New research reveals extent of nature-impoverished intensively-managed grouse moors in Britain’s National Parks

Press release from charity Rewilding Britain (5th August 2021)

Nature-impoverished intensively-managed grouse moors cover over three-quarters of a million acres of Britain’s national parks, Rewilding Britain reveals.

More than three-quarters of a million acres of Britain’s national parks are covered by intensively-managed grouse moors which leave nature impoverished and contribute to climate breakdown, new research by Rewilding Britain reveals.

With the annual grouse shooting season recommencing on 12 August, the charity says its findings highlight the need for government action to ensure wilder national parks that can lead the way in tackling the nature and climate crises.

A total of 852,000 acres – an area more than twice the size of Greater London – of Britain’s national parks are devoted to intensively-managed grouse shoots, known as driven grouse shooting, according to figures released today by the environmental charity.

Of the six national parks that contain grouse moors – which are found only in Scotland and northern England – almost a third of their combined land area (27%) is devoted to driven grouse shoots, which keep the land in a degraded state, contribute to climate breakdown, and prevent significant recovery of wildlife.

With over three quarters of a million acres of our national parks devoted to driven grouse moors, the parks are being held back from tackling Britain’s collapsing biodiversity and the climate emergency,” said Rewilding Britain’s policy and campaigns coordinator Guy Shrubsole.

The Prime Minister’s pledge to protect 30% of Britain’s land for nature – and count national parks towards this total – rings hollow when you realise that vast areas of our national parks are dominated by these nature-impoverished and heavily-managed areas.

We’re urging ministers to show real leadership by creating wilder national parks and setting up core rewilding areas in each of them – in which driven grouse shoots are phased out, and our precious moors brought back to health.”

Grouse moors are often intensively managed, with heather regularly burned to produce fresh shoots for young grouse. This burning often damages underlying peat soils – the UK’s single largest carbon sink – releasing carbon and worsening the climate crisis. It also prevents the growth of trees and a wide range of other vegetation by suppressing natural regeneration, and kills other wildlife including large numbers of insects, preventing the recovery of biodiversity.

[An example of a shockingly intensively managed grouse moor in northern England. Photo by Ruth Tingay]

Illegal persecution of birds of prey also still occurs on some intensively-managed grouse moors, with killing of goshawks, hen harriers and eagles – and trapping of stoats, foxes and mountain hares – to maximise grouse numbers.

A staggering 44% of the Cairngorms National Park comprises driven grouse moors, as does almost a third (28%) of the North York Moors, a quarter of the Yorkshire Dales and a fifth (21%) of the Peak District. Driven grouse moors also cover 15% of Northumberland National Park and 2% of the Lake District.

Driven grouse shooting, which only occurs in the UK, involves intensive management of moorland to maximise the numbers of grouse, enabling people to shoot large numbers of red grouse flushed out by rows of walkers called beaters. The country’s other form of grouse shooting – known as ‘walked up’ shooting – is much less intensive in its management of the land, does not seek to maximise grouse numbers in the same way, and is generally seen as more environmentally sustainable.

Rewilding Britain is calling for government action to create wilder national parks – with a tenth of the parks’ land forming core rewilding areas and nature recovery across another 50%. This would allow the parks to set the pace for ensuring a healthier, more nature-rich Britain, with fresh opportunities for communities and local economies.

The UK has been ranked 189th out of 218 countries for nature, with some 56% species in decline and 15% threatened with extinction. Rewilding Britain says rewilding – large-scale restoration of nature to the point where it can take care of itself – will help reverse this collapse in biodiversity.

The charity’s research shows rewilding can also significantly boost green job creation and volunteering opportunities. Data from Rewilding Britain’s analysis of 23 large-scale rewilding sites in England – including some former driven grouse areas – shows a 47% increase in jobs overall as a result of rewilding.

Britain’s nature would be in an even worse state were it not for the national parks, which have protected their landscapes from urbanisation and done a lot for conservation. But with the nature and climate crises outpacing us, the parks’ wildlife and habitats are badly depleted. We need bold action for nature recovery to match the scale of the threats,” said Guy Shrubsole.

Rewilding 10% of the parks would see peatlands, moorlands, woods, rivers and seas restored, with no loss of productive farmland. Nature recovery areas across a further 50% of the parks would involve a mix of habitats, wildlife corridors and land uses, with Government financial support for nature-friendly agriculture.

