Saturday cartoon by Ralph Underhill




Round up

  • Cairngorms National Park Authority say grouse shooters may kill too many Mountain Hares, kill too many raptors illegally and are industrialising the hills.
  • BTO Science round up – I received the very first of these by email recently and, although I haven’t read it all yet, what I have dipped into looks very good. Sign up here to see things like this.
  • BTO assessment of the 2014 breeding season (for birds, of course)
  • this blog did pass the 1,000,000 spam comments being filtered out on Wednesday
  • The e-petition to ban driven grouse shooting stands at 20,100 today
  • This Avaaz e-petition ahead of Pope Francis’s visit to the Philippines in January is worth a look
  • ‘Grouse shooting’s failure to produce any meaningful number of harriers is as much of a middle finger to progress as petitions to ban the sport outright. To be quite frank, there is a considerable number of people involved in grouse shooting who are not interested in the conservation of anything except grouse, and the quiet joy of the hunter-naturalist is increasingly smothered by clamorous short-termism, greed and an unsustainable preoccupation with shooting tens of thousands of grouse every year.’ click here for the rest
  • I almost forget that the Daily Mirror exists but this rant about what the Mirror sees as double standards by Prince William was interesting.

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Weak on crime, weak on the causes of crime

17 December:

Andy Sawford (Shadow Minister (Communities and Local Government); Corby, Labour):  To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, if she will publish a consultation on a licensing scheme for commercial game shooting.

George Eustice (The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs; Camborne and Redruth, Conservative): Landowners are free to run commercial shoots on their land, provided they are carried out appropriately and legally. We have no plans to introduce a licensing system for commercial shoots, or to consult on the matter.

Andy Sawford (Shadow Minister (Communities and Local Government); Corby, Labour): To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, if she will (a) discuss with her counterpart in the Scottish Government the effect of the Wildlife and Natural Environment (Scotland) Act 2011 and (b) publish a consultation on vicarious liability for landowners who host commercial game shooting in England.

George Eustice (The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs; Camborne and Redruth, Conservative): 

The introduction of new legislation requires evidence that it will be effective. We are not yet aware of any successful prosecutions or of any compelling evidence that the introduction of the provisions of vicarious liability in Scotland has had a significant deterrent on those who commit wildlife crime.

We will continue to monitor the situation in Scotland and to consider whether this or a similar offence is necessary and proportionate to assist in tackling wildlife crime in England.


The coalition government has no plans to introduce licensing of shooting estates nor vicarious liability for wildlife crime. It is a spent force in dealing with the problems of wildlife crime.


I’m grateful to my MP, Andy Sawford, for asking these questions. They must have come out of our discussion over a cup of tea in Portcullis House after the Rally for Nature.


A recap on e-petitions

Save_the_Hen_Harrier_largeLet’s just have a recap:


Ban driven grouse shooting Number of signatures: 20,073 Open for signature until 30/3/15

Introduction of offence of vicarious liability for raptor persecution in England Number of signatures: 10,908 Closed 17/11/2012

Licencing of upland grouse moors and gamekeepers Number of signatures: 10,429 Closed 27/02/2014


You’d think, wouldn’t you, that politicians might realise that they needed to act. They have been given several well-supported options through e-petitions.

So far, only the Green Party has made a commitment to dealing with this issue – see Guest Blog.


Shifting baselines

Photo: Oscar Dewhurst

Photo: Oscar Dewhurst

I was in the library at The Lodge the other day, reading for writing.

It’s inevitable that I bump into quite a few people I know, and have a few conversations about life, the universe and everything. They are mostly conversations about birds and nature conservation.

Two of them illustrate the scale of change in bird populations that has occurred during my life.

As Simon Wootton and I passed in the corridor we stopped and, after the usual pleasantries, talked about Bitterns as Simon has been a leading figure in the monitoring of this bird over many years. This bird was heading for extinction and reached a low of 11 booming males in 1997 just before I became the RSPB’s Conservation Director. Now there are over 140 booming males and there are four times as many Bitterns in Somerset as there were then in the whole of the UK.  It’s a great conservation success.

800px-Streptopelia_turtur_Pinares_de_RostrogordoA little later I met Tony Morris and we talked about the difficulty of seeing a Turtle Dove these days (well, these summers).  This used to be a common sight in the East Anglian countryside (although, despite the words of the carol, not in the 12 days of Christmas since this is a trans-Saharan migrant) but now is a bird that many have to search for if they are to see it at all.

The size of the task is very different for these two species. Bitterns only live in a few places – wetlands with lots of fish and reedbeds, and so getting those sites well-managed, once you discover what good management is, is, in a way, relatively straight forward (though that is not to diminish the huge amount of work involved).  Turtle Doves, are birds of the ‘wider countryside’ and therefore their fate is in the hands of many individuals, and in those of the CAP across the whole of the EU.

