‘Raptors in Britain are still affected by illegal persecution’ – leading ornithologist Professor Ian Newton

‘Raptors in Britain are still affected by illegal persecution’ is stating the bleedin’ obvious to many readers of this blog but it’s still an important statement to repeat, especially when it’s done by one of the world’s most distinguished ornithologists, Professor Ian Newton.

Ian has just written a review paper on the subject, which again won’t contain anything not already known to many blog readers (that’s why it’s called a review paper, after all) but it’s still worth a read because Ian’s writing style is second to none, in his ability to condense complex ecological principles in to a language that anybody of moderate intelligence can comprehend. (His 1979 book Population Ecology of Raptors is still THE best in its field).

His review article, Killing of raptors on grouse moors: evidence and effects has just been published in the British Ornithologists Union (BOU) journal Ibis and is open access, which means you don’t have to pay to read it.

You can download it here:

To accompany the review article in Ibis, Ian has also written a short blog on the BOU website that can be read here.

Ibis is an important platform for Ian’s article for a number of reasons – it’s one of the most well-respected ornithological journals in the world, which means its papers are viewed with high regard by an international audience, and this particular article is likely to reach a wider audience than might normally be interested in UK conservation simply because Ian wrote it!

At the end of his scientific review, Ian has included a discussion section where he outlines the various options for reducing the ongoing killing of birds of prey on driven grouse moors: vicarious liability, licensing and banning.

He’s a bit behind the curve on this, as he suggests, ‘Only dialogue, mutual understanding and compromise are likely to lessen this conflict‘. It sounds like a reasonable approach and is one adopted by many when they first learn about what’s going on, but has to be seen in the context of decades of failed talks, decades of failed partnerships, decades of denial, decades of continued illegal killing and decades of sticking up two fingers to law-abiding society.

Even the mild-mannered RSPB has almost reached the end of its tether, offering the game-shooting industry one final drink in the last chance saloon before calling for a ban on driven grouse shooting.

Some of us are already there – last orders were called some time ago and now it’s chucking out time.

22 thoughts on “‘Raptors in Britain are still affected by illegal persecution’ – leading ornithologist Professor Ian Newton”

  1. In stating that Ian Newton is “behind the curve” in his conclusion that only compromise will solve the problem, you ignore his arguments that if intensive grouse shooting is banned populations of ground-nesting birds (raptors included) would suffer, first in the short-term as numbers of foxes and crows increased when game-keepers were no longer there and then in the long-term as the ground was given over to sheep or forestry. The arguments are presented in detail in Ian’s recent book “Uplands and Birds”. No-one hasny right to pontificate on how the uplands should be managed unless s/he has read the book with care and an open mind. I am sickened by the activities of the many criminals who manage grouse-moors but being sickened is no substitute for sound science-based assessment.

    1. An excellent post, but one which I fear, which will fall on deaf ears. The simple fact is that those who will oppose you have only one interest – banning the shooting of Grouse – the one avenue to sustainable moorland development.

      1. Deaf ears Peridx….fa la fa la…answer the arguments re intensification of moorland management which is so assiduously documented …….then define what an earth you mean by “sustainable” ??

    2. Jeremy Greenwood – and as an addendum, I too am angered at those who operate outside the Law – a fact which my critics appear to – and conveniently, overlook.

      1. “My critics”…That’s a good one, Perdix. You are flattering yourself there old boy if you think you have said anything to attract critics. You don’t have them because you never offer up any interesting material or even an anecdote for anybody (for or against) to chew over. What you do sometimes get from people is (as above) a simple challenge to support your silliness with a bit of evidence. I might be wrong but I don’t think I have ever seen you provide anything when asked to, ever.

      2. You’re so angered that you continue to support the very industry responsible for it. You’re not fooling anyone.

    3. Hi, no one really wants to argue with Ian Newton re science but politics of the uplands is different ; one might argue for example that both the policy prescriptions re sheep and sitka forestry are backward looking; certainly Brexit will challenge the former severely outside EU protection of agriculture so lets assume upland sheep are finished post Brexit in a workforce over 60? Not entirely unrealistic ? Now forestry well I am slightly optimistic that this can be managed a bit better re mosiacs of habitat and frankly if there are no sheep there will be far less carrrion and thus less crows and fox; keepering on wader rich areas can be subsidised……………..”the people” want deciduous forests……Brexit may forest the uplands ? Ian is looking back or forwards ?? Really people like Prof Newton should be in the Lords..the domination of party interest has destroyed the legitimacy of appointments.

    4. So: Aside from their PR toleration of a few “benign” species (just imagine if Curlews ate grouse!), If DGS “managers” are prevented from degrading upland ecosystems, they’ll make an even bigger mess of them than they already have! A perfect argument for returning this stolen land to public ownership!

