Wednesday, 28 January 2015

Hen harriers – the Hawk & Owl Trust calls everyone’s bluff?

by Andrew Gilruth - @AndrewGilruth

If you wanted to recover hen harriers on grouse moors, would you start by talking to conservationists and gamekeepers to develop your plan? If raptor conservationists told you your plan would work and gamekeepers said they would support it, would you launch it?

It appears the closer Defra gets to launching its Hen Harrier Recovery Plan, the louder some object. The most vocal objections appear to be coming from those calling for a ban on driven grouse shooting and those that believe more licensing is the solution.

The draft plan is not wild. It’s not reckless. It’s not rushed.
  • 16 years
  • 20 reports
  • 3 governments (are we going to drag this out to 4?)
  • 7 years of mediated conflict resolution talks
Why are objections getting louder?
The Hawk & Owl Trust (the UK’s only charity working solely to conserve all wild birds of prey), appears to have grown impatient and decided to call the bluff of all those delaying Defra’s plan. Their message appears to be:
  • Grouse moors: You say you want hen harriers to recover. We will come and help you – but that is conditional on none of you harming a hen harrier.
  • Conservationists: As raptor specialists we believe this is a workable plan – so why not support us? Even if you don’t trust the gamekeepers, why not call their bluff?
The Hawk & Owl Trust has some amazing expertise. This “small but very good” organisation (as Mark Avery calls it), which manages a 7,000-acre moorland nature reserve at Fylingdales on the North York Moors, has agreed to run a hen harrier brood management trial for Defra.

This part of the Defra plan has its share of detractors, but the Hawk & Owl Trust chairman, Philip Merricks, explains that the six-part plan is an “all or nothing arrangement…interested parties cannot cherry pick which components of the recovery plan they want or don’t want”. I guess this is why they have stepped forward.

Why is brood management important?
On Langholm Moor we have seen how this colonial nesting species concentrate in one area and Philip Merricks sees the “brood management scheme trial is a necessary component” of the Hen Harrier Recovery Plan – if we are going to get this colonial nesting species swiftly and widely established.

The Hawk & Owl Trust’s Scientific Advisory Committee recognise that this form of raptor translocation has been used successfully for other raptor species around the world. Philip says the big advantage of this method is that it is likely that all chicks would be raised to fledging whereas, if left in the nest, it is likely to be a lot less.

How would the Hawk & Owl Trust do it?
Hen harrier chicks would be moved to a heated aviary at about a week old (until they can regulate their body heat). Two weeks later they would be taken up onto moors to become imprinted on their release sites. This is done in pens, with netting at one end and shelter at the other, before being released at the appropriate stage.

What conditions have they set?
Just as the RSPB set conditions (such as harrier numbers must recover before they got involved), the Hawk & Owl Trust have responded with two of their own:
  1. All hen harriers fledged within a brood management scheme trial would be satellite tagged so that their movements could be tracked. And the knowledge that they were tagged (and the fear that other hen harriers might be) would prevent any gamekeepers from shooting them in the sky.
  2. Should any Moorland Association, Game & Wildlife Conservation Trust, or National Gamekeepers’ Organisation member be proved to have illegally interfered with a hen harrier nest or to have persecuted a hen harrier on their grouse moors, the Hawk & Owl Trust would pull out its expertise from the brood management scheme trial.
Philip Merricks has done this before…
When the lapwing population crashed, Mark Avery (the RSPB’s conservation director at the time) called for more farmers and landowners to do the “right thing”. Philip, a Kent-based conservationist, rose to the challenge. He is licensed by Natural England to manage a National Nature Reserve as a Natural England Approved Body – so he called the RSPB’s bluff and started counting his birds. Chick mortality is thought to be the main factor in the decline of lapwing…

The results were stunning
Philip certainly knows how to run a nature reserve properly. Elmley is now home to the largest population of breeding lapwings in lowland UK and one of the largest concentrations of raptors in south east England.

We all need to be challenged
Years of research, reports and discussions have yet to benefit the hen harrier. Those seeking to delay Defra publishing its plan should be fearful of having their bluff called by conservationists, like Philip Merricks and the Hawk and Owl Trust – they know how to implement a successful plan.

