Henry at Cley

Mon 25 May Copy

Henry chillaxing at Cley.





Beefy loses his line and length

Last week the You Forgot the Birds campaign disclosed that their ‘campaign’ was funded by the British grouse industry.

Today, in the Mail on Sunday (prop P Dacre, grouse moor owner) YFtB is described as a grassroots campaign of farmers and conservationists.

59-year old Ian Botham has been brought back into the bowling attack. He attempts to get a few balls on target but only succeeds in unfairly stripping RSPB Chief Exec Mike Clarke of his doctorate  with a glancing blow to the helmet when Mike was looking the other way.

Botham, the self-styled champion of gamekeepers, appeals to the umpire that the RSPB accused him of killing birds of prey on the BBC last week.  I missed that – I wish I’d heard it – I only heard Martin Harper on Farming Today.

Botham also accuses the RSPB of ‘constantly slurring gamekeepers as criminals’ which seems to me to be rather unfounded – even rather a slur itself, particularly when followed by an apparent attack on the motives of the RSPB who do this as part of their class war and to help raise funds. Sir Ian asks if the RSPB has heard of libel – I suspect they have actually

The danger is, that the RSPB might be content with picking up a few runs from these wides and no balls from Beefy rather than remembering  to despatch the ball to the boundary. The British grouse industry, who fund the Botham campaign, are in the pavilion, having had their second innings and having amassed a feeble score. There is a Test series to be won here. When will RSPB start swinging the bat, delighting the crowd and winning the game?




Sunday book review – The Moth Snowstorm by Michael McCarthy

isbn9781444792775-detailNice cover!

This is a book about loss – and about joy, and about wonder, and about hope. There’s a lot about the loss of nature over the last few decades and the author mixes this with memories of personal loss. A love of nature can be a support and strength during one’s life.

And it’s a book about wonder.  The loss of nature matters, at least in part, because we lose the opportunity to have ‘Wow!’ moments where we see things that we couldn’t have imagined and that are so beautiful and are part of our, yes our, world. Our only world.

And it’s a book about hope, because Michael McCarthy offers the hope that if only we loved nature more, and faced up to that love, and acted on that love, then we wouldn’t make such a mess of the world we live in, and it would be a better place.

The author is maybe best at writing about the joy that nature has brought to his life, from the time he was a small boy on Wirral, to his travels as environment editor of the Independent.  He recounts the people he has met and the sights of nature which have given him joy; from the discovery of a small colony of House Sparrows in London to the first sight of a Morpho butterfly in the Amazon, and much else besides.

Mike writes really well and he tells a good tale. I smiled once or twice when I read accounts which I have also heard from the author’s own mouth as we have quaffed claret with others over a good dinner.

But there was plenty that was new to me and I’ll be asking him about the woman with the heart-stopping face and fire-red hair some time soon (for there is more in this book than just nature).

This is a very good read from one of our finest writers about the natural world. I think Mike could write well about anything – certainly anything he cared about. But notice, that he is not, and would not claim to be, an expert on nature. Maybe that’s one reason why he sees the joy more clearly than some of us who ‘know’ more. Perhaps that knowledge compromises how much we can feel for nature. Does the head too often get in the way of the heart? I hope not, but if it does then this book reminds us of the richness of nature from an emotional point of view as well as an intellectual one.

George Osborne should read this book – but he just wouldn’t get it. Or maybe he would – it is very engagingly written.


The Moth Snowstorm: nature and joy by Michael McCarthy is published by John Murray.

Inglorious: conflict in the uplands by Mark Avery will be published by Bloomsbury at the end of July.


Saturday cartoon by Ralph Underhill



Henry occupies yet another butt

imageHenry encourages you to get yourself photographed in a grouse butt.




Henry in Bowland 3


Henry’s ears should have been burning last night because he kept coming up in conversation at the launch of Michael McCarthy’s book, The Moth Snowstorm, in the Linnaean Society in Piccadilly.

This was a gathering of the friends of one of the country’s finest writers about environmental matters and the natural world – it was an evening of friendship and snatched half-conversations.  But Hen Harriers and grouse shooting kept coming up. People asked what was happening on Hen Harrier Day and when there would be another e-petition. They talked about the impacts of the new government on the environmental agenda and they talked about three male Hen Harriers disappearing fromm the Forest of Bowland. They asked why I hadn’t brought Henry along with me.

Hen Harrier Day is coming together well, I gather.  Another Peak District event is being organised, by BAWC this year, for 9 August, and I know that plans are well advanced  – it won’t rain. And plans are also well-advanced for an event celebrating the Hen Harrier in Buxton on the evening of 8 August too.

