Saturday, 1 October 2016
‘Submit evidence’ sounds a bit scary doesn’t it? How about ‘Send your thoughts’ instead? You could do that couldn’t you? Look at Question 1 – ‘Should the law on grouse shooting be changed? If so, how?’. I reckon you have thoughts on that.
I am writing my evidence and it’s quite a task to limit oneself to 3000 words on such a big subject. You could write a book about it – hang on! Someone did. I know that many organisations are preparing detailed and erudite submissions to send in by the closing date on Wednesday 5 October but I have already also seen quite a few short submissions by members of the public which have been sent in too. These are often very compelling! You could add to their number.
Would you like to see more birds of prey in our National Parks? I bet you would.
Have you ever been affected by floods that you believe were exacerbated by moorland management, for example in Hebden Bridge?
Do you believe in re-wilding and believe that driven grouse shooting is a barrier to progress?
Do you feel angry every time you hear about another bird of prey being killed or ‘disappearing’?
Do you object to your taxes being given to rich grouse moor owners through CAP payments?
Do you think that wildlife crime against birds of prey is unacceptable in this day and age?
Do you think that the government is failing to do enough to combat wildlife crime which emanates from driven grouse shooting?
Do you think that the Defra response to the e-petition suggested that they were speaking for the shooting industry rather than for you?
Do you think that Defra is ducking the issue of wildlife crime and this might be because grouse moor owners are natural Conservative supporters?
Do you think that Defra should consider introducing vicarious liability for wildlife crimes as the Scottish government has done?
I could go on, but if there is a single question above to which you answered ‘Yes’ then you have enough to stimulate you to send in a note to the inquiry. Please do. Be sure that others who answer ‘No’ to those questions will be busy over the weekend – are you going to give them the floor?
Posted by Backsbottom Farm at 10:02
Saturday, 24 September 2016
In June 1991 the same Peregrine territory found by Joe Pye in 1947 was discovered reoccupied 44 years later by Paul Stott and Carl Smith containing two fully feathered chicks on the verge of fledging. I am unaware of any person alive or dead who had observed in their lifetime a successful nest at this same remote nesting site in any year prior to the 1991 discovery. This territory has now joined the 18+ Peregrine sites which are currently abandoned across the Forest of Bowland, a sad testament to the illegal killing of grouse-predating raptors within this upland region of West Lancashire where driven grouse shooting remains a prominent activity.
A ground nesting pair of Goshawks were discovered in Bowland in April 1994 after their original nest in nearby woodland had been destroyed. The pair relocated onto moorland above the forest where they established a makeshift nest on the ground in heather in which they laid a clutch of four eggs. When the nest was revisited six days later the eggs were found smashed and both adult hawks were never seen again.
The disappearance of both Sky and Hope in 2014 and the five missing male Hen Harriers lost in 2015 highlight a clear and unequivocal message from the game shooting industry, these birds are not welcome on grouse moors. This position is underpinned by what Derek Ratcliffe wrote within his now world famous book The Peregrine Falcon, that Hen Harriers are ruthlessly destroyed on many grouse moors. When Dr Ratcliffe took part in the BBC documentary The Silence of the Hills, he was asked why so many Hen Harriers had disappeared from the Forest of Bowland in the mid 1980s and again between 1992 and 1993. His reply was ‘For a Hen Harrier population to collapse in that sort of way is quite unprecedented, it must point to somebody actively persecuting these birds and destroying them. Who else could be destroying them but the people responsible for managing those moors? What else could explain that collapse, I can’t think of anything?‘.
It is becoming clearer as each season comes and goes, progress to end the illegal killing of Hen Harriers and Peregrines on grouse moors is as far from a resolution as it has ever been. This position has been demonstrated this season by the total disappearance of any breeding Hen Harrier and Peregrine Falcon from Lancashire’s Forest of Bowland.
The game shooting industry in England remains very much the feudal master and manager on moorlands where Red Grouse are shot. Many gamekeepers continue to act with impunity following in the footsteps of their Victorian predecessors when it comes to their illegal management of a variety of game-predating birds of prey. Gone today are the gibbets where gamekeepers not too many years ago proudly displayed a selection of poisoned, trapped or shot animal trophies, where in my youth I had witnessed at first hand a variety of raptors species hung out to rot.
