Wednesday, 4 March 2015

Understanding Predation - What is it all About?

I want to explain briefly what the Understanding Predation project is about.

Moorland Forum (MF) members accept that predation is part of a natural environmental process, but many members and organisations wish to understand how predators impact on wild birds of conservation concern. There are many divergent views, and a common understanding will help inform policy and strategic decisions.

The project is founded on a shared aspiration to have healthy populations of all wild birds in Scotland. To achieve this it will first be necessary to: establish and agree what the current state of knowledge is, and consider the effectiveness of existing management options. This understanding will provide an objective appraisal and a firm evidence base upon which any future discussions can be based. 

In 2005, the Moorland Forum published 'The Impacts of Predatory Birds on Waders, Songbirds, Gamebirds and Fisheries Interests' (download). This review focused on Scottish predatory bird species: all regularly occurring raptors and owls, Raven, Cormorant, Shag, Goosander, Red-breasted Merganser and Grey Heron. It summarised the existing level of knowledge on population sizes and trends since 1960.

The science behind this report was excellent, but there were always concerns about the way the ‘anecdotal evidence’ (as it was then referred to) collected from stakeholders was included. Full value was never obtained from this report and it was largely ignored.

The Understanding Predation project will focus on waders and gamebirds in the uplands and lowlands, and MF members identified six species they wanted to consider in depth: Golden Plover, Curlew, Lapwing, Oystercatcher, Grey Partridge and Black Grouse. Other species and interactions were excluded because they are the subject of on-going work. The project has three main work streams:

Evidence Review 
  • The science contained in the 2005 report will be reviewed and new information will be incorporated. 
Local Knowledge 
  • The views of stakeholders will be captured in two phases. First, the project will run workshops with Moorland Forum organisations, to gather their views and capture their knowledge and experience. Second, three seminars will be held across the country to discuss the draft report and to gather views from stakeholders about the findings. These views will then be incorporated into the final report. 
Integration of Information 
  • The final report will therefore review and contrast the scientific and local knowledge, so that the conclusions from the project will be based on both forms of knowledge. 
More information, including the final Project Plan, is available on the Project’s webpage

Anyone who has a view about the issues that the project is addressing is encouraged to provide input by any means. The workshops and seminars will provide formal oportunities for input, but I would welcome other views about the work from anyone, by any means. Communications by telephone, e-mail, Twitter and through this Blog are all available. 

If you have a view, let’s hear it.


  1. Will Boyd-Wallis10 March 2015 at 13:21

    The process of combining social science and natural science in this project should be revealing. Cairngorms National Park Authority supports the Understanding Predation project for the simple reason that we share the aspiration to have healthy populations of all wild birds: both predators and prey in the National Park.
    We can have both.

  2. Will, thanks. Having both is a key aspiration for this project.

  3. It is very encouraging Government and SNH are supporting Moorland Forum to conduct a comprehensive review of predation and its impact on vulnerable prey species. We strongly endorse the balance of scientific evidence and local knowledge, enabling day to day observations to be taken into account, so that we can arrive at a better understanding of predation.

  4. This is the only way forward and long overdue, but good to see government and SNH taking part in the discussion.

  5. Anything that enables strong, evidence based arguments on moorland management to be made, rather than those based on untested assumptions or emotion, must be good.

  6. From what Osgood McKenzie wrote about the Inverewe area 130 years ago, it is obvious that you can have a great abundance and variety of wild gamebirds, waders and predators, all of which he shot. Consistently over many years, in case anybody thinks he wiped them out. While the quantity and variety of crops and limited number of livestock then may have had a large part in this, it is possible the control of both prey and predator avoided the wild swings in numbers of both that naturally occur. Now there are very few of either, except buzzards and crows. This project might go some way to establishing the truth in such matters.

  7. Andrew,
    You will have noted that the aim of this project is to gather views like those you have expressed and put them alongside the scientific evidence. We may not have the scientific evidence from 130 years ago, but that does not mean we should not give some weight to the other records from that time.

    Incidentally, every comment on this blog will be reviewed by the researchers and will feed into the output from the project.

  8. Chris baldwin keeper notts15 March 2015 at 21:48

    At last common some common sence seems to be taking place long may it last.

  9. I think it's great that local knowledge will play a part in this project.

  10. Alastair Deighton16 March 2015 at 10:08

    This is an excellent initiative and I look forward to attending a workshop.

  11. Alastair,
    Thank you for your comment. I will make sure you get details about the seminars which will be taking place in October & November.

  12. I recall the previous Upland Solutions project which I was involved in with the MoFo. It produce a final paper based on workshops, discussions and evidence gathering which drew on just this sort of real on the ground feedback from people who lived and worked on the land in both the Muirkirk and Tomatin areas. There was some powerful argument and verbal evidence put forward in that process and I would hope this project would revisit that material as it is still highly relevant to this project. Good luck with the project and i hope you get a good response.

