Even more innocent victims caught in traps set on grouse moors

About a week ago we blogged about the deaths of some birds in some traps that had been set on some grouse moors.

Some of the traps had been set legally, but still caught and killed an innocent Dipper (here) whereas other traps had been set illegally and had caught and killed an innocent tawny owl, as reported by the RSPB Investigations Team (here).

Yesterday, we were sent more images of some different traps that had caught yet more innocent victims. These traps were photographed on the Leadhills (Hopetoun) Estate in South Lanarkshire, and although the traps appear to have been set legally (i.e. the trap has been placed inside a tunnel and the entry holes have been restricted), they have still caught and killed another innocent Dipper and a Wheatear.

As we wrote last week, even though the traps in these photographs appear to have been legally set, and the trap operator has abided by the law, the traps have still caused the deaths of these native species but nobody will be held to account. These deaths are considered acceptable collateral damage, the price our native wildlife has to suffer to enable over-privileged members of the establishment the opportunity to blast to death thousands of game birds later in the year.

There is no legal requirement for grouse shooting estates to monitor, record or report these deaths. The Scottish and Westminster Governments and their statutory conservation advisory agencies (SNH and Natural England) have no clue about how many of these deaths take place on grouse moors each day/week/month/year.

Imagine if we all were setting out traps like this in our back gardens, routinely killing native wildlife without being held to account.

Imagine if you saw these traps set out in your town, killing blackbirds and song thrushes and robins every single day.

For how long do you think we’d get away with it? (Not that anyone with an ounce of decency would want to get away with it).

Now think about how long the grouse shooting industry has been able to get away with this without being challenged/stopped.

Hen harrier brood meddling has begun in England


At least one brood of hen harriers has been removed from a grouse moor and taken in to captivity today as part of DEFRA’s/Natural England’s scandalous hen harrier brood meddling plan (part of the Government’s useless Hen Harrier Action Plan).

How do we know? Has DEFRA and Natural England behaved with impeccable transparency and ensured that everyone was kept up to date?

Like hell.

The news has been slipped out by Natural England, buried away at the foot of an earlier blog post on the brood meddling scheme (dated 6 June), presumably in the hope that nobody would notice.

To give him his due, Natural England CEO Tony Juniper did share this information on Twitter late this afternoon, but only after being repeatedly prompted by members of the public who were seeking information.

Here’s the link to the news (scroll down to the bottom of the page and squint your eyes a bit and you’ll find it):


[Photo by Laurie Campbell]

For the benefit of new readers, here’s a quick overview of what hen harrier brood meddling is all about.

We don’t know how many nests have been plundered, or how many chicks have been removed, nor the location(s) of those plundered nests. We do know that at least one grouse shooting estate in North Yorkshire was hoping to participate, even though this particular estate has a long history of raptor persecution, including at least one wildlife crime conviction for one of the estate’s employees. Marvellous.

We also know, from earlier FoIs on this subject, that the practical aspects of raising those hen harriers in captivity is being coordinated by the International Centre for Birds of Prey (ICBP) in Newent, Glos (shame on them) and that the Moorland Association are paying for the expertise of the ICBP and also for the satellite tags that all brood meddled hen harriers must be fitted with before release later this summer (it’s a condition of the licence).

We have asked Natural England today what measures it has implemented to protect any brood meddled hen harriers from armed criminals on grouse moors when the birds are released later this summer, but answer came there none.

What a dreadful day for hen harrier conservation in the UK. We began by learning about the barbaric killing of a young satellite-tagged hen harrier on a grouse moor in Strathbraan, Scotland, and we’ve ended by learning that England’s statutory nature conservation agency (ahem) has authorised the removal of young hen harriers from at least one grouse moor somewhere in England just to appease the influential criminals within the grouse shooting industry.

Young hen harrier suffers horrific death in illegal trap on Strathbraan grouse moor

RSPB press release (27 June 2019)


A satellite tagged hen harrier has been illegally killed on a Perthshire grouse moor. The remains of the young female, named Rannoch, were found by RSPB Scotland in May caught in a spring trap which had been set in the open, not permitted by law.

The post mortem report from SRUC veterinary laboratory said: “The bird was trapped by the left leg in a spring trap at time of death. Death will have been due to a combination of shock and blood loss if it died quickly or to exposure and dehydration/starvation if it died slowly. Either way the bird will have experienced significant unnecessary suffering.”