I will launch another e-petition to ban driven grouse shooting asm soon as the government e-petition websuite wakes up after the general election. On that subject, I was heartened by one through-and-through conservationist who told me that he hadn’t signed the e-petition last time around but after the ‘disappearing males’ incidents in Bowland, where Henry is pictured above, he’d lost patience too. ‘These people are taking the p***. It’s got to be war‘ he said rather dramatically and only half way down his first glass of wine.

The Library of the Linnaean Society, with its high ceiling and dark wood, is a long way from the Forest of Bowland in Lancashire with its heather moorland and tumbling streams, and the pretty bridge over the River Wyre at Abbeystead, but when shots ring out in Bowland they are heard in places like yesterday evening’s gathering and they cannot be ignored.

The Moth Snowstorm will be reviewed here on Sunday.


That power list

PowerListThe BBC Wildlife Power List is being talked about wherever I go – well, not in the Post Office, or the supermarket, or the garage… But talked about by the nature conservation community? It certainly is!

Thanks very much to Ben Hoare for his Guest Blog on the subject on Tuesday – some interesting points made there.

But let’s be honest, it’s who isn’t there that is most interesting isn’t it?  I was told by the spin doctor of one large wildlife NGO that, of course, no-one takes these lists very seriously, and, of course, one doesn’t – provided one is on the list. It’s a little bit like a conversation I had with John Krebs about 30 years ago when a colleague and I had had a really good (in our opinion) paper on Great Tit memory of songs rejected by the journal Nature. John said to me that getting published in Nature was a bit of a lottery and it wasn’t always the best papers that made it into what was at the time regarded as the world’s ‘top’ science journal. I thanked him for trying to make me feel better but said it was easier for him to say that after having published loads of papers there than it was for me having a zero-for-one record. The spin doctor’s Chief Exec wasn’t on the Power List.

The Chief Execs of the National Trust, Wildlife Trusts, RSPB, WWF and many smaller NGOs are not on the list. And few of these organisations have any representatives.  Must mean something?  I think that the senior members of some NGOs suffer from the same problem as many senior members of the Labour Party (first, they aren’t in power!) – and that is that they seem to be speaking a language unknown to normal people. It’s all about aspiration, well-being, narrative and pride in the past, and a little too little about taking us forward with enthusiasm to a better future by a well-developed plan.

Come to that, the Chief Execs of Natural England and the Environment Agency aren’t there either, and nor are their Chairs. If this list had been compiled 30 years ago there would have been quite a few NCC names, and ITE names, in such a list. It’s a sign that the statutory agencies are no longer seen as a powerful force for good. Because they aren’t, are they? Where are the Derek Ratcliffes, Martin Doughtys, Barbara Youngs, Andy Browns and many many more junior staff of the past, in the wildlife Power List of today? They are absent from the list, because if they exist in real life, they remain very well hidden.

And no civil servants – although the aim of a civil servant is not to be noticed, I can think of times when there were such good individuals that such a list would have wanted to recognise them.

avatar2And no-one from GWCT, BASC (both of whom have C for conservation in their titles), the Moorland Association, the NFU or the CLA. Not even a token member to show how much we love them, and how much we have in common; none.

And captains of industry? Nope!

I was very pleased that both Caroline Lucas MP and Zac Goldsmith MP were listed – and maybe a case could have been made for a Labour MP but then again, maybe not after the Labour manifesto was so wildlife-light.

Crikey! Nature’s in a bad way if its most noted champions are a few bloggers, authors, activists, media personalities, scientists and kids isn’t it?

But, luckily, once the many almost-powerless gather together, then they have considerable power. Several of us on the Power List see it as our mission to try to mobilise and energise the millions who care about wildlife with a deep passion. NGOs should be doing more in that direction too – I wish I had a million or so subscribers to my blog!

I notice that Bob didn’t get elected by the way – did he keep his deposit?

You are the wildlife Power List – you are the power.



Lord Gardiner

I had hoped there would be a Gardiner in Defra after the election, but I had hoped it would be Barry Gardiner MP.

What has happened is that Lord Rupert de Mauley has gone and he hasn’t been replaced as a full minister (and as far as I can see he hasn’t got another job in government). Instead, Lord Gardiner, formerly of the Countryside Alliance, will represent Defra in the House of Lords. A kind of mini-minister which represents a further cut in Defra’s standing as a government department in terms of clout and resources.

The choice of Lord Gardiner is an interesting one given that he is a former chair of a fox hunt as well as former Director of Political Affairs of the Countryside Alliance and then their Deputy Chief Executive.

Will the government go for a free vote on fox hunting soon (as suggested by former Countryside Alliance Chief Exec, Simon Hart MP)? If so, one wonders at the enthusiasm and wisdom of going for more countryside controversy (because there will also be more badger blood spilled ineffectively) on any measure of Hen Harrier brood meddling. Particularly when the grouse interests can’t control themselves enough to leave many Hen Harriers flapping around the north of England.