The Government can create rewilding areas across 10% of the parks regardless of action by private landowners. Public bodies – along with water companies, which are legally obliged to help the parks meet their purpose – own 738,000 acres or 13% of the total 5.7m acres covered by Britain’s 15 national parks.

Rewilding Britain’s petition calling on the UK and devolved governments to create wilder national parks can be signed at


The Guardian has an article on this today (here) including a fatuous quote from Amanda Anderson of the Moorland Association about grouse moor owners apparently being ‘wild at heart’ (eh?) and a link to Wild Justice’s legal challenge against the burning of peatlands in the English uplands (here).

Hen Harrier Day 2021 takes place this Saturday (7th August) and there’ll be plenty of discussion in the live online broadcast about the devastating environmental impacts of grouse moor management. Sign up here for notification about the event.

New golden eagle satellite tags being tested in Cairngorms National Park, an eagle-killing hotspot

Press release from Cairngorms National Park Authority (3rd August 2021). My commentary is below that.

High tech tags to give insight into lives of golden eagles in Cairngorms National Park

Three golden eagle chicks in the Cairngorms National Park have been successfully tagged using the latest innovative technology. Three estates in the Cairngorms National Park – including two in Strathspey – are part of this latest raptor tagging initiative, a partnership project that has been developed and funded by the Cairngorms National Park Authority and NatureScot.

The ‘Celltrack’ tags being used have come from the USA and are among the leading technology in raptor tagging. They will provide a better understanding of the species’ movements, habitat preferences and mortality.

The birds’ movements are tracked in real-time by CNPA staff and partners with transmissions coming in daily, providing a multitude of data that can help better understand the life of juvenile golden eagles, with an inbuilt alert system should mortality occur, whether through natural causes, persecution or other anthropogenic influences. The tags have the ability to detect unusual behaviour and send alerts with accurate locations.

‘Celltrack’ tags make use of an innovative dual communication system with data being sent over the mobile phone network as well as through a network of (ARGOS) satellites. By using this hybrid communication system, the large quantity of location fixes acquired each day can be transmitted over the mobile phone network, with the additional security of satellite communications when birds are out of signal.

Dr Ewan Weston, an independent research ecologist, has been in charge of tagging the golden eagle chicks under licence. He commented: “Having been involved in fitting tags to eagles for 14 years, the technological advances in the tags we use now bring data that was previously unimaginable. The data we receive, feeds into wider research on the species and covers aspects of golden eagle biology and environment, providing an insight into aspects of their lives in incredible detail. This work has included aspects of their dispersal behaviour, interaction with the landscape and developments such as wind farms.”

Dr Pete Mayhew, Director of Nature and Climate Change at the CNPA said: “The more we know about golden eagles in the Cairngorms National Park – from fledging through to acquiring their own territories – the better we can conserve and enhance their populations for the future. This is another excellent conservation partnership project involving government bodies and private estates who all wish to see a healthy future for our raptor species.”

The CNPA set out plans for a golden eagle tagging project in 2019, which included the use of British Trust for Ornithology-provided tags; however, delays in production, technical issues and the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic has seen the project switch to using ‘Celltrack’ tags. However, partners will continue to work closely with BTO over the coming months, including sharing data from the three recently tagged golden eagle chicks.

Seafield & Strathspey Estates are a partner in the project – their Chief Executive Will Anderson said: “We are very proud of our raptor populations here and as a result we are involved in several tagging projects. We are particularly pleased to be partnering with the Park Authority in this initiative as the type and volume of data collected is likely to be incredibly beneficial to be able to plan for the future with the birds needs in mind.”

The RSPB Scotland has also had one of their young golden eagles tagged as part of this project. Fraser Cormack, RSPB Scotland Abernethy Warden said “With raptors still being persecuted in Scotland the data that these tags provide could be crucial in helping to stop such crimes. Also with this potentially being a new territory it will be great to see the chicks movements after fledgling and where it disperses to in the future.”

Andy Turner, NatureScot Wildlife Crime officer, added: “NatureScot are providing strong support to the CNPA on this project. This innovative technological development will strengthen our understanding of golden eagle movements, aiding both research and hopefully acting as a deterrent to illegal persecution. The ability for instant alerts and complex motion data will provide welcome new insights into the movements of these special birds.  If this is successful, I hope we can deploy this technology more widely.”

