Conference: raptors, uplands and peatlands.
Sheffield 9 and 10 September
After the failure of the so-called leaders of the shooting community to argue their case and their cause at the Bird Fair they are sending out their seconds to this conference in Sheffield in a couple of weeks time.
See, hear and question Tim Baynes (Scottish Land and Estates), Adam Smith (GWCT Scotland) and Philip Merricks (Hawk and Owl Trust, who appears to think you are an eco-zealot).
Of great interest, the local MP, Angela Smith, Penistone and Stocksbridge (262 signatures supporting a ban on driven grouse shooting) will be setting the scene and opening the conference. What will this senior Labour Party MP say ahead of the expected debate on the future of driven grouse shooting?
See conference programme and online (or paper) booking details here.
By the way, your predecessor was equally rude.
Since I sent you that book, which has had rave reviews, and which is the case for banning driven grouse shooting, more than 55,000 more people have signed the e-petition to ban driven grouse shooting bringing the total today to over 117,000. Therefore it is highly likely that there will be a Westminster Hall debate on the subject and I believe that it is likely that you will need to close that debate. Please make sure that you are well briefed and please make sure that you do not mislead the public with whatever you say. You do have my book to hand, don’t you?
Your own constituents have been signing my e-petition with enthusiasm – over 350 to date which puts Suffolk Coastal in the top 10% of constituencies. And I know that several of your constituents have written to you on this subject and are awaiting your response which they will read extremely carefully.
Dr Mark Avery
Tim Appleton, joint Bird Fair founder (with Martin Davies) pictured with placard-man Chris Packham on the Friday of this year’s Bird Fair.
As the memories of Bird Fair 2016 begin to fade, and as we rush through the 358 days until we reassemble for the 29th annual British Birdwatching Fair, here are just a few thoughts.
- the Bird Fair is a well-established traditional point in the ornithological calendar – it is a festival of birdwatchers and birdwatching. It’s for us and we love it.
- But for it to exist, and for me to attend and enjoy chatting to my mates (which is what I spend a lot of time doing) it has to be a viable commercial operation and that means people either have to sponsor it or make money through it – there is going to be a commercial element to it. I’d be interested to know what the entrance fee would be if many of the more commercial elements were stripped away…
- The food is more varied and better than it used to be, the beer is still great and the coffee is still essential. The prices are perfectly reasonable for a festival event in a field with unpredictable weather and attendance. Yes, I’d like everything to be half the price it is too, but you just have to put your ‘I’m going out to enjoy myself’ face on.
- Yes there are too many old blokes on stage at the Bird Fair, I’m sometimes one of them, but when we’re all dead you’ll miss us. Have a look at the Author’s Forum line-up – mostly blokes, overwhelmingly blokes. Why was that? These authors are promoted by their publishers who presumably look through their stable of authors and… And…? Find that they have a lot of blokes writing their books?
- Given that there is an underlying commercial element to the Bird Fair I think that it is moving slowly in the right direction in terms of engagement. When you have so many birders (although it is rather broader than birders) gathered together in the same place then I’m surprised that the RSPB and Wildlife Trusts don’t do more to energise the masses of their supporters over the weekend. Still, the Bird Fair is moving slowly in the right direction in adding in more, whisper it quietly, political subjects to the programme. I thought it was great that we had Natalie Bennett at the Bird Fair this year (I would, I invited her) and I’d like to see the day when a couple of panels each had a couple of prominent MPs on them talking about nature – badger culls? raptor persecution? how your taxes fund farming? renewable energy? It would take ages to run out of controversial and relevant topics. But then, I write this every year (see 2015, 2014, 2013) but we are making slow progress. Although, of course, the Moorland Association and the Game and Wildlife so-called Conservation Trust were too scared, or too arrogant, or too lacking in confidence in their arguments to appear in front of 500 eco-zealots at the Bird Fair (and Amanda and Teresa would have helped the gender balance – they were asked…). Why not get a Dimbleby (doesn’t matter which one, they are as similar as a Chiffchaff and Willow Warbler) to chair a question time type debate next year?
- I spent a lot more money at the Bird Fair this year – I bought a book of Audubon plates in the auction for £70. Aren’t auctions clever? They play to one’s (mine anyway) competitive nature to ensure that one pays too much for things. Actually, I am very very happy with the book – I’ve looked at it a lot and it reminds me of travels in the USA, birds seen, National Parks enjoyed and conversations with waitresses in diners. And if I did pay over the odds – I have no idea – I am completely happy because here at the Bird Fair my money is going to a good cause – international wildlife conservation.
- Thank you Tim Appleton and everyone else who made the 2016 Bird Fair another in a long line of great successes.
