years ago we wrote a blog about the use of medicated grit to dose red grouse with a parasitic wormer drug called Flubendazole.

There is a statutory requirement to remove veterinary drug residues from food destined for human consumption no later than 28 days before the food is available for sale.

We’d learned that the use of medicated grit on grouse moors was largely unregulated (surprise!), that some grouse moor managers were using a super-strength drug that was 10 times, and sometimes 20 times, the strength permitted for use in the UK, and, most incredibly, that the Government’s statutory agency (Veterinary Medicines Directorate (VMD)) responsible for monitoring meat to ensure harmful drugs are not entering the human food chain, had not ever tested a single red grouse for residues of Flubendazole because, staff said, they didn’t know where to find dead red grouse (see here).

Photo of a medicated grit tray on a Yorkshire grouse moor, by Ruth Tingay

Prompted by our investigation, the VMD said it would begin to screen recently shot red grouse for veterinary drug residues in 2016, but that VMD staff wouldn’t visit grouse moors to examine whether medicated grit had been withdrawn within the statutory 28-day period because that was beyond their remit. Instead, they would rely on the grouse moor managers to act within the law (ha!).

We followed up on the new testing regime and in 2016 we learned that the VMD had managed to screen a pathetic total of six (yes, six!) red grouse in the whole of the UK (4 in England, 2 in Scotland), out of a conservatively estimated 700,000 shot birds.

Last month, at the end of the 2017 grouse shooting season, we asked the VMD how many red grouse they’d managed to test for veterinary residues in 2017. Here’s their response:

Are they taking the piss? Eight red grouse tested in the whole of the UK? That’s hardly reassuring for consumers, is it?

And once again, the VMD claims not to know the origin of the birds it tested. Talk about incompetent. What if one of those birds had tested positive for residues of Flubendazole? The VMD wouldn’t have been able to take follow-up action because they wouldn’t have known the name of the grouse moor on which the bird had been shot!

So, yet another reason not to risk your health by eating potentially contaminated red grouse. Not only might it contain unknown quantities of the anti-parasitic worming drug Flubendazole, it might also contain:

  • Excessive amounts of toxic poisonous lead (over 100 times the lead levels that would be legal for other meat – see here)
  • Unknown quantities of the veterinary drug Levamisole hydrochloride (also used in chemotherapy treatment for humans with colon cancer – see here)
  • Unknown quantities of the pesticide Permethrin (used topically to treat scabies and pubic lice; probably not that great to ingest – see here)
  • There’s also a high risk the grouse will be diseased with Cryptosporidiosis (see here).

Two shot red grouse ready for cooking, yum yum. Photo by Ruth Tingay

Time for the filthy grouse shooting industry to be better regulated? God, it’s well overdue. You can sign this new petition calling for the introduction of a licensing scheme for driven grouse moors, here.

If you think licensing wouldn’t go far enough, you can also sign this new petition calling for a total ban on driven grouse shooting, here.

These two petitions apply only to England. The Scottish Government is way ahead of the Westminster Government on this issue and an independent review of grouse moor management practices has just begun, and many of us anticipate that it will result in the almost inevitable conclusion that licensing needs to be introduced. We know the review group will be examining the use of medicated grit as part of its remit, and we expect the group to find these latest results from the VMD’s inadequate testing regime to be of great interest.

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