Moor than meets the eye by Steve Mills

The article below has been republished here with the kind permission Steve Mills

Now I’ve heard it all. The Moorland Association is putting itself forward as the champion of a bird of prey! This organisation is the representative body of grouse moor owners in England and Wales. It says, ‘Britain’s smallest birds of prey are flying in to nest on English grouse moors which have helped stave off their downfall.’ A new report, commissioned by the Association themselves, states that numbers of Merlin have increased on moorland that is being intensively ‘managed’ for grouse shooting (1). Many newspapers have picked this up and run the story, giving the Moorland Association a pat on the back in the process. The Merlin does indeed seem to be doing well on some grouse moors and seeing one of these beautiful little falcons on the moors enhances any upland walk. So that’s great. But, wait a minute, isn’t there another question waiting to be asked here? What about all the other raptors on moorland in the north of England? Where are the Buzzards, the Peregrines, the Goshawks and the Hen Harriers? Also doing well? I’m afraid not. Pretty much absent, in fact, even though there’s plenty of available habitat. It’s been estimated there are sufficient territories for around 300 pairs of Hen Harriers to live in England’s uplands. How many successfully did so last year? None. Not a single chick was raised.

Now, why on earth could that be, given that the management of our moors is in such caring, raptor-loving hands? Relentless, illegal persecution year after year is cited in numerous scientific reports as a major reason for their absence. The same is happening in central and eastern Scotland where there are also eagles to be exterminated. The Golden Eagle, that Scottish icon, would be soaring over many more Scottish uplands if they were allowed to do so (2). So many of these incidents occur on or near managed grouse moors. (3)Coincidence? Hardly. Nothing stops those with a vested interest in ‘grouse production’. Not even the law. Poisoning, trapping, shooting – you name it – of anything that might possibly threaten a grouse chick. They must all be destroyed. It’s illegal killing that is cited again and again. It’s no coincidence that the Merlin happens to be our smallest raptor and not considered a threat by the moorland ‘managers’. For the Moorland Association to be making capital out of – and seeking credit for – not killing Merlins is rich indeed. There’s no ‘protection’ of raptors on managed grouse moors. As far as birds of prey are concerned, the word doesn’t seem to exist in the moorland managers’ dictionary, which goes straight from ‘persecution’ to ‘public relations’. The bottom line, and there’s no getting away from it, is that grouse shooting depends on widespread criminality. And those responsible are simply stealing our nature. Over and over again.

If you’re interested in getting details about a peaceful protest against Hen Harrier persecution click here.

Steve’s Blog can be accessed here

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16 comments to Moor than meets the eye by Steve Mills

  • Skydancer

    The only reason the merlin is doing well on grouse moors is because it is tolerated by gamekeepers DUE TO THE FACT IT DOES NOT KILL RED GROUSE. Let’s not fool ourselves into to believing that grouse moors are managed for any raptor,and if the merlin was ever seen preying on grouse chicks it would be exterminated just like the hen harrier and Peregrine. Where this self gratification falls down is the fact that if the moors are managed perfectly for the merlin then why is the hen harrier and peregrine absent from these moors when they enjoy the same habitat. What a load of bollocks, sorry but I am so angry that nothing changes.

  • nirofo

    Skdancers right, if the moorland habitat is good for Merlin then it’s also good for Hen Harrier, Short-eared Owl and Peregrine, the only fly in that argument on the majority of the grouse moor estates is the artificially high numbers of mollycoddled pet grouse and their Raptor persecuting gamekeepers.

  • kevin moore

    We all know the Merlin is tolerated by gamekeepers due to its choice of prey which is the only reason it has fared better than the Hen Harrier,Peregrine and the Short Eared Owl on Grouse moors it also benefits from the fact that it usually arrives back from its wintering grounds to the moors later than the larger raptors so as avoiding the ridiculously late date allowed for heather burning.

  • Bill smith

    Sky dancer, I am not being funny but as a moor keeper my self I would like to comment on your ignorance. Merlin’s do eat red grouse chicks. Every year I have two to three nests of Merlin’s on my patch that are rung by my local BTO ringer. Some years they eat one thing others some thing else. I have known when all they have fed on is moths. One year they only ate curlew chicks and other times they have hammered grouse chicks so I can guarantee you they do eat them. I also have nesting Goshawks in the forestry joining the moor – which also hammer grouse, adults and chicks! None of these have been exterminated as you suggest.
    One point I would like to make is that I have photographic evidence of goshawks eating both Merlin and short eared owls and on one occasion I watched a gos whack a hen harrier which lost a lot of feathers in the process and was never to be seen again. Just maybe this could have something to do with the decline of not just hen harriers but other birds of prey as well. Maybe self opinionated people like you could look at all the facts instead of blaming keepers in all circumstances. On another occasion I had a pair of buzzards set up in a part of some forestry only for me to see a gos on a couple of occasions. The buzzards disappeared and I never seen them again! Have a think about it!