- Henry had a good time at the Bird Fair. Will he be back next year? Maybe the campaign for Hen Harriers will have moved to a completely different place by then. We’ll see. But Henry has greatly enjoyed his second Bird Fair, and like the rest of us, has seen some things at the Bird Fair he’s never seen before and made some new friends.
Many of you are beginning to receive letters from your MPs about the expected debate on banning driven grouse shooting. Tomorrow’s blog post will give you some information for some ‘Firm briefing’ of your MP.
Also, tomorrow evening I will post the ‘Star letter of the week’ from an MP to a constituent. I hope to make this a regular weekly feature.
When I wrote to my MP, Mr Pursglove, I asked him if he would like a copy of Inglorious to read in order to get up to speed on the issue but he hasn’t said that he would.
He has written ‘I must say congratulations are in order for reaching more than 100,000 signatures‘ which was very polite and quite nice of him.
Although Mr Pursglove has not committed himself to attending the debate (we don’t know the date yet, after all) he does offer to write to ministers on my behalf.
And so I have asked him to write to Andrea Leadsom at Defra and ask for a full briefing on the state of play of the RSPB complaint to the European Commission on burning of blanket bogs and other moorland areas. When will the case be resolved? When will the papers referring to the complaint be made publicly available? What changes of Policy has Defra introduced to respond to what they have learned through this process? What does Defra think are the implications for flood risk mitigation of the frequent flooding of the Calder Valley constituents of his fellow Conservative MP Craig Whittaker and the links with intensive moorland management?
The world’s most-loved Hen Harrier gets all the glamour gigs but I enjoyed the Bird Fair too – I’ll give you some thoughts tomorrow. But here are some images with just a few words.
I see that Simon Lester has his own version of the Q&A at the Bird Fair out on the GWCT website. Good for him, although it’s still a pity that the Moorland Association and GWCT were not able to find a speaker from their ranks of owners to face a friendly 500-strong Bird Fair audience. Interesting that Simon writes in his blog, something he didn’t say from the stage, that he sees licensed control of raptors as part of the way forward. No Simon, that’s the way backwards for shooting.
I didn’t get into this photo but Chris Packham just did! I didn’t see much of Chris at the Bird Fair at all but he was spreading the word everywhere he went. He is a fantastic advocate for kindness to animals. And so passionate with it. We are planning some jolly japes for the next few weeks – watch this space.
Here’s Mary Colwell, author, radio producer and generally talented person who walked for Curlews this spring. I had a quick chat with her and I would have liked a longer one – the Bird Fair is like that, you see lots of really nice people but only for a really short period of time.
Talking of nice people… Some nice people bought some of my books. The updated paperback edition of Inglorious was the most popular but I signed hardbacks, copies of A Message from Martha, Behind the Binoculars and Fighting for Birds too – oh yes, and the first copies of Remarkable Birds.
But all good things come to an end – even if the e-petition to ban driven grouse shooting keeps on climbing. It passed 117,000 signatures today. We’ll all be back at the Bird Fair next year – I wouldn’t want to miss it. I wonder what the next 12 months will bring – the last year has been a blast!
Collected thoughts on the Bird Fair some time tomorrow.
The week before last there was copious coverage of driven grouse shooting before, on and after the inglorious 12th in the media – quite a lot of that was on BBC channels. This post is about how the BBC handled it and whether or not they were fair. I’d give the BBC only 5 out of 10 overall – but see what you think.
There is no doubt that the volume of coverage greatly aided the public awareness of the e-petition to ban driven grouse shooting and the importance of publicity cannot be underestimated.
Here is a broadly chronological, by time of broadcast, review of the BBC coverage of which I am aware and in some of which I took part.
Farming Today – early morning 11 August, BBC Radio 4
I have a low opinion of the integrity of Farming Today and that was further reduced by my experience of them in this case. Because of the possibility of being stitched up in the editing process I recorded all of the interview on my mobile phone as I sat in the BBC Radio Northampton studio talking to a far away interviewer and a far away Andrew Gilruth of GWCT. The transcript of what I said is reproduced here – I’m very glad I have the experience and the wit to have recorded the interview. Would you have thought to do the same?
The piece started with an incredibly sympathetic recording of a jolly visit to a grouse moor and then the edit of what I said allowed me c150 words to put the opposite case. I was shocked by the unfair and biased edit – and so glad I had recorded what was actually said.
I shall complain formally to the BBC over this and I will never again agree to do a recorded interview with Farming Today because I just do not trust them.