The only difference today is that strategies being used to kill, disturb and destroy raptors together with many nesting sites on grouse moors are not as obvious or transparent as they once were. In the past I had encountered numerous instances on grouse moors in the Forest of Bowland where mutilated Hen Harrier chicks had been left in nests with their heads cut off and their bodies trampled under foot. I recall one particular day where I discovering two destroyed nests on separate estates containing the corpses of seven mutilated chicks between them. Numerous abandoned Peregrine nests containing dead chicks or smashed and abandoned eggs were found on the ground left for anyone to find; in many of these cases the adult Peregrines and Hen Harriers from these sites had disappeared presumed shot. At one Bowland Peregrine nest the clutch of four eggs were removed and replaced by bantam eggs. The use of plastic Eagle Owls and Peregrine decoys by gamekeepers is nothing new to the Forest of Bowland. I discovered a decoy Peregrine half covered in hessian hidden in the rear of a gamekeeper’s parked vehicle on a Bowland grouse moor three years ago.
The killing of raptors on grouse moors in the 21st Century, their displacement as they begin to settle down to breed, is now undertaken with more care, thought and subtlety designed to mask the crimes being committed. As witnessed in 2014 and again in 2015 on three English grouse moors, breeding Hen Harriers were taken out (destroyed) many miles from nests resulting in these offences being more difficult to detect. To my knowledge 2016 is the only occasion in which the Hen Harrier and Peregrine have not bred within the Bowland fells in the same year. Because of the remote regions where many of these wildlife crimes continue to be committed, police involvement on the ground is almost non existent, and bringing perpetrators to justice not surprisingly remains difficult if not an impossibility.
Natural England’s Hen Harrier Recovery Project was one important initiative which most people had hoped would result in a lasting solution to the persecution of Hen Harriers. From the beginning however the project lacked commitment or any tangible support from the game shooting industry and therefore was doomed to failure. Throughout the duration of this project Hen Harriers continued to disappear from grouse moors along with at least 30 or so missing satellite tags which had been attached to many of these birds. The current Defra ‘Non Action Plan’ seems to me to be a total waste of time, money and effort. There is only one reason why Defra would propose that Hen Harriers should be released into southern England, their presence would not be welcomed on grouse moors and ultimately any Harriers that did return north would quickly disappear. It will be crucial to address the root cause of Hen Harrier disappearances, ie their persecution on grouse moors, before thinking of reintroducing manipulated broods anywhere in England. To do otherwise would be condemning more Hen Harriers to a certain death and ultimately their extinction.
The facts of the mystery are really very simple to understand, the bulk of Red Grouse moor estate owners and their gamekeepers will never change their opinion of the Hen Harrier, or welcome their presence onto the moorlands they manage. I accept there are a small minority of enlightened thinking gamekeepers who are willing to accept one pair of Hen Harriers on the moorland they maintain. But these same individuals have voiced their concern and skepticism that if they accommodate one pair, the next year it could be two pairs and so on until the position would result in unacceptable damage to game stocks. Then there was another understandable consideration I was told about, any Hen Harrier nests found are likely to be protected initially, ultimately resulting in uninvited bird watchers coming onto the moorlands to admire and watch these birds; a situation which was considered undesirable. What happens then, would these same gamekeepers take the law into their own hands and begin to reduce numbers illegally once again?
I recently read a comment claiming the RSPB did not care about Hen Harriers, this is nonsense and appears to have been written in a moment of frustration at the ongoing disappearance of these birds from grouse moors. The RSPB are in an unusual position because of the way they interpret the objectives of their Royal Charter, which previous comments posted on this blog and others have referred to. The Society claim they are neutral having no view one way or the other on the ethics of shooting. I find this position curious and difficult to understand as perhaps do many of the 45,000+ people who have signed the petition to ban driven grouse shooting. The Society appear to be interpreting part of clause (3) within the objectives of their Royal Charter, taking no account of wide-scale killing of raptors on grouse moors in Britain. Under the Objectives of the Society, the clause states, The Society shall take no part in the question of the killing of game birds and legitimate sport of that character except when such practices have an impact on the Objects. The sport of driven grouse shooting is dependent upon widespread criminal practices; the killing of protected birds of prey not only on grouse moors, therefore clearly impacts negatively on the integrity of the Society’s objectives, their ability to protect birds of prey.
