Two days last week

I drove to Rainham Marshes to meet a friend for lunch and birding – both were good. We saw a very attractive Marsh Harrier with a cream crown and there were Blackwits and Golden Plover, and Pintail and Shovelerand Cetti’s Warbler and Stonechat too.

And we moaned about the government, and a little about the feebleness of some NGOs, but Nature kept breaking in on us and interrupting. It’s like that.

Rainham was on the way to East Grinstead, where I was talking to the RSPB Local Group that evening. I thought that East Grinstead was basically one end of the Gatwick runway but it was very pretty – and the Gothic House on the High Street was a good place to stay.

The talk, half on Passenger Pigeons, half on banning driven grouse shooting, went well – if I say so myself. There was an ex-gamekeeper in the audience who didn’t smile very much at my jokes and another guy nearby who sat with a sour look on his face and his arms crossed all evening. I don’t know why people pay to come to a talk if they are going to hate it so much! But the rest of the crowd was very appreciative and the room was full – fuller than usual I was told – and I sold lots of books that evening.

East Grinstead is actually close to Lingfield racecourse but it was dark as I left for Dorset.

I was heading to Dorchester. My route took me past a couple more racecourses, Fontwell and Goodwood, as well as past the RSPB reserve at Pulborough – haven’t visited for ages, great place, couldn’t stop – and then within sight of Maiden Castle on the outskirts of Dorchester but it was hardly the weather for Adonis Blues!

I had left East Grinstead more or less at 7am, after a continental (ie pretend!) breakfast off a tray, so en route I looked for places for breakfast. In the USA there would have been somewhere providing delicious, real, hash browns and ad lib coffee and a waitress with good conversation, but I just kept passing Little Chefs.  Eventually, I stopped at a Little Chef which had a hearse, with coffin, parked out of sight around the back of it. That set the tone. There was nothing wrong with the mushroom omelette, apart from the eggs and the mushrooms both tasting of cardboard, but it was good to have a break.

As I drove, I heard the reporting of the Oxford Lead Symposium on the Today programme and wished they had given it more space – I blame George Osborne who was talking about his climb-down on tax credits. He is such an accomplished politician and brilliant (at times) speaker, it’s hard not to like him but I still manage. It was a bit rich that he pushed the lead story off Today, I thought.

I like Dorset – I could live in Dorset.  Although the weather wasn’t great the views were good.

As I headed for my destination I stopped and asked a couple of soggy dog walkers (yes they were soggy, and so were their dogs) the way. They told me they were new to this area so couldn’t really help. I spoke mostly to the woman but I glanced at the man and thought he looked a little familiar – some scruffy birder no doubt.

I tried down a narrow lane, it must be down here somewhere, and met my host and parked. As we talked the two dog walkers came along and we chatted for a second until I was asked whether I was Mark Avery – and I had to admit I was. I thought it was a scruffy birdwatcher but it turned out to be a member of the House of Lords – Lord Knight, former Environment Minister (and a good one at that – see page 271 0f Fighting for Birds for an anecdote).  It was one of those amazing, or not so amazing, coincidences. Of all the soggy Dorset hamlets in all the world etc etc…  the last time I had seen Lady Knight she was a lady but not a Lady, and the last time I saw Jim he was a Knight, but not a Lord, and mostly a Mr and a Minister.

And then I got to know my host, whom I had never met before. I’m tempted to try to retain an air of mystery but it was Kevin Parr, author of my ‘Book of the Year‘ award (no money changed hands) last year for his excellent novel The Twitch. I was visiting him to interview him for Behind the Binoculars ‘2’ so I can’t really tell you much else about our meeting, though he did cook me a delicious lunch and I’d recommend his cooking above that of the Little Chef.

I headed homewards close to Rampisham Down and past Wincanton racecourse before it got properly dark.

It was a good couple of days – talking, birding, driving past racecourses and nature reserves, looking at the view, listening to the radio, meeting old friends by design and accident and meeting a new one.

For my ‘Books of the Year for 2015’ come back on Sunday – but don’t be a stranger in between either!



