Wednesday, 19 October 2016

Heather Burning and Climate Change © Mark Avery

Heather burning, water quality and greenhouse gas emissions

Heather burning on commercial grouse moor. Glenfeshie. Scotland. April 2007.
Heather burning on commercial grouse moor. Glenfeshie. Scotland. April 2007.
The Committee on Climate Change made a written submission to the Environmental Audit Committee inquiry into soil health in January this year. In it they wrote:
The English uplands are dominated by blanket bog and heathland habitats, which tend to have highly organic and peaty soils. When in good condition, peat bogs actively soak up carbon, accumulating between 3 and 7 tonnes per hectare per year.  Peatlands also play a vital role in the provision of drinking water to millions of people, as they form the headwaters for some of England’s major water supply catchments.
The area of burned moorland has increased significantly in recent decades across much of northern England. A comparison of aerial photography from the 1970s and 2000 of over 200 km2 of the English uplands found that the extent of new burns had doubled (from 15% to 30%) over this period. A recent study found that the annual number of burns between 2001 and 2011 increased by 11% per year, with an accelerating trend in more recent years.’
There is increasingly strong evidence that managed burning reduces peat accumulation, causes declines in carbon storage, and increases dissolved organic carbon (DOC) levels in watercourses.  Levels of DOC in UK upland water bodies have doubled over the last 30 years. Some of this observed increase in DOC is likely to be due to reductions in sulphur deposition (more commonly known as acid rain) since the 1990s. However, there is evidence that managed burning is the primary cause of DOC export in parts of the English uplands.
…the on-going declines in soil carbon, increases in the area of some high erosion
risk crops (e.g. maize) and the degraded condition of upland peats suggests that current policy interventions will not deliver the 2030 aspiration for all soils to be sustainably managed.

Friday, 9 September 2016

Brian May and Chris Packham discuss grouse shooting © Mark Avery

Here are two wildlife enthusiasts talking about driven grouse shooting.
Please sign this e-petition to ban driven grouse shooting, alongside Brian May and Chris Packham.

Saturday, 13 August 2016

Raptor Persecution in the Uplands © Anand Prasad

This is a letter I have sent to friends who I thought might be interested in the ‘Conflict in the Uplands‘.
Please feel free to copy and paste and send to as many UK citizens as possible before 20th September.