  13. Doug, many thanks for this comment. The report from the Upland Solutions project is certainly not forgotten - I still bear the scars from producing the report, and I will make sure that anything relevant is drawn into Understanding Predation.

  14. Two years ago i lost over 40 white doves to sparrowhawk attacks. I started with 46 breeding birds in feb and even after a summer of breeding i was left with 6 by the following march. All the turtle doves in the area were wiped out and although less noticeable hundreds of small birds were attacked and killed on the bird table. How can pigeon fanciers, with expensive "racers" be expected to cope with this onslaught?

  15. I'm glad that this issue is now being addressed at long last and that visual evidence is being considered along with the science. gamekeepers ..members of the public have all witnessed wildlife in the raw and their comments should be taken into account. Kestrel and merlin are both carcasses that i have often found killed and eaten by larger raptors. I have witnessed waders chicks and adults of several once common varieties being taken by raptors and ravens. This may be nature in the raw but with severe depletions of many wader species and a continual rise (and protection) of winged predators these reductions are critical to species survival at a local level.

  16. It is welcome news that 'anecdotal' evidence of the impact of predators on their prey is to be analysed and evaluated. It is disapointing that it has taken so long, and the disapearance of such huge numbers of prey species before it has happened. The Scottish Homing Union produced startling figures on losses of racing pigeons to the largely increased sparrowhawk and peregrine numbers almost 20 years ago, it seemed obvious that the increase in these predators was linked to wild bird losses as our members were reporting (unsolicited) a noticable decine in the small birds normally found in and around their gardens. Having taken part with SNH and others in years of research since then, our members still cannot protect their pigeons. A trial involving relocating sparrowhawks which were attacking pigeons at their garden lofts was effectively ignored despite it's success. It is high time a commonsense approach prevailed and, where predators are an issue, they can be removed (in sufficent numbers) to bring back a balance. Perhaps new anecdotal evidence will be given more weight in 2015.

  17. Bert,
    Many thanks for the information in both your comments. I hope that you will be able to attend the SGA workshop that will be taking place before the end of June, so that you can provide details in person. However, any comments on this blog will feed into the process.

  18. Linda,
    Thank you for your comments. I understand your reference to anecdotal evidence, but for the purposes of this project we are referring to it as local knowledge. This type of information is of fundamental importance for the work and deserves to be considered alongside the scientific evidence and given equal weight.
    I will make sure that your comments and the views of your members are drawn to the attention of the researchers who are producing the report.

  19. Regarding what would happen if we switched off our predation management systems, we already have the data. The Otterburn Upland Predation Experiment was a classic and even RSPB folk now
    accept its message. Looking at estate records we should be able to see the
    results of the large scale switch off which occurred over large parts of
    Scotland when there was much planting of conifer forests 40 – 50 years ago.
    Prior to that wildlife disaster, most moorlands had so many hares that large
    scale driven hare shoots were run. There will be bag records for this and for
    grouse too which one might use as a barometer species for other ground nesters.

    The decline in the Scottish national grouse bag correlates very closely with decline in the
    number of gamekeepers, evidenced by data from the GC gamebag census for the last 100
    years. So the historical proof is also there. If any politician doubts
    whether any of this is valid today, why not take him or her to a well keepered area in
    April, lower the car window and listen to the noise of breeding curlew,
    lapwings and oystercatchers. Then do the same a few minutes later on moorland
    which is just left to nature !

    If testimony from shoot managers is not trusted to be free from bias,
    other rural folk could confirm the changes in populations of various species eg
    farmers, mountain walkers and BTO members.

    Why does our shooting industry always have to provide science based evidence to support
    what is obvious to any reasonable person ? If opponents of game management and shooting don’t support our
    conclusions why are they not asked to produce their “ evidence” to refute them ?

    Dick Bartlett. BSc Agric Hons, Managing Director, British Moorlands Ltd

  20. Josh,
    Thank you for these comments. Please keep them coming.

  21. My name is Michael Moran...i live in Derry , Ireland. Im 42 yrs old , was a member of the YOC from 1983 - 1990, then other birds interested me what i want to say is that ive never seen as many sparrowhawks and peregrines before as i have in the last 10 years.

    Peregrines are coming into towns for food and with all these breeding programmes and artificial nests is making things worse. In a chemical plant ...we have a regular pair visiting....i saw in the last 2 weeks a peregrine attack a flock of pigeons in an urban area, very close to roof tops ??