Where conservationists can do the job themselves they tends to succeed, where they need to influence government and wider policies then success is delayed as the task is much greater.

As I drove home I was pleased to see a covey of Grey Partridges, a noteworthy sight in my neck of the woods, and saw several lovely Red Kites in the skies, a much more familiar sight these days.

The success of the conservation of Bitterns and Red Kites show what can be done; the parlous state of Grey Partridge and Turtle Dove shows what still needs to be done. But 30 years ago, the current status of the Bittern and Red Kite would have seemed unachievable – yet they have been achieved. Who knows what successes lie ahead, though they will not be easily attained.




Labour MPs’ take on the Rally for Nature

Here are three examples of responses from Labout MPs to their constituents on the issues raised by the Rally for Nature last week.

You can see that each response is clearly a personal one and that’s why I haven’t revealed the identities of the MPs or their constituents.

I’d be interested in any further responses from Labour, Liberal Democrat or other MPs.


‘Thank you for writing to me about the Rally for Nature yesterday, which I was unfortunately was unable to be present at.

I fully support the ultimate aim of the Act: the recovery of nature. A future Labour Government will work to secure that recovery.

Our wildlife is facing unprecedented challenges from climate change and habitat loss. The RSPB¹s State of Nature report concluded that 60 per cent of the wildlife surveyed in the U.K. is in decline. I am deeply concerned that the Government is not doing enough to stop this wildlife loss and overcome the threats to our natural world. It is vital that politicians of all parties face up to this challenge of protecting our environment for future generations.

David Cameron promised to lead the ‘Greenest Government Ever’ but instead his Government has set back efforts to protect Britain¹s wildlife and natural environment. The parliamentary Environmental Audit Committee recently published an environmental scorecard report, using a traffic light system to rate performance in each area. For its record on air pollution, biodiversity, and flooding and coastal protection, the Government received a red rating, meaning that these areas have deteriorated. In fact, in none of the ten areas assessed did the Government receive a green rating.

Labour developed a new approach to environmental policy in government, based upon whole ecosystems rather than individual species or habitats. We commissioned the world’s first National Ecosystem Assessment, made a binding commitment to reverse the decline of biodiversity by 2020 and committed to make space for nature in every region of the UK. Unfortunately this Government has abandoned our approach.

Government has a duty to protect our natural environment and wildlife so that all can enjoy them, including future generations. That¹s why Labour first created our national parks, designated and protected areas of outstanding natural beauty, and opened up land for public access under the right to roam. It is why I have promised that a Labour Government will not sell off our public forests. It is also why we will change the remit of the Forestry Commission so that public money helps to secure the recovery
of our natural environment in the next Parliament.’


'Thank you for your email regarding Labour's environmental policy. 
A lot of correspondence that Members of Parliament receive from 
their constituents is regarding animals, wildlife, and our natural
environment. This includes on the subject of circus animals, 
puppy farming, fox hunting, dangerous  dogs, or badger culling. My
postbag is no exception to this. 

The Labour Party has been clear in its opposition to this 
Government's policy on animal welfare. They have pressed ahead
with unscientific badger culls, pressed for the repeal of Labour's
Hunting Act 2004, which outlawed fox hunting and is supported by
80% of the British public, and have failed to legislate to ban  
circuses from using wild animals in this year's Queen's Speech,
something which Labour have promised to do if we are returned to
As a Member of Parliament for a rural constituency, I know how 
much the beautiful scenery and wildlife of the Lake District means
to my constituents, and as someone with a young family and a keen
fellwalker, I regularly enjoy that which the Lakes has to offer. 

It is in everyone's interests that we do what we can to protect
 our natural environment, as the benefits that tourism and 
leisure bring to our local economy are substantial, in
the process supporting thousands of jobs across the county. 

It is clear that this Tory-led Government's record on animals, 
wildlife and the environment has been very poor, and Labour will
continue to do everything in its power to hold the Government 
to account over this. We have a proud record from our 13 years 
in government but there is still much to do. 
I will pass on your message to my colleagues in Labour's 
Environment, Food and Rural Affairs team, who will be putting
together Labour's wildlife and nature policy ahead of the 
publication of our 2015 manifesto. 
Thank you once again for taking the time to write to me on this matter.'

 ‘You would like to see action to protect and restore wildlife. Like you this is an issue I care about and I am worried that the Government has set back efforts to protect Britain’s wildlife and natural environment.

When in government the Labour Party committed to introduce fundamental change in environmental policy and aspired to take an approach based upon whole ecosystems rather than individual species or habitats. This included commissioning of the world UK’s National Ecosystem Assessment, making a binding commitment to reverse the decline of biodiversity by 2020 and committing to make space for nature in every region of the UK. I think it is deeply regrettable that the Government has abandoned this approach.