The World at One – didn’t happen, 11 August, BBC Radio 4
Andrew Gilruth and I were scheduled to do a rematch, live, on the Radio 4 flagship programme The World at One later that day. As I headed into London to get to the studio I got a phone call (c0930) from WatO (shouldn’t it be TWatO?) saying the piece had been dropped because we’d been on Farming Today. This was very irritating – I had already driven to Northampton, I’d already bought my train ticket, and I was looking forward to an unedited discussion in front of a large radio audience. I was told that WatO wouldn’t use us because the two us us had already been on. The BBC is not remotely joined up – no-one on Farming Today or on WatO had raised this possibility before – if they had I would have chosen WatO every time – a bigger audience, possibly a more sympathetic audience and a live unedited discussion! No contest!
The Today programme – 12 August, BBC Radio 4, Packham v Botham
This was prime time, prime audience stuff. The fact that Botham was halting and misleading can only have helped us get more signatures for our e-petition. Chris knows what he was talking about and got over a lot of good points – Botham attacked the RSPB and Chris Packham. Nick Robinson seemed overwhelmed by having two famous non-politicians at once on the programme and rather than let them slug it out, kept interrupting. Not great interview technique, particularly because he didn’t appear to know anything about the subject. And the BBC used the opportunity to air the whole business of Chris being outspoken about wildlife issues – this took up valuable time but will allow the BBC to tell the Countryside Alliance that these points were aired in front of a large audience (but it took time away from a debate on driven grouse shooting). But because Chris is a star, and Botham isn’t when it comes to wildlife (a former cricketing great of course), this was like gold dust for our e-petition.
BBC online news story – posted 12 August, corrected 15 August(?) and still there.
This is an online news story about the ructions over the Inglorious 12th – I wrote about it here because what appeared painted supporters of change as ‘animal rights activists’ (cf eco-zealots) and the shooting brigade (in whose number are wildlife criminals) as ‘countryside groups’.
All praise to Claire Marshall who commented on this blog and accepted responsibility (although it sounds that it wasn’t actually here fault) and got it changed online. But, as with Botham’s error over BTO surveys, the words once heard (or read) are rarely unheard (or unread) – the damage is done.
And the original words were used, as I wrote, to introduce me in several BBC local radio programmes – so they were probably used all over the place before being corrected and the corrected version was probably never uttered on air. As Claire commented ‘I accept this criticism as entirely valid. Late and lax editing‘.
BBC local radio programmes 11 and 12 August
I think I did five of these (York, Leeds, 3 Counties, Northampton and Cumbria). All were live, all were pretty easy really, although some had the unfortunate uncorrected words (see above) used to introduce the pieces. I don’t really have any complaints – the interviewer usually doesn’t know much about the subject (how could they?) and providing you sound interesting and keep talking you can get a lot of information out there. Radio York was the most challenging – and probably brought the best out of me. Radio Cumbria has quite a long interview with someone who makes money out of shooters, a short bit of me, and then a long piece of the Chair of the Moorland Association going on about money again which was a bit unbalanced, but hey! I’m not complaining. It was live and it wasn’t Farming Today.
Countryfile – 14 August – still on iplayer
Countryfile gave quite a lot of time to the issue of driven grouse shooting and covered it pretty well – again I have no complaints. Many at the Bird Fair said that they had enjoyed it and that it was a nice change to see Countryfile treating grouse shooting and moorland management as an issue rather than a stroll in a wildlife haven (see here and here for previous puff-jobs). And many said that it was good to be able to laugh whole-heartedly at Duncan Thomas and to see Andrew Gilruth looking a bit uncertain and shifty on TV. Well, at least they turned up for this unlike at the Bird Fair.
It’s difficult to know whether the long conversations I had with the researcher on the programme shifted the Countryfile position from what seemed to be ‘aren’t you a load of nutters attacking a traditional money earning country pursuit’ to its eventual neutral position of ‘there’s quite a lot to get your head round here’ – but I think it probably did. The fact that the said researcher had a copy of Inglorious and I could keep saying ‘look at page X’ didn’t do our case any harm either.
Hen Harrier tagging at Geltsdale on BBC Radio 4 PM and TV 6 o’clock news – 18 August
I didn’t see the TV piece and I only caught some of the radio piece so I can’t really say – although others have said that it couldn’t have been better, so maybe the moorland shooting community are moaning like hell about it – haven’t noticed that though.
So, things got better and better as the coverage went on – if it had stopped at that awful Farming Today programme then I would still be livid.
The BBC got a grouse moor owner’s wife to review their countryside coverage a few years ago (what she wrote, who she is) and I think that review has coloured BBC coverage of shooting ever since. In addition, the BBC has very few journalists who know much about the issues of nature conservation and the environment. Their idea of balance is letting everyone have the same amount of time – there is little challenge of falsehoods or errors. That is hardly balance in the real world – letting one side tell the truth and giving the other side the same amount of time to lie (I exaggerate to make the point and I hope you get the point). It is not the job of programme makers to make everyone look good, whether what they say is correct or incorrect. That’s why the more live programmes there are, particularly with feisty speakers like Chris Packham (and I guess myself) the better.
