Chris Packham: “Change is coming”

There’s a five-page news feature on Chris Packham and Wild Justice in the June edition of BBC Wildlife.

Features Editor Ben Hoare interviewed Chris about Wild Justice’s legal challenge to Natural England’s General Licences, about Crowgate, death threats, science and agriculture.

We’ve been asked not to publish the article in its entirety but the magazine is now on sale for those who want to read more.

Here are a few excerpts:

Crowgate has exposed the fact that a percentage of those opposed to what we are doing are very unpleasant bullies. They’re not people who want a rational discussion in any creative form, they’re people who want to intimidate, bully, suppress, terrorise….”

I’ve never been anti-shooting, you know, not at a fundamental level“.

Let’s keep one thing at the forefront of our minds. Crows and other predators are not responsible for the declines in our farmland birds in any shape or form. What’s responsible, and it’s been proven without any ambiguity, is the intensification of agriculture. We know full well that early cutting for silage is decimating the curlew and lapwing population, as are practices such as rolling and topping and so on“.

People who attack me verbally and issue threats are frightened. They’re cornered, so are lashing out. That’s to be expected, which is why I always say that this is just part of a process. It’s something I predicted would happen, and I predict it will get worse“.

Change is coming“.

By happy coincidence, at the end of the editorial box titled ‘General Licences: where are we now?’, Ben Hoare writes:

‘A review of the licensing system is underway and Wild Justice has reserved the right to mount further legal challenges’.

Indeed. Watch this space!

‘Operation Owl’: new website launched to raise awareness of raptor persecution

Today sees the launch of the ‘Operation Owl‘ website, designed and administered by Police Supt Nick Lyall, Chair of the Raptor Persecution Priority Delivery Group (RPPDG).

Some of you may remember that ‘Operation Owl’ was the name of a regional, multi-agency raptor persecution crack-down in 2018, led by North Yorkshire Police (see here). Nick Lyall has now taken that proactive initiative and expanded it to become a nationwide campaign of awareness-raising, endorsed by the National Police Chiefs Council (in other words, it has crucial, high-level support).

The new website provides a good introduction and overview of the topic, especially for those who know nothing or little about the extent of illegal raptor persecution in the UK, and in that sense it’ll be a useful hub, offering links and resources to further reading for those who want to know more. Importantly, it also explains how to recognise, record and report suspected cases of illegal raptor persecution.

There’s a section on the RPPDG and the so-called ‘partnership’ effort, with links to the partners’ websites. It’s laughable that groups like the Moorland Association and Countryside Alliance are still members of this group – for how much longer remains to be seen – but until then it appears this charade of shared objectives will continue (but not by us).

There’s also a link to Nick Lyall’s RPPDG Chair blog (here) which is well worth bookmarking as he provides fairly frequent updates.

Full credit to Nick for driving forward Operation Owl and for all his other efforts, a lot of them going on behind the scenes at the moment. From what we’ve seen (probably just a fraction), his commitment to tackling raptor persecution is indefatigable.

Long may he stay in post.

Police appeal for info after suspected theft of Marsh harrier eggs in Norfolk

Norfolk Constabulary has issued an appeal for information following the suspected theft of two Marsh harrier eggs in Norfolk:


Police are appealing for information following the theft of bird eggs from a nest near Wells-next-the-Sea.

It is believed that two Marsh Harrier eggs were removed from a nest on farm land in the Walsingham area last Saturday (1 June).

Anyone who may have been in the area at the time and seen anything suspicious should contact PC Jason Pegden at Wells police station on 101, or alternatively, contact the charity Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555 111.


[Marsh harrier by David Tipling]


Shameful Natural England due to begin hen harrier brood meddling

Natural England has announced its disgraceful plan to brood meddle hen harriers is due to begin imminently.

An article in today’s Guardian claims this controversial “trial” is ‘supported by conservation groups including the International Centre for Birds of Prey and the Hawk & Owl Trust‘. Of course it is! The ICBP is being paid to manage the brood meddling, and several Hawk & Owl Trust Board members are believed to be benefiting from this trial. These are hardly independent supporters!

The article fails to mention that no independent conservation organisation is supporting this “trial” because everyone recognises it as a sop to the grouse shooting industry that has been killing hen harriers for years, without sanction.

[Drawing by Gerard Hobley]

The article also includes a quote from Tony Juniper, the new Chair at Natural England:

Conservation and protection of the hen harrier is at the heart of what we are doing in licensing this trial of brood management. This decision takes forward but one element in a far broader recovery strategy for the species.