    5. This is a nonsensical argument. When you consider that driven grouse shooting, as a form of land use, is a relatively recent occurrence, how did waders, raptors and a whole host of other mammals coexist before this? Many of the moors where driven grouse shooting takes place also have protective designations, so it’s pure brinkmanship to state that we would ‘lose’ raptors that are already heavily persecuted in those areas to begin with. How can you possibly type that in good faith? Ian Newton may understand the science, but he’s simply wrong if he thinks this industry can in any way be reformed, when the data shows that raptor persecution continues year after year (I thought you were interested in the evidence, Jeremy?).

      As for needing to read through his book before forming an opinion, there’s already a wealth of empirical evidence out there that shows how completely unsustainable this form of land use is, so that’s completely unnecessary. At this point, we’re just confirming what is self evident.

      ‘Science based assessment’ means nothing when that data isn’t acted upon in any meaningful way (give me one single example of ‘compromise’ from the driven grouse shooting sector). If it were left to people like you, who continually sit on the fence and prevaricate, the whole issue would be completely buried under the same insincere talking points that we’ve heard for the last three decades, which have lead to localised raptor extinctions, rampant peat burning and any form of wildlife which isn’t grouse or waders being decimated.

      1. Waders existed on farmland and that land use has now changed with the times to a point where they no longer want to use it for breeding and therefore the grouse moors is where they now have their stronghold – to get rid of that would decimate populations or curlews etc because they have nowhere else to go.

        If you were to leave the management of the uplands to the RSPB (who are lauded as the experts) then likewise, you will see Raptor numbers plummet OR you will see them essentially conducting management akin to a grouse moor but its ok because they are the RSPB.

        Hares are the same argument – get rid of the predator control and habitat management that means hare numbers are 35 times higher on grouse moors and what will you end up with, a population crash.

        1. If you knew anything about waders, other than the fallacious shooting industry propaganda you’ve read, you’d realise that they love wetland areas and peat bogs. You only have to look at RSPB Dovestone, where wader numbers have hugely increased across the board due to re-wetting, to realise that you’re completely uninformed on the matter. RSPB also own a mere fraction of the land in the uplands, yet are home to a disproportionately high number of raptor species. Again, you have absolutely no idea of what you’re talking about.

          Your comments about mountain hares are risible. The late Adam Watson’s research showed the huge declines in mountain hare populations off grouse moors, which have coincided with more intensive management, so it’s yet another example of your ignorance.

    6. Its all well and good to suggest we solve problems by discussion and compromise, fine in theory and yes I have read the book. The clear problem is we tried discussions ad nauseum, although raptor workers were excluded from the discussions that resulted in the woeful brood meddling, which cannot and will not solve the problem of harriers because it hasn’t the capacity to deal with more than a few broods and the whole premise is morally bankrupt anyway. however back to the point decades of discussion which continue in a sense through RPPDG have delivered in real terms nothing because the grouse lobby are not prepared to compromise an inch and one might say largely represent the voice of the criminals. It is also worth pointing out that most moorland in England has SSSI status and is most unlikely to be forested or grazed to death by sheep.
      Most of those of us who have been involved in uplands and their raptors for any length of time are sick to the back teeth of the criminality, the appalling management, and the atrocious attitude of entitlement by those in grouse shooting who clearly think they are above both the law and decent regulation. Whatever they say about self regulation and that they are already governed by lots of rules is frankly at best hot air designed to deflect. Much of this land should be re-wilded and managed for its wildlife interest, this could almost certainly be done including low level shooting but NOT driven grouse.

      1. One might also say that one cannot and should not compromise over what is and isn’t against the law. I have yet to find in other type of criminality in the UK a compromise solution agreed between the criminals and the law upholding.

        I’m also getting a bit tired of hearing about waders as a justification for the continuing, trashing of our uplands by tossers in tweed. Make them rewet, raise the water table to what it used to be, heather doesn’t thrive in the wet but other plant communities decimated by burning do and that is where the waders were historically. Look at any Victorian plant atlas of our uplands to see the diversity loss due to burning, draining and deforestation for grouse and deer shooting.

        1. Bang on, Paul. Remember Martin Sheen in the closing scene of “The Dead Zone”, using a child as a shield against the bullets of a righteous assassin? The tweedies hide behind waders in just the same way.

          Now, let’s apply Mr Greenwood’s reasoning to another species altogether – Black Redstart; red listed and a damn sight rarer in the UK than Curlew or Lapwing. We all know their preferred habitat in this country, so why not encourage the spread of industrial sites and ruined buildings? This might well be shite for nearly everything else, but hey ho! Come to think of it, I’m suprised that EDF haven’t thought of this excuse for destroying Minsmere with two more bloody Sizewells!

      2. Paul
        You have hit the nail on the head.
        The UK is simply not dealing with the criminality which is riddled throughout grouse moor management, and probably throughout much game bird management.

        In my opinion there are two very distinct issues when it comes to raptor preservation.
        One is all about the science of conservation. As our knowledge increases, so does our understanding, and this area is open to debate as to how best to proceed.

