Concern for safety of birds of prey on grouse moors during lockdown

Conservationists are deeply concerned about the safety of birds of prey, particularly on grouse moors, during the Coronavirus lockdown as many nest sites will be unmonitored for the first time in almost two decades.

In an article on The Ferret website yesterday Scottish Raptor Study Group (SRSG) communications secretary Logan Steele is quoted:

SRSG is very concerned about the probable increase in incidents of raptor persecution during the lockdown. In particular on driven grouse moors, gamekeepers will be under less scrutiny from raptor workers and recreational visitors and so will effectively have a free hand.

The two species most at risk are hen harriers and golden eagles which are perceived to pose the greatest risk to grouse stocks and are routinely shot, trapped or poisoned“.

[Two golden eagle chicks at a Scottish nest site. Photo by Dan Kitwood]

The RSPB is also concerned. Head of Species and Land, Duncan Orr-Ewing said:

Raptor persecution has continued unabated with numerous well-publicised cases of shootings, illegal trap use and other crimes both north and south of the border despite the driven grouse shooting industry being under intense scrutiny – particularly in Scotland where the government has just published the findings of a three year review of grouse moor management.

We don’t believe that under the current circumstances of significantly reduced public access to our uplands, anyone is naive enough to think that wildlife criminals won’t be making the most of this opportunity to kill any species they perceive to be a threat, with a minimal chance of their crimes being witnessed or detected“.

The full article can be read here: 

19 thoughts on “Concern for safety of birds of prey on grouse moors during lockdown”

  1. If Gamekeepers being out and about is considered to be ‘essential’ or that they are merely ‘at work’…how can that be any different for those who have been monitoring. That may also be considered to be essential or even simply work, no ?

  2. Yes, I imagine that the moorland keepers are enjoying a free reign on their activities now. In the Lammermuir Hills, intensive grouse moors, signs went up (before the lock down) on all access points telling people to stay off the moors due to the virus and the risk of infecting farm staff! The real reason they don’t want people there seems far more sinister.

  3. Why can’t an application be made to Holyrood to allow Raptor Workers to continue their work as the material conditions are the same as for Gamekeepers and other estate workers?
    I see the request being difficult to refuse given the totality of the circumstances involved.

    1. That would seem totally justifiable and sensible – especially where a relaxation permit could be issued exclusively to “card carrying” raptor workers. The other point to consider is that if the lockdown continues beyond a month or two – as seems very possible – at least for “non-essential” occupations, the shoots themselves will be threatened and will potentially become less viable this year and next.

    2. Exactly. If setting animal traps, and shooting and poisoning other animals for “conservation” purposes can be deemed as essential work, then that process must apply to raptor workers as well.

  4. Yes, all of us who care about the welfare and conservation of those species which are at particular threat of continued persecution should be very worried. As soon as the lockdown came into force I feared greatly that full advantage would be taken by those criminals who are involved in such persecution and we would all return to the hills in a few weeks time to find far fewer raptors in our countryside.

    What can we do? For those who are fortunate enough to be able to carry out their exercise in the countryside and particularly on the grouse moor hills, then please keep an eye out for any suspicious behaviour. Guns being fired when raptors are seen in the sky, spring fen traps set on posts or on the ground with no cover over them and possibly with some kind of bait next to them or under the trap, bait which may look suspicious, such as pieces of meat or dead hare, rabbit, pheasant or grouse, which you think have been deliberately placed at the spot, on a post or the ground (Do not touch the bait as it may have poison on it), crow cage traps which have pigeons in them and may possibly be being used as a trap to capture Goshawks, you see a person with a live eagle owl, for example, and this person has the eagle owl out on a grouse moor (Although not illegal in itself, I would suggest that, at a safe distance you could observe what this person is doing with a live eagle owl on a grouse moor and if you believe that he or she are targeting protected birds and using the owl as a decoy to bring in the birds then, as with all of the above suspicious activities I have mentioned, please call the police on 101.

    In addition, if you do exercise on a grouse moor, within permitted restrictions, and see an animal snared and believe it to be injured, any animal, or it is not a fox, then please contact the SSPCA. If you see a crow cage trap or Larson trap and their is no water or food or shelter or a suitable perch for any decoy birds being used then please contact the RSPB or SSPCA. If you find a large number of birds inside a crow cage trap, then it may be because it is not being checked every 24 hours as it should be and so contact the RSPB or SSPCA. Use your camera or phone whenever possible to take images of suspicious behaviour which you may find and it’s also worth downloading a GPS Grid Reference app onto your phone and recording the GPS location to help with any report you may make.

    Finally, if you are a regular walker on the hills which may cause you to walk across grouse moors then it’s worth familiarising yourself with the various Legislation governing traps and snares. Lets look out for our wildlife. Be safe.

    1. On 1 April Raptor Persecution produced an (as ever) excellent post about the new General Licences which those wishing to kill birds and mammals must comply with. That post gives a good idea of the terms and conditions trap users must comply with.

