I’m heading back ‘oop north’ tomorrow. Having spoken at the Ilkley Literature Festival on Saturday (hope to write a few words about that soon – but it was fun!) I’ll be quite nearby at the Geography Department in Leeds University tomorrow lunchtime (Garstang level 8 seminar room) and then at the Hebden Bridge Trades Club in the evening.
Leeds University led the EMBER study (Effects of Moorland Burning on Ecohydrology of Rivers) (Inglorious pp 225-9).
Hebden Bridge appears on pages 188-92 of Inglorious and is overshadowed by the rather infamous Walshaw Moor (Inglorious pp 149-57, 175-6, 190-2; and see all blog posts tagged as ‘Wuthering Moors‘ here).
I’m looking forward to both talks – very much. I’m sure I’ll learn things at both.
Today the League Against Cruel Sports publish a report by Andy Wightman (land ownership expert) and Ruth Tingay (raptor expert) on Scottish grouse moors. It seems, to me, to be a bit of a departure for LACS as its full of rather dry facts – dry, that is, until you put them all together in a report like this. Well done to the authors and to LACS.
The report covers such areas as the legal framework for grouse shooting, muirburn, roads and tracks, medication for grouse, ticks, fencing, lead, raptor persecution and disturbance. It brings the information together in an accessible form with examples.
The issues over roads and tracks will be more familiar to those north of the border than those to the south, and I do wonder why the Scottish government allows its landscape, prized by tourists, to be scarred by ugly new tracks and roads (and fences!) which are simply there to make grouse shooting a bit easier.
But I found the fairly short section (the whole report is only 28 pages) on economics and finance very interesting. The suggestion is made that agricultural subsidies on grouse moors are based on the existence of sheep flocks which are really there to mop up ticks. Although the Scottish government wanted to exclude grouse moors from these payments, EU rules do not allow it. Poor Scottish hill farmers must be delighted that large chunks of Scotland’s pot of money is going to the likes of Jersey-based and Bahamas-based companies owning grouse moors. I know I am thrilled by that myself!
This section also reveals (it was a revelation to me) that in the 10 years 2004-2014 grouse moors in Scotland outperformed all other sporting properties and increased in capital value by 49% – or a 4.1% pa return on capital. That’s a pretty good return through the age of recession and austerity isn’t it? As Knight Frank are quoted as saying the returns from a ‘well-managed [their words, not mine , nor of the authors of this report] and heavily invested moor may be significantly higher because greater numbers of birds are being shot each year‘.
It might seem to some that money is fuelling the intensification of land management, land mismanagement and wildlife crime in Scotland.
I’m sure the recommendations of the report will go down like a lead balloon (they suggest banning lead ammunition) or a shot Mountain Hare (they suggest a moratorium on hare killing for three years) with Scottish Land and Estates in Scotland. But the eight recommendations all fall into the category of tightening up the regulation of grouse shooting and getting a grip on what is happening in the hills. Why shouldn’t roads on grouse moors be subject to full planning consent process? Why shouldn’t agricultural payments be mapped – it’s our money after all?! Etc etc
This report brings together a whole lot of information (and I note that Inglorious is in the reference list!) in a useful way. It makes you wonder why grouse shooting is so loosely regulated and so heavily subsidised by the rest of us? But it also reinforces the view that the vested interests are immense. Imagine we did succeed in banning driven grouse shooting (as we will). The capital value of that land would plummet and huge sums would be wiped off the profits and assets of a few landowners and sporting agents – they are bound to fight for the status quo that suits them, the few, so well, even though it disadvantages us, the many. Land prices would fall, profits would be lost and the world would be a much better place. Carbon would be stored and protected, rivers would be richer in fish and invertebrates, landscapes would be restored to a more natural beauty, and wildlife crime would be reduced dramatically. Let’s do that – in England at least – sign here to get a debate on the future of driven grouse shooting.
Look what came through the post the other day.