Without going into details:
The UK petition to ban driven grouse moors can be signed here (UK citizens or residents only). It needs you to click on the e-mail you will then receive to confirm your ‘vote.’
Going into details:
As I write the petition is approaching 75% of the 6 month time limit but only 70% of the necessary signatures to get a government debate, so it needs a boost. If this is passed around it could easily reach the 100,000 target. If everyone who signs can get one more person to sign it will happen.
It can be signed for the obvious reason, to support a ban on driven grouse shooting, but also as a way to get a parliamentary debate on this issue because to be realistic it isn’t going to happen any time soon. A debate would raise the possibility of a compromise such as licensing of grouse moors or all game shooting. The problem with licensing is that it would be as hard to police as the law is now, which is clearly not working but it would be a start.
There is another non-government petition asking for licensing in Scotland. Everyone can sign no matter where you live. Sign both if you care about birds of prey.
What is the problem?
The illegal killing of birds of prey on driven grouse moors is preventing the spread of re-introduced raptors (Red Kites and White-tailed Eagles) and is creating black holes where species such as Hen Harriers, Golden Eagles and Peregrines are virtually absent. This is restricting the overall population of Golden Eagles and decreasing the numbers of Hen Harriers to the point of near extinction in England. The only reason they haven’t been made extinct in England is because of the attempt at re-colonisation every year by Scottish birds. Peregrines are only doing well away from grouse moors.
It has been illegal, since 1954, to kill birds of prey but today it is still happening on a huge scale and if anything, is getting worse. Decades of talks and committees involving groups of conflicting parties have achieved nothing (this summary was written in 2010 – a flash of deja vu).
The fact is that birds of prey, particularly Hen Harriers which have large broods, will without persecution multiply and take the ‘surplus’ Red Grouse which the intensively managed grouse moor owners want for their shooting clients. Birds of prey and intensive grouse moors i.e. driven grouse moors can not co-exist. Non-intense i.e. walked up grouse shooting, especially with the aid of diversionary feeding, could but the grouse lobby are opposed to diversionary feeding. Their solution is to move Hen Harrier nests off the moors onto the lowlands. They don’t want any Hen Harriers on ‘their’ moors at all and the threat is implicit ‘let us move Hen Harriers off the moors or we will continue killing them’. This blackmail is working and is included in the hidden agenda of the government’s recently Hen Harrier Action Plan. That and introducing European Hen Harriers to the English lowlands even though we have a perfectly viable, although falling (due to persecution) population in Scotland which is constantly trying unsuccessfully to spread to England. How the Hen Harrier Action Plan is going to protect what remains of Peregrines, Goshawks, Red Kites, Golden Eagles and White-tailed Eagles in the uplands is ignored completely.
There is a multitude of evidence of the persecution on grouse moors. You only have to compare the Red Kite re-introduction scheme in the Chilterns with the one near the Black Isle. One is thriving and the other has not increased in numbers even though the breeding productivity of the Black Isle birds is high when they manage to breed.
The Black Isle is near driven grouse moors the Chilterns isn’t. It is the same in north-east England which is close to grouse shooting country and the population near Leeds/ Harrogate has had 10 Red Kites killed just this spring. The grouse moors in the Pennines and the North Yorkshire moors will not allow expansion. Presumably the same is happening with the introduced birds from Central Scotland, judging by these poisoning incidents here, here, here, here and here and those re-introduced in Dumfries and Galloway, judging by these poisoning incidents here, here and here.
Another proof is the Langholm experiment the most bizarre legally arranged experiment conducted. The object of the experiment was for gamekeepers on Langholm to stop killing raptors.
I still think I am Beelzebub’s grandson (or to be more contemporary, The Man Who Fell To Earth) when I even think about it but that is what happened and Hen Harrier numbers exploded.
Why ban driven grouse shooting, we have laws don’t we?
The criminals are almost impossible to catch as the killing and poisoning occurs in remote places and when the culprits are caught it is almost impossible to prosecute as the level of proof is extreme, e.g. video evidence can be deemed inadmissible. In Scotland the incident has to have been seen by two witnesses and even then a prosecution is not certain. If you have heard about the shooting of two Hen Harriers at Sandringham when a certain Mr. Windsor Jnr. was out shooting , you will see what I mean. It wasn’t even as though being a Windsor was any different to your average gamekeeper, it is almost impossible to get a prosecution. Behind every gamekeeper is a rich and powerful landowner. [Incidentally that Guardian article mentions Mr. Windsor’s shooting partner Van Cutsem. To peak down the rabbit hole search for that name and Glanusk estate in the search engine on Raptor Persecution UK or Mark Avery’s blog].
Even after a successful prosecution the penalties can be little more than a pat on the wrist (or may only result in warning), gamekeepers are unlikely to lose their jobs, whilst the real villains, the managers and landowners get off scot free (no pun).

Scotland is finding ways of hitting the negligent landowners in the purse by cutting the tax-payer funded subsidies and by new laws to prosecute the landowners where gamekeepers have been persecuted (Vicarious Liability) but even in Scotland the killing continues and for example Hen Harriers are in decline.