        The other side is about the law and criminal behaviour.
        Raptors are protected by law, along with all other wild birds.
        There are laws governing land management.
        There are further laws protecting other wild mammals.
        There is however widespread failure to implement those laws, and bring offenders to justice.
        The reasons for this are numerous, and they range from lack of strategic deliverance by the authorities, problems with gathering sufficient evidence to meet prosecution threshold tests, lack of resources to deliver any meaningful crime prevention strategies, issues regarding the investigative powers that some of the legislation actually permits, to manipulation of the actual laws themselves in order to allow activities which would ordinarily constitute an offence. (This list is not exhaustive.)

        The Hen Harrier brood management program could be considered as an example of this manipulation.
        The law protects Hen Harriers, their nests, their eggs, their chicks. As raised in professor Newton’s report, the brood management program simply allows grouse moors owners to set a cap on the number of Hen Harriers they will tolerate and then have the rest removed under the disguise of some manipulation of the law, so that the removal of eggs or chicks from nests appears lawful.
        It is also an example of acknowledgement by the State that it isn’t really prepared to tackle the criminality which is taking place, and as such will invent schemes to ensure that the legislation which was intended to offer full protection to raptors doesn’t really interfere negatively with the interests of those who don’t want to see an increase in raptor numbers. It prevents those who remove Hen harriers from their land under the scheme, to have their behaviour being labelled as criminal- which it would be if the simply removed the eggs or chicks themselves. (This is about those with power and privilege being able retain their position in society -pass laws criminalising the behavior of some sections of society, but ensure their own behaviour is not criminalised – but this is a debate way outside the scope of this topic!)

        The same argument can be applied to the General License- exemptions were introduced under the Countryside and Wildlife Act to allow the destruction of certain species which are deemed pests to certain sectors of the community. Whilst the conditions of the GL were very clearly laid out- this has been open to abuse, and many birds have been killed when clearly the conditions of the GL were not being met. However, nothing is done to address the criminals who kill these birds outside the scope of the GL.

        The questions that so urgently needs addressing is – “Why aren’t we actively pursing those who break the wildlife laws, and why aren’t we ensuring the police and other statuary bodies are given the tools and resources to effectively achieve this?”

        Only when we properly address this issue, will we end raptor persecution.
        Sadly, it is probably only when those with power and privilege decide to use their moorland for something other than grouse shooting, and manage their land for the conservation of all wildlife, will we ever see raptor numbers properly recover to what they should be.

    7. “No-one has the right to pontificate on how the uplands should be managed unless s/he has read the book”! That’s a bit over the top Jeremy and I’m sure that you don’t really think that, or at least I hope you don’t. Anyway I haven’t yet read the book but I hope you’ll excuse a bit of “pontification”? You are probably right to suggest that without a major paradigm shift in upland management ground nesting birds will likely suffer. However the outcomes are surely not pre-determined. It is perfectly possible to envisage scenarios with different outcomes. It all depends on political will and funding.
      On Mull, which has hardly any keepering, many crows, no grouse, plenty of sheep and forestry I am privileged to be able to hear 7 species of wader displaying from my garden and can watch both White-tailed Eagle and Hen Harrier nests and see Golden Eagles regularly. And whilst there are no foxes, there are plenty of Mink and Otters to predate nests.
      In the Norwegian taiga, where I have been fortunate to work for 5 years until recently, there seems to be no shortage of waders, raptors, gamebirds, foxes and corvids. Nor is there a shortage of hunters there either, although their ethics, modus operandi and regulation is radically different to here in the UK. Maybe “there are more things in heaven and Earth, than are dreamt of in your philosophy”

  2. Well Prof Newton has set the ground for his n ext significant review paper. “The history and effectiveness of concluding that only dialogue, mutual understanding and compromise are likely to lessen this conflict, 60 years of failure.”
    I actually think this would be a very useful and enlightening exercise.

    1. I hesitate to take issue with both Ian Newton and Jeremy Greenwood. However, I do believe that both are indeed ‘behind the curve’. Since the early 2000s the escalation of the burning and draining regime on driven grouse moorland has had a destructive impact on all avian populations apart from Red Grouse. Our 30-year study of Merlins on intensively managed grouse moorlands in the Lammermuir Hills revealed not only the collapse of that population, but also that of the breeding wader population between 1984 and 2014 (Alan Heavisides, Andrew Barker & Ian Poxton. ‘Population and breeding biology of Merlins in the Lammermuir Hills’. British Birds 110. March 2017. 138-154).

  3. A ban on driven Grouse shooting will never be achieved until the category of ‘ Game ‘ is removed from description of what are a naturally wild bird species , and when the current Wildlife Act has deleted from its list of livestock and crops which can be protected , by whatever means is authorised , the last term in the list of ‘ Any other poultry ‘ . This is the term within which the ‘ Game ‘ shooting people hide Grouse , Pheasants and Partridge in order to hide the fact that their application for licences to kill any predator including raptors can be hidden from the People whose views are supposed to be represented in Parliament by those they have elected to do just that .
    Before anyone votes for an MP or prospective MP they should check outheir their record of involvement in the shooting ‘ industry ‘ and their land ownership .

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