[Hen harrier Rannoch’s remains in an illegal trap on a Strathbraan grouse moor. Photos by RSPB Scotland]

Rannoch was satellite tagged by RSPB’s Hen Harrier LIFE project in July 2017. Her tag data movements were followed closely by RSPB Scotland until 10th November 2018 when she stopped moving in an area of moorland between Aberfeldy and Crieff. The solar powered tag battery drained before accurate location data could be gathered allowing her to be found, but after coming online again in May 2019 enough information was provided to locate her remains. A recent study showed that 72% of tagged British hen harriers are confirmed or considered very likely to have been illegally killed.

Dr Cathleen Thomas, Project Manager for the RSPB’s Hen Harrier LIFE project, said: “We are absolutely devastated that Rannoch has been a victim of crime; the life of this beautiful bird was cut short in the most horrific way due to human actions. Satellite tagging has revealed the amazing journeys made by hen harriers but also uncovers how their journeys end.

Often the birds disappear with their tags suddenly ceasing to function as perpetrators go to great lengths to hide the evidence of their crimes; Rannoch’s death in a spring trap is evidence of one way in which these birds are being killed. In terms of their population size, hen harriers are the most persecuted bird of prey in the UK, and their population is now perilously low, so every loss we suffer impacts the continued survival of the species.”

Ian Thomson, Head of Investigations Scotland, said: “This latest killing of a hen harrier is truly appalling. The actions of the individual who set this trap were both reckless and indiscriminate, and showed a complete disregard for both the law and the welfare of local wildlife. Sadly, the catalogue of criminal killing of tagged hen harriers and other birds of prey continues unabated; we know many others are illegally killed and going undetected, so her death is part of the tip of the iceberg of the true level of criminality.

At a time when our hen harrier population is in sharp decline, we repeat our call on the Scottish Government to take urgent action to regulate driven grouse shooting through a licensing scheme, with sanctions to remove licences to shoot on land where the public authorities are satisfied that illegal activities are occurring”.

Rannoch was one of two chicks who fledged from a Perthshire nest in an area owned and managed by Forestry and Land Scotland in July 2017. Her tag was fitted in partnership with local members of the Tayside Raptor Study Group and Forestry and Land Scotland, who monitored the nest together.

[Hen harrier ‘Rannoch’ being fitted with her satellite tag in 2017. Photo by Brian Etheridge]

The tag data showed Rannoch spent most of her time in Perthshire before she stopped moving on 10th November 2018. As the tag had continued to function after she stopped moving, rather than coming to an abrupt halt, it was assumed that she had died of natural causes. The tag briefly transmitted more data in January this year, and again in May for longer, as the battery recharged in the spring sunlight. The second time more accurate location data was transmitted, allowing RSPB Scotland to finally recover Rannoch’s remains. When RSPB Scotland found Rannoch her leg was caught in a spring trap. Her body was recovered and delivered to the SRUC veterinary laboratory for a post mortem, and Police Scotland were notified.

Logan Steele, a member of the Tayside Raptor Study Group, which monitors hen harriers in the area said: “Rannoch and her sibling were the first birds to fledge from this site in ten years so I was very angry to hear she had died caught in an illegal trap. With so few hen harriers left in this part of Perthshire it is particularly worrying that this bird will not return to breed.”

Anyone with information about this crime or other bird of prey illegal persecution is urged to contact Police Scotland on 101, or the RSPB’s confidential raptor crime hotline on 0300 999 0101.


The RSPB press release does not name the grouse moor where Rannoch’s remains were found but just says it was ‘in an area of moorland between Aberfeldy and Crieff’.

This is clearly within the boundary of the Strathbraan raven cull area, where in 2018 SNH issued a licence to local gamekeepers permitting them to kill 69 ravens ‘just to see what happened’. A legal challenge to that licensing decision was successfully made by the Scottish Raptor Study Group and one of their concerns had been that the Strathbraan raven cull area was a known raptor persecution hotspot with a long history of poisonings, illegally-trapped birds and the suspicious disappearances of at least six satellite-tagged eagles.

[RPUK map showing boundary of Strathbraan raven cull area (yellow line) and significant areas of moorland managed for driven grouse shooting (outlined in white). Hen Harrier Rannoch’s corpse was found on one of these moorlands]

Hen Harrier Rannoch’s name will now be added to the ever-increasing list of persecuted satellite tagged hen harriers on British grouse moors, although unusually this time we’re not dealing with a missing corpse and a missing tag that has suddenly and inexplicably stopped working.

No, this time there is no escaping the brutal, barbaric reality of her miserable death. The criminality is writ large, for all to see.

How will the authorities respond this time? Complete silence, as we’ve come to expect every time a raptor persecution crime is reported in the press? We won’t let the Scottish Government off the hook so easily this time.

Wilful blindness will no longer be tolerated.