Licenses to tag Golden Eagles are granted on behalf of NatureScot by the British Trust for Ornithology who look at various criteria, especially animal welfare. Tag data will be managed by a small, dedicated team at the CNPA and Dr Ewan Weston, NatureScot, and Police Scotland’s Wildlife Crime Unit.


Hmmm. In principle, I am fully supportive of the continued satellite-tagging of golden eagles in Scotland because of the incredible insight they have provided in to the lives of this often elusive species.

Researchers have been able to provide tag data to influence conservation policy, based on new information about these birds that would previously have been almost impossible to find out (e.g. see here for a fantastic piece of modelling, based on satellite tag data, to predict how young dispersing golden eagles in Scotland will use specific landscape features, and here for the most recent scientific paper, again based on satellite tag data showing how young golden eagles in Scotland are actively avoiding wind turbines).

This sort of research is fundamental to our ability to conserve golden eagles and the quality of the research undertaken in Scotland is held in high regard by fellow scientists in Europe and North America.

I’m also very pleased to see the Cairngorms National Park Authority (CNPA) and NatureScot continue to recognise the importance and significance of golden eagle satellite-tagging, and be willing to put their money where their mouths are by funding this tagging sub-project, despite the best attempts of the grouse-shooting industry to derail this type of research. The shooters object because as well as ecological and biological insights, these tags are also providing illuminating information about the locations where golden eagles are still being illegally killed, almost 70 years after they became a protected species.

Significantly, the satellite tag data have allowed researchers to identify several geographical clusters where golden eagle persecution still takes place and more often than not, these are on or very close to moors being managed for driven grouse shooting. Unfortunately for the CNPA, some of those clusters are actually inside the Cairngorms National Park:

[This map shows the last known locations of satellite-tagged golden eagles that have either been found illegally killed or have disappeared in suspicious circumstances between 2004-2016. Data from the SNH report Analyses of the fates of satellite-tracked golden eagles in Scotland (2017) authored by Dr Alan Fielding & Dr Phil Whitfield]

It’s clear then, that the CNPA (and NatureScot) are in an embarrassing position and want/need to be seen to be doing something about the ongoing persecution. And ongoing it is, as we’ve seen with an illegally poisoned white-tailed eagle being found on a grouse moor inside the National Park last year (here) and yet another illegally poisoned golden eagle being discovered on another grouse moor inside the National Park earlier this year (see here). The subsequent bad press from these crimes is difficult for the CNPA to deal with (e.g. here).

And that leads me to be cynical about the timing of this latest press release. If you remember, back in 2019 the CNPA issued a similar press release (see here), stating that a new type of tag had been developed and would be fitted to golden eagles in the National Park over the forthcoming 18 months. The CNPA claimed this new tag would ‘provide an instant fix on any birds which die’.

The reality was somewhat different. The ‘new tag’ wasn’t developed to a sufficient standard that it could be trialled and thus was not fitted. That 2019 press release was considerably premature and I’m going to stick my neck out again and say this latest press release is similarly premature. Although this time a ‘new tag’ has actually been fitted and deployed on three young birds, it is far too soon to know whether the tag actually works as is being claimed, not least whether it will provide an ‘instant alert’ when an eagle dies. The ‘new tag’ being deployed this time is collecting the same type of data as the tags we currently deploy on golden eagles, and it has been used to track raptors in North America, but it is not the tag that we were told was being developed, with public funding, to specifically help detect illegal persecution of golden eagles in Scotland.

So why might the CNPA be keen to put out this press release prematurely? Well, if you’re a cynic like me, you might think that the CNPA has recently received a barrage of criticism for its inability to prevent the illegal killing of golden eagles (and other raptors) inside the National Park, sparked by the discovery of the poisoned golden eagle on Invercauld Estate earlier this spring, and so they’re keen to try and turn that around:

[The deliberately poisoned golden eagle, next to a poisoned mountain hare bait. Photo by RSPB Scotland]

The timing of the press release might also have a lot to do with the CNPA’s forthcoming five-year management plan, where it will have to report on its failures to meet the previous plan’s raptor conservation-based objectives. If the CNPA can chuck in a few ‘positives’ in to the new plan, such as the deployment of these new tags, it might act as a sweetener to those who will, quite rightly, be criticising the Park’s lack of progress on this issue.