It can’t be all bad can it?
There are three arguments which the shooting lobby fall back on to justify driven grouse shooting.
1. Money and employment in the rural economy.
2. Grouse moors are good for other birds and even use the word biodiversity.
3. Grouse moors are a special habitat.
These might be valid points but, I would argue, need closer scrutiny.
1. The facts brandied around about the money involved and the employment generated are from the grouse lobby themselves and as far as I know there has been no independent research. I have never seen any research done to compare driven grouse shooting moors with other moors which have walked up grouse shooting which is far less intense or with moors which mix walked up shooting with genuine wildlife tourism or the tourism from moors managed purely for wildlife. The grouse lobby likes to think in binary, either-or without examining all the other possible forms of income from eco-tourism. The National Trust who own lots of moorland could set up an experimental moorland to demonstrate other alternatives.
I would like to see how much of the profit goes into the local community or even Scotland. One vicarious liability case could not be prosecuted because the owners were hidden in off-shore businesses. That wouldn’t be for tax purposes would it?
I would also like to know if those so called profits included all the costs to the tax-payer in the form of subsidies and lack of licensing of guns and shooting etc. I would also like to see the hidden costs to the public in the form of increase in carbon emissions from muirburn, increase in flooding, purification of water and the loss of re-introduced raptors and habitats. More important to me is not the monetary loss but the loss to ourselves, to which I can’t find a proper word. Spiritual comes as close as I can think of.
I am also not sure if the employment of gamekeepers, a certain percentage of whom are criminals, is high on my list of human rights priorities.
2. There has been good evidence that grouse moors are beneficial for certain wader species (Golden Plover and Lapwings) but it is by no means all waders. Again the grouse lobby is thinking or rather trying to get the public to think in binary. Their statistics compare keepered grouse moorland with non-keepered moorland. They have not taken into account moorland specially managed for wildlife, including waders, which would be the case on some moorland if shooting was banned. There is nothing to stop a non-grouse moor hiring a keeper. They haven’t taken into account the possibility of new legislation to protect waders. They have not taken into account the fact that Golden Plovers are actually a game bird and are shot. They have not considered all the other ways that waders can be protected. These birds are not exclusive to grouse moorland. Lapwings are mowed down during silage cutting in the valleys below the Forest of Bowland so excuse me, grouse lobby, if I don’t get too upset if a fox takes some on the moorland above.
Personally I would prefer to see Stoats, Foxes, Mountain Hares, Ravens, Hooded Crows and birds of prey flying freely on the uplands even if the population of waders and even Hen Harriers does have to find a new more natural balance rather than a sterile heather monoculture.
When the grouse lobby talk about biodiversity for some reason that does not include any predators and that is surely not going to include Lynx.
3. Grouse moors are not a special habitat. They are special for grouse, yes but this is not a natural habitat by any means. We spent 10 days walking from nut to hut on Hardangervidda, Norway, which was so beautiful it made me realise how brain-washed we are about our so called wilderness, I was ashamed of Scotland. True we did only see one brace of Willow Grouse but this was real nature not grouse farming…. and Norwegians are really very pro hunting.
The beauty of the moors is also used as a pro-shooting argument but since visiting similar habitats in Norway I realized there is very little beautiful or biodiverse about a driven grouse moor. If you look at photos of the patchwork of muirburn you will see what I mean. I have seen some beautiful spots of what appear to be un-burnt heather monoculture. I presume they still exist but I admit I don’t fully understand why some areas are like war zones and some have real charm. One of the places that used to be beautiful is on the north side of The Forest of Bowland but now I see there is a new tarmac road from Roeburndale right across to the west of the Forest of Bowland with car parks in the middle of the moor for shooters visiting the grouse butts. Then of course there are the grouse butts themselves, the new idea of hare-proof fences and ditches. No sorry definite beauty-fail on that one.
Another aspect which needs investigating is a comparison with other countries. The UK is one of the most lax (if not the most) country as regards licensing of hunting. No other country has our level of moorland game-keepering (if they have any at all) or monocultural moor management and our penalties are paltry and here compared with the Spanish deterrent.
All in all, the only thing unique about the UK moorlands is in their level of crime, lack of biodiversity, lack of effective law enforcement and complete mismanagement. Nothing to by proud of.

Some facts:
There has been a catastrophic decline of Hen Harriers on grouse-moors in north-east Scotland
There have been no breeding Hen Harriers on Angus Glens since 2006
In 2016 in England there are only 3 pairs of breeding Hen Harriers (none of which were on grouse moors) and which is on the brink of extinction there. Whereas in Wales, which has virtually no grouse shooting, the population is increasing and was, at the last survey, 57 pairs.
The path to extinction is shown in this graph from the government’s Natural England report The Hen Harrier in England
It is only the recruitment of Scottish Hen Harriers to the non grouse moors in England which is giving the ‘English’ Hen Harriers a very precarious life-line and, so far, preventing total extinction in England.