I hope that the government will listen to the views that arise from the Rally for Nature and Act for Nature Campaign. Please rest assured that my colleagues and i will do all we can to protect wildlife and conserve nature.



Mark Hobbs [CC BY-SA 2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

Mark Hobbs [CC BY-SA 2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

I woke a little while ago to find that our e-petition, calling for a ban on driven grouse shooting (in England), passed a major milestone during the night.

20,000 signatures!

Thank you to all who have signed and thank you to those people, mostly individuals rather than organisations, who have promoted this e-petition since it was launched.

This e-petition was launched on 28 May and so our journey together has, so far, lasted less than seven months.

It has been signed by an average of around 90 people a day and has largely been promoted through social media.

We haven’t yet saved a single Hen Harrier, or reduced water bills for anyone, or saved a square centimetre of blanket bog from over-burning, or reduced greenhouse gas emissions from eroded peat, but we have highlighted the problem, the issues and proposed a perfectly serious solution.

To achieve change on the ground we first need to change people’s thoughts. Our e-petition has done that, and every milestone passed, rams home the message.

Thank you again. It’s a milestone, not journey’s end.







Mark Hobbs [CC BY-SA 2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

Mark Hobbs [CC BY-SA 2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

The mile is a fairly strange thing, but I grew up with it. Being a distance of 1760 yards, with a yard being 3 feet (each of 12 inches) the somewhat arbitrary nature of this imperial measure was obvious. But in their way, all milestones are arbitrary. On the literal road, the pace that takes you past a stone marker every 8 furlongs (each of 10 chains, each of 22 yards of course (and on course)) is little more significant than the pace that succeeds or precedes it.  However, we need to mark progress and a stone by the road is as good a way as any. So it is with metaphorical milestones too.

I expect to report on four metaphorical milestones over the next few days.

I can start with two of them today.

Over the weekend, the readers’ survey on this blog passed 500 respondents (and 600 today). The results already look interesting but there is plenty of time for you to take the five minutes that it will take to complete the survey. Results in the new year.

This morning I noticed that my Twitter following passed 18,000 followers overnight. No more significant than 17979 really, nor than 18,002, but a milestone.  Thank you to all who follow @markavery

A less obvious and welcome milestone on this site is that today, maybe tomorrow, we will pass the milestone of the spam filter sieving out over a million spam comments. These are the comments you don’t see, and I usually do not look at closely, but which flood all such websites. Sent out by technology based all over the world, these spam comments contain links to websites selling fake handbags, boots and perfume for the most part it seems.  It seems to me a somewhat sad comment on our times that the readers of this blog have made over 25,000 genuine comments here and the world of commerce has attempted to place a million (once that milestone is reached) advertising related comments here. It’s a funny old world.

The fourth approaching milestone is one that will give me quite some pleasure – when our e-petition to ban driven grouse shooting reaches 20,000 signatures. If this happens in the next few days, then it will be a lovely Christmas present for me – and for some of you – and will feel like a real, solid, painted, well-numbered and notable milestone.  But it’s down the road a few paces yet, as we are on 19,940 signatures, but it is well within sight, getting closer all the time, and creates a spring in my step. Please sign here.



The price of everything and the value of nothing?

Inverted_question_mark_alternate.svgWhat they say when there is a general election only five months away, and when their constituent is clearly interested in wildlife conservation, 15 December 2014:

Like you I value the Wild Birds and Habitats Directives, and in my view the best way to defend them is to ensure that the obligations they apply are being discharged. That’s why we reviewed the way these Directives are implemented in England: we found that generally they are working well, but identified 28 measures that would make compliance simpler, 25 of which had already been implemented as of last summer.


What they say soon after they have been elected and playing to the anti-EU wing (and body?) of their party, November 2011:

We will make sure that gold-plating of EU rules on things like habitats aren’t placing ridiculous costs on British businesses.

and the same MP was worried about

the combined impact of the green policies adopted not just in Britain, but also by the European Union

and said

M. Holland [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (, CC-BY-SA-2.5 ( or CC-BY-SA-2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

M. Holland, via Wikimedia Commons

If we burden [British businesses] with endless social and environmental goals – however worthy in their own right – then not only will we not achieve those goals, but the businesses will fail, jobs will be lost, and our country will be poorer.’

Yes, this MP, sending out the standard response crafted by Tory Central Office (I presume) last week claiming to ‘value’ the Nature Directives was indeed the MP for Tatton, and Chancellor of the Exchequor, one Gideon Osborne (majority, 14000+ votes).


Well, a remarkable turnaround based on the evidence of the review, or…? You decide.