      Fenn traps placed in wire mesh cages on logs over streams have traditionally been used on grouse moors to catch stoat. However, as of 1 April, the use of Fenn traps and home made cages to catch stoat became illegal.

      Fenn traps are easy to identify because they have their name emblazoned on the trigger plate of the trap. Now the Fenn traps and their cages must be replaced with government approved stoat traps such as the DOC traps (150, 200 and 250 sizes). These new traps must be used in manufacturer compliant specially built, made to measure boxes with holes, mesh baffles and the trap positioned in accordance with the manufacturer’s design specifications.

      It is my guess that, for over the next year or so, looking out for Fenn traps in wire mesh home made cages positioned on logs over streams (or – less commonly – in holes in walls built around isolated woodland or in walls across moors) will be the easiest way to spot illegal activities on grouse shooting estates.

  5. I see the SGA website says SNH has advised that deer stalking/management is non essential, so why is the shooting of birds for “sport” considered to be “essential”. They also make the point that they have to inspect traps every 24 hrs, so they would be breaking the law if they didn’t. What’s to stop them putting them out of action?

  6. I seem to recall the last great access shut down during Foot and Mouth . That situation led to a free for all against raptors and other species. I remember one Peak District gamekeeper boasting of their ‘kill scores’.
    The current lock down fills me with dread that we will see a repeat performance.

  7. Every day, I am dealing with many international conservation of wildlife sites, and am grossly ashamed to say that many endangered species abroad, have a better chance of protection than our Birds of Prey in the UK! A moronic war of attrition rages across this planet against wild creatures by poachers and trophy shooters. However, much focus, due to world wide publicity about the persecution of Elephants, Rhinos, Tigers and many more creatures, has been concentrated on them due to almost every TV advert break, by some major conservation charity asking for donations. Our Birds of Prey have been left out of these appeals and campaigns. Such birds are our rare and endangered part of the world’s threatened fauna. Surely, our politicians should not tolerate such lawlessness in our countryside. While the current situation prevails with the coronavirus, there still should be some form of alertness to stop criminal elements availing themselves of such an opening for anarchic behaviour elsewhere, particularly on such a vast area as our natural environment, which is under the vigilance of shooting estates, whose track record has given conservationists much concern for many species of wildlife.

    No person of humane concern, should ever waiver on the relentless determination of criminals of any description forsaking their evil intent to exploit the relaxation of law and order services during a time of crisis. Can anyone who “shoots” as his or her “sport” justify the need to trophy shoot or kill birds on a massive scale. Such a reply should not contain the specious reason that they do it for conservation purposes; such a reason has well and truly been binned as being justifiable. Fauna and Flora International was founded back in early 1900’s by big game hunters in Africa, when they called themselves the Penitent Butchers, in recognition of their inexcusable killing of wildlife on an excessive scale. Today, that organisation does excellent work world wide to conserve endangered creatures of every description, along with rare plants. Could we not get such a reformation of character from those who are endangering our raptors?

  8. Every time I log on to this site my soul gets shooting pains right through. These raptor shooting half-witts enjoy the fact that we suffer. That “Tim Coward Cowin” of short-eared owl fame, has caused me real suffering. How can idiots like this legally hold gun licenses? Rant over…. Grrrrr

  9. If it helps people decide whether they can or can not leave home to go up onto the moors.

    Below is an extract from the National Police Chiefs Council / College of Policing which is guidance to the police on how to enforce the current Coronavirus restrictions.

    “Regulation 6 of the The Health Protection (Coronavirus, Restrictions) (England) Regulations 2020 states no person may leave the place where they live without a reasonable excuse. This does not apply to homeless people (Reg. 6(4)). CPS have produced a really useful practical guide as to what might and what might not constitute a ‘reasonable excuse’. They have kindly allowed us to reproduce this to help officers, however each case still needs to be considered based on the individual facts as they present themselves. Some public statements made soon after the adoption of the Regulations suggested that members of the public could only leave their homes if ‘essential’ to do so. However, this is not the test set out in the Regulations and there is no legal basis for a requirement in those terms to be imposed. The applicable threshold is that of ‘reasonable excuse’. This list is not exhaustive and officers are required to use their discretion and judgement in deciding what is and what isn’t ‘reasonable’ in the circumstances.


    Likely to be reasonable –
    Including: going for a run or cycle or practising yoga.
    Walking in the countryside or in cities.
    Driving to countryside and walking (where far more time is spent walking than driving).
    Attending an allotment.
    Exercising more than once per day – the only relevant consideration is whether repeated exercise on the same day can be considered a ‘reasonable excuse’ for leaving home.
    Stopping to rest or to eat lunch while on a long walk.

    Unlikely to be reasonable
    A short walk to a park bench, when the person remains seated for a much longer period.
    Driving for a prolonged period with only brief exercise.

    Exercise can come in many forms, including walks. Exercise must involve some movement, but it is acceptable for a person to stop for a break in exercise. However, a very short period of ‘exercise’ to excuse a long period of inactivity may mean that the person is not engaged in ‘exercise’ but in fact something else. It is lawful to drive for exercise.”