Shall we now see the Woodland Trust campaigning to protect the Dormice of Fineshade Wood?
There are just under 1500 Peregrine pairs in the UK and Isle of Man, and for the first time (since records began) more of them are in England (628 pairs (cf 471 in 2002)) than Scotland (509 pairs (cf 571 in 2002)). Numbers have gone up in Northern Ireland but down in Wales and the Isle of Man.
What seems to be happening is that Peregrines are doing well in the lowlands and badly in the uplands, and that’s why my lowland existence is much richer in Peregrines than it used to be and why my personal observations are that Peregrines are doing well, whereas the truth is that the national recovery of the Peregrine population is at a standstill.
An analysis of the Peregrine data at a more local level in Scotland, published in Scottish Birds (see Raptor Persecution Scotland blog), shows a similar pattern within North East Scotland. Peregrines have increased at coastal lowland sites but continued to decline in the uplands – including in the Cairngorms National Park.
I’ll be very interested to see what the results from the Peak District National Park will be in due course, where, of course, a special project has been running for five years with the aim of increasing the Peregrine population to 15 pairs by this year (in line with populations when the SPA was designated). I did see a Peregrine in the PDNP this year, but it wouldn’t be on my go-to list of places to go to see birds of prey. Given the information at the North of England Raptor Forum meeting last year, I’ll tell you now, there won’t have been 15 pairs of Peregrines in the target area this year.
UK National Parks are a bit of a joke as far as wildlife is concerned. Set up, in England and Wales, by the 1949 National Parks Act (and the idea came up and was progressed whilst we were quite preoccupied by fighting a World War) they exist to ‘Conserve and enhance natural beauty, wildlife and cultural heritage’ and yet National Parks in England, mostly in the uplands, are as shockingly depauperate in top predators as the rest of the uplands – in fact, probably rather more so!
Peregrines, Hen Harriers and Goshawks are all persecuted like mad in National Parks whilst the NP Authorities wring their hands and cosy up to the grouse shooters who are major ‘stakeholders’ in their lives. English National Parks in the uplands, are crime scenes that are simply shocking.
As you enter the North York Moors, Yorkshire Dales or Peak District National Parks the entrance sign should read ‘Raptor free zone – turn round and go back to your cities if you want to see any birds of prey!’ and this would help meet a second aim of NPs which is to ‘Promote opportunities for the understanding and enjoyment of the special qualities of national parks by the public’. The special qualities of English upland National Parks is that they are grouse farms where birds of prey are not tolerated and the NP authorities have failed to clamp down on crime. Perhaps every car park in these three National Parks ought to have a notice apologising for the lack of wildlife in them, but saying that the relationships with important stakeholders who shoot chicken-like birds for fun are perfectly satisfactory.
In May 2014 the Convenor of the Cairngorms National Park Authority complained to the Scottish Environment Minister that continued raptor persecution in the area “threatens to undermine the reputation of the National Park as a high quality wildlife tourism destination” (see here). Down here in England we don’t even get that type of rhetoric but we do have National Parks whose reputations are tarnished – unless you fancy a day’s grouse shooting in which case they are the places to go.
Governments north and south of the England/Scotland border fail to have a grip on this issue. It is perfectly clear that Defra does not give a damn about wildlife crime in or out of National Parks – inaction speaks louder than words.
If you sign this e-petition then we might get a debate in parliament and someone might suggest that we start tackling the problems of driven grouse shooting by banning it in our National Parks.
Pete Etheridge is passionate about nature, the countryside and sustainable land management. He has, in the past, worked in estate management, as well as for conservation charities and commercial ecological consultancies. He is shortly set to join a revolutionary farm in South Devon, where he will be helping to promote the principles of agroecology and agroforestry.
Over an enjoyable pint of Ringwood Fortyniner recently, I got into a ‘heated discussion’ with a flat capped gentleman over the pros and cons of driven grouse shooting. He was arguing that it was a vital conservation tool, I was arguing that it should be banned or, at the very least, it must significantly alter the way it currently conducts itself.