It has been suggested that the mass of SNP MPs, rather than abstaining on a devolved issue for England and Wales, might vote against the repeal of the hunting ban. That would be interesting! There would be even more sense in SNP Mps at Westminster voting on any matters that affect Hen Harriers, as many Scottish birds move through England, where they are at considerable jeopardy, in spring and autumn.  Again, interesting!


The grouse moor industry

Henry is, by chance, very topical this week, seeing as how he is in the Forest of Bowland.

Yesterday, Henry reminded us of how many Hen Harriers used to nest in that area in the recent past. The number of nests has often been in double figures – several times higher than the current whole English breeding population.

Today, Henry pines over an image of a ringtail Hen Harrier in Bowland and points to the Natural England report that documented how much better the Hen Harriers in Bowland do when they nest on United Utilities land than on the adjacent grouse moors.  That Natural England report is well worth another read to learn about where, and under what circumstances, Hen Harriers disappear. They really don’t do very well on grouse moors compared with those areas not managed for driven grouse shooting.

And so it comes as no surprise that the feeble You Forgot the Birds campaign is funded by the British grouse industry. This is the ‘campaign’ that made an unsuccessful complaint to the Charity Commission (the fact that the complaint failed is not mentioned on their website). It’s the campaign that criticises the RSPB for standing up for the wrong type of birds – including the Hen Harrier. Well the grouse industry wouldn’t want anyone standing up for the Hen Harrier would they? And this is the campaign that invited farmers to sign up in their droves to an anti-RSPB letter and promised to publish the farmers supporting the letter once their number reached 100 – we’re still waiting.

But what is clear, because bizarrely they have told us so, is that this smear campaign against the RSPB is funded by the British grouse industry. This industry is funding a campaign to make complaints to the Charity Commission, exhort farmers to complain about the RSPB and criticise the RSPB’s conservation work and priorities. What has any of that to do with the grouse industry? If this tawdry campaign were funded by the British roads industry then there would be questions asked. If it were funded by the British farming industry then questions would be asked.

Let’s ask some questions in the expectation that YFtB won’t answer them:

Is the Duke of Westminster one of the funders of this campaign? He is, after all, a grouse moor owner, a past president of the Game Conservancy Trust (as it was at the time I think), and the owner of the Abbeystead grouse moor in the Forest of Bowland. Is His Grace a supporter of YFtB?

Is Lord Peel, another past President of the GCT (now GWCT) and another grouse moor owner, and Lord Chamberlain of the Royal Household, a supporter of YFtB?

Is Philip Astor (here and here), whose family own a grouse moor in Scotland and who is a long-standing vice-president of the GWCT a supporter of YFtB?

Despite all being part of the British grouse industry it is hoped that such eminent memebers of society have not sunk to the depths of supporting YFtB but it’s so difficult to tell. Unless they’d like to distance themselves from it.

On the other hand, the GWCT itself, in the blog of its Fundraising and Communications Director Andrew Gilruth is very happy to promote the nonsense from Sir Ian Botham and YFtB.

The crocodile tears over the fate of Hen Harriers from the grouse industry is all a bit sick-making. How about they get their act together and address the wildlife crimes on their own side of the fence, the driven grouse moor side of the fence, before throwing criticism at those doing their utmost to protect these fantastic birds.



PS the RSPB’s Martin Harper was great in despatching the no-balls from YFtB’s Ian Gregory to the boundary on Farming Today this morning (link).

PPS And comments are now visible again on this blog thanks to some excellent work from HUB (London).


Henry in Bowland 2

Weds 20 May  Copy

Henry is pining for a ringtail. He’d heard that the Forest of Bowland was his best chance for a hot date.  ‘this one looks rather cute’ Henry told me. ‘I’m sure you’re right, Henry’, I said ‘They all look much the same to me’. Henry gave me a bit of a glare, I thought.

He came across these interesting figures in John Armitage’s blog which show that it is the United Utilities land where Hen Harriers have most often nested successfully in Bowland in the period 1981-2005 in this area. Two thirds of successful nests were on the UU land and the other third on the three sporting estates of Abbeystead, Bleasdale and Clapham.

Natural England’s excellent report (before they were muzzled, castrated and chained up), A Future for Hen Harriers in England? shows that Hen Harrier nesting success was far higher on one side of the Bowland fence, the United Utilities’ side of the fence, than it was on the other side, the grouse moor side. Isn’t nature remarkable? How can such big differences, 65 pairs raising an average of 1.96 chicks/breeding attempt on UU land, compared with a mere 18 breeding attempts, producing an average of 1.22 chicks/breeding attempt on the grouse moor side of the fence, have come to pass in the period 2002-2008?

I told Henry to be careful.