Defra’s response to E-Petition calling for driven grouse shooting to be banned in England

As this e-petition has received more than 10 000 signatures, the relevant Government department have provided the following response:

It has been estimated that £250 million per year is spent on management activities that provide significant benefits for conservation. Shooting makes an important contribution to the rural economy. When carried out in accordance with the law, shooting for sport is a legitimate activity, and our position is that people should be free to undertake lawful activities should they wish to do so. Landowners are free to manage wildlife on their land, provided it is carried out appropriately and legally, in accordance with any the relevant wildlife legislation.

Follow the link to read the complete Defra Reply.

Raptor Politics Reply to Defra:

The response delivered by Defra to this petition is quite interesting but  disappointing  as it has failed completely to appreciate the true plight of protected raptors on moorland where red grouse are shot. It is very apparent the individual who wrote this reply had little if any practice expertises or understanding of raptors, or the kind of pressures they are facing in the real world on grouse moors throughout northern England.

The estimated figure of £250 million per year Defra claims is spent on moorland management activities providing significant benefits for conservation is difficult to understand. Where is this money coming from? We suspect the bulk is being taken from the tax paying public. What are these significant conservation benefits for wildlife and the rural community? Certainly such benefits as far as all protected ‘raptors’  are concerned are conspicuously absence from moorland where red grouse are shot.

Defra  informs us that it was encouraging to learn that there are four hen harrier nests this year which have chicks, given that in 2013 there were no known hen harrier fledglings in England. These figure are far from encouraging, they are a  down right disaster, brought about by the illegal persecution of the hen harrier on moorland where red grouse are shot which Defra seems to be ignoring. Defra’s reply is typical of the way politicians and their Civil Servants reply to many question they are asked without providing any answers at all.

Defra then states Landowners are free to manage wildlife on their land, provided it is carried out appropriately and legally, in accordance with any the relevant wildlife legislation. Does Defra not appreciate the disappearance of the hen harrier and other species of protected raptors from moorland which in many areas has been destroyed, despite being classified as SSSi’ and SPA (Special Protected Area), highlights that landowners are not managing the moorland they own in the interests of wildlife as the laws of England dictate? For example,  SPA and SSSi moorland where hen harriers in England’s uplands were once numerous has been destroyed, rank heather either cut short or  burned to the ground to prevent the hen harrier,short-eared owls and peregrine from breeding within these locations.  Natural England have licensed the construction of estate roads, many of which were routed through once prime heather habitat where hen harrier and peregrines had established breeding territories. These territories were abandoned many years ago because of such irresponsible and short sighted activities, which do appear to breach the SPA regulation but is still being undertaken today.

Defra then tells us there have been successful conservation measures leading to increases in buzzard, peregrine and red kite populations over the last two decades. Apart from the red kite, we are unaware of any conservation measures introduced in England which have directly resulted in an increase in buzzard or peregrine populations. The buzzard explosion was simply a consequence of less birds being shot and trapped, this then resulted in a natural expansion of the buzzard into other regions of England. Regarding of the peregrine expansion as claimed by Defra, now that is really pushing to boat. Yes we must concede peregrine territories established away from red grouse moors in many urban regions of England continue to expand simply because there are no gamekeepers in those areas to destroy them, but once again this fact is being disregard by Defra.

Thirty years ago who would have thought it possible peregrines would be breeding on buildings in the centre on many of our larger cities, including breeding on many of England’s well know churches and cathedrals? Even nesting on bridges and electricity pylons adjacent to towns and in quarries, some disused many still is use, but never the less providing safe refuge away from grouse moors. Who would have believed breeding pairs of peregrines in London would exceed the sum total of all peregrine territories that remain occupied on moorland in England’s northern uplands where red grouse are shot?

Defra tells us “The killing of birds of prey is illegal, all wild birds being protected under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981. Anyone who kills or injures a wild bird is committing an offence and could face jail if convicted. Bird of prey persecution is one of the six UK wildlife crime priorities.” Who is Defra trying to kid, we already know killing birds of prey is illegal and we are also aware anyone who kills or injures a wild bird could face a 6 month jail sentence if convicted. The realities however are quite different, most convictions associated with the killing of protected raptors or the destruction of their nests and content, usually result in a small fine, community service or a suspended sentence, hardly the kind of appropriate sentences that would deterrent any offender?

But does the government and  Defra really care, especially in view of  new proposals to relax the laws in favour of allowing estates to control numbers of hen harriers on moorland where red grouse are shot. Making any illegal activity legal tomorrow, does not make it right or acceptable in the future. The route cause must be addressed first, the killing must stop first before the talking can begin. Importantly, why are measures to control hen harrier numbers even being debated at a time when the harrier is on the verge of extinction anyway?

Peregrine Falcon territories now abandoned in Lancashire’s Forest of Bowland since 2010

The images  below demonstrate the situation in just one of England upland moorland regions where red grouse shooting takes place. For obvious reasons the name of each breeding site has not been included. Many of these traditional territories had been in constant use since the 1980’s until 2010 when they were each found abandoned. The reason for such a population crash certainly has nothing to do with the weather or the lack of food. Outside the perimeter just a few kilometres from the grouse moors of the Forest of Bowland, peregrine eyries are thriving, what does this tell us?