Having said all that, I wouldn’t be alone in being delighted if this tag does function as is being claimed, and provides an ‘instant alert’ when an eagle dies, whether that be from natural causes or from illegal persecution. Any technological advance that would help the police to identify the criminals would be warmly welcomed by all (except for the criminals, obviously).

It’ll be interesting to see what happens with this new tag once the young eagles disperse during the autumn and travel into grouse moor areas where eagles are still not tolerated.

Incidentally, there will be short film about golden eagle persecution in Scotland being shown during this weekend’s live broadcast for Hen Harrier Day (Saturday 7th August 2021). If you want to hear more about this and what else is coming up, please sign up for Wild Justice’s event notification here.

Police lead multi-agency search after suspected peregrine poisoning in Shropshire

A multi-agency search took place in Shropshire yesterday as part of the ongoing investigation in to the suspected poisoning of a peregrine earlier this year.

You may recall the very prompt appeal for information made by West Mercia Police in May (see here) after the corpse of a female peregrine had been found, along with a suspected pigeon bait, at the notorious raptor persecution blackspot of Clee Hill.

[This is a photograph of another peregrine found poisoned at this site in 2017 (see here). Photo by RSPB]

Toxicology results are apparently still pending on this latest case but given the long history of poisoned peregrines at this site, and the discovery of yet another baited pigeon, it’s more than likely that this latest peregrine victim had also been illegally poisoned.

No doubt this is what prompted the police-led search at a premises yesterday, assisted by experts from Natural England, the National Wildlife Crime Unit and the RSPB Investigations team. The investigation continues.

[Photo via West Mercia Police]

This is at least the 5th multi-agency search in England this year, all in response to raptor persecution crimes. On 15th March 2021 there was a raid in Lincolnshire (see here), on 18th March a raid in Dorset (here), on 26th March a raid in Devon (see here) and on 21st April a raid in Teesdale (here). And now this raid in Shropshire.

Worryingly, all of these cases have involved the confirmed / suspected use of banned poisons to kill birds of prey.

Well done to all the agencies involved in these follow-up investigations. It’s good to see genuine partnership-working in the fight to catch the raptor killers.

New podcast: Professor Arjun Amar discusses raptor persecution on UK driven grouse moors

Arjun Amar will be a familiar name to anyone who’s taken more than a passing interest in the illegal persecution of birds of prey in the UK.

Arj has published a number of papers linking the illegal persecution of raptors to driven grouse shooting, including the detrimental effects this can have at a population scale, particularly on red kites, peregrines and hen harriers.

Most recently he was a co-author on the important Murgatroyd et al paper (2019) which showed that at least 72% of hen harriers satellite-tagged by Natural England were presumed to have been illegally killed on or close to driven grouse moors (see here).

Arj was recently interviewed by The Biome Project for a podcast about UK raptor persecution and its link to driven grouse shooting.

You can watch the 53 minute interview on YouTube (here) or if you’re on the move you can listen to the podcast (here).

As you’d expect from someone with such credentials, it’s well worth a listen.

As you might also expect, Arj’s research has drawn him to the attention of some members of the game-shooting industry who obviously don’t like what he’s doing and have tried, over a number of years, to undermine his credibility and scientific integrity with unfounded, disgraceful abuse and slurs.

For example:

Here was Arj’s response to the trolls:

As many of you will know, being targeted and harassed by some within the game-shooting industry is now commonplace (e.g. see here, here, here, here, here, here, here). Obviously, these abusive, personal attacks are designed to intimidate and silence not only those already speaking out against the criminal driven grouse shooting industry, but also anybody else who might be thinking of joining in.

Let’s turn that on its head and instead of silencing these voices let’s amplify them. If you’re on Twitter, please follow Arj and share his work: @arjundevamar

If you want to find out more about raptor persecution in the UK and what action is being taken to stand up to it, watch Hen Harrier Day this Saturday (7th August) from 10am, organised by Wild Justice & hosted by Chris Packham and Megan McCubbin. Sign up here for details.

Opportunity for Prince Harry to blow the cover of the hen harrier killers

The ‘wall of silence’ maintained by many in the grouse-shooting industry to protect the identities of the raptor killers within their ranks is a well-known phenomenon. It’s been likened to the Mafia’s omertà, the code of silence about criminal activity and a refusal to provide evidence to the police.

