Big decisions for National Trust’s policy on grouse moors in Peak District National Park after latest loss of hen harriers

Earlier this month the Peak District Raptor Monitoring Group (PDMG) announced the suspicious disappearance of two male hen harriers, and the subsequent failure of two hen harrier nests each containing five eggs (see here).

[One of the abandoned hen harrier nests. Photo by PDRMG]

Both nests were situated on a grouse moor owned by the National Trust and leased to a tenant. The grouse moor isn’t currently being used for driven grouse shooting (the tenant is believed to be focusing his energy on another moor that he owns) but the nests were close to the National Trust’s boundary and the moor is adjacent to other, privately-owned and intensively managed driven grouse moors, many that have been at the centre of other raptor persecution investigations for a number of years in what is a well-known raptor persecution hotspot (e.g. see here).

The Peak District National Park Authority has issued a statement in response to this latest incident:

Responding to reports of the failure of two hen harrier nests following the disappearance of male hen harriers thought to be supporting the nests in the area, the Peak District National Park Authority said:

“We share the immense frustration and disappointment of the National Trust and all those involved in monitoring our birds of prey, that the opportunity for not one, but two potentially viable nests for the iconic hen harrier has been lost again in the Peak District this year. This is a species which is emblematic of our uplands and where their haunting and often enigmatic presence should be welcomed.

“The fact that successful nesting attempts for the hen harrier in the Peak District remains firmly in single figures across almost two decades, demonstrates the significant challenge that remains for all those working to see their return in a long-term and sustainable way – addressing both conservation needs and the potential impact of wildlife crime.

“We understand a police investigation is ongoing into the matter and stand ready to provide any support to this”‘.

The National Trust has a new General Manager in the Peak District, Craig Best, and his reaction to the suspicious disappearances of the two harriers was as follows:

It’s deeply concerning to learn of the disappearance of two male hen harriers from the High Peak and subsequent abandoning of nests by the females. While the circumstances around this incident are not yet clear, it is indefensible that these beautiful birds still face persecution. The incident has been reported to the police and we’re working closely with statutory agencies and the RSPB to find out what happened.

We want to see a landscape that is full of wildlife, including birds of prey, and we work hard with a range of expert partners to create the right conditions for these species to thrive. Over the past few years we have seen several instances of successful hen harrier breeding in the Peak District“.

The disappearances attracted a lot of media attention, some of it accurate, some of it not so much, but it made local and national news and I was pleased to see that a couple of them had picked up on the fact that now 70 hen harriers are confirmed missing or illegally killed in the UK since 2018. Here’s some of the coverage in Sheffield Star, BBC News, and The Times, reproduced below:

There was also a feature on the BBC’s East Midlands Regional News, where BBC journalist Simon Hare interviewed Mike Price from the PDRMG – you can watch the video here:

The loss of two more hen harriers and their nests sparked a number of calls for the National Trust to ban driven grouse shooting on its land. I think that’s because many people assumed the harriers had been killed on the grouse moor where they were attempting to breed. The NT faced similar calls for a ban in 2016 when I posted footage of an armed gamekeeper who had been filmed crouching in the heather next to a decoy hen harrier on another NT-owned grouse moor in the Peak District National Park, presumably trying to entice a harrier to come in close so he could shoot it (see here).

That footage was so disturbing and the public reaction to it so strong, it prompted the National Trust to pull the shooting lease early and replace the shooting tenant with someone more conservation-focused, in what was a significant response at that time although some campaigners saw it as a lost opportunity to remove driven grouse shooting altogether (see here).

Since then, the NT has modified its tenancy agreements (e.g. see here), at least one new tenant has been and gone, and at least one current tenant is hosting a number of successfully breeding raptor species whilst moderately managing a driven grouse shoot (far less grouse shot last year compared to the thousands shot on some of the more intensively-managed moors). It has been reported recently that the NT has agreed to introduce even more modifications on its moors such as the removal of medicated grit, burning restrictions and the removal of traps and snares, although I haven’t yet seen a formal statement on this from the National Trust.