This time it’s hen harriers, and the Hawk and Owl Trust is calling everyone’s bluff

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✓ essential hen harrier facts
✓ details of the hen harrier recovery plan
✓ summary of the issues and arguments surrounding a proposed ban on driven grouse shooting
✓ key figures and scientific findings

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Tuesday, 27 January 2015

Managing wildlife species: our letter to The Times

Dear Sir

Matt Ridley is right to raise the controversial issue of managing wildlife species (comment, 26th January). Conservationists across the country have learnt how to catch and kill North American mink using a special raft, designed by the Game & Wildlife Conservation Trust, to save the water vole from extinction.

Keeping predators in check, along with good habitat, can deliver big increases in bird life too. Indeed, local recovery of some vulnerable ground nesting populations is impossible without it. This poses a real dilemma to those that say killing wildlife is wrong; even to save a species. But the case is easily made, because the protection of habitats alone has been such a comprehensive failure.

Andrew Gilruth
Director of Communications
Game & Wildlife Conservation Trust

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Monday, 26 January 2015

Are your keepers up to date with law and best practice?

by Hugo Straker, GWCT Advisor in Scotland

Controlling corvids during the nesting and brood rearing season has been shown to improve both red grouse and upland wader breeding success. Likewise on the lowground and hill fringe, wild pheasants and partridges, along with farmland songbirds, all benefit from diligent corvid control.  But are your keepers following the law and best practice when running crow cages and Larsen traps?

General licences in England and Scotland are issued annually and therefore can be subject to revisions.  Whilst GWCT and others such as SGA, NGO and BASC will highlight any changes that may affect keepering practices, it is worth printing off the relevant annual licences each year so that each keeper can read them. You do not need to possess one but everyone needs to be fully aware of the important conditions of use. This is crucial as for example in Scotland the permissible decoy species differ between Larsen traps and multi-catch crow cages.  If you fall foul of General Licence conditions there is now a real risk that the ability to operate under licence will be withdrawn, with disastrous consequences to jobs, effective wildlife management and biodiversity.

Compliance with the law is an obvious must. Adopting best practice is also important as it can improve catching success and should eliminate poor welfare issues that may arise. Attempted prosecutions of alleged wildlife crime continue but the best defence in court is through being able to demonstrate good responsibility and that all reasonable steps have been taken to ensure no crime against wildlife is committed.

GTS offers excellent training opportunities in all aspects of modern and legal predator control. Our certificated “Larsen Traps and Multi-Catch Crow Cage Use” course provides a thorough update for keepers on changes to the law and what constitutes best practice whilst also demonstrating on-going due diligence - important in today’s era of vicarious liability in Scotland.

We're looking to run a series of these courses in March and will publish further details when confirmed. For more information on our specialist courses please contact Irene Johnston at our Scottish HQ on or 01738 551511.

Following the introduction of vicarious liability in Scotland, GTS offers annual reviews of keepering practices on individual estates with the accompanying report providing an essential “paper trail” to demonstrate that all reasonable steps were taken and due diligence exercised to prevent the offence being committed. For more information on our estate inspections please contact Hugo Straker on or on 01620 830230.

Monday, 19 January 2015

Guest blog: Suffolk FWAG Spring Conference

by Caroline Blew, Development Manager, Suffolk FWAG

It’s that time of year again. New Year’s Resolutions and farming’s conference season. The big guns started the ball rolling with the Oxford Farming Conference in early January, and spring drilling and spraying will no doubt start after the NFU Conference at the end of February. Sandwiched in the middle is the Suffolk FWAG conference, a business which despite its small size, regularly attracts high profile speakers at its events. This year is no different. The other interesting fact is that women make up 50% of those speakers. Many thanks to Caroline Drummond from LEAF for taking the helm.