This weekend, the Scottish Parliament will be celebrating its 20 year anniversary. Twenty years ago, the then Secretary of State Donald Dewar famously described illegal raptor persecution as “a national disgrace” and committed the Scottish Parliament to take “all possible steps to eliminate [raptor] persecution“.

It’s time for the Scottish Government to honour that commitment.

Please send an email of protest to Cabinet Secretary Roseanna Cunningham: cabsececclr@gov.scot Your email needs to be firm but polite. There can be no more prevarication on dealing with these crimes and the Scottish Government needs to understand the strength of feeling about its continued failure to bring the criminals to justice and end these vile actions.

Thank you.

UPDATE 26th January 2022: Lochan Estate penalised after discovery of illegally-killed hen harrier on grouse moor (here)

Scottish Government commissions research on gamekeepers’ “rights & aspirations”

While we’re all waiting for Scottish Ministers to turn twenty years’ worth of hollow promises in to tangible and effective action against the rampant criminality still all-too evident on many grouse and pheasant-shooting estates, the Scottish Government has decided to invite tenders for some new research in to the ‘rights and aspirations’ of gamekeepers.

Yes, it’s easy to see why this would be a priority for the Government. Those poor, misunderstood raptor haters, who do so much in their role as custodians of the countryside….

[Pie chart from RSPB Birdcrime report: The occupations/interests of the 176 individuals convicted of bird of prey persecution-related offences 1990-2015]

Does this look like the actions of a Government ready to crack down on criminals in an industry known to be heavily involved in the illegal killing of birds of prey?

Although to be fair, the new research isn’t just about gamekeepers. The full title of the research contract up for grabs is this:

To fill gaps in existing knowledge on the socioeconomic and biodiversity impacts of driven grouse moors and to better understand the rights, benefits, attitudes, working conditions and future aspirations of gamekeepers.

This has come about following the publication earlier this year of the Government-commissioned Socio-economic and Biodiversity Impacts of Driven Grouse Moors in Scotland. That research identified a load of gaps and this latest research opportunity aims to fill some of those gaps as well as to look at the game-keeping profession, as Roseanna Cunningham had indicated way back in 2017 when she first announced the Werritty Review in to grouse moor management.

The invitation for tender can be found here with a closing date for applications at midday on 7th July 2019.

The research contract is worth £80,000 and begins on 24th July and ends on 20th December.

The tender document can be downloaded here: Research to assess the socioeconomic and biodiversity impacts of driven grouse moors

Most of the detail is dull and tedious and only relevant to those submitting a tender, but this short summary of what is expected from the work is useful:

Sarcasm and irony aside, some of this research is actually long-overdue and should make a significant contribution to the discussions about the so-called benefits of grouse moor management, assuming there are sufficient and reliable data sources available. However, the usual caveat applies – it all depends on which organisation wins the tender and whether they are sufficiently independent and robust for the research to withstand scrutiny. If it’s anything as bad as the GWCT’s research proposal to kill ravens in Strathbraan (described as “completely inadequate” and “seriously flawed” by SNH’s own Scientific Advisory Committee) then we’ll be no further forward.

The timing is interesting though. This research will clearly feed in to the long-awaited Werritty Review, which was supposed to have been submitted by now but we understand has been delayed due to ill-health. For how long remains to be seen.

Hen Harrier Day 2019 (Sunday 11th August)

This year Wild Justice is organising a Hen Harrier Day event on Sunday 11th August at Carsington Water in Derbyshire, with fantastic support from Severn Trent Water.

Further details will be announced in the coming weeks, including more speakers, but this is what has been organised so far….

Download the poster, spread the word and hopefully see you there!

Alison Johnstone MSP launches draft Bill to protect foxes and hares

Alison Johnstone MSP has launched a public consultation as part of her draft Member’s Bill to provide protection for foxes, brown hares and mountain hares in Scotland.

Here is the press release from the Scottish Greens (24th June 2019):

Scottish Greens Parliamentary Co-Leader Alison Johnstone MSP will today (24 Jun) launch a consultation on her member’s bill to provide legal protections to foxes and hares. The consultation, which will run until mid-September, will gather views from people across Scotland and help shape the final bill proposal.

The fox and hare bill will deliver a real fox hunting ban, closing the loopholes that allow hunting to continue in Scotland now much as it did before the 2002 ‘ban’, and end the killing of hares, which has become routine on grouse moors across Scotland. The proposed Bill would also protect foxes, mountain hares and brown hares, prohibiting the killing of these species without a licence.

Ms Johnstone has brought this Bill forward because foxes and hares are routinely killed in huge numbers, the Scottish Government have consistently indicated their support for action, and because there is widespread public support for action.

