New paper from Langholm study shows effectiveness of hen harrier diversionary feeding

Diversionary feeding of hen harriers (where alternative food is provided for breeding birds to reduce the number of red grouse chicks they might otherwise have taken) has long been an option for grouse moor managers who complain that hen harriers eat ‘too many’ grouse.

This practice has been studied in depth during the Langholm Moor Demonstration Project (phase 1 and phase 2).

[Photo of diversionary feeding in action at Langholm, by Laurie Campbell]

It’s been known for a while just how successful this technique can be. For example, during the Langholm 1 study the proportion of red grouse found in the diet of hen harriers where diversionary feeding was NOT in place was 12%. During the Langholm 2 study, the proportion of red grouse found in the diet of hen harriers where diversionary feeding WAS in place had dropped to between 0 – 4% (see here and here).

These findings have now been formally written up and published in the scientific journal Bird Study. Unfortunately due to publishing restrictions we’re not permitted to publish the entire paper but here’s the abstract:

It’s good to see this paper finally out and especially good to see that the lead author, as well as several co-authors, is employed by GWCT.

Wouldn’t it be ironic if, at the forthcoming High Court challenge against hen harrier brood meddling (a management option of which the GWCT is one of the biggest supporters), lawyers acting on behalf of challengers Mark Avery and the RSPB presented this paper as evidence that Natural England’s decision to licence brood meddling was unlawful because all other management options (i.e. diversionary feeding) hadn’t been exhausted?

25 thoughts on “New paper from Langholm study shows effectiveness of hen harrier diversionary feeding”

  1. This makes me extremely angry, mainly because I know what I believe to be the truth about these studies, thanks to two personal informants (one employed as a field assistant) who have revealed it to me. Neither do I wish to be sued for libel, or my words redacted by Raptor Persecution, for doing so. The very sight of the photograph showing a harrier descending upon the menu of “cafeteria” rats turns my stomach for a variety of reasons, one being the sight of such a noble and esteemed raptor going for such an unnatural food supply. Have these rats been previously tested for possible infection? Suffice to say that I don’t believe the statistics anyway, for reasons other than a suspicious mind. The sooner grouse shooting is banished in this country, with all its criminality, suspected corruption and falsified justifications, the better nature will be for it. I shall reserve further judgement until reading the full paper.

  2. Hmm. Interesting but not really very surprising. It’s in the same vein as the shooting industry claiming that there are more breeding waders on managed grouse moors (of course there are – all the predators have been destroyed). It means that in order to protect a minority interest over vast areas of our uplands, nature has to be manipulated. You might just as well keep Hen Harriers in zoos. Also, my cynical side suggests that, were diversionary feeding to become widespread, it provides the perfect opportunity to put out poisoned bait. Overall, I would hate diversionary feeding to become a compromise accepted by both sides, but I fear that politicians will go for it because of the powerful vested interests in the shooting industry. In a few years, it will be “stick out a few dead rats, carry on as before”. No, it must not be so, in my opinion.

  3. So, is this supposed to be a permanent fix? I dont think that those with the mentality to shoot anything that moves, will stop doing so if they see a HH in the area, even if they are still putting out ‘diversionary’ food. It’s too much fun! This seems to be no more of an ethical solve, than the brood meddling. It may help to protect in the short term, but a solution? A solution is either banning grouse moors, or them learning to accept inevitable, but acceptable losses in the industry. All factory farms have inherent risks but hopefully do not stoop to illegal mindless solutions.

    1. Yeah, it is the power thing that a lot of keepers seem to love; and the thrill of outraging environmentalists (as they see it) as much as anything. Switching to doing extra work in the feeding, and losing that sense of power of blasting things with their shotguns and, worst of all, having to eat crow (as it were) in front of the environment lobby will be too much for a lot of the shooting lobby. The damage to their overblown and unwarranted sense of pride and ego will be too much for them, and they’ll still keep to shooting, poisoning, and trapping just out of spite. Hell, spite is half the reason they do it now.

      1. I think you’re absolutely spot on, some very peculiar and nasty psychology going on here. It’s not just about making sure there are as many grouse and pheasant to shoot as possible, there’ s definitely spite, power even playing the martyr. Individuals with a deep sense of their own inadequacies taking it out on wildlife and the people trying to protect it?

        1. Agreed; I put the mindset together with trophy hunting; and this may not be acceptable or even fair, but in the same category as child abusers. Not because I despise them both, of course, I do but anyone that gets kicks out of either, and as stated we dont think its just the financial outcome, has a dangerous psychology and motivation. Difficult to eradicate.

  4. From what I have read many times on here, the real issue with H s for the Grouse shooters is that their mere presence disrupts the shooting days. Diversionary feeding is not going to stop the killing, but that may be just my opinion.

    1. You’re probably right, Aquila, but this paper is interesting from at least two perspectives.

      First, from a legal perspective and as mentioned in the blog, this paper demonstrates how successful diversionary feeding can be in terms of reducing the number of red grouse that would otherwise be predated. Natural England’s decision to icence the far more invasive management option of brood meddling, instead of trialling diversionary feeding, is therefore up for legal challenge, which is exactly what Mark Avery and the RSPB are doing.