    Editor’s Comment Hi Bill, we thank you for taking the trouble to share with us your valuable experience. We have heard a number of rumours that the odd merlin will from time to time predate on grouse chicks, but this behaviour is by no means common. However you did not answer Skydancer’s main point, if the moorland keepers manage so well facilitating good numbers of Merlin, why are there few if any hen harriers of peregrines nesting in the same shared habitat in your view?

    Last, Raptor Politics would like to ask if you would be willing to write a short article based upon your own experiences with merlin, including other raptors like the goshawk. Our readers would find it fascinating to read what you have to say we are sure. What ever you write will be published without ANY amendments? Editor

    • kevin moore

      Bill thank you for pointing out you have Merlins that take grouse chicks, It is commonly known that the merlin’s main prey is catching small birds in flight, as you seem to have all the answers maybe you can inform us all as to why there are no Hen Harriers on the same well managed moors?

  • Bill smith

    As I said above I have also witnessed goshawk attacking hen harriers and can not prove this to be why the harriers don’t settle to breed but the amount of goshawks there is could be a factor. The harrier as you know is a lot easier target for goshawks to bully than a Merlin is.The ground I am on could be slightly different to other great swathes of moor because it is surrounded by forestry and also has a reasonable sized lump in the middle. I am not saying that goshawks are the reason there is no nesting harriers on all moors but I believe it is a long way towards the truth on mine. There is also other large unkeeperd moors not too far away with large forestry blocks around the edges and there is no harriers that settle to breed here either even though they are a winter visitor in reasonable numbers. As for peregrines there is no suitable nesting habitat on here, it is a very flat moor with no rock edges or gullies with sloped sides.
    Kevin I don’t have all the answers but I certainly can have an opinion on what happens on my ground. I spend all my time up there and can assure you i probably spend more time than most field workers watching things that apparently don’t happen with raptor species.As you say commonly known – I believe is what you have been told is common.
    Editor I am willing to write an article if you wish what exactly would you like me to include?

    Editor’s Comment. Bill thanks for getting back. If you write about your keepering experiences with raptors, what you have seen and the behaviour you have witnessed. Also what do you think about all the politics and importantly what are your views on any resolution to the raptor situation where game are reared. However its entirely up to you what you write and what you wish to say. If you have any images which we can illustrate what you write about, all the better. Cheers, Editor

  • paul williams

    Our Moorlands have been turned into Grouse farms.

  • Bill smith

    No they have not. I agree some of the big named moors shooting massive bags is disgusting but do not tie us all with the same brush. Moorland has been managed for grouse for a very long time and that is what has made the landscape what it is today. We only shoot 80 brace days and only 5 or 6 of them as do a lot of other moors. Just because some moors with certain named agents/managers shoot big bags and treat there keepers like robots putting pressure on them to do everything possible to produce the biggest numbers possible it doesn’t mean every moor is the same. In the area I work there are two moors managed by these agents and half a dozen that aren’t. Instead of pointing the finger at the keepers why not target the agents/managers in question? After all we all know who they are. I can guarantee you that in the keepers case on the intensively managed areas he will not have a job or home if he doesn’t succeed to produce. Is it his fault what happens? So please don’t tie us all with the same brush and say moorlands have been turned in to grouse farms because it is only the few with the big men looking after them!

    Editor’s Comment. Bill thank you for taking the time to explain a few important points regarding grouse shooting. I am quite sure Paul will take this information on board. Please continue to send in your comments.

    • kevin moore

      Bill, it is the keepers fault im afraid because he does have a choice to stop killing birds of prey. No one makes him do it, he works to orders and he has the choice whether to kill or not to kill, he could always change career if he is not happy killing.

