Not very new, and not very statesmanlike

newstateIn the New Statesman this week, there is an excellent and long article by Mark Cocker on shooting (Unfair game: why Britain’s birds of prey are being killed). I recommend it as an interesting read and because it will bring the plight of the Hen Harrier to a new readership.

The most interesting quote in the piece is from the Game (and Wildlife) Conservation Trust’s Andrew Gilruth who speaks thus of the Langholm study (Langholm 1) ‘The tragedy of Langholm is that we sat down at the end and felt that in many ways it proved that those gamekeepers who killed raptors illegally had in some way been right to do so’.

I know what he means, bu this might not be the most helpful way to put it.

The Langholm study is the subject of the whole of Chapter 3 of Inglorious – conflict in the uplands, which I am told was briefly #7 best seller of Amazon’s Hunting and Shooting books (even though it isn’t published yet!).  I don’t remember Andrew Gilruth being around at the time of the end of the Langholm project, but I was. When the RSPB sat down at the end of the Langholm project we looked for a solution and the work on diversionary feeding, largely shunned by the upland shooting community, is a result. It seems that too many upland estates, sought a different solution which is why the Hen Harrier numbers are so depressed.

After Langholm, the conflict between intensive driven grouse shooting and abiding by the law was much clearer. There is a biological circle that is difficult to square. That’s just one reason why we should ban driven grouse shooting (but there are plenty of others in Inglorious – conflict in the uplands).


Saturday cartoon by Ralph Underhill





Henry gets into a butt

Fri 3 July 2015 Copy

Occupy the butts!





I went to Minsmere last week with my friend and former colleague Alistair Gammell. Alistair is a great guy and Minsmere is a great nature reserve.

We chatted to several other visitors – and we helped a few of them see some birds. It was good to hear others’ stories of the birds in their gardens and their excitement at being at a place like Minsmere where they could see lots of wildlife. It isn’t just kids who are mad about nature – it’s a bunch of retired adults too who have the time, and some of them the money, to get out and immerse themselves in nature.

But we were shown things too. I wondered what the two young ladies were doing, sitting on the boardwalk, but when we reached them they pointed out the Water Vole chomping on a stem just below our feet. I would have walked straight past looking up at the Sand Martins – which were lovely – but so was the Water Vole. Everyone needs help – point things out to other nature-lovers.

We had a brilliant view of a Bittern flying past the Island Mere Hide – very close. That was very memorable.

But even more memorable was the butterfly that fell fluttering to the ground in front of us as we walked along the woodland edge.  It was, on closer inspection, a Red Admiral. But on even closer inspection it was being attacked and eaten by a Hornet.  After a few seconds the Hornet, with the Red Admiral clasped in its jaws (I think) corkscrewed up, about 15 feet, into the oak tree above us. It corkscrewed in the sense that it went pretty much straight up but on a very tight spiral path. It was very impressive and very memorable.

There were close Little Egrets, ping!-ing Bearded Tits, displaying Mediterranean Gulls, a red Red Knot and a grey Red Knot, some immature Little Gulls, loud Cetti’s Warblers and much more. Minsmere never disappoints.


Lions’ den? Four weeks today 2.


I’ve been asked to take part in a Game Fair ‘debate’ a month today – and I’ve said yes. I am clearly the token leftie on the panel whose other members are Owen Paterson MP (the former Secretary of State at Defra), Philip Merricks (Chair of the Hawk and Owl Trust) and Ian Coghill (Chair of the Game (and Wildlife) Conservation ‘Trust’.

The subject that we are ‘debating’ is ‘Landowners and Wildlife: Friends or Foes?’. I really can’t see that there is anything controversial there.  I’ll probably just sit back and let the other three agree with each other!

The fact that this event takes place the day after the publication of Inglorious- conflict in the uplands, which sets out the case for banning driven grouse shooting, makes it all the more fun. Will my fellow panellists have been up all night choosing their favourite bits from the book? Will I be asked to sign copies as a memento of the Game Fair?

This year the Game Fair is at Harewood House, near Leeds. It would be nice to see a friendly face in the audience.


Henry at Kildrummy

Thurs 2 July 2015  Copy

Henry wanted me to point out that the residents of Kildrummy will be very interested in the publication, a month today, of my book Inglorious – conflict in the uplands – click here to see how you can order it now.