Some may argue that banning driven grouse shooting entirely from National Trust land is the only way forward, but some local raptor workers suggest the situation is a bit more nuanced than that and that just banning it on NT moors could actually lead to an increase in raptor persecution. They argue that as long as the NT has raptor-friendly shooting tenants, those tenants’ gamekeepers are acting as a sort of shield against gamekeepers from neighbouring, privately-owned estates from entering NT land and killing whatever they want. Of course, that doesn’t stop the raptors being killed if they fly from NT land on to neighbouring private estates to hunt, which is what many suspect has happened with these latest two ‘disappearances’.

It seems to me that the Peak District National Park Authority should be the organisation banning driven grouse shooting across the entire National Park. That would seem to be a far more effective prospect than a piecemeal approach by the National Trust, at least in terms of tackling the rampant raptor persecution taking place inside this National Park.

That’s not to say that the National Trust shouldn’t be banning driven grouse shooting, though. As we know, raptor persecution is only one of many environmentally-damaging issues associated with driven grouse shooting – burning, widespread and unregulated use of an environmentally toxic veterinary drug (medicated grit), and the lawful killing of thousands of native animals (e.g. foxes, stoats, weasels, corvids etc) to name just a few, all to create an artificial environment to maximise the production of red grouse for paying guests to shoot in the face for a bit of a laugh. That the NT still supports this management in what are supposed to be enlightened times, is quite remarkable.

However, if the National Trust has recently changed its policy, as has been reported, this could effectively lead to an end of driven grouse shooting on NT land without a formal ‘ban’ having to be introduced. But where will that leave the raptors trying to nest on NT land, still surrounded by privately-owned intensively-managed driven grouse moors?

Interesting times ahead in the Peak District National Park.

22 thoughts on “Big decisions for National Trust’s policy on grouse moors in Peak District National Park after latest loss of hen harriers”

  1. Thank you for the excellent résumé. Having just rejoined the National Trust after its ban on trail hunting I can write to them as a member….

  2. The Raptor Group seem to be putting the potential risk to two local harrier nests before the need to remove driven grouse from a major landowner and influencer. Though not directly comparable a similar kind of thinking was not unknown from some raptor workers in the past who felt they had to have some tacit compromise with an estate just ‘to get at least one nest off’ potentially making themselves complicit in the estates illegal activities. It’s a short sighted approach which effectively surrenders the overall initiative to the estates.

    1. Well said, BSA. It leaves the door ajar for full blooded persecution to return when their propaganda diverts public to a different understanding of exactly what is happening.

    2. Hi BSA, yep totally agree local ‘understandings’ are a short term expediency that undermine the integrity of the bigger picture. Too much akin to cap doffing and begging favours (instead of invoking rights) from His Lordship etc. A bit like NE brood meddling really! That said I can well imagine the true heartache of those raptor group people if everything gets wiped out overnight, which has happened elsewhere. As well as the likely complete loss of another regional breeding population. Maybe some hardy NT volunteers can be tempted out to the fell as wardens? Away from the splendid oak panelled interiors and aristocratic detritous inside t’ Big House.

      1. It is my experience of volunteering for the NT that volunteers can be inside or outside, but rarely both. For there is a gulf between the two: so tempting out is not needed. Management, of course, has a Duty of Care regarding potential conflict.

  3. The difficulty for the National Trust is that they are ‘for everyone, for ever’. It’s difficult for them to ban a legal activity. More difficult so if a particular activity had been mentioned by a person giving them the land – I don’t know if this is the case here or not.

    1. The NT doesn’t need to ‘ban’ DGS – simply don’t renew the lease when it comes up for renewal.

      1. I think you missed the point that perhaps the donor gave the land to the Trust with a condition, signed for, that hunting and / or shooting should continue*. One assumes it was legally enforceable. The over-riding law on hunting has now changed, the NT could act. We need the same on shooting grouse and pheasant.

        *See ‘Regeneration’, by Andrew Painting – about a similar condition on Nat Trust Scot’s Mar Lodge estate.