    Sparrowhawks are that many they nesting beside each other ...the small bird population is decimated by them ...ffs the blackbirds only come out at night now and very rarely seen after 8.00am.

    there is no balance ....and if things keep going the way it has ...there will be no garden birds or waders left on these shores.

    this is a very good topic which im glad i had the opportunity to comment



  22. wrote it all down then it deleted it all so it will have to wait

  23. A bit of history.
    Between 1964-71 i was keepering at Fothringham, an 8000 acre estate between Dundee and Forfar. There were substantial numbers of Capercaillie, grey partridge and waders.
    For the 7 years i was there only one fox (last year of my employment) was killed. The buzzard and sparrow hawk population was very low.
    By 1980 the number of foxes killed per year rose to 100+ and continued to rise closer to the 150 mark over the years.
    By 1990 There were few if any Capercaillie, the partridge had all but gone and the waders were reducing.
    Raptor numbers had increased significantly by 1990 and they were seen regularly during this period feeding on partridge carcasses and taking wader chicks.
    I'm sure that if others who were employed and working as keepers at this time were to be questioned they would tell the same story across Scotland.
    Glamis, Kinnaird, Burnside, Carchary, Montrimont, and many more in the Angus area all had populations of Capercaillie but now all are gone, as are the grey partridge and most of the breeding lowland waders.
    My observations are that the forestry at that time (which successfully supported these caper populations) remained and was added to during the declines of the Caper, few of the forests were clear felled then and with the added woodland the habitat was actually increased.
    During all these years rabbits were in plague proportions and sustained many of the rising predators. However the predators, having now reached unprecedented numbers and following a catastrophic crash in the rabbit populations (due to Viral Haemorrhagic Disease) are finding their only food source to be ground nesting birds and the likes ...which is why to my mind we are witnessing such a fast decline of ground nesting birds.
    We now, to add to this process, are witnessing a huge increase and expansion of the badger population ..combining all these elements it is not difficult to see why breeding bird populations have dropped so drastically.

  24. Mick,
    Thank you for taking the trouble to provide this information and I am sorry not to have acknowledged it sooner.
    As for the other feedback on this Blog, your comments will feed into the production of the final report.

  25. Bert,
    Many thanks for this history. As with your previous comments, it is highly relevant and I hope you will be able to present your views in person during the workshops.

  26. In an earlier post i mentioned "turtle" doves ...appologies ..that should have been "collared" doves ..but regardless of their names they were still wiped out

  27. Bert, thanks for clarifying this.

  28. Rachel Ann French14 April 2015 at 18:14

    Really interesting that this so called scientific report based partly on anecdotal evidence and opinion has only been publicised to those involved with game management or farming. This has been running since 2014 and not once have I heard about this project, despite working within an SNH and FCS partnership project on the Isle of Mull. How can this possibly be considered just and non-bias?? Very disappointing!

  29. I have made a simple observation today, it is as follows..... In my opinion, the status of our moorland nesting wading birds is currently in a far more alarming state than that of the white hare! it all seems quite a convenient attention draw from the most pressing issue regarding the conservation status of said birds. I can't see hare going totaly horizontal any time soon, can you anyone? Waders on the other hand, well suffice it to say that I am glad to have seen them while they're here, because the lack thereof this year is beyond alarming, it's simply sad. Not alarming because this issue has not snuck up on us, it's not dropped out of the sky, it's been written on the wall for a number of years now. All issues surrounding moorland and species management must be discussed, agreed on, carried out to the highest standards, and I'm by no means belittling the hare issue, however I would simply like very much to see the same level of interest in and media coverage of the catastrophic collapse in wader numbers!

  30. Rachel, I am sorry if you feel that you have been neglected, but I am pleased to hear from you. I would welcome your input on the project's subject matter.

    It will never be possible to reach everyone with the news about the work, but I am trying hard! The messages about the project have been pushed out through all 29 member organisations of the Moorland Forum, through this Blog, on Twitter and through a Newsletter that I have circulated to a network of people have drawn up specially for this project. What else should I be doing?

    SNH is clearly a key partner in the project and FCS is a member of the Forum. Please could you draw the lack of information to the attention of someone in these organisations and ask them to try harder!

  31. Josh, your comments about the status of our moorland nesting birds is a key issue for the project to address. The six species identified by Moorland Forum members for the project to focus on are: Golden Plover, Curlew, Lapwing, Oystercatcher, Grey Partridge and Black Grouse. The high proportion of waders in this list is an indication that the Forum shares your concerns.

  32. Anecdotes or views claiming to be “common sense” do not make for good science no matter how compelling any one individual experience may be. My Dad lived until his late 70s after smoking 40 cigarettes
    a day since he was 16. But I would not dream of telling my children or grandchildren that smoking is health risk free because the scientifically accumulated evidence proves otherwise beyond reasonable doubt. The key to understanding the impacts of predation is research that properly examines the dynamics between
    predator and prey in any location and always analyses the impact, beneficial or not, on wider populations. The extrapolation of evidence, whether anecdotal or scientific, about the impact of predation locally to make inferences about the impact on wider populations, is not a robust approach. There needs to be all kinds of analysis applied such as determining additive predation, the effects of habitat loss, intensification of land use, pollution, factors overseas affecting migrating birds and even climate change.