With news that Prince Harry has agreed a publishing deal with Random House to write his memoirs, including ‘the mistakes made, the lessons learned’, wildlife campaigners have been wondering whether he will use it to reveal what exactly went on at Dersingham Bog near Sandringham back in 2007 when he and his mate William van Cutsem were out shooting with a Sandringham Estate gamekeeper when a witness alleged two hen harriers had been shot. Harry and van Cutsem were interviewed by the police and denied all knowledge and no hen harrier corpses were found.

An article in the Guardian this last weekend examined the possibility of Harry using his memoirs to perhaps have more to say about not only this incident, but also to distance himself from the wider criminal link between driven grouse shooting and hen harrier persecution.

You can read the Guardian article in full here

iNews also carried a shortened version of the article here

It would have been quite good had the journalist not got his figures mixed up in this one paragraph:

Hen harriers have been illegally targeted particularly on upland moors because they prey on red grouse, for which there is a lucrative driven shooting industry on the moors. They virtually ceased breeding in England in the early 2000s because of persecution. They have since recovered to an estimated 330 pairs, but remain one of the rarest and most persecuted raptors in the UK‘.

If only hen harriers HAD recovered to an estimated 330 pairs in England! Sadly we are still a very long way from coming anywhere close to that number (unless DEFRA’s hen harrier brood meddling conservation sham has turned out to be extraordinarily good!).

What the journalist should have said was:

England has sufficient habitat to host at least 330 pairs of hen harriers but due to persistent illegal persecution by the grouse shooting industry (e.g. at least 56 hen harriers killed/suspiciously vanished in the last three years alone) we haven’t even got 10% of that number breeding. You can find out more about this scandal at this weekend’s Hen Harrier Day‘.

Hen Harrier Day 2021 takes place this Saturday (7th August 2021). You can sign up for notifications of Wild Justice’s online event here.

Peregrine found shot & critically injured in Fife

Press release from the Scottish SPCA (2nd August 2021)

Peregrine falcon shot near Kirkcaldy

We are appealing for information after a peregrine falcon was shot near Kirkcaldy.

We were alerted to the incident after the female bird was discovered on farmland at Grange Farm near Kirkcaldy on 25 July.

The falcon was unable to fly and was transferred to the Society’s National Wildlife Rescue Centre in Fishcross where x-rays uncovered she had been shot.

[Photos and x-rays by Liam Reed]

An undercover Scottish SPCA special investigations unit inspector said, “We were shocked to hear that the peregrine falcon had been shot.

This poor bird was extremely lucky to be spotted by the farm worker, who took immediate steps to ensure the falcon’s welfare and survival.

The shot would have knocked the bird out of the sky almost instantaneously so the incident will have happened close to the farmland the bird was found on.

Thankfully, due to the expert avian vets we have at our national wildlife hospital, the falcon has a good chance at recovery and release back in to the wild.

Peregrine falcons are a Schedule One listed species of The Wildlife and Countryside Act and it is illegal to intentionally harm or kill one of these birds.

We are working closely with Police Scotland to establish the circumstances around the bird’s injuries due to the use of a firearm in the incident.

We would like to find out what happened to this falcon. If anyone witnessed anything on the 25 July or has any information they feel may be relevant they can contact our confidential animal helpline on 03000 999 999 or Police Scotland on 101, quoting incident number quoting incident number 1390 of 28 July 2021.”

Wildlife Crime Liaison Officer, Detective Constable Ben Pacholek, said: “The fact that a shotgun has apparently been used in an attempt to kill a bird of prey is of serious concern. This incident is sadly another example of the unacceptable persecution of raptors in Scotland.

I strongly urge anyone within the local and wider community to come forward with details or any information about this incident which can help the ongoing investigation.”

If anyone is concerned about an animal, please do not hesitate to contact our confidential animal helpline on 03000 999 999.


You can see on the x-ray that the peregrine’s ulna has been broken by the shotgun pellets. This is a clear indication the bird was shot close to where it was found – there’s no way this bird would have been able to fly with an injury that severe:

Well done to the Scottish SPCA for getting this appeal for information out so quickly. This should be the very least we expect from investigating authorities but as many of you will know, it doesn’t happen as often as it should.

Standby for news of another case involving a shot peregrine that Police Scotland has refused to publicise…….