The current position is not helped by a reply provided by Natural England to questions asked in 2007 as to whether or not the (CROW) Act enables people to enter access land without the owner’s permission in order to carry out licensed bird monitoring which involves disturbing scheduled species at their nests. Natural England’s explanation says, As regards the issue of entry on to land in the first place, we believe that, as long as the person doing the monitoring is doing so on a voluntary basis (i.e. they are not doing so for payment), they can reasonably be regarded as taking part in open-air recreation: accordingly, the CROW act access rights applies and the permission of the landowner is not required. If, however, the monitoring is being being undertaken for payment, we believe that it falls within the scope of the general restrictions set out in Section 2 of the CROW Act: in this case, the CROW Act access rights does not apply and, in the absence of any other statutory or contractual access right, the landowner’s permission is required.
Fundamental changes to England’s wildlife legislation are justified but must include improved enforcement. Following Scotland’s lead by introducing Vicarious Liability (making the landowner responsible for the criminal actions of his or her employees) may help the situation south of the border, but not surprisingly was rejected by the Westminster Government, not too difficult to understand why. Likewise the introduction of a Licensing Scheme in England, as proposed by the RSPB for all grouse moors owners is an interesting proposal, but would be difficult if not impossible to police. I also doubt that a Tory administration would sanction or even consider such a scheme in the first place.
Banning driven grouse shooting in England is in my opinion the best platform from which to engage with the wider public, who so far know very little or nothing about the Hen Harrier or their continued persecution on grouse moors by gamekeepers. This position must change soon if we are to win this war, because unless you haven’t noticed we are losing the battle. The Hen Harrier and Peregrine are two raptors which are conspicuous on grouse moors in northern England by their almost total absence from these managed areas, a situation I regard as an unacceptable outrage and embarrassment to our country.
It is disappointing the RSPB have so far, without prejudice, not enlightened their million members asking if they would consider providing support to Mark Avery’s e-petition and its conservation objectives. The current situation has some similarities to the Roman emperor Nero who fiddled while Rome burned. Raptors are a finite wildlife resource and important part of moorland ecosystems, once they have disappeared from the uplands of England, it will be almost impossible to bring them back.
Mark Avery’s e-petition calling for a ban driven grouse shooting will result in the 100,000 signatures needed to trigger a debate in Parliament eventually. This does not mean the current Westminster government would allow such a debate in the House of Commons to take place because to do so would raise the profile of the Hen Harrier’s persecution beyond acceptable limits in the public eye. The government have already reduced the qualifying period for government e-petitions by 50%, down from 12 to 6 months, are they concerned, yes I think they are. We must not forget a number of grouse moors are owned by extremely wealthy and influential people. These include MPs like Richard Benyon the former Minister for the Environment Fisheries and Food and the Duke of Westminster. At a meeting of Natural England’s Hen Harrier Recovery Project in October 2007 at Abbeystead His Grace told the United Utilities estate manager he did not want Hen Harriers from the United Utilities estate coming onto his estate killing his grouse. An unknown number of Conservative MPs and their party supporters take an active part in driven grouse shooting. These people would not wish to see any debate in Parliament or encounter a single Hen Harrier on any grouse moor where they shoot spoiling their sport.
Because of politics, as long as England has a Conservative administration I see no prospect of proactive changes being introduced to help the plight of ‘protected’ raptors like Hen Harrier or Peregrine on moorland where Red Grouse are shot.
Posted by Backsbottom Farm at 03:38
Thursday, 22 September 2016
Saturday, 10 September 2016
Those who have been defending or promoting driven grouse shooting find Hen Harriers difficult to talk about. It will be interesting to see how much utter tripe some MPs may come up with in the debate we expect to see over the future of driven grouse shooting. As an MP, you can get away with saying almost anything in parliament but you can’t get away with saying it secretly or erasing the account of your saying it. Any MP who misrepresents the facts about Hen Harriers in a debate on the future of driven grouse shooting should expect to be swamped by letters from her or his constituents afterwards.