Another milestone – thank you!

25,000 signatures to ban driven grouse shooting




Let them eat Lead!

Red Grouse 1c fat arrows - Copy

In a typical act of generosity, grouse moors are donating excess carcasses of lead-shot Red Grouse to the poor and elderly. The science shows that the average lead-shot Red Grouse has lead levels that are higher than would be legal in other meats. Lead is a poison for which there is no harmless level for ingestion.  The photo above shows the tiny fragments of lead that spread through the carcass of a Red Grouse shot with lead shot (and one large, largely intact, shot).

Giving away unwanted carcasses is another example of the generosity of the grouse moor owners, should we need to see one. Ian Gregory (yes, he of YFTB – funded by the British grouse industry), the spokesperson for Game Share said ‘We want to make this part of game shooting culture.  We are trying to add the good cause to the good meal so that people see the social responsibility.’.  Apparently, other game will be added to this initiative in time.  Opinions differ as to the social responsibility of driven grouse shooting – some would call it Inglorious.

London restaurants which can charge upwards of £25 for a Red Grouse meal are said to be absolutely thrilled.

As a benchmark, the Food Standards Agency (in the minutes of the Lead Ammunition Group meetings) regard two meals of lead-shot game per year as being the order of intake that won’t have much impact on overall exposure to lead; ‘From estimates of dietary exposure, occasional consumption of lead-shot game birds (about twice a year), or monthly consumption of lead-shot venison will have a minimal effect on overall exposure to lead‘.  No doubt Game Share pass on this advice to the lucky recipients of the high-lead meat.

More details on the impacts of lead from ammunition on wildlife and human health can be found in the recently published Oxford Lead Symposium.

No doubt Fareshare, the recipients of the grouse meat, will have been pointed towards the 2008 conference proceedings organised by the Peregrine Fund which looked at venison donations in the USA and Canada. I understand that it is not legal to sell venison in the USA and so all deer killed are buried (seems a waste to me), consumed by the hunters themselves or donated to others.  Across the USA deer were donated to community action food programmes – which seems a very good idea. However, the realisation that lead levels can be high in lead-shot venison, (and are generally higher in small game such as grouse, partridge and pheasant) led US health experts to conclude that there was a previously unrecognised threat to human health from donation of lead-contaminated venison. It’s good that Game Share has learned ‘so much’ from the distant experience of the USA and Canada. [See also HUNT, W.G., R.T. WATSON, J.L. OAKS, C.N. PARISH, K.K. BURNHAM, R.L. TUCKER, J.R. BELTHOFF, AND G.HART. 2009. Lead bullet fragments in venison from rifle-killed deer: potential for human dietary exposure. ‘We conclude that people risk exposure to lead from bullet fragments when they eat venison from deer killed with standard lead-based rifle bullets and processed under normal procedures. At risk in the U.S. are some ten million hunters, their families, and low-income beneficiaries of venison donations.’].

It has long been an argument of the grouse shooting lobby that people should be free to choose what they eat and I’d just note that this does not apply to recipients of donated lead-shot game and that there is a responsibility on the donors of such meat to inform the recipients of any health risks and to ensure that donations do not lead to high levels of lead ingestion.  From the reporting of this well-meaning initiative it is not clear that the grouse shooters’ ‘Spread the Lead‘ initiative is informing the recipients of the donated meat of its lead content.

Exposure to high dietary lead levels from eating game meat was once the risk run mainly by shooters and the families of gamekeepers, but at a stroke, the ‘Spread the Lead‘ initiative has brought game meat with high lead levels into the lives of the old and poor – we’re all in it together.

There is a very simple solution to this problem – switch to non-toxic ammunition. You can help persuade government of this by signing Rob Sheldon’s e-petition to ban toxic ammunition and require shooters to use non-toxic alternative. In one stroke that would transform Game Share from a dodgy pr initiative into a social initiative of some value.  We should still ban driven grouse shooting but if they weren’t using lead ammunition to shoot into food then that would be one less argument against grouse shooting.

