Yesterday, the Scottish Raptor Study Group successfully lodged a petition with the Scottish Parliament calling for the introduction of a licensing system for gamebird hunting in Scotland. This is a good initiative and one the RSPB fully supports as it offers the potential for meaningful action to reform shooting.

The petitioning process in Scotland is very different to the one operating south of the border.  In order for a petition even to be posted it needs to jumps through a few hoops. As a consequence, although the petition is only open until 22 August 2016, irrespective of how many signatures it gets, it will then be considered by the Petitions Committee of the Scottish Parliament and by the Environment Committee.  They then propose recommendations based on their findings.  Clearly we are hopeful that a concrete proposal to reform ‘gamebird hunting’ will emerge.

These petitions are really only open to Scottish residents so if you live in Scotland, please do considering adding your name.

South of the border, the political dust is still floating around Westminster following the EU Referendum.   No-one seems particular sure how things will land - although we do at least now know that we shall have a new Prime Minister in Number 10 tomorrow night.  But once the dust settles, we’ll look for opportunities to push licensing in England as well.  

Why do we think reform is necessary?

Image courtesy of Dom Greves

I have written extensively about the failure of self-regulation of driven grouse shooting as well as the environmental consequences of intensive grouse moor management (for example here, here and here).

Yet of all of the problems associated with grouse shooting, there is one issue that stands out above all others and that is the continued illegal killing of birds of prey.

Despite the best efforts of enforcement agencies, often supported by the brilliant RSPB investigations team, the current legal system has failed to end the illegal killing of birds of prey.   For species like hen harrier, illegal persecution remains the primary reason for hen harrier‘s continuing scarcity.

This year, there have been a series of worrying incidents, such as the apparent use of hen harrier decoys in the Peak District and setting of pole traps in the vicinity of a hen harrier on another estate, the disappearance of the hen harrier ‘Chance’, as well as a series of further incidents of which we are aware and which are working their way through the legal system.

Despite lots of words spoken by those representing moorland shooting, there appears to have been no change in behaviour.  This is why we need a licensing system to provide a more effective stick to bring those people who still persecute birds of prey to book.

I have previously outlined the principles of a licensing system.  While there’s a huge amount of detail that would need to go into drafting a new system, in essence it is really quite simple.  What it says is “you absolutely can run your shoot as you see fit, but if you don’t abide by the rules society sets, that privilege will be taken away”. This seems to me absolutely fair and proportionate. 

A licensing system isn’t about tarring everyone with the same brush, or blaming a whole community for the actions of a few bad apples.  Quite the opposite: it is effectively a targeted ban that will stamp out illegal activity and drive up the environmental standards of shooting.

Good estates have nothing to fear from this system and indeed I believe that it is in their own interests to champion such an approach.  We believe that this is the only way to deliver a shift in attitudes and potentially secure a future for their sport.

As I write this, I can see a buzzard circling on a thermal outside of my window.  Buzzards, like red kites and marsh harriers have experienced a remarkable recovery in my life time. While things may look bleak for hen harriers right now, experience demonstrates that change can happen and that the future can be different from the past.  Licensing represents the best next step to helping hen harriers join the list of raptor success stories.

And talking of things looking bleak, in a moment of madness I have agreed to run this year’s Great North Run on 11 September 2016.  I shall be doing so to raise the funds for the RSPB's Investigations Team who work to tackle illegal killing of birds of prey.  I will add 50% of any money raised, but will double the donation if I run it over an hour and forty five minutes.  If you would like to sponsor me, you can do so here.

  • Thank you Martin. I note that I commented on last year's report on 6th Oct.  My comments then were not dissimilar to those below but perhaps slightly more muted! Another year and little, obvious, progress?

    Kind regards,


  • Martin

    From what I can gather this year has been poor for hen harriers. Isle of Man numbers are 'slow to report' and wet weather has an impact that can vary between upland valley to valley.

    Mortality up to the first year is high - around 50% from disease, cold, ticks, intraguild predation from other birds of prey (5 juvenile harrier repairs found in an peregrine eyrie in 2003), stoats, ravens, foxes et al without even considering persecution.

    As unseen broods may still be fledging late summer please do not be pushed into reporting on HH numbers too early that could 'feed' speculation (there's enough around when ever one disappears)

    As an aside, I have heard some concerns around issues on tagging raptors: slipped harnesses, attracting intrguild attention and no requirement to remove them after a certain time.

    A pity to have such low numbers in the first year that affects the ability to test pilot the HH Action Plan.


  • Could I ask that you provide an early update on the likely nembers before the  (in)glorious 12th. I have signed Mark Avery's petition to ban driven grouse shooting.  I realise that your support of his petition is not as strong as I would like it to be, but an update around that time would greatly increase the chance of reaching the magic number, without officially providing support. I have little doubt that despite the hen harrier plan, there will be far fewer successful nests than last year.

  • Hi GI,

    Last year the full results of the breeding season were shared in October -  

    We'll try and provide results earlier this year.  The HH Survey results for UK may not be available until next year.

    Best wishes,


  • Just to say I fully support the RSPBs strategy of calling for a licensing system as being the most likely way of ending the illegal abuse of our upland wildlife. However I also think Mark Averys petition to ban driven grouse moor shooting also has an important role to play. The two in combination give more strenght to the cause overall.

    Well done Martin for choosing to run for the RSPBs Investigations dept.They are great. I am sending you a sponsorship donation by cheque,(dont like using a Facebook account).

    Better get in training right away.