    It it is not just a numbers game. Conservation organisations will measure conservation success differently to the owners of land managed for shooting not least because the former sees predators and predation as a natural and integral part of the environment to be protected. And that largely determines the extent to which predator control is used or vaunted as an effective conservation measure. While the conservationists strive for maximum bio-diversity possible for any given habitat and sustainable wildlife populations, the shooting landowner wants to maximise the number of game birds available. It happens to be a happy coincidence that certain wildlife that does not threaten that latter objective may benefit. This is welcome and should be encouraged but the balance is not right in many places where our predators, particularly birds of prey are missing. As was the case in the 19th and early 20th centuries when many of our wild predators were ruthlessly persecuted, to the point of extinction or near extinction in some cases, to support game shooting. If you are a wader, your lot might be a happier one on a grouse moor but if you are a hen harrier or other bird of
    prey, you are better off away from a grouse moor. And this is before examination of the detrimental environmental impacts of striving to maintain unnaturally high numbers of game birds.

    The notion that the countryside is now awash with predators and predation is the prime factor in the decline of some upland birds, is not supported by evidence. What is evident, is that already threatened populations locally are more vulnerable to predation. But that is no basis for claiming that predator control alone, is the answer. You never know but one of the answers might be if we had a few less of the tens of millions of game birds released into the countryside every year, we might have a few less generalist predators around
    and thus reduce the need for predator control. The higher the density of prey, the higher the density of predators is a pretty good rule of thumb.

  33. Ian, you make some very good points that are worthy of careful consideration. Every comment added to this blog will be considered as part of the input to the project and they will all contribute to the final report. Thank you for your input.

  34. I partly agree with Ian in as much as declines are local ...however according to BTO figures these local areas are rapidly being connected ... the one type of area bucking the trend, but not totally outwith the problems of declines is Moorland managed for grouse and fringe area's associated with game shooting. If, as suggested, more game birds is leading to rises in predators on a local basis why is it that predator numbers are also increasing outwith gamebird area's? What would happen, apart from job losses, if all there was to eat for the existing predators were the native birds in question? What would happen when there was no longer the man power to control the predators that are being controlled legally at the minute? RSPB etc. are increasing their predator controls, have to erect fences etc..... yet their land does not have the attraction of game birds as Ian is suggesting may be the problem.

  35. Dear bloggers. I would like to share with you a recent observation involving predation of waders and blackcock.
    I am very fortunate to be employed in the heart of the Angus glens, the estate on which I work is managed for grouse shooting as well as red deer stalking and has a commercial black face flock.
    After reading a comment stating that Angus grouse moors were nothing more than a mono culture of red grouse, I decided on the morning of Tuesday 14th April to note all the species observed during a drive out the glen track.
    Within the first mile of a four mile drive I observed seven black cock lecking, Raven, Oyster catcher, Curlew and Lapwing. There after I observed more Lapwing, Curlew, Kestrel, Wood Pigeon, Buzzard, Red Grouse, more Black Cock, Grey Hen, Red Deer hinds and various songbirds. In total 46 Black Cock on five leck sites.
    Within one week of this count two lapwings and one of the seven black cock on the first leck had been killed by a raptor. I have on several occasions since witnessed a goshawk in this area. None of the three carcasses were completely eaten, Infact the black cock barely touched, the victims recorded now include a red grouse.
    Not only is this bird terrorising the black game on these lecks, but reducing the shootable surplus of red grouse that allow this estate to employ six gamekeepers.
    My fear is that some species of raptor numbers are out of control.
    In my time on this estate I have witnessed fox killing lambs and ground nesting birds, raven kill lambs and raid bird nests, I have seen buzzard kill adult grouse and red squirrel also Ptarmigan killed by peregrine, the list is long.
    Some may argue this is nature, my argument is that some predatory bird numbers, ravens in particular are so high that ground nesting birds are finding it difficult to successfully rear chicks. This constant predation is also impacting on breeding grouse numbers, affecting spring breeding in particular. This predation impacts on grouse numbers required for driven days, which in turn determines the level of employment on the estate.

  36. Bruce, many thanks for sharing this information. You have highlighted a concern about raptor numbers which the project will be addressing. Look out for the workshops - it would be good to have your experience repeated in a discussion with others. The project's questionnaire, which has been published today (1 May), would also be another good way to get your message heard.