This study proved that ‘On average, 55-74 females were killed each year, 11-15% of the total population of breeding females in Scotland, excluding Orkney’ and that does not include males or immatures. According to this government report the population of Hen Harriers should be about 2,600 pairs, it is actually about 580. Even the grouse lobby in their own paper (Potts 1998) calculate ‘If all potential habitats were occupied, present numbers could more than double, to an estimated 1660 nesting females’.
There is no doubt that is loss is due to persecution and it is not just a few ‘bad apples’ perpetuating these crimes. Here is a list of estates where crimes have occurred.
Maps of these crimes can be found on RSPB and PAWS Scottish crime reports.
This situation is the same with Golden Eagles and Peregrines.
This Scottish government SNH study on Golden Eagles states ‘A number of lines of evidence indicated that illegal persecution of eagles, principally associated with grouse moor management in the central and eastern Highlands, is the most severe constraint on Scottish golden eagles….Records of illegal persecution of golden eagles (including poisoning, trapping, shooting) were also more common in those regions where grouse moor management predominated…There was no consistent or strong evidence of associations between territory vacancies and constraints other than persecution in these regions’.
And for the most recent data on Peregrines ‘Illegal persecution continues to restrict numbers and productivity of breeding Peregrines in some regions, particularly where pigeon racing is practiced and where there is intensive management for red grouse shooting
and ‘Low occupancy of nesting ranges, with more singletons than pairs, was associated with intensive management for driven grouse shooting.’
and ‘The illegal killing of birds of prey is an important form of wildlife crime, which in the UK, is often associated with land managed for the recreational shooting of red grouse….Population models [of Peregrines] suggested source-sink dynamics, with populations on grouse moors unable to sustain themselves without immigration. Population data confirmed that growth rates were indeed lower on grouse moors than on non-grouse moor sites
Unbelievably, although the persecution of birds of prey has been illegal since 1954 and continues, the driven grouse moor owners and managers have found loopholes with which to persecute raptors within the law. So far the law hasn’t caught up with these methods and it is doubtful that they will in the near future given the amount of trust and self-regulation given to the grouse lobby. The only thing that can change this situation is public awareness.
Disturbing or preventing raptors from breeding is illegal. But if gamekeepers can prevent the birds from even attempting to breed it is very difficult to prove. The methods with which the driven grouse moors ‘legally’ persecute raptors includes a staggering array of weaponry.
1. Inflatable screaming and bowing scare-men
2. gas guns
3. delayed fire-crackers
4. What’s next?
If the illegal persecution is not enough there is also the damage to the ecosystem in the form of drainage, burning, lead poisoning, veterinary drugs, flood damage, the ‘self-regulated’ slaughter of mammalian predators and Mountain Hares. These are all subjects which go beyond a single e-mail and with more information daily, more can be found on Raptor Persecution UK, Mark Avery’s blog and the updated edition of Inglorious by Mark Avery.
Potts, G.R., 1998: Global dispersion of nesting hen harriers Circus cyaneus; implications for grouse moors in the UK. Ibis, 1998. 140(1): p. 76-88.

Friday, 5 August 2016

Hen Harrier Day © Raptor Politics

Hen Harrier Day Peaceful Protest Sunday 7 August, 2016, Dunsop Bridge in the Forest of Bowland, Lancashire.

Only 7 days to go, we need all the support we can muster next Sunday 7 August on the green at Dunsop Bridge in the heart of the Forest of Bowland. They have now killed all the nesting Hen Harriers and Peregrines in the Forest of Bowland, now the government’s wildlife advisor Natural England are helping to get rid of Buzzards as well. Make your voice heard or they will win.