Natural England is ready to take the next careful step, aware that the licensed activity and the research will rightly come under close scrutiny from the scientists on the advisory group, from ourselves as the licensing authority and by those both supportive of and opposed to this trial.

We, as an organisation, must pursue all options for an important bird such as the hen harrier, so that our children may enjoy this majestic species in the wild“.

How disappointing from someone who has been held in high regard by the conservation community for many many years. Conservation and protection is NOT “at the heart” of what Natural England is doing in licensing this trial – how can it be, when it knows from it’s own commissioned research that the main threat to hen harriers (illegal persecution by gamekeepers on grouse moors) will still be present when those young brood meddled harriers are released back to the wild later in the summer?

It’s our understanding that at least one of the nests under consideration for being brood meddled is on a grouse shooting estate that has a reputation for the illegal persecution of birds of prey, including an earlier conviction of at least one gamekeeper employee.

Who says crime doesn’t pay, eh?

Meanwhile, both Mark Avery and the RSPB are still waiting to hear whether their appeals against their earlier judicial review brood meddling rulings can proceed.

Revive conference in Scotland (in support of Hen Harrier Day) – 3rd August 2019

Revive, the coalition for grouse moor reform will be hosting a one-day conference on Saturday 3rd August in Perth, Scotland in support of Hen Harrier Day.

This will be a free event at the Perth Theatre but due to space restrictions it will be a ticketed event (~200 seats). You’ll be able to apply for tickets from Revive very soon.

There’ll be a number of speakers and presentations from the Directors of Revive and a number of expanded panel discussions and debates with representatives from partner organisations and agencies.

From 10am – 4.30pm, Saturday 3rd August.

Save the date!

More details to follow, hopefully early next week.

Raptor Persecution Awareness Day – 10th August 2019, North Yorkshire

This year the Northern England Raptor Forum (NERF) will once again be hosting a raptor persecution awareness day (Saturday 10th August) in support of Hen Harrier Day.

Last year NERF hosted an awareness day in the Yorkshire Dales National Park (a hotbed of illegal raptor persecution) and this year they’ll be in the North York Moors National Park, also a hotbed of raptor crime.

There’ll be a number of speakers and it’ll be a free, drop-in type event at The Goathland Hut, a community hub in Goathland, North Yorkshire.

More details to follow.

GWCT refuses to address accusation of deliberate misrepresentation

In March we blogged about how Andrew Gilruth of the Game & Wildlife Conservation Trust (GWCT) had recently written letters to four media outlets (The Field, BBC Wildlife, The Scotsman, The Independent) and in each one he’d included the same quote, attributed to the RSPB, that would suggest to the reader that the RSPB is supportive of grouse moor management techniques:

The RSPB has been clear that the ‘management of land for grouse shooting has protected upland areas from the worst of over-grazing and blanket conifer plantations, while generating income for upland communities and forming a uniquely British form of cultural land use‘”.

We showed that Andrew Gilruth had cherry-picked that particular quote, out of context, from a 2006 RSPB publication:

We argued that Andrew Gilruth’s cherry-picking activity appeared to be so deliberately deceptive that his motive must have been to mislead the public – a serious accusation for an organisation with charitable status, and especially for one that prides itself on its so-called scientific integrity.

Since March, we’ve complained to the GWCT about this apparent deceptive misrepresentation on three separate occasions; twice to Teresa Dent (Chief Executive) directly and when she didn’t reply we sent a complaint to her via GWCT’s general email address ( No response.

We then looked at the GWCT’s complaints policy (here), which opens with ‘We want to find out about things that have gone wrong so we can fix them and prevent things going wrong in the future‘.

However, bizarrely it seems this policy doesn’t apply to criticisms of GWCT’s media statements! Right at the bottom of the GWCT complaints policy it says this: ‘This policy does not cover comments made in the media‘.