  37. Here is the most comprehensive study to date Europe wide study (The EU State of Nature report) which makes no mention of raptors being any part of the decline in numbers of one third of Europe's birds. No avenue for propaganda promoting vested interests in this study.

  38. bertburnett13@gmail.com14 May 2015 at 17:21

    Having just read an interesting article on hen harrier nest failures on Skye and elsewhere being attributed to foxes, it should be noted that foxes, as opportunist and relentless hunters, do exactly the same to all ground nesting birds. This behaviour is not exclusive to harriers.
    I suggest if camera's were to be installed on wader nests etc., it might surprise the lay person as to just how much even one fox carrying out this type of predation can impact on the local bird life. Area's not coming under regular and sustained fox controls will see much bigger impacts due to the increased numbers of foxes involved. When avain predation in daylight hours is added to this type of predation, which is also how badgers work, it proves once again that the combination impacts of a range of predators within a given area can have disastrous affects.

  39. See Scottish bird magazine..14th Feb. for reference to fox predation on harriers

  40. Bert, many thanks for both your further comments.

  41. George, many thanks for your thoughts and for drawing the State of Nature Report to our attention.

  42. Yes, bert, foxes and badgers have been taking birds, their nests and their eggs for many hundreds of years and until the advent of changes in farming and countryside practise it didn't appear to have much effect on the numbers. Predation by man has also been a big factor however, as detailed in "Silent Fields" by Roger Lovegrove ISBN 978-0-19-852071-9. The countryside is one of our main resources and has been shown to be very important in relation to mankind's physical and mental health so maintaining as varied a variety of wildlife as possible appears to be a good way forward. There are so many other ways of restoring some sort of balance beneficial to all types of wildlife rather than simply culling creatures which certain interests view as vermin. Mankind is renowned for it's creative solutions and it should not be beyond them to devise a solution to falling numbers which excludes the killing of creatures that some care to demonise for reasons not always stated. The new European laws which demand a wild space between any water run offs and fields which produce pesticide sprayed crops is a beginning. If one expands and protects the environment that birds prefer, in conjunction with supplementary feeding for birds like the hen harrier which might require interventions like this, then numbers will rise as a result without the need for the type of culling evidenced in Silent Fields. When dealing with problems I much prefer initially employing the mind rather than simply resorting to the gun which does very little to promote the longer term health of the environment.

  43. Couldn't agree more George ...but when everything is so out of kilter, thanks to past agricultural and forestry practices etc. we as man,the culprits, should at least restore the balance. Many man made problems will take decades to fix ,if ever, so in an effort to save vulnerable species from further declines while "fix it" some action has to be taken. Nobody wants to take the wrong actions, hence the reason for this consultation and enquiry into the actual impacts ..if you look at the bigger picture George instead of species protection at all costs you may get a grasp on the thinking behind all this ...we all want the same thing .. more diversity and sustainability in wildlife, it's how that can be achieved seems to be the contentious past

  44. The trouble is Bert, from my point of view, is that given the historical record and the vested interests involved, it's hard to see an answer emerging from giving the same people the same remit and expecting a different answer. Habitat protection and manipulation seems the way to go as opposed to picking out favourite species to protect or other demonised species to destroy. I strongly agree that local observations and a lifetime of experience can be a valuable part of this process, but any input of data must be verified to ensure the integrity of the process. I take no pleasure in mentioning the possibility of false testimony being offered, and because of the divisions and mistrust that currently exists between the two sides, strict controls should be in place. I'm not so sure that the farming and forestry malpractise in relation to the environment and the ecology are not continuing problems however. The observational capacity of man has hardly altered over the centuries and it is odd that birds such as kingfishers had a price on their head at one point, because, like cormorants, goosanders, shags etc., they ate fish, albeit small ones. This, for me is why science trumps unstructured, individual observations as long term studies with exact measurements over considerable periods of time give a better account of the shared reality than anecdotal narratives, no matter how sincerely told. In today's hi-tech world undeniable visually recorded experiences should play a large part ... and it is difficult to me to understand why so many should be against this.

  45. Hi there, just like to share some things that I have seen first hand regarding prey and predators.
    I live and work on a Perthshire moor. I will simply state what I have seen, and one case that I have been told.
    Last Monday I watched a Peregrine finishing off a cock grouse. I hadn't seen the chase or stoop, just the commotion on the ground. Within minutes of beginning plucking, the Peregrine took off leaving the kill. The reason, a Raven and a Buzzard had arrived to mob it. As they circled, more predators arrived, in under 20 minutes there was one Red Kite on the Grouse, one Buzzard beside it, in the air were one Raven, 3 Buzzards and eight Red Kites. While those birds are circling the stress on all the prey species below must be incredible. I would imagine that the Peregrine was off looking for another kill, who knows if the results would be repeated.