The BBC needs to raise its game generally on environmental matters – it isn’t doing well enough and it should do much better. Overall, on the coverage discussed above, I would have to give the BBC 10 out of 10 for the amount of coverage – but then that’s because our e-petition was making the news (and that wasn’t an accident). But I would only give the BBC 5 out of 10 for the way they covered the issues – Farming Today was the lowest point and Countryfile was the highest.
My day so far (before 0830):
- sent thank you emails to 30+ people who have written to their MP about driven grouse shooting
- went out to Stanwick Lakes and saw the Turnstone that has been there for a few days
- had breakfast, two slices of toast and marmite, in the garden
- saw a Holly Blue in the garden
- added Bullfinch to the garden list
- added garden Bullfinch record to Birdtrack
- re-read the passage in Remarkable Birds about the Bullfinch
How is your day starting?
We’ve passed 116,000 signatures and as I go to sleep we are close to 117,000. Woohoo!!!
Here’s a list of all the constituencies over 350 signatures:
- Calder Valley 741
- High Peak 538
- Ross, Skye and Lochaber 493
- Bristol West 485
- Inverness, Nairn, Badenoch and Strathspey 459
- Derbyshire Dales 450
- Sheffield Central 429
- Skipton and Ripon 424
- Brighton, Pavilion 421
- Westmorland and Lonsdale 404
- Edinburgh North and Leith 401
- Sheffield Hallam 398
- Isle of Wight 387
- Argyll and Bute 386
- Stroud 381
- Lancaster and Fleetwood 381
- Ribble Valley 375
- Thirsk and Malton 369
- North Norfolk 357
Those underlined and in bold have had at least one constituent writing to the sitting MP and expressing their support for the ban driven grouse shooting e-petition. That’s most of them, but come on, please, fellow Bristolians and get writing, and you in Stroud too, and where are the letters to the former Deputy Prime Minister, Nick Clegg, in Sheffield Hallam?
Over 200 of you have written to your MP (about 160 of them) and asked them to attend, and speak in favour of change in the uplands. That’s fantastic – but more letters will help get an even better response.
Just as an aside, the gender of those getting in touch with me saying they have written to their MPs is 2men:1woman, which might indicate a lot of response from men, but I’d interpret it differently. I think most of the comments on this blog come from men, and every poll I have had here, without checking, I believe has had a preponderance of blokes too. Feels to me that when there is some real work to be done, writing a letter, it’s the ‘fairer’ sex which leaps forward with most enthusiasm. So come on blokes (and gals!) get writing, please. The response so far is fantastic – amaze me even more, please.
And responses are coming back from some MPs – thanks for sending them through. Some are good and some are pretty bad. The bad ones are standard replies provided by the political parties, and so many people are getting the same words back. On Friday I will start giving you words that you can use in response to some of these words (a job for the weekend?). By replying to your MP you will show her or him that you know what you are talking about (and that she or he doesn’t) and you will help improve the factual accuracy of what other writers receive – ‘Firm briefing’ will keep MPs honest and help raise the level of accuracy of the debate on driven grouse shooting.
‘Beautiful plumage Jim!’ – says Henry to the man who commissioned Inglorious
And then Henry gets in amongst the artists, starting with Keith Brockie, who knows his birds…
…and on to Carry Akroyd…
…and then to Darren Woodhead who knows a harrier when he sees one.
BIG thanks Mark!
And then, since others were doing so, Henry thought he ought to think about his holidays. He was told that Orkney was a very nice place with big juicy voles.
and BBC Wildlife…
But in a moment of seriousness, Henry wanted to give a big shout out to Birdlife Malta for all they do to combat wildlife crime…
…and say that you can do your bit to end a pointless hobby that is underpinned by wildlife crime by signing this e-petition to ban driven grouse shooting.
At the Bird Fair, over 11,000 leaflets were taken away for delivery around the country (certainly England and Wales).
I’m grateful to those of you who will be walking the streets and delivering these leaflets over the next few weeks – thank you and every signature counts.
I met karl (sic) and Dave at the Bird Fair – two people to whom I had delivered leaflets a couple of weeks ago but had not met face to face. It’s always good to meet the supporters of the campaign – we are a pretty varied bunch, we really are. I would be amazed if there were many similarities between us other than a love of birds of prey, respect for the law and a wish for a better environmental future.
Thank you all.
I am not planning to get any more leaflets printed now that we have passed the 100,000 barrier – remaining resources will be directed at Firm Briefing.