  • harrier man

    If a merlin or a breeding pair of merlins were deemed a threat to grouse then they would be removed at the end of the day grouse shooting is about breaking the law simple becuase you could not exist with out breaking the law thus grouse shooting is illegal and should be made illegal. The grouse keeper is not worth his lot if he does not remove the threat percieved or not they are not man enough to admit this cowards beyond belief.

  • paul williams

    No breeding Hen Harriers in Bowland for two years….Very few Peregrines. Editor…How many keepers are there in the vastness of the Moors of Bowland ?

  • Bill smith

    Harrier man
    I could argue this case until I am blue in the face. Grouse moors can exist without breaking the law as I have stated above if you had read all the posts you would know where I am coming from.Sometimes people only think what they want even if their opinion is wrong. I am going to ask my local BTO ringer to write on here if he will but sometimes I think I am wasting my time trying to get some people to understand because they are just ignorant to anything a keeper says wether there is any truth in it or not.

    Editor – I am halfway through the article you requested but I can’t see the point in going any further with it . Most of the raptor pushers don’t care about all wildlife thriving but about there own views only. I knew there was always going to be a bit of friction but I didn’t realise how ignorant and self opinionated they are. What’s the point when they won’t listen to a honest man who understands the problems in the industry and who probably watches more behavioural instincts of more bird species including birds of prey than many of them will see in there lifetime. End of.

    Editor’s Comment. I fully understand where you are coming from Bill, but believe me when I tell you there are many followers of this web site who have other opinions, and I am sure would welcome your input. I want to ask you to please reconsider your decision, this is important, as I feel what you write may begin to change attitudes; you are only the third gamekeeper to write anything constructive on this blog. Many within the shooting community are not too happy at being tarred with the same brush; attitudes are changing, recently we have witnessed a number of individuals who shoot calling for an end to all raptor persecution. Somewhere out there in the mist there has got to be common ground for both sides of the raptor debate to come together and get along, at least I sincerely hope so. About 15 years ago Bill in conversation with a land agent over a few whiskeys, I was informed in no uncertain manner as far as he was concerned harriers would never be accepted on grouse moors. So far this statement seems to be as true today as it was all those years ago I’m sorry to say. However, in my opinion those Victorian sentiments have no place in the 21st century, and I am sure you would agree. This is why our followers across the world need to read what an honest gamekeeper with principles has to say. Bill We need to understand and respect each other if relationships between the shooting community and conservation are ever going to improve. I would like to add there is much more good in human nature than bad. There will always be rotten apples on both sides, a situation you and I can never hope to change no matter what we say or do, BUT LETS TRY TOGETHER. Editor

  • skydancer

    Bill, regarding your comment about keepers who work on intensively managed grouse moors,”will not have a job or a home if he does not succeed to produce.” Do you accept these gamekeepers are then placed under pressure to kill raptors and have no other choice? I agree with the editor, I would like to read what you have to say that is only fair.

  • Daniel Marsden

    Bill, as a keen amateur conservationist in many areas of fauna and flora, but especially raptor conservation, I would certainly like to read your side of events and your personal experiences as a gamekeeper.

    I have witnessed first hand, year upon year, the destructive traits in different forms of the keeping fraternity upon managed moorland. However I also appreciate that whilst this behaviour may be practised by the many, its certainly wrong to assume by all.

    Experience and hard collated data paints a very sad storey in my local area which is duplicated on other managed moorland across the country. I appreciate your sincerity and would really like to read your take on precedings.

    Daniel Marsden
    North West Raptor Protection Group

  • Bill smith

    Skydancer ,
    I do accept that these gamekeepers have no choice but as I said before you will find that they work for the big agents. It is plain to see who they are by the grouse bags they shoot. Myself and a lot of other keepers have bosses who are a lot more understanding and appreciate that there is room for everything it just means smaller bags and less days. As long as costs are covered that is all that matters but trust me it will only be about one year in ten when this will happen!

    I will consider what you have said. It really does boil my blood to see so many pricks in our industry these days. A gamekeeper was once a respected person in the community. Now they are the most hated !

    Editor’s Comment. Bill thank you, we at Raptor Politics and most of our followers would, we are quite sure, look forward to reading what you have to say.

  • Arnie Fisher

    I came across this article and comments again; did Bill Smith the gamekeeper ever write the article you offered to publish? I would have liked to have read it. I have been unable to find anything on the site but it would be good to hear from someone in the keepering community who sounds relatively more enlightened in their perspective on keepering and raptors.

    Editor’s Comment, Sadly and much to our disappointment the article was never received Arnold.