[Alison Johnstone MSP launching her consultation outside the Scottish Parliament yesterday supported by League Against Cruel Sports Scotland and OneKind. Photo from Scottish Greens]

Alison Johnstone MSP said:

Foxes and hares are iconic species that are widely celebrated in popular culture and valued by rural and urban Scots alike. They deserve our compassion and respect, yet they are routinely slaughtered across the country in huge numbers. My proposal would give these animals the protection they so urgently need.

The Scottish Government and the First Minister herself have expressed their support for action but have been unable to find the time to bring forward a legislative proposal themselves. I’m confident they will get behind my proposal and together we can protect Scotland’s foxes and hares.

Fox hunting was meant to have been banned in Scotland in 2002, but little has changed. Hunts still go out, pursuing and killing foxes, and foxes are still being killed by hunting dogs. My proposal would remove the loopholes and result in a watertight ban, ending hunting for good. Politicians have repeatedly promised to end hunting, and the Parliament passed the Protection of Wild Mammals Act back in its very first session. For hunting to continue despite this leads to distrust in our institutions and those leading them. My proposals would represent a new contract between land managers and the wider public that could help restore good faith.

Mountain hares are routinely being killed in huge numbers on grouse moors in particular, with an average of 26,000 killed every year. This is a native species whose population has crashed in some parts of the Highlands, and there is simply no justification for the killing.


This news received broad coverage in the national press yesterday but this article from Common Space provides the best overview and includes a quote from Environment Minister Mairi Gougeon.

There’s also a video of Alison encouraging everyone to participate in the consultation:

The consultation is now open and anyone can participate online HERE. The consultation closes on 15th Sept 2019.

Alison has produced a consultation document which is well worth a read. It provides an overview of how the consultation process works and how Member’s Bills work and then goes in to more detail about the proposed Bill.

Download the consultation document here: Protecting Scotlands Wild Mammals_consultation2019

Alison deserves our thanks for her work on this topic to date, particularly on highlighting the obscene slaughtering of thousands upon thousands of mountain hares on grouse moors every year for no legitimate reason whatsoever.

How often do we complain that politicians aren’t doing enough? All the time! Well here’s one who’s going the extra mile, who has created an opportunity to address what she calls the ‘casual and unmonitored approach’ to killing wild mammals in Scotland (sounds familiar – think General Licences) and her consultation deserves our best support.

If scenes like this sicken you, please support Alison’s proposed Bill by filling in the consultation form.

[Slaughtered mountain hares left to rot in a bloodied pile on a grouse shooting estate in the Angus Glens. Photo RPUK]

Trap causes horrific suffering on grouse moor in Peak District National Park

A member of the public stumbled across a gruesome scene this morning on a grouse moor in the Peak District National Park.

@PatHeath2 posted the following images on twitter:

The photographs, reported to be from a grouse moor on the north eastern side of the National Park, have understandably caused widespread disgust and anger.

It’s not clear from the photographs or the accompanying commentary whether this is an illegally-set trap i.e. it had been deliberately pegged out on open ground instead of being placed inside a natural or artificial tunnel or whether the trap had somehow become dislodged from its original [legal] setting inside a tunnel.

Either way, this animal’s suffering is sickeningly and indisputably brutal.

It’s yet another pitiful victim of the savagery that is driven grouse moor management.

And all inside the Peak District National Park; an area where you might reasonably expect wildlife to be protected, respected and cherished. It isn’t, of course, in this or in any of the other UK National Parks where grouse moor management dominates the landscape and where wildlife is simply treated as either a commodity or an inconvenience, to be dispensed with without a second thought.

The photographer has been urged to report this incident to South Yorkshire Police so the circumstances of the trap-setting can be investigated. Unfortunately this particular police force does not have a strong track record when it comes to investigating suspected wildlife crimes e.g. see here and here, despite this area being a well-known wildlife crime hotspot.

Limited edition hen harrier t-shirt on sale now!

The fantastically creative @YoloBirder (Probable Bird Society) has designed a new, limited edition hen harrier t-shirt, whose sales will benefit the RSPB’s Skydancer Appeal, Birders Against Wildlife Crime and Wild Justice.

Based on his popular t-shirt design of four years ago [the ‘hen diagram’, geddit?], this updated version includes the words ‘Enough is Enough’ on the front and a list of 27 satellite-tagged hen harriers, most of whom have vanished in suspicious circumstances in the last few years, on or next to a grouse moor.

The t-shirt costs £16.99 (in lots of different sizes) with an estimated delivery date between 13th – 20th July.