      Second, the grouse shooting industry’s failure to adopt diversionary feeding as an effective management option exposes its complete intolerance of hen harriers. From a policy perspective this backs the industry in to a very awkward corner when it maintains its pretence that hen harriers are welcome on driven grouse moors. Industry reps have argued that diversionary feeding is ‘too time-consuming’ and/or ‘too expensive’, and yet the same industry is prepared to spend hundreds of thousands of pounds to pay for brood meddling.

      1. Diversionary feeding “too time consuming”. Well that has to be a pretty rubbish excuse. Add it in to the daily (legal requirement) to check the various traps they maintain and it can’t add up to too much extra time. The reduction in legal costs (expensive barristers as there should be no more gamekeepers in court Ha Ha ) should outweigh the food bill.

        1. While it might be a reasonable alternative, surely even diversionary feeding would just be another avenue to restricting HHs in specific locations – a dependancy on feeding and the removal of natural instincts to hunt would leave young HHs short on ability to see themselves through the winter (assuming that diversionary feeding would only be carried out during nesting and brooding) That and the likelihood that adults develop a liking for carrion at other times of the year – not in their best interests. After all wouldn’t it be appropriate to describe an over production of grouse as unintentional diversionary feeding when that takes the place of naturally occurring prey species on large areas of moorland decimated by burning in the case of H’s and just as relevant – the shooting of hares and the limiting effect it has on how eagles survive without turning to alternative prey.

  5. I did not expect this paper to have any surprises for me. I expected that diversionary feeding would show that the number of grouse chicks taken as prey would be very low, and it was , at 0-4% of the food taken by Hen Harriers.
    I did not expect these statements:
    “Annually this reduced annual grouse chick production by 0-6%” and
    “The number of Red Grouse chicks delivered annually was 34%-100% lower than expected under unfed conditions.”
    As the number of chicks taken was very small, I did not realise that if diversionary feeding was employed, there would be such negative impacts on the number of grouse available to shoot.
    This defeats my thinking and reinforces the feelings of the driven grouse industry that they must ignore diversionary feeding, as they have, and continue to kill or otherwise prevent Hen Harriers from getting in.
    Mark Avery also came to the same conclusion and decided therefore that driven grouse shooting would have to be banned, if I have understood his argument.
    In my ignorance, I have had a feeling that driven grouse shooting had a future if it lived with Hen Harriers, and that it was principally due to a wish to perpetuate the long history of raptor persecution in much the same way that lead ammunition still persists, and against all logic. I truly believed that diversionary feeding was a possible way forward, but it appears from the abstract that I was wrong.
    Of course this is only one study on one moor, and I still expect that the findings may indeed be in error. As at least one driven grouse moor in Scotland is now allowing them in, perhaps there is an opportunity for a further study.
    There are very likely any number of driven grouse moors, any of which could provide an excellent comparison, all for some reason without Hen Harriers or diversionary feeding. Perhaps I’m being too simplistic. Or not.

    1. I took ‘The number of Red Grouse chicks delivered annually’ to mean delivered by the parents to the chicks. Alex, where are you getting the figures for ‘the number of grouse available to shoot’?

      1. You are quite right, ananprasad, and thank you for pointing it out. I took “The number of Red Grouse chicks delivered annually was 34%-100% lower than expected under unfed conditions” to mean the Red Grouse chicks born, not the reduction in chicks fed to the young Hen Harriers. A silly mistake.
        The only figure that could suggest less grouse available to shoot would be from: “Annually this reduced annual grouse chick production by 0-6%”, a much lower figure, and even possibly zero.
        The report abstract (I have not read the full publication) actually confirms my initial belief that allowing Hen Harriers in does not mean a huge reduction in grouse available to shoot if diversionary feeding is in place. Although I’m embarrassed to have to admit a stupid error, I’m happy that the report does not in any way confirm that driven grouse shooting would be much less possible or profitable if Hen Harriers were allowed into the moors and diversionary feeding were in place. Allowing keepers to slaughter or prevent nesting of Hen Harriers really is as stupid as using lead ammunition.
        It would also suggest that as so few driven grouse moors are prepared to allow potential crimes to take place, the owners (or entities which own them) are likely suffering from the effects of self administered lead poisoning. This is only relieved by the knowledge that they will never face prosecution for their actions unless we can make sure that the law is changed enough that they come to their senses.