This year’s Hen Harrier Day, organised for a third consecutive year by the North West Raptor Group, will begin at 10.30 in the morning on the village green at Dunsop Bridge, near Clitheroe in the Forest of Bowland on SUNDAY 7 August.
Due to popular demand this years event will culminate in the early afternoon (from 1pm) with a visit to nearby grouse butts where we will all enjoy a picnic in a wonderful scenic moorland venue. Please bring along your own packed lunch and something non alcoholic to drink for yourself or your group. Unfortunately there will be no views of wild Hen Harriers or Peregrines on this occasion, as both species have been persecuted in Bowland this year to extinction. 2016 is the first year since the second world war that both species have been absent from the Forest of Bowland in the same year.
A British National Scandal which the media should take on board.
This season, an RSPB spokesperson has admitted not one occupied Hen Harrier territory has been located in the Forest of Bowland so far this season. In addition for the first time in living memory, this year has witnessed all peregrines in the Forest of Bowland disappearing; between 18-20 missing. This is why our Forest of Bowland protest is so important this year; if we do not take a stand condemning the illegal persecution of  our Hen Harriers, it now seems inevitable the species will become extinct in England sooner rather than later. Please come and support us at Dunsop Bridge and help to send a strong and clear message to all grouse shooting estates that the public will no longer tolerate the illegal killing of this and other iconic raptors on moorland in the heart of England where they should be safe but clearly are not.

The symbol of a hen harrier has endured a long and tragic association with the the Forest of Bowland. Of the 7 breeding attempts made last year by hen harriers in Bowland, only a single pair were productive fledging a single chick. 
This season we are inviting people from all over the country to come and join us at Dunsop Bridge, near Cltheroe, Lancashire, providing invaluable support to this important annual event. Dunsop Bridge is regarded as the village located at the heart of Hen Harrier moorland where much of today’s persecution of this and other protected raptors is still taking place with impunity. Please be amongst the first people to register your intention to join members of the North West Raptor Group this year by emailing your support to the following address:  Bowland-HenHarrier-Demo@sky.cothe forest of bowland 5-1
The Forest of Bowland, Lancashire. Classified as an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.
Just in case there is anyone not aware of what happened to Hen Harriers in Lancashire’s Forest of Bowland last season this is a sad reminder of the reality. Of the 7 Hen Harrier breeding attempts recorded on the United Utilities Plc estate in 2015, only a single nesting pair were successful rearing one fledgling. 4 male Hen Harriers mysteriously disappeared after they had left their territories to forage for food to feed their mates they had left behind to incubate clutches of eggs contained within each nest left behind. As a consequence of the loss of the 4 male Harriers, 4 nests were deserted containing at least twenty eggs which had been allowed to chill. So this new killing strategy did not just eliminate 4 male Hen Harriers in Bowland, it resulted in the loss of up to a further potential twenty Hen Harriers from the eggs that were found abandoned in nests. One additional Hen Harrier nest established on moorland on the RSPB Geltsdale Nature Reserve in the northern Pennines was also abandoned last season after a fifth male Harrier also disappeared after failing to return with food to feed his mate. The female also disappeared after leaving her eggs to forage for food to feed herself.
Raptor Politics will be publishing additional details in a second Hen Harrier notification nearer the time to this event, please book mark the 7 August in your diary. Please can everyone retweet and pass on our invitation to anyone you think may wish to support this important event.
Jessica holding a captive bred Eagle Owl at last year’s event. Jessica brought the owl to identify with the ongoing persecution of eagle owls in the Forest of Bowland
Hen Harrier

Wednesday, 3 August 2016

The Real Price of Grouse © Raptor Persecution UK

The real price of grouse: episode 2 By RaptorPersecutionUK.
 In the run up to the Inglorious 12th (the opening of the grouse-shooting season on 12 August), you’ll be able to watch a series of videos hosted by Chris Packham about the #NotSoGlorious damaging management practices associated with the driven grouse shooting industry. Episode one (an introduction to driven grouse shooting) can be watched here. Here’s episode 2: Over 63,000 people have joined Chris and signed the e-petition to ban driven grouse shooting. You can too. We need 100,000 signatures to trigger a Westminster debate. Please join us and sign HERE Thank you!