    Our moor is very near a couple of the Red Kite roosts, I have counted highs of 34 in one and 54 in a second, but have heard that the official counts have been higher. Last year, in the three rough grazing fields immediately adjacent to one of the roosts (not ours) we counted one pair of Curlew (success unknown) and two pairs of Lapwings, with 2 and one chick respectively, I cannot say if these chicks survived or not.
    On our rough grazing fields, (farming methods, habitat, land structure etc near identicle) which aren't far away. We counted 5 pairs of Curlew, of which we know for certain that six chicks survived right through. Eight pairs of Lapwings with a known twelve chicks surviving. Three pairs of Oystercatchers, only two chicks known to have survived right through. The farm adjacent to the roost has no keepers, no vermin control. The fields where the ground nesting birds had some success, is keepered. Fox control and Mustelid trapping will also play a part. Having seen Red Kites taking chicks we put out a series of gas guns, rope bangers and mannequins, not to protect crops, simply to give the ground nesting birds some respite, the reason it is done, simply to try to do something to see these species survive.
    On two occasions, once about twelve years ago and again around seven years ago, I have seen a Buzzard wiping out an entire brood of chicks, yet take only one. The second time it got in among young Lapwing and ran around crushing them as the adults did their best, before taking one away. I have also heard of this from someone who saw a Buzzard land among Grouse chicks and even with the parents actually striking it, it ran around crushing them. When he got to the spot he found eight dead chicks.
    We are far from being solely focussed on Red Grouse or operating mono cultures. We have at least forty seven species of bird on the moor, eight of that total are on the red list and twelve of them ground nesting species. We do not have an infinite number of Plover, Curlew, Ring ouzel and Black Grouse. The decline in the number of these birds, even in the last three years is alarming. Watching fifteen raptors on one area of one moor doesn't make me think that our moors will see the same species here for the next generation. In case anyone is wondering about food availability we also have a thriving population of white hares.

  46. What would happen is that after a brief surge in predator numbers populations would adjust to the natural balance between prey and predator. The big issue here is that if the natural number of predators on adjacent territory was abnormally low due to human controls, then, accordingly, an abnormal number of their offspring would survive due to the amount of food available on adjacent land. They would thus continue to colonise adjacent territories in artificially high numbers. This would continue until predator control was discontinued and the balance was restored on that land too. If predator control continued the yearly colonisation might make it appear as if this artificially created yearly influx of predators was unsustainable. However, if controls were abandoned the number accessing this territory would reduce over a period of time as normal levels of food availability returned. It takes time for nature to readjust when artificially created environments are returned to their natural state.

  47. If you took man's mucky paws out of the equation nature would find a balance ..what would that balance be?
    It's the bird lobby who are dictating what populations of various birds should be. They are the ones calling for financial aid to bring back Sparrows for example, which dropped by 80%, is this realistic? Nature is not determining the populations it's people reach these populations governing factors are being investigated. There can be no question of whether we leave things to go back to nature and let predator prey levels find their own heights when you have "conservation bodies" stating their aims on the levels of all birds. If conservation bodies believe in natures way then why are they building fences round marshland or increasing predator controls? Surely if they are preaching raw nature they should be practising it.

  48. Science is not a lobby Bert. It is neutral, objective, and the key is in how it is understood, which is where the lobbying from interested parties enters. Looking at and understanding the methodology helps uncover any bias which might be present. The conditions that migratory birds encounter during their migrations also have an affect on the numbers and must be included, as do overwintering sites in the UK. They build fences around certain habitats to help counter the conditions they have no control over i.e. conditions in migratory countries which affect the numbers of birds returning to breed. These countries are often combat or famine areas or locations where overharvesting occurs, such as in Malta. When fewer birds return to breed then conditions must be manipulated to ensure a higher breeding success due to this, and any extra offspring go on to help recolonize these areas. I have heard no preaching myself, and am hesitant in using such emotive words as I am hoping for a way forward, not the simple retrenching of old ideas. Sparrows can never regain their old numbers due to new farming and processing methods, but numbers for a new healthy population could be arrived at via including these new conditions prior to arriving at an answer Natural numbers in accordance with the new conditions that our environment and the fauna in it have to adapt too.

  49. I note a study done by RSPB IN 2010-11 found that of 51 wader chicks tagged 90% of them were predated by various predators. This, as i have said before, is the problem. It is usually not any particular species which is the problem (hence all the inconclusive studies done on particular predatory species showing they are THE culprits ) there may be local species specialising on certain prey but it is the overall predation which has the impacts.
    The study was to be carried out over the following years, so i hope ,as partners of this project, that RSPB are putting forward this science and any more similar studies they did on this subject.
    Personal observations would back up their findings whereby i have seen wader chicks being decimated by winged predators on low and high ground.
    The previous misleading information put out to sanitise the behaviour of buzzards ie they only eat worms, small mammals and carrion has long been ousted yet there are parties that persist on this misinformation.
    I have personally witnessed them killing adult pheasants, grouse, partridge, half grown leverets and adult waders and we have all seen i'm sure the video footage of their attacks on large Osprey chicks.
    The time has gone where attempts to sanitise any predators behaviour or potential impacts and it is important for this study that this is recognised.