        1. ‘It would also suggest that as so few driven grouse moors are prepared to allow potential crimes to take place’
          I strongly suspect it is very much the opposite. According to Inglorious the grouse numbers expected on driven shoots are not possible without illegality. Look at what extraordinary lengths they will go to achieve those numbers, legal or illegal. When i first read the Langholm report at first i was shocked and then i realized almost immediately it was a simple binary choice, Hen Harriers or DGS and i knew that if they knew the facts which way the public would choose. Technically you could have one grouse moor which is obeying the law but surrounded by those that aren’t. I doubt if that ever happens except if a new green landowner took over, because peer pressure would be too great, Even if that were the case that moor would still be profiting from the crimes of others. It is one of the reasons i call it organized crime and i suspect it is near universal. Brian Etheridge pretty much proved it
          and he wasn’t even looking at the killing of juvenile and males.
          The one solution would be brood management but as this paper and the papers mentioned in Inglorious and the attitude of the grousers show by their lack of take up and its exclusion from the HH Action Plan, even a small loss of grouse to harriers is not acceptable to the grouse lobby.
          They really are of another era, another ideology (almost a religion) where no one can tell them what to do least of all the law, experts, scientists, conservationists or eco-fascists, lefties or greenies. When driven grouse shooting no longer boosts the value of the land but does the opposite because of penalties from licensing, maybe then we will have turned a corner.
          Mark’s lawyers will be having fun with this paper, i am sure.

          1. I should add that Langholm also proves that crime is virtually universal otherwise we would see Hen Harrier densities like that on all grouse moors. Langholm shows that not only do grouse moors they think they can get away with it, they actually can. It is simply mind blowing and my only hope is that Scotland has woken up or is waking up out of this mass hypnosis.

            1. I have just realised that Langholm also proves to me at least, that there are’t even isolated pockets of law abiding grouse moors because they too would, like Langholm, have high densities of Hen Harriers. Are there any other than Langholm?

              1. There are estates that would be very happy to have nesting hen harriers. My understanding is this : They are surrounded by estates who persecute them meaning that they act as a sink over large areas, preventing hen harriers from nesting in areas where they would be welcome.

                1. This could clearly have a disheartening effect – the estates happy to have them (HHs) would have found themselves in the same boat as RSPB and others – keen to provide the site, with a degree of protection, only to find that someone else is inevitably bumping them off. That either dissuades them from attracting birds by, in effect luring them to be killed by a neighbour, or makes them even more determined to succeed with a nesting pair. Don’t underestimate the willingness of the perpetrators to prevent it getting to that stage – the last thing they would want is for a neighbour to have enabled a success story, with all the inevitable publicity that entails, and how at that stage it’s so very difficult to dispatch them, without drawing even more unwelcome attention to themselves. How many times, you wonder, will this situation have occurred in the past.

  6. Interesting as an argument against the ludicrous brood meddling, but anyone for rabbits and pigeons put out for eagles and goshawks ad infinitum ?
    Chicks for buzzards ?
    Trout for Ospreys ?
    I think not.
    Upland raptors taking their natural prey is a simple fact of a functioning ecosystem.
    The dead zones of grouse moors are disfunctional and only possible through criminality in the 21st Century.

    Diversionary sport such as clay shooting is a much more valid concept.

    Keep up the pressure !

  7. I wouldn’t trust a single paper that comes from the GWCT, or is largely influenced by it. They have a remit: to polish the faecal output surrounding the shooting industry to make it acceptable. Science is disinterested: they are hopelessly compromised from the outset as their whole remit is to support shooting. It is not science but propaganda.

    1. Simon, I’m not sure that dismissing the paper is of any help really. This is in Bird Study, has Neil Aebischer as one of the co-authors and (assuredly) has been rigorously peer-reviewed. I think we can be pretty certain that it’s sound and even in the abstract it looks like it has been very carefully worded. It seems to be very much in “our” favour overall.

  8. A few days ago I raised the matter of the cost of raptor persecution. Is it possible to put a figure on those birds which have ‘been disappeared’? If course, this may have been answered, and if so, apologies but I think large sums of money are involved. To put a figure on the cost of the birds who have either been killed or who have died in mysterious circumstances adds to the case against those causing the damage. Many know ‘the price of everything and the value of nothing’. We should if possible draw attention to the financial cost of illegal killing and persecution.

  9. Meanwhile in another reality…QC hired with the soul purpose of finding fault in eagle peer reviewed research paper settles on possible “unconscious bias”.

    And they dont see the irony?????

  10. When I saw this image of rats, two or three years ago, I blinked, so I understand people’s reaction.

    However, what are the alternatives to diversionary feeding? They appear to be much more frequent prosecutions that might suppress illegal killing of raptors or the banning of shooting driven grouse. Due to the fundamental difficulty of obtaining evidence, there seems no hope whatsoever of the first, while neither the government in Edinburgh, nor in London appear to have any interest in the later. Indeed, very few MPs or MSPs support a ban, never mind ministers.

    However, imagine for a moment, that either or both governments decided to legislate. It would take at least three years to draw-up a bill and get it through parliament. Then, if a ban was enacted, just like the drinks industry went to court, over minimum pricing, so too would the grouse moor owners. The Scottish Government and the booze industry spent seven years in the courts. Just as minimum pricing took ten years, so too would a ban on shooting driven grouse. Hen harriers just do not have ten years.

    I’m not too keen on dead rats but I prefer them to dead harriers.

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