Responses to hen harrier satellite tag paper: GWCT

The publication of the hen harrier satellite tag paper on Tuesday (here) that provided compelling evidence to highlight, yet again, the link between grouse moors and the illegal killing of hen harriers, has resulted in a flurry of responses from various individuals and organisations.

We’ve be looking at these responses in turn.

So far we’ve discussed the responses of Supt Nick Lyall (Chair, RPPDG) (here), BASC (here), Dr Therese Coffey (DEFRA Wildlife Minister) (here), Northern England Raptor Forum (here) and the Moorland Association (here).

This time we’re examining the response of the Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust (GWCT), a supposedly ‘independent’ charity that seems to attract a good deal of funding from, er, the grouse shooting industry.

GWCT posted a statement on its website in response to the devastating findings of the hen harrier satellite tag paper. Here it is:

You’ll notice that this GWCT response carefully avoids mentioning the headline figures from the paper – hen harriers are ten times more likely to be killed on grouse moors than any other habitat, and at least 72% of the hen harriers tagged by Natural England between 2006 – 2017 have either been confirmed to have been illegally killed on grouse moors or are highly likely to have been killed on grouse moors, with the researchers saying they can find no alternative, plausible, explanation.

We’re then told by GWCT that the illegal killing of hen harriers on grouse moors is “a diminishing problem” based on last year’s breeding results. Let’s just remind ourselves of those 2018 breeding results – only nine successful nests in England (where there is suitable habitat to support over 300 nests) and not one of those nine nests was situated on a privately-owned grouse moor (see here).

And what happened to the hen harrier chicks that did manage to fledge in 2018? A lot of them ‘disappeared’ in suspicious circumstances on, er, grouse moors:

The final paragraph of GWCT’s statement implies that habitat condition, weather, food supply and disturbance may explain the pattern of hen harriers deaths and disappearances on grouse moors. You’ll note that criminal gamekeepers armed with shotguns and illegal traps are not mentioned.

There was a time, long ago, when the GWCT was a respected, credible, science-based organisation. What happened?

18 thoughts on “Responses to hen harrier satellite tag paper: GWCT”

  1. I find it incredible that GWCT, whose history, although not recent, includes the production of well respected serious research, could have sunk so low as to think it responsible to publish such a response.

  2. Wow, even by Gilruth’s standards that is a truly shocking piece of spin and illustrates perfectly how the GWCT doesn’t give a damn about raptor crime but only about protecting it’s own image and xxxxx xxxxx xxxxx xxxxx xxxx xxxxx. I would imagine even some (possibly many) shooters would be shocked by that level of defensiveness. Every word and sentence crafted to deny and distort. It doesn’t even have the usual concerned troll opening sentence.
    But it is great. The longer they stay in denial the easier it is to defeat them and the more transparent their lies become.
    I know some people will consider this fanatical but what worries me more than the Gilruth mindset is a very slight but real (Gilruth’s example is not real as RPUK points out) rise in Hen Harrier numbers in England so they can claim that things are improving. I am worried this will be there next strategy. Allow a pair to breed on a moorland, probably with brood management, gains tons of publicity and kick the can down the road for another twenty years. Thing is, raptors don’t follow their agenda and will get killed elsewhere and as they will have to be sat-tagged the crimes will build up an ever clearer picture.
    ‘Doomed, doomed, i say doomed’.

  3. ‘…where shooting is abandoned hen harrier numbers then fall too.’ This is a strange comment. Is there any truth in it?

    1. It is claimed this is what happened under “Langholm1 ” the shooting stopped the keepers got rid of and the harrier population tumbled due we are told to fox predation. Yes when there are no keepers some harrier nests fail to natural predation but and its a very BIG but there was always the suggestion that “others” from outside the estate “helped” that harrier decline. Naturally harrier populations in any place fluctuate naturally with Meadow Pipit and Field Vole densities, they go down the number of harriers there follows suit.

    2. Yes, very strange especially as Gilruth fails to tell his audience, that Hen Harriers do very well off grouse moors in western Scotland, the Hebrides, Shetland and Orkney without the ‘help’ of keepers in spite of, as Gillruth has pointed out to me on one occasion, the minor detrimental effect of sheep.
      What he is actually means is that when gamekeepers and their bosses at Langholm obeyed the law, Hen Harriers boomed.

      [Ed: that last sentence slightly edited, Prasad!!]

    3. That first sentence really does try to justify the killing of Hen Harriers.
      He is signalling to his audience ‘don’t worry we have your back’.
      Without any apparent irony he explains
      ”Grouse moors continue to maintain and protect some of the best remaining patches of suitable hen harrier habitat in England”.

  4. I started my ecological research career 17 years ago at GWT (as it was then). It was full of decent hard working ecologists and PhD students doing good robust research. It’s fairly tragic to see what it has become since. Like all research organisations, attracting funding is a highly competitive business, and it seems like their over reliance on a single source of relatively accessible funding has made them susceptible to the loss of their objectiveness and impartiality. Sadly without these you have no credibility as a research organisation.