Sunday, 17 July 2016

You can’t have both-you have to choose© Mark Avery

June 23, 20166 Comments

Photo: Gordon Yates
Photo: Gordon Yates
Let’s just stick with Hen Harriers for a while – I’ll come back to wider environmental issues next week.
And as far as Hen Harriers and driven grouse shooting go – you can’t have both, you have to choose.
Ever since the results of the first Langholm study (see Chapter 3 of Inglorious and here) it has been clear that it would be very difficult to have protected birds of prey and driven grouse shooting. Driven grouse shooting depends on unnaturally very high densities of Red Grouse and to get those massive densities you have to declare war on any predators that might eat Red Grouse adults, their eggs or their chicks.  A whole range of predators will eat Red Grouse and many of them can be killed legally which is why gamekeepers spend so much of their time setting snares and traps to kill Red Foxes, Stoats, Carrion (or Hooded) Crows etc.  But many birds of prey will eat Red Grouse too – and they are protected by law.  The Langholm study showed that when Peregrine Falcons and Hen Harriers were protected at Langholm Moor then their numbers increased (showing that their numbers had been kept low by some means in the preceding years) then they would eat enough Red Grouse to make driven grouse shooting unprofitable.
Ever since then we have all been looking for some sort of compromise, because we British love a compromise, but we haven’t found one.  So, you have to choose – do you want driven grouse shooting (in which case you have to cull raptors) or do you want wildlife law upheld (in which case it’s bye-bye intensive grouse shooting)?
Driven grouse shooting is just a hobby – that’s all it is. So it’s not a difficult choice for me – I want the law upheld and birds of prey to be protected. I don’t want shot or poisoned Red Kites to be found in the Yorkshire Dales every few weeks, I don’t want Peregrines to be persecuted so intensively that the impacts are clear enough for scientists to write papers documenting it, and I do want Hen Harriers to return to our National Parks.  I don’t care if the hobby of driven grouse shooting has to disappear – it’s underpinned by wildlife crime so it has no place in our uplands.
We have made no progress at all through talking to the grouse industry for decades – things are worse now, and in the first year of the hopeless Defra’s hapless Hen Harrier Inaction Plan, than at almost any time for 50 years. The choice is not between ‘Nasty intensive grouse shooting and no Hen Harriers’ and ‘Nice intensive grouse shooting and lots of Hen Harriers’ because Langholm showed that intensive grouse shooting and lots of Hen Harriers are incompatible.  You have to choose.
And the clearest possible evidence that we certainly aren’t going to get both, is that there are practically no Hen Harriers nesting on driven grouse moors across the UK. A mere handful or few hands full in the best of years.  The grouse shooting industry has operated a ‘no-compromise’ policy for years, and the Defra Hen Harrier Inaction Plan has not changed that at all this year – thus we have only a tiny handful of Hen Harriers attempting to nest in England in 2016.
Let’s just compare England and Wales. In Wales there are lots of hills and the scientists tell us that there is enough habitat for c250 pairs of Hen Harrier. England has lots of hills too, and the scientists tell us that there is enough habitat for c330 pairs of Hen Harrier.  Welsh hills have very little grouse shooting – practically none. But in England there is lots of grouse shooting – about 140 grouse moors.  In the last Hen Harrier survey there were 57 pairs of Hen Harrier in Wales and the population was increasing. In England in recent years there have been 2-12 pairs of Hen Harriers and the population is bumping along the bottom.  Both countries have lower Hen Harrier populations than they should because the level of persecution overall drags the whole population down, but Wales, where grouse shooting is practically absent, has an increasing Hen Harrier population whereas England, with many many grouse moors has a tiny Hen Harrier population and it’s not increasing at all.
The grouse industry isn’t going to go quietly, and they know their industry is doomed in the long run. They are just milking our uplands for as much money as possible until the end comes.  And the only way to bring that end about quickly is to ask parliament to ban driven grouse shooting. The more people sign this e-petition the greater the pressure will be – and in the end that pressure will force change.
It’s not all about Hen Harriers – read Inglorious to see that – but one selfish industry is responsible for wiping out hundreds of pairs of a protected bird – deliberately, systematically and illegally and that is a disgrace. The fact that much of this wildlife crime occurs in our National Parks is an utter disgrace.
So, please come along to the Yorkshire Dales National Park on Saturday to express your disgust at the fact that the Yorkshire Dales National Park is a massive crime scene, and please sign this e-petition to ban driven grouse shooting.
Photo: Gordon Yates

Saturday, 16 July 2016

Roeburn River in sun