In all modesty, you will find Chapter 1 of Inglorious a good guide to the biology and status of the Hen Harrier in the UK and Chapter 3 deals with the crucially important Langholm study (Inglorious was the second book in the BB Book of the Year list after all – with Prof Ian Newton FRS on the panel of judges).
You won’t have heard, because of editing, Andrew Gilruth being challenged to admit the scale of illegal killing of Hen Harriers on Farming Today. Andrew finds this subject difficult. You can hear how difficult a subject he finds it by listening to the unedited and free (though slightly fiddly to get to) podcast (it’s the 3rd item this week) which accompanies the Spectator article by Matt Ridley. I will wait with interest to see how the editing of Countryfile this evening deals with this subject because Andrew was, again, challenged by me to admit that the main problem for Hen Harriers is wildlife crime. Andrew finds the subject difficult.
I was on BBC Radio Cumbria on Friday morning and heard Moorland Association chair, Robert Benson, avoid the subject for quite a while until the presenter asked him outright about Hen Harriers (as I had raised the subject in my slot). My recollection (I did make a note of it but I seem to have lost the scrap of paper) was that he said that he ‘hoped and prayed’ that there would be more Hen Harriers in England next year. Well Robert, that isn’t necessarily a winning strategy and I doubt very much that it is a view shared by all your members. The Moorland Association has massive problems of credibility here – Hen Harriers are being killed on grouse moors and the motive for that killing is to protect unnaturally high densities of Red Grouse whose purpose in life, seen by Moorland Association members, is to be shot for fun. Hen Harriers are killed illegally on grouse moors so that Red Grouse can be killed for fun. It’s an impossible state of affairs to defend which is why all try their best to steer clear of it – which is what Andrew Gilruth has tried to do and what Robert Benson tried to do too.
Another approach is to get the facts very badly wrong. Well, I say it is an approach but it might be an honest mistake of course. Matt Ridley got the facts wrong in his Spectator article and we see it happening again and again in the media. Any MP who takes briefing from the grouse shooting industry will have to be aware that their words, for which they will be responsible, will be in Hansard for ever. They have a responsibility to be truthful and on our side of the argument we will be doing our best to make sure that MPs are perfectly briefed on this subject but also that any mistruths are publicly exposed afterwards.
There is another approach, which is so rare that it demands recognition even though it may make the person concerned blush – and that is to tell the truth.
Amanda Anderson was quoted in the Sunday Times last week saying:
‘If we let the hen harrier in, we will soon have nothing else. That is why we need this brood management plan’ – Amanda Anderson, Director, Moorland AssociationIf we let the Hen Harrier in… Yes, ‘if’…
The fact of the matter is that driven grouse shooting is underpinned by wildlife crime against raptors that are fully protected by law and have been for decades. There are some who regard themselves as untouchable (a phrase well-coined I believe by our big brother blog, Raptor Persecution UK) when it comes to the law. Wildlife crime is wildlife crime and the uplands of England, including our National Parks such as the Yorkshire Dales and Peak District and North York Moors are massive wildlife crime scenes.
Here’s a great Hen Harrier plan – ban driven grouse shooting.
Posted by Backsbottom Farm at 03:00
Thursday, 18 August 2016
The RSPB announced today that a young male Hen Harrier, fitted with a satellite transmitter as part of the Hen Harrier LIFE+ Project, has gone missing on a grouse moor in the Monadhliath Mountains, south-east of Inverness.
The bird, named Elwood, was the only chick to fledge from a nest in Banffshire, which was being monitored under the Partnership for Action against Wildlife Crime Scotland ‘Heads-up for Harriers’ scheme.
The transmitter’s data, being monitored by RSPB staff, indicated that Elwood fledged in the first week of July, but stayed close to the nest site in the hills above the River Spey until 20 July, when he began to travel more widely. By the 27 July, Elwood had moved 20 miles to the south west, and had settled in the hills around Tomatin.
Elwood remained in this area, with the transmitter providing detailed information about his daily travels until suddenly, transmissions ceased abruptly on 3 August. His last recorded position was on an area of managed moorland a few miles from the Slochd summit on the A9.