The conversation ended rather abruptly when the flat capped gentleman told me that he “Wouldn’t expect a townie to understand these things” and that “Management of the countryside should be left to real countrymen”. And that was it. Discussion over. You see, because I didn’t fit with his preconceived vision of a ‘real countryperson’ (I was in tatty jeans and a hoody), all of my arguments were dismissed out of hand. Dismissed with one nasal snort and a final swig of real ale.
Now I’m fairly thick skinned, but I do object to having a good discussion curtailed like this. Informed debate and discussion, after all, is how our views and opinions evolve and develop. And this wasn’t the first time that this had happened to me. So it got me wondering – what makes a ‘real countryperson’ anyway?
Back in the Beginning
I was brought up in a small rural village in Hampshire, spending much of my childhood exploring the New Forest. I inherited my love of wildlife and the countryside from my dad – a former horse trainer & life member of the British Field Sports Society (as it was). As a teenager I was a keen sea angler (although surprisingly I was never overly tempted by coarse or game fishing) and I often bunked off of college to follow the New Forest Foxhounds on a Tuesday morning. I enjoyed holidays in the Lake District where I used to (attempt to!) follow Barry Todhunter up hill and down dale with the Blencathra Foxhounds. I didn’t take part in shooting sports in my younger days; that had to wait until I’d finished university. Although even as a teenager, I often romanticised about heading out to the estuaries for a spot of wildfowling or perhaps shooting the occasional fallow deer for the pot.
I respected those ’countrymen’ around me, be they New Forest commoners, foresters, huntsmen or farmers, they were true ‘salt of the earth’ types. They, I decided, really understood the working countryside – far better than the academics or conservationists sat in their distant offices. I was sold. Nothing would dissuade me – I was a countryman by birth, by descent, and by choice.
The Cracks Begin to Appear
Fast forward a number of years, time went by, I attended and graduated from university and got a job in private estate management, but throughout I remained a keen proponent of field sports. A few events, however, started to change my views…
My resolve to support foxhunting came to an abrupt end when I became a dog owner. I had always been told that foxes “do not feel fear” and “cannot comprehend their own mortality” and that was key to my view that foxhunting was a justified form of fox control. When I became a dog owner, however, I realised how wrong I had been. My dog feels fear (crikey, he even has panic attacks!), he forms attachments to other living organisms (cats aside…) and I simply cannot comprehend how he would feel being hunted by a pack of hounds across the open countryside. Whilst I obviously recognise that a fox is not the same species as a domestic dog, there is nothing to suggest to me that a fox is any less able to feel fear and panic than my dog. Fox hunting was the first field sport that I decided I could no longer support.
Once I had reassessed my views on foxhunting, I reluctantly began to look at shooting. Whilst I remained (and remain) comfortable with the principles of sustainable shooting of wild animals for food, I began to question the idea of captive-reared gamebird shooting. I began to wonder exactly what impacts large gamebird releases have on our native species of wildlife – do the habitats set aside as shooting coverts counterbalance the predation impact (by gamebirds) on reptiles, invertebrates and small mammals?
I also began to question why the shooting industry was so opposed to the banning of lead ammunition. To my mind, the scientific evidence was overwhelming. Using lead shot is a danger to the environment and detrimental to the health of the people who eat the species being shot. Why would the industry, my industry, not accept the evidence and, like a responsible adult, announce its intention to change its ways? To my mind it was an easy PR win. I questioned BASC about this and received a reply asking me to call them about it. To my shame, I never made that phone call, but I do wonder why they weren’t prepared to respond to my emailed request in writing. It was around this time that I decided that I would no longer use lead ammunition and that I would not partake in shooting sports that involved the rearing and release of gamebirds. But I still didn’t want to force those personal principles on anyone else.