    This is the link to the web page on the College of Policing website:-

    Click to access What-constitutes-a-reasonable-excuse.pdf

    From the CPS guidance, it is clearly legal to drive to the moors if the primary reason is to take excise by walking on the moors, and the time spend exercising is substantially more than the time spent driving.

    There is no stipulation on how long or short the period of exercise must be. The CPS in their text certainly accept people may go for a “long walk” which could be many hours and may “stop to eat lunch”.

    Under the Coronavirus regulations there has been no closure of public rights of way, and neither has “freedom of access” been suspended. Therefore it is perfectly legal to walk on “rights of way” or on “open access land” .

    The following is an extract from the Ramblers webpage:

    “Under existing legislation and in normal circumstances, Local Authorities in England cannot close footpaths for public health reasons nor can landowners close footpaths which run across their land. However, due to the Coronavirus, Defra and Natural England have published new guidance covering very limited circumstances where large numbers of people are using such routes. This guidance allows for landowners to consider the following measures:

    tying gates open if it is safe to do so, so that walkers do not need to touch the gate.
    temporarily displaying polite notices that encourage users to respect local residents and workers by following social distancing guidelines and consider using alternative routes that do not pass through gardens, farmyards or schools.
    offering an alternative route around gardens and farmyards only where it is safe to do so provided that the original right of way is maintained.

    These temporary measures must be lifted as soon as social distancing measures are relaxed. Additionally, under the Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000, landowners have no right to close or obstruct a public right of way. Should walkers come across a public right of way that has been closed or blocked, it can be reported directly to the local highway authority (county councils or unitary authorities)”

    Wales is different -as the Welsh government took some legal steps to close some footpaths in some areas.

    Each National Park authority has updated its webpage with some general guidance on the coronavirus.

    Clearly some members of rural communities are very fearful of spread of the virus to rural areas, and this should be kept in mind if access to the moors involves passing through farms, which should be avoided if possible.

    Remember if you do choose to go out to the moors- all the social distancing rules apply.
    Remember many car parks at tourist attractions will be closed.

    Hopefully this will help some of you make an informed decision on whether you can access the grouse moors or not?

  10. Thanks for pointing that out Lizzybusy. Knowledge is power. Let’s have a zero tolerance on the hills when we find anything which we believe or suspect to be an environmental or wildlife crime, even such things as a rusty set snare can mean that it is no longer free running and so unlawful to use. It may not sound much and the finder may be hesitant to report such a find, but consider the poor animal that may get its neck caught in a rusty snare and the snare just keeps tightening, cutting into its flesh because the rust on the snare prevents the snare from loosening. Also, the old fen traps have littered the countryside here in Scotland for years. Thousands of them set within our countryside. I call them little bloody landmines, set and just left to catch whatever happens to trigger the plate and they were not always instant killers and could be indiscriminate in what they caught and killed. As Lizzybusy has already stated, we should be seeing an end to these traps, but I fear that many are still out there and so, as with anything suspicious you find on your walks, Make a note of the location using a GPS, grid reference app on your phone or on the new ‘what3words’ app, then call it in, either to the SSPCA, RSPB or 101 and if possible get an incident number. Also, If possible, take some photos or even a bit of video and send them over to a an animal welfare campaigns charity that may be interested in the issue of trapping, snaring and or wildlife persecution. I’m sure RPUK would be interested to know too.I also have to add here that tampering with legally operated snares and traps are against the rules. See it, record it, report it.

    John L, thanks for highlighting the new police guidelines, that it is now possible to go for a little drive and take a walk in the countryside, within the restrictions mentioned. Happy walking folks…..

  11. I understand it is permitted to travel to your place of work and if that place of work is on a grouse moor or hillside then there is nothing to stop you apart from a police officer making their own interpretation of the law. Thus it makes sense to carry a letter from your employee which identifies you and explains what your job involves and why it cannot be done from home. A print-out of the guidelines given on Government websites should also be carried. If you are still concerned e-mail your MP or MSP or the relevant Government Minister for confirmation. As many charities depend on volunteer workers you would not have to be on the payroll to be covered. At this time of year observation to deter and/or report wildlife crimes (including raptor persecution, egg/chick thieves, animal baiters, coursers and poachers) is essential. With far fewer people on our roads it should also be possible for police to identify vehicles which are way off their home patch thus giving them a good reason to stop and search.

  12. John’s link, above, doesn’t work. A search for the line…

    They have kindly allowed us to reproduce this to help officers, however each case still needs

    … went straight there for me (with a minor spelling difference). It says ‘England only’. One assumes Scotland and Wales will have something similar, I’ve no idea where to look.

  13. Yes you can drive to take exercise (as above), and I would encourage everyone who can do so within the rules to do it. But lets not forget that the witching hour of dirty-deeds-done-cheap on the moors is as ever overwhelmingly at change of light (dawn/dusk). I suspect very few of the experienced keepers are going to be tempted by reckless pot-shots during the day, except in very isolated areas. Some of the young thugs might I suppose.

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