Ian Thomson, RSPB Scotland’s Head of Investigations, said: ‘This latest disappearance of a satellite-tagged bird is deeply concerning, and joins the long list of protected birds of prey that have been confirmed to have been illegally killed or disappeared suddenly in this area. The transmitters being fitted to these birds are exceedingly reliable, and illegal persecution is therefore the most likely explanation of the disappearance of these birds of prey. The absence of typical breeding raptor species from areas of suitable habitat, or at traditional nesting sites, in large parts of the Monadhliaths is further supporting evidence of a major problem with wildlife crime in this general area.
This case is all the more depressing as the nest from which Elwood successfully fledged was monitored as part of a partnership project between PAW Scotland and the local landowner. It proves, yet again, that despite there being a good number of enlightened estates who are happy to host and protect nesting birds of prey – as soon as they move away from these areas they are being illegally killed.
The denials and obfuscation from representatives of the land management sector, and their consistent failure to acknowledge and address this problem, is one of the main reasons why our bird of prey populations are struggling in the central and eastern Highlands. We repeat our call to the Scottish Government to introduce a robust system of licensing of game bird hunting, where the right to shoot is dependent on legal and sustainable management of the land, in line with approaches adopted in most other European countries.‘.
One disappearing satellite-tagged protected raptor disappearing suddenly over a grouse moor is suspicious – the more that disappear, the more suspicion turns into certainty. Add in those we know for certain were killed deliberately, and it adds up to a damning indictment of the way that driven grouse shooting is carried out in the UK. Driven grouse shooting depends on big bags of birds, a high kill rate, and cannot afford to let raptors survive, even though they are protected by law, and have been all your lifetime unless you are a bit older than I am.
Generations of birds of prey have been subjected to systematic, routine and ruthless illegal persecution because people want to shoot Red Grouse for fun.
The RSPB wants grouse shooting to be better regulated – I’d like to sweep it away altogether through a ban. If you agree with me, and I think most Hen Harriers and Golden Eagles would, then please sign here to add to the strength of our voice as we head to a debate on the future of grouse shooting in the Westminster parliament.
We’ll see what that comedy double act of McAdam and Baynes have to say this time – it sounds as though the RSPB expects more denial and obfuscation from shooters.
Posted by Backsbottom Farm at 02:49
Tuesday, 16 August 2016
Their campaign against the RSPB is a shameful example of ‘astroturfing’. The public should beware
|‘Grouse are cosseted at the expense of other life forms. Predators must be eliminated.’ Photograph: Danny Lawson/PA|
This is how, in a democracy, you win when you are outnumbered: you purchase the results. It’s how politics now works. The very rich throw money at the parties, lobby groups and thinktanks that project their demands. If they are clever, they keep their names out of it.
Here’s an example: a campaign fronted by the former England cricket captain Sir Ian Botham, called You Forgot the Birds. It appears to have two purposes: to bring down the RSPB – the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds – and to get the natural history presenter Chris Packham sacked from the BBC.
It likes to present itself as “... a network of people who are passionate about bird habitat. Some of us are conservationists or self-confessed birders, some are farmers and landowners, some work full-time in the countryside while others are volunteers from the cities.” And this is what it revealed in a footnote at the bottom of one of its press releases, that has since vanished from the web: “The You Forgot the Birds campaign is funded by the British grouse industry.” Ah, the grouse industry. Who would have guessed?
To shoot grouse you have to be exceedingly rich: it costs around £7,000 per person per day. The owners of grouse moors, who are also exceedingly rich, justify these fees by ensuring that there are vast numbers of birds to shoot. This requires, across great tracts of our uplands, the elimination of almost everything else.
Grouse are wild birds, but cosseted at the expense of other life forms. Predators and competitors must be eliminated, either legally or, in the case of protected species such as peregrine falcons, golden eagles, red kites and hen harriers, illegally. Many grouse moors are black holes for birds of prey. They disappear and their satellite tags stop working in the same places, again and again. Alien abduction? Russian black ops? No: shooting, trapping and poisoning by the gamekeepers employed to maximise grouse numbers, most of whom, on these remote moors, get away with it.