And there is certainly a lot to talk about. Central to the conference’s agenda is the new Countryside Stewardship Scheme, it’s interaction with greening and EFA’s, and how these will help deliver Suffolk’s environmental targets over the next 5 years. Teresa Dent will start by looking back. Did Environmental Stewardship deliver what it promised? What should have been done differently, or not at all? Has research and scientific evidence helped shape the new scheme which appears, at this stage, to be radically different to the CSS over a decade ago.

Dougal McNeill from Natural England will explain the rationale behind the new scheme. The consultation process has been long and thorough so farmers and conservation advisers have had plenty of chances to give their opinions on the technical details. Those farmers with expiring ES schemes will get the chance to find out what options are available to them.  Suffolk has such a wide variety of farming systems - the Sandlings, the Brecks, the Claylands, and the River Valleys for example – so the same question will produce a different answer. A caffeine booster will be much needed at this point!

Then the conference moves onto two “operations” and a “revival”. Brin Hughes, an agronomist from Conservation Grade, leads the way with Operation Turtle Dove. OTD was launched with an important and urgent mission to reverse the fortunes of this enigmatic and culturally significant bird. They have suffered a 95% UK population decline since 1970 so reversing this decline must be one of farming’s New Year Resolutions?

The second operation, Operation Pollinator, is a great example of collaboration within the industry. Belinda Bailey from Syngenta, will outline the successes of this initiative and how the “pollinator package” within the new scheme can keep the momentum going. Let’s get Suffolk buzzing again!

Last but not least is Richard Barnes from Kings. Well known to many of you, he has been instrumental in producing a green cover crop revival. There are certainly fewer ploughed fields in my part of Suffolk. The list of reasons why you should consider growing cover crops is impressive - the benefits are both financial and environmental. And should help you to keep the inspectors happy too!

Book your place

The conference takes place on 13th February at Trinity Park, Ipswich. Click here to download the booking form and programme.

Thursday, 15 January 2015

2015 Golden Plover Award - apply today

by Katrina Candy

The Heather Trust and GWCT (Scotland) have announced that they will be working together for a third time on the Golden Plover Award for Moorland Management after an extremely successful year for the award.

For a second year, Savills will be the lead sponsors. Applications for the 2015 award are welcomed from any owner or manager of land in any part of Scotland who can demonstrate a real commitment to sustainable moorland or upland management.

Applications from the remoter parts of Scotland are encouraged, as are applications from individuals; this is not just an award for estates. The theme for the Award is peatland management and restoration; applicants will be expected to demonstrate how they are managing their peatland to improve its condition.

Initial contact application forms are available to download here. Applications close on 27th February 2015, and the Award will be presented at the Scottish Game Fair on 3rd July 2015. More details at

Tuesday, 13 January 2015

Our letter in The Times: Well-funded research is key

Dear Sir

In the battle to produce more food while ensuring that we leave room for wildlife it is crucial that we take the best from all farming methods to maintain a sustainable agricultural industry in the future (report: Britain must be free to grow GM food, says minister, Jan 8th).

Well-funded research is key to solving this dilemma.

Research on our own Allerton Project farm has shown that reduced or no ploughing (no-till) can have overwhelming benefits to soil health and crop production.  Less soil disturbance means more earthworms and soil fungi and this in turn helps to improve soil structure thus increasing its capacity to absorb water during heavy rainfall. Importantly carbon dioxide emissions are reduced by employing this system and this can all be achieved without necessarily having to use GM crops.

Dr Alastair Leake
Director of Policy
Game & Wildlife Conservation Trust

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Monday, 5 January 2015

Predator control can help nesting birds: our letter to The Telegraph published

SIR – David Gardner (Letters, December 17) is right to says that it is important to maintain a balanced eco-system. Our research shows that some vulnerable bird populations benefit from reduced predation pressure during crucial times such as the breeding season.

Most conservationists agree that the breeding success of curlew, golden plover and lapwing, for example, is improved by as much as three times when generalist predators such as foxes and crows are controlled during the breeding season.

The number of declining songbirds such as spotted flycatcher, yellowhammer and chaffinch doubled during periods of predator control in the nesting season on our research farm in Leicestershire, but declined once the control was stopped.

Professor Nick Sotherton
Director of Research
Game & Wildlife Conservation Trust

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