    2. Essay question – “Who’s land was it anyway?”. And was it given back willingly or as a tax fiddle to dodge death duties. And the house and grounds and land – how was this paid for? NT makes a fetish of preserving some properties* that were built on blood and suffering and we (I’ve done it myself, will likely do again) pay to go in and admire it for a day out! For me its all about making the best of these places for the future – bollox to what some old toff might have stipulated in his will.
      *openly admit I don’t know the history about this specific estate in the Peak District, intend to research it in work time haha

      1. We really need an English equivalent to Andy Wightman’s “The Poor Had No Lawyers”; the closest I know of is Peter Hetherington’s “Whose Land Is Our Land?”, but it doesn’t go as far as Wightman.

        1. Hi Sog, yes you are right there would be legal battles – under the current system. The thing is I am anticipating and genuinely expect that within the next twenty to thirty or so years there will be a re-drawing of the rule book re land reform. I think that it would do no harm to cause some ripples and to have some legal battles to demonstrate how unfair and unfit for purpose the current system is. I don’t wish to fall out as our hearts are very much in the same place – but regards being seen to act like grown-ups? To be seen by who? Establishment power and landed interests just perceive polite and timid public acquiescence as weakness and they push on and exploit it. They are hard headed pragmatists – I have observed them up close. Thinking of the Peak District – would Kinder Scout mass trespass & long battle for CRoW have happened if the organisers had been worried about causing upset? ps if I have insulted NT volunteers, then I am genuinely sorry – the majority are genuinely good people giving their time to do good things. It is a minority usually found monitoring the posh rooms of some monstrosity of a stately home that tend to p— me off – but likely that says something about me too! Thanks.

          1. The Tweedy Room Stewards are a world away from me, too. But they can bring the room, its history and characters to the attention of children to their evident interest, and then explain the antiques to the adults.

            I have a personal suspicion that the Trust are wary of this current government, more so than any previous one. Plus currently they are occupied in recovery from the Epidemic. These, I feel, are things we can all understand. I won’t comment further.

  4. It works the other way, too – a NT tenants keeper was caught by RSPB coming on to Forest Enterprise land to destroy a Goshawk nest. He was convicted on a unique first – Forest Research matched the tree DNA on his climbing irons to the nest tree. NT really do need to decide whether they are just another traditional landowner or a conservation charity – for everyone, forever – not just the elite linked to their swerve from their original objectives towards dramatic country houses. There really is no case for their continuing shooting on their estate in these circumstances – like the National park they are laggards not leaders on raptor persecution.

    1. The National Trust needs to grow a bigger pair of balls and allow all its shooting leases to expire, and never to renew them. They’ve clearly stated it doesn’t bring them any money (and they don’t need it anyway). Anyone seen on NT moorland with a gun from that point onwards would then be acting without anyone’s permission. Simply allowing a better sort of criminal to operate a NT shooting tenancy doesn’t seem the right way to me.

  5. Can’t understand whey we need to debate this no Blood sport of any kind ( Shooting,fox or deer hunt,hunting with or without dogs) Should all be Stopped it’s the 21st Century let’s get Civilised 😤