Producing as many grouse as possible also means burning and draining the land, to create a monoculture of the young heather the birds eat. Sure, this releases the carbon in the soil, pollutes rivers and helps to flood the towns downstream. But to hell with the plebs. To rub our noses in it properly, we pay them for the privilege: grouse moors are subsidised by us. At the height of his austerity programme, as essential public services were cut to the bone, David Cameron’s government raised the subsidy for grouse moors by 84%, to £56 per hectare. Some owners now harvest hundreds of thousands of pounds of our money every year.
Cameron also tried to close the national wildlife crime unit, which would have pleased his friends no end. It was saved only by a public outcry. Conservationists have called for a law of vicarious liability, making the owners of grouse moors responsible for the wildlife crime they commission, rather than leaving only the gamekeepers to take the rap. But this proposal was struck down by Cameron’s environment minister, Richard Benyon. I’m sure it had nothing to do with the fact that he owns a grouse moor.
But through the efforts of wildlife campaigners (like Packham and the RSPB) and people whose homes have been flooded downstream, the grouse industry is now being called to account. Last week, the petition posted by the conservationist Mark Avery calling for an end to driven grouse shooting – where wild birds are sent towards the guns by “beaters” – passed the 100,000-signature threshold: the issue is now likely to be debated in parliament.
The result is You Forgot the Birds, championed by the Daily Mail, which describes it as “a grassroots campaign by farmers and conservationists”. It is, of course, coincidental that Paul Dacre, the Mail’s editor, owns a grouse moor.
We know who’s in front of this “grassroots campaign”: Botham, who runs a shoot in North Yorkshire. But who’s behind it? Only one funder has so far been identified: the billionaire hedge fund owner Crispin Odey. We also know that the campaign is run by a lobbying company called Abzed. It boasts that “a besieged grouse moor community turned to Abzed. Our approach was to turn the spotlight on to the RSPB.” Very grassroots, I’m sure.
Claims made by the campaign keep falling apart. Last year the Telegraph had to issue a humiliating correction and apology to the RSPB after it repeated statements in a You Forgot the Birds press release that seem to have been conjured out of thin air. Last week, in the Mail and on the Today programme, Botham recited figures for the rare birds found on grouse moors during a survey by the British Trust for Ornithology. The BTO says it has conducted no such survey.
The purpose of the countryside, for people like Botham, Odey and Dacre, is an exclusive playground for the rich. For them, authentic country people are those who own or rent significant tracts of land, many of whom live in cities, and those who work for them, as long as they wear tweed instead of Gore-Tex. As for the RSPB and its members, they’re bipedal vermin. Never mind that many of them live and work in the countryside; they are interlopers with no right to a voice in rural life.
The media collaborates. News reporters describe shooting and hunting lobbyists as “countryside groups”, anointing them as the authentic rural voice and casting those who oppose them – who often seem to possess a far greater love for and knowledge of the countryside – as interfering townies. Documentary-makers seek a stereotyped rusticity which, though politically charged, is presented as the neutral and immutable spirit of rural life. The co-presenter of the series Clarissa and the Countryman was Sir Johnny Scott, a baronet who owns 5,000 acres in the Scottish borders: that’s what the BBC means by countryman. Where is he now? Ah yes, fronting up You Forgot the Birds with Botham.
When opposition is seen as illegitimate, it appears to be legitimate to cheat and bludgeon. That’s how the lords of the land have long maintained their pre-eminence. Today you can no longer call out the yeomanry, sit in judgment then have dissenters hanged. But there are other means of bypassing democracy. You buy yourself a crowd, or at least an outfit that looks like a crowd. You demand, from your position of comfortable anonymity, the silencing of people who contest your claims, like Packham. You use a corrupt and partisan media to hound them.
This is how politics works these days: astroturf groups (fake grassroots movements) and undisclosed interests are everywhere. The same forces are at play in the tobacco industry, fossil fuels, junk food, banking, guns, private health provision, in fact throughout public life. They recruit celebrities to front their campaigns. The astroturf groups confuse and obfuscate, make up stories and grant their anonymous backers plausible deniability.
They are a threat to democracy. Call them out, expose them to the light, and don’t believe a word they say.
Posted by Backsbottom Farm at 16:36