  50. Update on the last post ...Of the 218 wader chicks that Lucy Mason of @RSPBScience radio tracked only 16 survived ...189 were predated #BOU2015 ....

  51. Hello again. I'm going to be really popular if I say this much more, but I have recently made a ground braking discovery, one which I shall share with all that will listen to me and lots that wont....... One of the most devastating predator's of 5 out of 6 of the species of main concern for this project, just so happens to be subsidised by your and my taxes, you all may have heard of them, some of you may have even spotted one recently..............They're called farmers!!! I hope this project, if not directly, shed some light/raised eyebrows on the subject of field operations during the nesting season.

  52. We have just seen on Springwatch a diagram of badgers attempting to enter an area fenced of for the protection of waders. Last year saw one badger breach the fence and within 20 min. scoff 19 nests. The RSPB can afford to do this but the rest of the countryside cannot, certainly not on a national scale.
    This was claimed to be a "rogue" badger but the reality is it's the behaviour of all badgers anywhere in the UK.
    With badger populations expanding this type of damage will also increase and the general countryside waders etc. have no protection from badgers. This type of predation goes largely unseen but there has to be recognition that these animals are serious predators of ground nesting birds

  53. If that fence were removed it is almost guaranteed that every nest would be preyed upon ..leaving chick production at nil. RSPB push habitat management as being the answer to dwindling numbers but here we see what the results would be without management of predators on ideal habitat...albeit in this case security fences.

  54. If Sporting Estates were subject to business rates then the money saved could be used to create and develop areas of land while at the same time researching new conservation techniques. Also the monies provided as a subsidy provided to grouse moors is £56m per hectacre could be used for the same end. The subsidy which is present on the issuing of shotgun licenses could also be stopped in these times of austerity. (It costs the police £196 for background checks while the charge is £50) During these troubled times only the top 1 per cent of earners have seen their income rise and it wouldn't be too much to ask that these folk begin to pay their way with the extra capital they now have. If individuals sanction the payment of millions of pounds to buy football players then dipping into their pockets to fund wildlife conservation should not be beyond them. There is no shortage of money in these areas, just an unwillingness to spend it in this area. It should also be noted that Minsmere is experimenting with non lethal methods of moving forward on lessening the affect of bird predation rather than reverting to the "shoot to suit" method which failed us so badly in the past with many of our birds of prey being hunted to extinction. Madness is often defined as doing the same thing over and over again while expecting different results.

  55. There are two main definitions of predate, Gerald.

  56. I've checked a few dictionaries Gerald, and " to predate" has two main means, one of them being "to prey on or hunt for."

  57. £56m per hectare for grouse moors??? Please elaborate on this statement. If Landowners had such an unwillingness to "spend in this area", the areas would be long gone. Please don't let this project slip into the trap of so many others with finger pointing and name calling, too late in the "day" for that, these bids need some help now.

  58. No, Josh, I am certainly not for allowing the project to "slip into finger pointing and name calling" though I do feel historical methods of stewarding the land can be questioned in much the same way proposed solutions are also under critique e.g. the methods introduced in Springwatch (Minsmere). I, personally, have related a few ideas gleaned elsewhere to be considered. Rural dwellers in remote areas are heavily subsidised by taxpayers who live mostly in urban locations thus giving them a voice in how business is conducted. These subsidies include the maintenance of roads, the provision of electricity, postal charges, schools, health services and much more, the costs being proportionately more the further from built up areas and services one is. Landowners have historically only spent on areas which, directly or indirectly, led to incomes for themselves thus creating a monoculture in many areas as they direct all operations to one end. Mono-cultures do not encourage ether a variety of flora or fauna. Here is a link to the article re the subsidy for grouse moors. The direct Government source for this information is given in the article.

  59. The reference to the £56 per hectacre for moorland is absent in my reply to Josh. I thought I had included it. I apologise. Here it is ....

  60. I must say that it seems to me like your issue is with land ownership and the economy rather than that of understanding predation. I'm yet to find one of these mono-cultures that you speak of on land managed for sporting interests, as said interests invariably contribute to increased levels of biodiversity. I fail to see how spending in a given area, leading to incomes for the spender that ultimately get ploughed back into said area creates mono-cultures.You firstly state that there is an unwillingness to spend, then that there is willingness but only in one locality, with frankly is impossible given the resources required to run a sporting estate. However I sense that this is a dead ended argument.
    Yes we must question these issues and other innovative methods of dealing with the issue of our collapsing wader numbers, but really, fencing them off??
    Your money is the same as my money, and the Landowners money. I have some, you undoubtedly have more, but not as much as the latter, but guess what, the birds don't give a monkeys, it's not money that's depleting their populations, it's not just money that will restore them, it's mentalities, understanding, selflessness and action. Talk is cheap.