  5. It is difficult to see where this response and that of the Moorland Associations’ Amanda Anderson leaves their respective organisations. As several acknowledge GWCT used to be a respected research organisation, can that be the case still, I rather doubt it. Both organisations are at pains to avoid the headline truth of the paper, 72% of harriers die on grouse moors, the more time they spend there the more likely this is, a hen harrier is ten times more likely to be killed on a grouse moor than anywhere else, this is not an if or maybe situation it is based on lots of data. By not accepting or avoiding mentioning this they destroy their own credibility better than ever we could.
    As to all the other bollocks, weather, food supply, disturbance etc, this is about birds outside the breeding season if any of those applied and the birds would be off somewhere else, as birds often do when conditions decline. Others have deployed the disturbance argument for sometime I can remember harrier and Peregrine failures in Bowland being put down to disturbance, even before nests had been visited under licence, by the redoubtable wildlife cop Duncan Thomas ( whatever happened to him–Ah yes, true colours and all that!) it was tripe then and is now. We saw the sort of disturbance that could be fatal to roosting harriers only recently on an RSPB video from a harrier roost in Nidderdale, is that what Gilruth means?
    The trend with time is another, the data is out of date, its not like that now argument. Do these fools think we don’t think for ourselves and see the mortality of the 2018 cohort tagged largely by RSPB that disproves such nonsense? Of course when that analysis comes out it will be discounted as biased because its RSPB!!!
    ALL in all what tiny bit of credibility they had left is shot through yet again with this drivel of a response and its not self serving because like all the other apologists for the criminal cabal that runs driven grouse shooting they are getting deeper and deeper into that hole in the corner of their own making.

  6. Messrs. Humbug and Bloodnot have kindly issued the following findings from their research, “It is unfortunate that hen harriers choose to die on grouse moors, their inconsiderate deaths and ‘Fawlty’ tags, which, falsely indicate the location of disappearance.” This is always part of a conspiracy by well known ‘conservatory salesmen’ to bring the Moors into disrepute and diminish sales of the wonderful time people can have on the Moors.

    “On the extremely rare occasion that these unfortunate birds appear to have ingested lead, just proves that they will eat anything.”

    “Lead, of course has an ability to fly around at unbelievable speeds (we do not know how and why but suspect spirits of the Moor), if such a careless bird were to coincide with a random and uncaring piece of lead (this may be several pieces of lead because it has been found that one piece is often accompanied by others) and they cannot cope with such a rich diet, then the consequences may be fatal.”

    “It is with great regret that we cannot conceive of a solution for improving the plight of the hen harrier, we can only see their future as captive birds, where caring owners may even be able to teach them to speak.”

    “The Moors are mysterious places where the ghosts of the past pursue their own agenda. We have no control of these spectres or phenomena.”

    The above comments have been researched by psychic’s of renown.

    I am, in no way being cynical ;-)


  7. “Harriers come into conflict with grouse moors because they can make a moor uneconomic”

    At least this is a startling statement for them to admit. Have any of the grouse lobby groups admitted this before? Surely this statement in itself is an admission of lawbreaking?

  8. Those that know their Sherlock Holmes stories will recognise the GWCT as “the dog that didn’t bark” but this is less of a “curious incident” than a predictable knowing obfuscation.

  9. This organisation appears even to be suggesting that were it not for grouse moors there would be fewer hen harriers!

    At least it speaks the truth when saying that the conflict between grouse and harrier has to do with profit, which is of course always settled in favour of profit.

    Again quite remarkable stupidity in the face of scientific evidence and that insistent old trope about custodianship of the land.

  10. This Andrew Gilruth chappie obviously believes he is skilled in the art of doublespeak, but all he does is reveal his inadequacies and falsehood through his own transparency. Unfortunately it’s too easy for other individuals of the pro-shooting movement to fall for his manipulation of the truth. The opening paragraph is so revealing, with bold but false statements such as “A new paper… underlines the importance of unlocking the conflict that has driven the illegal killing of harriers”, and wait for it, “a point first made by the Game & Wildlife Trust in 1998.” Well done ye proud defenders of the countryside!

    They are also experts in the art of creating confusion, by not mentioning who exactly is responsible for the illegal killing of harriers. Who are these mysterious unidentified ghosts of the moors, who cause such carnage for the raptor population? It can’t possibly include fine upstanding members of GWCT, could it? And gamekeepers are so well trained and law-abiding individuals these days, who wouldn’t harm a fly of course. I sincerely hope that RPUK and others fighting to save the hen harriers and other persecuted raptors are successful in my lifetime. Unfortunately that might take a bit longer to arrive at a successful conclusion within my lifetime, but at least we are achieving a degree of success which was unprecedented until recently.

  11. Someone once had a go at me in the comments on this blog, many threads ago, for accusing the GWCT of now peddling pseudo-science. I think he owes me an apology (I won’t hold my breath).

  12. It’s a tautology that the rate of killing hen harriers decreases as the population is wiped out.

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