  6. I agree with Ruth’s comments “that the Peak District National Park Authority should be the organisation banning driven grouse shooting across the entire National Park”.
    Driven grouse shooting should be banned in every National Park, AONB etc.
    The evidence that the intensive management of land for DGS, and the unnatural and artificial density of grouse numbers required for DGS is detrimental to the rest of the eco system is now well researched.
    The fact the UK Govt have made a pledge to restore nature, and are completely overhauling the rural payment scheme, so that farmers are rewarded for “public good” is completely at odds with intensive land managed for DGS.
    What always strikes me is when visiting grouse moors this time of year, is the large number of signs advising visitors that they are entering a wildlife regeneration/conservation area, dogs must be kept on leads etc etc. …and all this is to protect endangered species like Curlew and other nesting wading birds. Has anyone ever seen a sign advising visitors that all this conservation work is to protect Hen Harriers?
    Whilst I applaud any work to protect Curlews and other endangered bird, I think it might be worth considering that this is just a fortunate by-product of the work carried out by game keepers, and that the real reason for this work isn’t Curlew numbers but Grouse numbers…and the shooting estates desire to produce ever increasing bag sizes and shoot days.
    In 1949 the government passed an Act of Parliament to establish National Parks in order to conserve and enhance their natural beauty and provide recreational opportunities for the public.
    According to the Campaign for National Parks, the Parks were created to conserve and enhance the natural beauty, wildlife and cultural heritage of the National Parks.
    How can the burning of blanket book to leave great charred areas of wasteland which take a number of years to regenerate with heather, ever be described as enhancing natural beauty? (Todays announcement by the RSPB and Greenpeace suggests that illegal burning is still rife across a lot of deep peatland)
    And where are the Hen Harriers? A bird in desperate need of conservation. A bird that should be a regular sight across the moors in a National Park. Instead we just read about their disappearance and illegal persecution, often occurring on land within a National Park. I call that an absolute disgrace, and a failure of politicians to address the real issues at the heart of the problem. – DGS.
    I do have some sympathy with landowners who are trying to juggle conservation work, provide local employment and obtain some form of revenue from the moor land they own. But there are alternatives to DGS, and if they want to still offer shooting -then why not far more sustainable walk up shooting, mixed in with other wildlife, conservation and recreational experiences? (I think some land owners are starting to realise the incompatibility of DGS with the restoration of nature and improving the abundance of native flora and fauna, but they seem very much in a minority.) So perhaps part of the governments strategy to overhaul the rural payment scheme should include something that enables grouse moor landowners in National Parks to obtain the necessary funding to engage in genuine conservation work, without the need to use the land for DGS, and then ban the DGS!

    1. “I agree with Ruth’s comments “that the Peak District National Park Authority should be the organisation banning driven grouse shooting across the entire National Park”.
      Driven grouse shooting should be banned in every National Park, AONB etc.”

      I am not at all sure that National Park Authorities have the legal power to ban otherwise legal activities, however damaging they are to the environment. What they do have is extensive planning powers (regarding the environment), and shooting estates do not require planning permission (unless I am very much mistaken).

      I would be very surprised to find that the major landowners in the UK, including the Royal Family, had ‘agreed’ to the setting up of National Park Authorities if those same authorities could then ban activities otherwise deemed legal by the various national Governments.

      The legislation setting up National Park Authorities is very ponderous. I’m inclined to suspect that if NPAs had the legal powers to ban any form of shooting it would have been tested in court a long time ago….

      But I may be wrong…?

      1. I think you are right, and there probably needs to be new legislation if National Park Authorities are to have the power to ban DGS.
        However it could be argued that when the National Parks were created, the scientific knowledge, which has identified the damaging consequences of DGS didn’t exist, and neither was so much of the shooting managed in such an intensive way by commercial estates and sporting companies.
        As such it may be that legislation hasn’t kept abreast with the commercial shooting which now takes place on many moors, and also the amount of moorland where that shooting takes place may also have increased?

        Historically legislation has usually always been one foot behind the activities it is introduced to control. eg the factory acts which were introduced to protect children working in the mills, or road traffic legislation introduced to try and regulate the increasing use of motor vehicles.
        As we are now increasingly recognising the importance of conserving the natural environment , is it time for a complete review of the legislation which underpins how National Parks are managed, and what activities are permissible in the parks? Should such legislation be part of the governments plans for increased bio diversity and nature regeneration?

  7. In addition to banning DGS, I would also ban the release of non native pheasants and other non native game birds such as Red Legged Partridges within National Parks/ AONB’s etc.
    There have been recent reports regarding the damage non native species are causing native British flora and fauna- Signal crayfish, Muntjac deer, Grey squirrel , Ring Necked Parakeets to name but a few.
    It seems totally absurd that within a National Park, which should at its heart be land used for conservation of native British wildlife, that we permit the release of millions of non native game birds, which serve no purpose other than to provide shooting entertainment for those who enjoy killing. There should be sufficient numbers of these game birds already in existence to ensure land owners who want to offer pheasant shooting can do so, if they carefully manage their stocks, and the birds are for consumption.

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