The latest stage of my journey didn’t happen overnight. In Inglorious, Mark gives us an insight into the long thought process that he went through before launching his first petition to ban driven grouse shooting. I gave my decision to sign the petition and to support a ban on driven grouse shooting equally heavy consideration. My decision ultimately was made on the continued inability of the shooting industry to accept its faults (even in the face of scientific evidence) and change its ways. I also became disillusioned as I became aware that for many proponents of field sports, it is an ‘all or nothing approach’. It often appears that all field sports (whether they be trophy hunting, hunting with hounds or bow hunting for example) need to be defended equally. But by criticising the unsustainable (and/or unnecessarily cruel) elements of field sports, there is the opportunity for the industry to grow, develop, and prove to everyone that it can be a progressive industry. An industry willing to accept scientific evidence and amend its working practices accordingly.
Where Am I Now?
My journey has taken me from field sports enthusiast, to someone who is now categorised, out-of-hand, as a townie. So what’s changed? Not my involvement in the countryside, that’s for sure. In fact, I am more involved in the working countryside now than at any point in the past. So where do I now fall on the spectrum? Well, you’ll have to judge for yourself. Does being a ‘real countryperson’ mean that I must become desensitised to, and support, the wholescale killing of wildlife for sport? If taking part in field sports is now the only defining feature of a ‘real countryperson’, then forget it. I’ll hang up my waxed jacket and wellies and become a fully-fledged townie. If, on the other hand, being a real countryperson is being someone who lives and works in the countryside, someone who respects the old ways and traditions but is prepared to question whether they can be improved (or are indeed still relevant), well, maybe I can continue to think of myself as a real countryperson after all.
So that is my journey (so far). I hope it provides encouragement that people can and do change if they remain open to evidence and reason. The debate over driven grouse shooting is likely to rumble on but, in my mind at least, the science and evidence point in only one direction – it’s time to ban driven grouse shooting.
And another milestone is passed. Thank you everyone!
The next milestone is pretty close too: last year we reached 22,399 signatures in 10.5 months and that total is within reach inside three months.
Please sign the e-petition to get a debate on driven grouse shooting and please join the Thunderclap to help spread the word to even more people.
It was last Sunday that our e-petition to ban driven grouse shooting – or at least to get a debate on the subject in the Westminster parliament – passed 20,000 signatures.
Yesterday, Saturday it romped past 21,000 and today, it is within a couple of score of 22,000.
Please note – we are not even half way through our six months allotted time and the pace is not slowing down!
There isn’t anything new in it for readers of this blog (The findings of the Lead Ammunition Group, 9 September 2015 ) except some quotes.
Those quotes from the chair of the group, the ex chief executive of the British Association for Shooting and Conservation, John Swift, are very sensible – and indeed quite brave considering the flak he is getting from his former friends and colleagues in the shooting organisations.
But do mark this quote from the chief executive of the Countryside Alliance, Tim Bonner, ‘There is very little clear, peer-reviewed evidence, of any problem to human health and the environment from lead ammunition that can’t be solved with clear advice on things such as how to butcher game meat properly.’
Let’s see what the forthcoming conference proceedings of a meeting held in Oxford with eminent scientists has to say on that subject – not even Mr Bonner’s best friends (I’m not one of them) would describe him as an eminent scientist.
And then let’s see what the report of the LAG itself looks like when it is published.
The last line of the Telegraph piece is this: ‘Shooting groups say 600,000 people in Britain shoot live quarry, clay pigeons or targets and that the sport supports 74,000 full time jobs and is worth £2 billion to the UK economy.’. Let’s take this figure at face value (although it is q bit dodgy I believe), but none of that would be at threat from a switch to non-toxic ammunition, and if non-toxic ammunition costs the shooter a little bit more (which is also arguable) then shooting will be worth even more to the UK economy won’t it?
Ralph is on holiday – and he deserves it! He has provided cartoons for this website for three years now – very reliable guy!
Here are a few of my favourites from 2013!