Brennad Water fall-1

In both 2014 and 2014 a pair of peregrines attempted to breed without success at this site. A breeding pair were observed in April 2014 but had disappeared by early May. All that was left was an empty nesting scrape and a single peregrine feather when a member of the North West Raptor Group examined the nesting ledge.

Brennad Stones-1

When this historic peregrine territory was examined in April 2014 a pair of Buzzards had taken control of the rock face.

caton clay pit-1

This peregrine territory had been very productive until 2009, after which the falcons disappeared completely from the territory

Esp Clough-1

This peregrine territory, like many more, found deserted in May 2014

fox gill-1

Peregrine territory with consistent history of persecution, unoccupied for at least 5 years.

IMG_1426

After sitting her clutch of eggs for nearly 6 weeks the female disappeared from territory. When nest examined by the NWRPG the nest scrape was found empty.

Long Clough-1

This territory was found occupied in both 2013 & 2014, unfortunately in both seasons the clutch of eggs disappeared.

Long Clough 2-1

Foot steps leading up to the nesting ledge were photographed. 

Long Clough footspes 3-1

Footsteps photographed leading to this years nesting ledge after the clutch of eggs had disappeared for a second consecutive season.

Long Clough footspes 4-1

Deserted peregrine territory examined this season, no falcons seen here since 2009

mallowdale-1

This particular peregrine territory, although frequented by peregrines for over twenty five years has only been successful in two of those season, when no gamekeepers were in residence. This year  together with a second nesting ledge positioned higher on the moor were both found abandoned. Although last year 2013 peregrines were observed at this site the pair had mysterious disappeared by late April.

mallowdale 2-1

This  second nesting location located higher up on the moor witnessed a single fledged chick almost 10 years ago when the estate was sold and the resident gamekeeper retired. The first nesting location  above the stream gully fledge two chicks in 2010 after the resident gamekeeper left in December 2009 to take up a new post in Scotland. A replacement  gamekeeper did not arrive until May of 2010 resulting in the occupied nest being un-discovered  until it was too late. No peregrines have succeeded in breeding here since 2010, what does this tell us?

Raven Scar-1

One of Bowland’s most productive peregrine nesting sites beginning in 1986. The site has been abandoned since 2011.

Steam engine ground nest-1

Ground nesting location, abandoned by peregrines for over 3 years.

Steam Engine-1

Peregrine had successfully used this site until 2009. Territory now abandoned.

Threahaw-1

This ground nest had been tenanted by peregrines inconsistently until 2009. The site became abandoned after estate gamekeepers destroyed nesting cliff and installed funnel trap below stream gully to keep prospecting peregrines away. Gamekeepers are required by law to visit this kind of trap each 24 hours. Naturally any nesting falcons would be so disturbed by this daily activity they would  not be allowed to settle. 

grizbeck-1

Peregrine ground nest last occupied in 2009. Following the disappearance of 2 of the 4 chicks peregrines never nested at this site again.

coldstone-1

In 2009 2 members of the NWRPG caught a trespassing gamekeepers carrying a loaded shot gun below this peregrine nest. After the incident had been reported to both the police and landowner the investigation was dropped after the landowner had provided retrospective access approval allowing the gamekeeper to be on this property. The fact the keeper had been caught red handed below a peregrine nest with aloaded shot gun, and had admitted to both raptor workers he did not have approval to be on the estate was over-looked completely. See image of gamekeeper caught hiding in a gun butt after the incident.

gamekeeper-1

After clear breaches of legislation like the one depicted above, taken together with the abandonment of so many territorial pairs of nesting peregrine falcons from just one single moorland location in England, does anyone have any confidence in what Defra are proposing? Yes peregrines number are expanding but not throughout their historic English moorland ranges where they are almost as extinct as the hen harrier.

5 comments to Defra’s response to E-Petition calling for driven grouse shooting to be banned in England

  • nirofo

    What can you say about DEFRA without resorting to colourful language, it’s obvious they are not fit for purpose where wildlife protection is concerned. Having said that, I can’t think of many purposes they are fit for, other than being at the beck and call of the government at every opportunity.

  • Is it naive to assume that if Defra were asked to evidence the claims they’ve made in the reply to us all, then they would be able to do so, and would do so in an accurate and timely manner?

    The issue of demonstrable public benefit from public funds expended surely has to be a matter of concern to all, perhaps a series of FoI, enquiry letters through MPs etc.?

    Is it that, like the badger cull and the ‘sacking’ of the IEP Defra and their ‘muzzled watchdog’ do not feel obliged to be held accountable for their unscientific decisions?

    Keep pushing, raising the profile and ‘moor’ importantly, accountability? Naively, surely critical mass has to deliver a raised profile for environmental conservation? If collectively we can get the epetition Ban driven grouse shooting (http://epetitions.direct.gov.uk/petitions/65627 ) to 100,000 then they have to discuss it in the Westminster village?

  • Boo

    Either defra has absolute no idea or they don’t care! Actually both! Their reply is not surprising but one day things will change if the good work by committed people carries on!

  • paul williams

    “Landowners are free to manage Wildlife on their land” Even I can read between the lines on that one!!!

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    I’ts about as useful as a DEFRA response but less irritating