  61. Not at all Josh, but how the land is being used, and has been historically, has to be factored into the equation in my view. A mono culture is when one land use or crop is favoured at the expense of others, with the resulting effects on flora and fauna. If only one industry or goal is present then other areas must suffer. If, for example, a land characterised by trees and shrubs is changed to such an extent that only a few pockets of them remain then the resulting ecological balance is altered, and then altered further if some of those creatures are then subject to over enthusiastic culling or other forms of persecution. Re-wilding is one possible solution with the roles of those stewarding the land changing in accordance with requirements. I have stated in a previous post that funding can be raised by subjecting the land to business tax while new tourist based interests and other revenue streams can be developed in conjunction with this. I am NOT talking about the eradication of today's sporting industry in any shape or form, just a wider focus, with all that entails.
    Fencing off and otherwise protecting breeding and other conservation based areas would ensure there would be locations where species could recover and the resultant young go on to repopulate areas where a more varied habitat is gradually replacing the monoculture. It takes time before the wider environment adjusts and a better, more varied balance of flora and fauna is restored. Once a species has been saved then it might take many years before overall security for it is achieved. You seem to offer no alternative but I would be more than prepared to listen if you have any ideas other than an intensification of methods which helped bring us to this point in the first place. As you said in an earlier post, "lets not forget the birds", and we can look more closely at various forms of funding and land use once a way forward has been decided on.
    How would your changing mentalities manifest themselves in practise? What specific behaviours and strategies would arise from the new " understanding, selflessness and action?" If money is used to create a monoculture then it might well play a large part in the depletion of bird numbers, so, in that sense, money might well play it's part. I'd really like to hear how you would go about fixing things Josh as it might well add to my understanding of what is required. Thanks for your thoughts. (You've probably got a lot more money than I do personally :) )

  62. It's not only the RSPB which see security fencing as the answer in some cases. The moors of the Angus Glens, for example, now contain large areas of such fencing to keep out unwanted animals. Security fencing can be adapted to suit long terms plans for any area and can be removed or modified to suit the changing requirements of the specific site as the environment is developed.

  63. George Murdoch .. interesting comments but what has this to do with understanding predation? Your comments seem to be directed at anti landowning and subsidies etc. You seem to be obsessing over money issues connected to land and you obviously are against shooting estates receiving the same monies as charity organisation owned land, even if these shooting lands produce greater numbers of wildlife, i'm thinking you've missed the point of this blog which is about predation impacts not who has or hasn't got money

  64. The name is simply George, Bert. I am surprised to see you miss the relevance of my comments which I answered in detail replying to Josh when accused me of much the same things as you are now. Both current and historical uses of land, how they have been used and how they are funded are important areas when discussing the effect of predation. If one introduces large numbers of game birds to certain areas this certainly has the impact of attracting more predators to these places, not to mention the huge increase in the number of ticks which carry both "louping illness" and Lymes Disease. Mountain hares, however, are culled for this very reason, i.e. being the carriers of parasites.
    It is HOW the money is used, in relevance to the prevention of predation, not who provides it. I am surprised that you draw a parallel between commercially oriented activities and charities as both have very different goals, one designed specifically to ensure the health of the environment and the creatures within it. Charities, for example, would not introduce excessive numbers of one species which, as noted above, brings an increase in predators, (non native species in the case of red legs) to sensitive areas.
    I apologise if, in your opinion, I seem to stray from the topic from time to time but I feel to get a full picture of what is happening as regards predation it is, in my opinion, vital that all inputs be considered, as each has a role to play. Thanks for your comments, Bert and I hope my previous reply to Josh, allied with this contribution, goes some way to allaying your fears that I am in some way missing the point.

  65. Today I attended one of the understanding project workshops, held in Perth at the SGA office, and I'd just like to say that it was very well run and, I feel/hope, very worth while and certainly gave everyone a chance to put across their views, knowledge and thoughts on the projects questions and goals. I highly recommend going to one if you get a chance, in fact, make the time for it, It could be the best and only chance you get for a long time to voice your views to the right people on this extremely important topic that is the survival of some of our most threatened waders and game birds.
    Josh .

  66. Josh, I am glad to hear that you got value from the workshop. I would like to echo your encouragement to people to make the effort to attend one of these sessions. Only by engagement will we get to the bottom of what people think.