Keep in touch with Hen Harrier Day events through this website.



GWCT, very forgetful

Advertising Standards Authority
Mid City Place, 71 High Holborn
London WC1V 6QT

I was recently considering making a donation to the Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust, using their website, and I was concerned when I was unable to discover what percentage of my donation would be spent on the cause.

When I managed to track down a copy of their report and accounts, I was shocked to see that the charity spends £2.4m on raising funds, but only generates £7.1m, which seems a very low proportion. Perhaps this is why they are so reluctant to make a solicitation statement on their website. Overall, I found this to be very misleading, since I was encouraged to believe that all of my donation would support their work, while their accounts (which don’t seem to be on their website), revealed that a large proportion of my financial commitment would be spent on marketing. Worse still, their marketing/fundraising doesn’t look to be very effective if their fundraising ratio is so low.

I was also very concerned that although I was asked to disclose my contact details as part of the process of making a donation, it was not at all clear that I would be able to opt out of email or postal communications, since I could see no data protection statement or opt-out process. I was concerned that if I provided them with my telephone number, I would be bombarded with aggressive telemarketing. This certainly made me think twice about supporting them.

I would be grateful if you could investigate these matters.


Does everyone think they are losing?

I’m developing a new theory of advocacy – it’s not a very useful theory but it is keeping me amused, thinking about it.

My theory is that everyone, on all sides, thinks that they are losing the advocacy war on most issues.

What do you think of my theory?

It’s just a theory but it’s based on years of experience, weeks of conversations with people and seconds of thought on the subject. I have been lucky enough to chat to quite a few people over the last few weeks; members, quite senior members, of three political parties, some folk who work in NGOs, some civil servants, some journalists, some landowners, some raptor workers and some normal people, oh yes, and Henry, and most people seem to think that they are losing the advocacy battle. It’s interesting when you hear the views of both ‘sides’ in an argument and they both think they are losing – is it always like that? Maybe it is until one side wins!

It’s even more obvious on Twitter – there are some folk who keep saying that they can’t win rather than realising that it always feels like that until you do win! Advocacy is a bit like banging your head against a brick wall when there is someone on the other side of the brick wall banging their head against it too. It’s only when it falls one side or the other that you realise you were winning and have won. And the other guy thinks he is losing all the time anyway!

If you were a grouse moor manager, for example, then you would think that you were, overall, in a worse position this year than last year. Yes, you would be pleased and relieved that there is a Tory government but the inexorable rise of publicity for grouse shooting would have you worried – and that might be why the ‘British grouse industry’ (who are they really?) have been funding desperate attacks on the RSPB, I guess. The demise of driven grouse shooting is inevitable – it may not be quick but it is inevitable. I’d say it will be quicker if the ‘British grouse industry’ continue on the tack that they are on now, than if they offered deep-rooted reform pretty soon. But as someone said to me fairly recently, ‘It’s clear that these guys aren’t for changing’. Well, change is coming, like it or not.





The desperation of Doug McAdam

imageIt may be that Scottish Land and Estates has been slumbering for quite a while but their Chief Exec, Doug McAdam, seems to have been roused from his snooze. It may well have been the sight of a six foot Hen Harrier looking in through his office window that did it…

Mr McAdam (@DougMcAdam) occasionally has a little spasm on Twitter but when asked a question about his views, and those of SLE, he usually goes rather quiet.

A while ago, 2 June actually, Mr McAdam thought it worthwhile to tweet ‘>500pairs HH’s on Scottish moors at last count!’ which is pretty much true (the last full count was in 2010). What he doesn’t say, and wouldn’t respond to on Twitter, is that the science shows that there ought to be c1500 pairs of Hen Harrier in Scotland.  Two out of three pairs of Scottish Hen Harrier are missing, and they are almost completely missing from those areas of Scotland that are predominantly managed for driven grouse shooting. Scottish Land and Estates represents Scottish land managers and estates (the clue is in the name) – does Mr McAdam mostly represent those who have Hen Harriers or those who don’t? And does he represent those who want Hen Harriers or those who don’t? Or hasn’t he really got his head around the issue at all?

A few days later Mr McAdam retweeted anti-RSPB tweets such as this one ‘I would resign from RSPB over this if I had not already done so. Almost worth re-joining so I can do it again.’  and an anti-RSPB headline in the newspapers of the time.