Meanwhile, in a laboratory far far away, packs of grouse meat purchased at Iceland stores earlier this year are being tested for their lead levels. Watch this space.




Single Pheasant costs United Utilities £25m


Photo: Oscar Dewhurst

Correction: Hi Mark. Andy Carter here from the United Utilities press office. Did you see that the Times had apologised for getting this wrong (Mark – no I didn’t)? A dead pheasant in a pipe was one of the various rumours circulating during the time we had customers on a boil water notice in Lancashire. The cause/source is still under investigation by the Drinking Water Inspectorate and we await its report.


A Pheasant, one of the 40+million Pheasants released into the British countryside each year, which became trapped in a water pipe, led to compensation payments by United Utilities adding up to £25m (see The Times).  The Pheasant was trapped in a water pipe near Gartang in Lancashire, near where the River Wyre drains off the Forest of Bowland where the Duke of Westminster releases huge numbers of Pheasants onto his ‘grouse’ moor.  The origin of the Pheasant is unknown, except in so far as it is a non-native species which does not naturally occur in Europe.

About 300,000 homes were affected when traces of Cryptosporidium, which can lead to diarrhoea and vomiting, were found in the water supply.

United Utilities profits for the year were cut by around 20% as a result of the compensation payments and overtime to staff.

That’s over £25m that should be taken off the nominal economic benefits of shooting and all down to a single Pheasant.





Thank you for the tweetstorm and thunderclap


Yesterday evening #justiceforannie and #bandrivengrouseshooting were trending on Twitter – that was fun!

Those tweets will be read by people over the next few days and will certainly take our e-petition to ban driven grouse shooting past 25,000 signatures some time soon. It looks like 25,000 signatures will be an early Christmas present.

Thank you to all the people at, and engaged with, Moving Mountains Nature Networks who masterminded this – they are exploring new ways of mobilising people on social media.  It’s a new way forward in popular campaigning and they are leading the way.

Meanwhile, if you’d like to see a debate on the future of driven grouse shooting them please sign here – ban driven grouse shooing.




In two hours’ time…


At 8pm the following message will go out to over 6.1 million social media accounts:

Please SIGN/SHARE this petition to #BanDrivenGrouseShooting. The illegal shooting of “Annie” warrants a debate!

Will we see a massive, a moderate, or a miniscule rise in the number of signatures on the e-petition to ban driven grouse shooting? I have no idea – but I know that with the support and social media skills of Moving Mountains Nature Network we will have given it a good shot!

The social reach of the thunderclap has increased by over 150,000 since this morning.

My Twitter account will be pretty busy this evening – all about grouse shooting and Hen Harriers. Apologies in advance if it gets a bit too much for anyone!


Wildlife Trusts in a muddle – in their own words

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I was very disappointed to read this from the respected CEO of my local wildlife trust.  It’s quite likely that the very few words at his disposal made the views of the Beds, Cambs and Northants WT sound sillier than they actually are – but they are his and their chosen words!

The Wildlife Trusts cannot present a united front on any difficult issue, it seems. This looked like Brian going out of his way to suggest that the BCNWT isn’t bothered about Hen Harriers (although they occur annually in all three counties, of course), regard persecution as a welfare issue and regard it more important to talk to the landed gentry than to stand up for nature. I’m sure he didn’t mean that – but I really am not sure what he did mean.

Despite the participation of the Derbyshire WT at Hen Harrier Day 2015, and a good turn out from the Sheffield WT on Hen Harrier Day 2014, I haven’t got a clue what the WT movement think about raptor persecution and Hen Harrier persecution in particular. It was always difficult to get them to engage with this issue because it was to do with birds, and because it was contentious. How we miss folk like Derek Moore who would bang a few heads together amongst his colleagues (I imagine!) and get a bit of sense to emerge.

Where do the Wildlife Trusts stand on Hen Harrier persecution?  I assume they are against it.  A Guest Blog is available here, no word limit, if they would like to be rather clearer about where they stand, or sit.

But all members of the Wildlife Trusts are very welcome to joint the thunderclap #justiceforannie and to sign the e-petition to get the Westminster parliament to ban driven grouse shooting.


