Driven grouse moor licensing needed to help end the illegal persecution of birds

Jess Barrett

Tuesday 25 September 2018

Hen harrier Circus cyaneus, female manoeuvering in flight, Geltsdale, Cumbria

Scotland’s birds of prey continue to be at risk according the latest Birdcrime report which has revealed a minimum of five confirmed, detected incidents of illegal persecution took place in Scotland in 2017. However, evidence suggests these figures are just the tip of the iceberg, with many illegal incidents going undiscovered or unreported, demonstrated by an additional number of satellite tagged raptors disappearing in the same year.

Birdcrime 2017 – the only report summarising offences against birds of prey in the UK – revealed two shootings, two nest destructions and one other incident of illegal persecution in Scotland. Among the confirmed victims found were a hen harrier, short-eared owl, merlin and goshawk, putting the population recovery of these rare and vulnerable species at risk. The hen harrier was witnessed being shot on a driven grouse moor in Leadhills, South Lanarkshire, in May 2017, with another shooting incident, this time of a short-eared owl, on the same estate later that month.  

The report also shows there were just four prosecutions relating to raptor crime concluded in 2017, of which only one lead to a conviction – the illegal shooting of a buzzard that took place in Inverness-shire the year before. Despite video evidence depicting apparent incidents of raptor persecution – the killing of a hen harrier and the repeat setting of an illegally baited pole trap – both cases were discontinued by the Crown Office.

2017 also saw the highly suspicious disappearance of more raptors fitted with GPS satellite tags, including two golden eagles. As the bodies were not recovered for post mortems these incidents are not included in the report but are a further indication that illegal persecution remains far more prevalent than just the confirmed incidents. Satellite tags are highly reliable, and are designed to continue transmitting even after a bird has died, so the sudden halt in transmissions and the lack of body found, is highly suspicious, and indicates that these birds are likely to have also been deliberately killed and disposed of. One of these birds, a young female hen harrier called Calluna, disappeared in a grouse moor area on 12th August.

Duncan Orr-Ewing, Head of Species and Land Management at RSPB Scotland said: “Birds of prey are part of the cultural fabric of Scotland, and many of these birds have their UK population strongholds here. Sadly, these amazing birds continue to suffer from illegal persecution. An independent enquiry panel, set up by the Cabinet Secretary for the Environment, has been looking at how grouse moors can be managed sustainably and within the law, including options for its regulation, and is due to report its recommendations next spring. We believe that a step change is now required to tackle illegal behaviours and improve the conservation prospects for birds of prey. We support the licensing of driven grouse moors, including sanctions for licence removal where illegal practices are confirmed by the public authorities.”   

Ian Thomson, RSPB Scotland’s Head of Investigations said: “Recent population surveys have continued to show the impact that persecution is having on Scotland’s birds of prey is considerable, even though only a small proportion of incidents are being detected. As an example of this only a few raptors are satellite-tagged each year but the fact that so many of them “disappear” almost exclusively in areas managed for grouse shooting, never to be found or heard from again, suggests that not only have they come to harm, but also that a significant number of those birds which aren’t tagged are also being illegally killed. It’s clear that those perpetrating these crimes have become more adept at covering their tracks, making it harder to uncover these incidents, and that there needs to be more accountability and regulation of the driven grouse industry if the future of birds of prey in Scotland is to be secure.”

The RSPB has also launched the Raptor Persecution Map Hub. This comprises two interactive maps – one which can be filtered by year and incident type, and the other that provides an overview ‘heat map’ of confirmed incidents across the UK for the period 2012-2016 – enabling people to see where this illegal activity is occurring.

For the full copy of Birdcrime 2017 report summarising the extent of illegal persecution offences against birds of prey in the UK, visit

Tagged with: Country: Scotland Country: Scotland Topic: Birds Topic: Wildlife Topic: Scotland Topic: Scotland Topic: Birds of prey