Hen Harrier Day 2019

It looks like there will only be one Hen Harrier Day event in the UK in 2019 – but everyone who cares about this bird, and wants to see an end to its persecution, is invited.
[Hen harrier, photo by Mark Hamblin]
Hen Harrier Day events started in 2014 and have been held at locations from Northern Ireland to inside the M25 and from the south coast of England to the highlands of Scotland. They are now a firm part of the ornithological and conservation scene.
This year on the afternoon of Sunday 11 August, Wild Justice is organising a Hen Harrier Day event, with Severn Trent Water, at Carsington Water in Derbyshire. This is a large venue and can probably cope with what we hope and expect to be a sizeable crowd.
[Carsington Water, photo by Alamy]
Hen Harrier Day 2019 at Carsington Water will be a family-friendly event (bring your picnic if the weather turns out fine) with a host of great speakers. The event will celebrate this fantastic bird and highlight the ongoing illegal persecution that it faces on grouse moors.
More details to follow.

Regulating grouse moor management in Scotland – the next steps

As we all sit and wait for the publication of the Werritty Review (due out shortly) and find out what recommendations have been proposed for the regulation of grouse moor management in Scotland, it’s well worth having a read of another report that’s just been published by RSPB Scotland.

Called ‘Grouse Moor Licensing in Scotland: Where Next?‘, it’s written by Lloyd Austin, an authoritative and respected commentator and the former Head of Policy at RSPB Scotland who is now working as a freelance consultant.

[The end of the road for driven grouse moor management as we know it in Scotland? Photo by Ruth Tingay]

This report sets the scene succinctly and then discusses the five broad options that the Scottish Government will face, regardless of whatever the Werritty Review recommends:

  1. Do nothing at all
  2. Carry out a few, piecemeal bits of regulation tightening
  3. Develop a coherent regulatory system for the existing industry – a ‘licensing scheme’
  4. Seek comprehensive reform of the entire hunting culture/system and its entire legal framework
  5. Instigate some form of complete ban of grouse shooting – at least in its highly intensive ‘driven’ form.

Lloyd explores each of these options in turn and discusses why they would or wouldn’t work, and then goes in to some detail about how his favoured option (#3) could actually be delivered.

This is a really important and impressive piece of work. We understand that it has already been shared with several key players in the Scottish Government, Parliament and beyond.

You can read the report here: Grouse moor licensing – Where Next – Report by Lloyd Austin for RSPB Mar 2019

For those who don’t want to read the detail in the report (although we’d encourage you to do so!), RSPB Scotland has written an accompanying blog that picks out the key points – see here.

What you get from Lloyd’s report is that, aside from being subject to potential complications from Brexit, it seems that it’s the end of the road for driven grouse moor management in Scotland as we know it. The Government does have the option to ‘do nothing’, of course, but as Lloyd points out so well, this is politically untenable given the breadth of concerns, the scale of campaigns and the support for change.

Bring it on.

Andy Wightman attempts to close loop hole that allows grouse moor owners to abuse hill tracks legislation

One of the long-running consequences of intensive grouse moor management has been the bulldozing of hill tracks, predominantly created to enable gamekeepers easier access to carry out their wildlife killing duties but also to transport wealthy guests direct to their designated grouse butt to save them the bother of walking up there across the moor.

Thousands of kilometres of these tracks have been built in often sensitive upland environments and many campaigners have spent years outlining their concerns about the damage caused to sensitive vegetation and soils, about the visual impacts to environmental amenity, about the increased disturbance to wildlife, about the initiation of erosion leading to silt run-off in to waterways, and about the destruction of large areas of peatland and subsequent loss of stored carbon.

[An example of a bulldozed hill track across moorland in the Angus Glens. Photo from Chris Townsend’s blog on the devastation caused]

Grouse moor owners are currently able to build these tracks without planning permission. As Andy Wightman explained in this November 2018 article in The National: ‘The core issue is that tracks built for the purposes of agriculture and forestry do not have to apply for full planning permission. They are, in the jargon, permitted developments and cannot ultimately be refused. Tracks built for hunting are meant to secure full planning approval but are all too often built under the guise of agricultural purposes. A few sheep on the hill is enough to prevent planning authorities being able to challenge such obvious fabrications‘.

There is currently a Planning Bill going through the Scottish Parliament and Andy Wightman is trying to amend it to close this loophole. However, so far the SNP and Tories have blocked his efforts.

For further details, please see this page on the Scottish Greens website.

The Scottish Greens are asking you to email your MSP to ask them to support Andy’s amendment. There is a simple box to fill out on the Scottish Greens website that will record your submission.

Unfortunately, the forthcoming Werritty Review, which is assessing various aspects of grouse moor management, is NOT considering the issue of hill tracks. Andy’s amendment looks like the only real opportunity to bring about change in the foreseeable future. Let’s not waste that chance.