PLEASE NOTE: This is a limited edition and sale orders will close at 9pm on Thursday 27th June.

To order yours, please CLICK HERE


More innocent victims caught in traps set on grouse moors

This morning we received the following images from a blog reader showing a young Dipper that had been crushed to death inside a spring trap set across a stream on the Leadhills (Hopetoun) Estate, a grouse shooting estate in South Lanarkshire.

This particular trap looks to be legally-set to catch species such as stoats and weasels. Although there are strong ethical and welfare concerns about the use of these traps to kill these species (and especially the complete lack of monitoring and reporting) what has happened here is perfectly legal. As per the regulations, the trap is covered by an artificial tunnel and the entry holes at both ends have been restricted to reduce the opportunity for non-target species to enter the tunnel and be caught in the trap.

Clearly, the entrances were insufficiently restricted to prevent this bird entering and being killed, but that is in no way a reflection of bad practice by the estate – the trap operator has followed the rules.

There is no legal requirement for grouse shooting estates to monitor, record or report these deaths. The Scottish Government and its statutory conservation advisory agency (SNH) has no clue about how many of these deaths take place on grouse moors each day/week/month/year.

We’ve blogged about this issue many times before. Sometimes it’s obvious that a trap has been set illegally (i.e. when it hasn’t been placed inside a tunnel) and sometimes it’s less obvious but still illegal, for example when little or no effort has been made to restrict the tunnel entrances.

The RSPB has also had concerns about this issue and today has written a blog (here) and released a video (see below) about a number of cases of what appear to be illegally-set traps on various grouse moors in North Yorkshire, South Yorkshire and Bowland, all found this year. The RSPB blog highlights what it says are ongoing inconsistencies in how different police forces respond to such crimes and their subsequent decisions about enforcement action/inaction.

Scottish Environment Minister visits hen harrier nest with Raptor Study Group fieldworkers

Mairi Gougeon is the Scottish Government’s Minister for Rural Affairs and the Natural Environment, and she also happens to be the Species Champion for the Hen Harrier (Species Champions are roles devised to help politicians raise awareness of species conservation).

Mairi has been one of the more active Species Champions in the Scottish Parliament, enthusiastically offering her support for this species by way of a parliamentary debate, speaking at Hen Harrier Day, and going on field visits to see hen harriers in the wild.

Earlier this week she was out again with experts from the Scottish Raptor Study Group and the National Trust for Scotland’s Mar Lodge Estate in the Cairngorms National Park, to watch (from a distance, obviously) a male hen harrier food passing to a female who had four chicks in the nest.

Photos from Kelvin Thomson (@thomsok) of Tayside Raptor Study Group.

That’s the smile of a Minister who’s enjoyed seeing hen harriers.

And although the Scottish Government needs to do much much more to combat the illegal killing of this species on grouse moors (remember Scotland has lost more than a quarter of its hen harrier population in just 12 years), Scotland is fortunate to have a Minister who is so engaged and supportive of the species.

Compare and contrast with Mairi’s Westminster counterpart, Dr Therese Coffey – she’s been in post since 2016 and hasn’t said or done anything of significance in support of hen harriers, even after recent Government-commissioned research showed that 72% of tagged hen harriers were presumed to have been killed illegally on grouse moors.

The Westminster Hen Harrier Species Champion is Angela Smith MP, who appears to have been about as productive as Dr Coffey.

Let’s hope the four chicks that Mairi Gougeon saw being carefully looked after on Mar Lodge Estate all survive and fledge. They’ll need plenty of luck though – four of the five hen harriers tagged here in the last few years have all vanished in suspicious circumstances on other grouse moors in the Cairngorms National Park, presumed to have been illegally killed (Calluna, Margot, Stelmaria and Marci).

And they’re not the only satellite tagged hen harriers to have come to harm inside this National Park. In August 2016 satellite-tagged hen harrier Brian ‘disappeared’ here (see here) and in August 2015 satellite-tagged hen harrier Lad was found dead, suspected shot, inside the Park (see here).

And it’s not just satellite-tagged hen harriers. At least 15 satellite-tagged golden eagles have also ‘disappeared’ in suspicious circumstances in recent years inside the Cairngorms National Park (see here). In 2014 the first white-tailed eagle chick to fledge in East Scotland in approx 200 years also ‘disappeared’ in suspicious circumstances (see here) and last year year another white-tailed eagle also ‘disappeared’ in suspicious circumstances inside the Park (see here).

The political silence on the recent losses of hen harriers Calluna, Margot, Stelmaria and Marci has been noted. We’ll be revisiting this topic soon.