In response to the report of the Climate Change Committee (featured here yesterday) which pointed an accusatory finger at the management of blanket bogs in the UK then Mr McAdam posted on Twitter and as a comment on this blog ‘here’s a different view where Scotland is seen as the European stronghold for upland, heather-rich heath.’. but when asked, he couldn’t, or wouldn’t, elucidate as to how many of the 76,000ha of blanket bog which have lost their peat-forming ability because of burning were in Scotland. I don’t know either, I’d love to know.

This morning Mr McAdam seems to be having a go at me for having a book coming out on the case to ban driven grouse shooting.  Obviously he hasn’t read the book, but he thinks my motives for spending my time promoting the plight of the hen harrier are to make money, it seems. Crikey – if you can tell me how to make money out of spending your time campaigning as an individual then please let me know. Yawn!

Untitled2What characterises these tweets from the boss of the organisation said to represent Scottish land owners (tweeting, no doubt, of course, in a private capacity (whatever that means)) is that he attacks the people with whom he disagrees but cannot engage with their arguments. Mr McAdam scores highly on the Lagopus delusion index.

Saying that there are 500 pairs of Hen Harrier in Scotland and neglecting to mention the missing 1000 pairs is like a police officer, asked about the murder rate, saying ‘Look, we have a murderer in prison, let me show you’, and extolling the beauty of heather is like a businessman who runs a sweat-shop saying ‘But we do have pretty curtains, don’t we?’.

So let’s try again to get Mr McAdam to engage with the issues; what are you going to do about the two thirds of Hen Harriers missing from Scotland’s hills? And what are you going to do about reducing the harmful impacts of burning on blanket bog?

Twitter is not the best place to have a proper debate about the facts of an issue. A better place would be between the covers of a book where the issues can be examined in rather more detail. I’ll look forward to Doug McAdam’s response to the 100,000 words about grouse shooting and the way forward which is published at the end of the month.  Maybe he will then engage with the issues – maybe he’ll write his own book. I’ll look forward to that.



Four weeks today

Four weeks today, Inglorious – conflict in the uplands will be published by Bloomsbury.

Inglorious has a Foreword by Chris Packham that is hard-hitting and passionate and makes the rest of the book look rather meek and mild.


Inglorious starts with the Hen Harrier and its persecution by game interests, partly because many of us do start there.  Then it rattles through a history of grouse shooting, where you may be surprised to learn that driven grouse shooting was frowned upon by ‘proper’ sportsmen in the mid-nineteenth century because of its unsporting nature.  Chapter 3 deals with the important study of Hen Harriers and grouse bags at Langholm Moor which greatly clarified the reality of the conflict between Hen Harriers (and Peregrines) and the shooting of large numbers of Red Grouse for fun. Chapter 4 takes the story through the period from the end of the first Langholm study to the end of 2013 – a period during which it became clearer and clearer that intensive grouse moor management wasn’t in the public interest for a whole bunch of reasons unconnected with Hen Harriers or birds of prey. Chapter 5 deals with last year – arguably the year of the Hen Harrier (or maybe the birth of the Hen Harrier movement?) – I guess it’s a personal view of the year from the point of view of someone who was very much involved with parts of it, and a keen observer of others. Chapter 6 is different – as with the rest of the book you’ll either love it or hate it, but do please read it. And Chapter 7 is short and tells you how you can help to bring an end to driven grouse shooting if the book has persuaded you.

Foreword by Chris Packham

Chapter 1 – The harrier harried

Chapter 2 – A short history of grouse shooting

Chapter 3 Langholm – the end of the beginning

Chapter 4 The battle lines are drawn

Chapter 5 The beginning of the end – 2014

Chapter 6 The sunlit uplands

Chapter 7 End game

Inglorious is definitely a Marmite book. You will either love it or hate it.  I’m expecting it to be lambasted in some places and praised in others. But it is intended as a serious contribution to the debates over land use in the UK. Driven grouse shooting is a major land use in terms of area and has impacts on all of us through our taxes, our water bills, our house insurance and the amount of wildlife we can see in the hills.

Simon Barnes is quoted on the jacket saying ‘This uncompromising book dares to ask the big question: whose countryside is it anyway?


Inglorious is published on 30 July and you can order it right now.