A special day – perhaps


I’m not really sure how today will play out – but I’m grateful to those, all of those, who have put in a lot of effort to make it a success.

At 8pm this evening over 6 million messages will be sent out over social media networks asking folk to sign the e-petition to ban driven grouse shooting and therefore to secure a debate in the Houses of Parliament.

It may be a complete flop or it may make my day – I can’t tell what will happen, and I can’t tell you what I think will happen either.  I’m on edge and puzzled.

Thank you to all who have joined the thunderclap in support of my e-petition, I am very grateful for the support that you have given to this proposal.

I do believe that driven grouse shooting is on its last legs – it has no real justification for continuing.  Your support for the e-petition and/or the thunderclap will move this debate on enormously. It’s in your hands, not mine.


Climate march in London today


Together we are powerful – that was the message that thousands of people sent to our politicians in London this afternoon – and others were sending the same message in other cities across the UK and across the world this weekend.

How many of us were there? I don’t know. I’d guess 20,000-40,000 but maybe more.

Who were we? There were plenty of banners and placards from the usual suspects on climate change: Oxfam, Greenpeace, Friends of the Earth, WWF, CAFOD, the Greens, Tearfund, RSPB, the Woodland Trust and others. I didn’t see a single Wildlife Trust logo but they may have been there too – they said they were!

But Hen Harriers against climate change were there…


…and it was good to see Richard and Lyn Ebbs. Whenever I see them they are at a march, it seems.

Other strange species were also present as we set off along Park Lane.


We, we people and sundry animals, were addressed by a range of people, most of whom I couldn’t see, and some of whom I couldn’t hear, and several of whom I can’t remember. But I do remember that as well as Baroness Featherstone (LibDem) and the sainted Caroline Lucas (Green) we heard from Jeremy Corbyn (Lab).  Corbyn, and someone from the fire brigades union, were the best speakers in that they did three things: said something sensible, were audible and were short. They both sounded like people who had addressed public rallies before. It was good to see and hear Corbyn in what some predict as being one of his last appearances as Labour leader!  I doubt it, but you never know.

The government and the Conservative Party did not take up the opportunity to address thousands of engaged voters on the great things that the UK would help to make happen in Paris next week. What a lost opportunity. What a surprise.

While we are at it though, what a surprise that there was no banner proclaiming, grouse moor owners against climate change. Or Countryside Alliance against hot air. Or Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust love people and planet. Or even British Association for Shooting and Conservation for meatless Mondays.  There is no reason why those who shoot should not be just as concerned about the impacts of climate change on rural people, farmers, red grouse, waterfowl etc as the rest of us – but it appears they are not. You, and I, would have been really surprised to see them publicly present at such a rally, wouldn’t we? What does that tell us about their aims?

We carried on our walk, and I met lots of friends and readers of this blog.



















Calling all (Lib Dems and) Greens

Petition Lib Dems and Greens

Signatures map from The share of the vote images came from the BBC

The Green Party of England and Wales is the only UK political party, as far as I am aware, which supports a ban of driven grouse shooting.  And this has not just been through passive support, the party leader, Natalie Bennett, has added her name to the #justiceforannie thunderclap and has spoken out in social media on this subject. Thank you Natalie – your support is much appreciated.

The rather faint (I’m afraid) map of Green Party share of the vote (above right) is a pretty good fit with the map of signatures for our e-petition to ban driven grouse shooting.

Green seats, just Caroline Lucas’s, or target seats at the last general election, or seats where Greens came second,  have high numbers of signatures (remember the overall average is in the high 30s):

Brighton Pavilion – 94 signatures

Bristol West – 99 signatures

Norwich South – 90 signatures

Sheffield Central – 77 signatures

Holborn and St Pancras – 70 signatures

Liverpool Riverside – 54 signatures

Manchester Gorton – 42 signatures

Camberwell Peckham – 32 signatures


So come on Greens – please sign up to support your party policy and help get a debate in the Westminster parliament to ban driven grouse shooting.