Are you coming to the Bird Fair in August? Come on the Friday and you can attend a debate on whether we should ban driven grouse shooting with myself and the leader of the Green Party, Natalie Bennett on one side and a representative of the GWCT on the other with, we very much hope, a Defra minister too.
It’s good that the GWCT has agreed to field a speaker and I hope they get a very polite reception – as I have almost always had when I have attended the Game Fair for vaguely similar events.
And it would be very good to see a government minister at the Bird Fair – they often attend the Game Fair. It’s time for Defra ministers to get out and see some other voters.
I wonder how many signatures our e-petition to ban driven grouse shooting will have gathered by 19 August?
Many people would think of owls and woodpeckers if they think of Slovakia bird trips.
We visited the Eye of the Sea, Morské oko, and walked around the attractive lake and then up to the top of a hill through the ancient beechwoods.
No owls that we could see but plenty of woodpeckers: Grey Headed, Black, Great-spotted, Middle-spotted and White-backed.And there were also Collared and Red-breasted Flycatchers easily heard, and relatively easily seen, around the lake. And this was where we saw these spanking salamanders.
This is the Senne fishponds SPA – and has been the subject of an EU Life project.
Can you almost hear the waterbirds singing when you look at that photograph? This was a day with warblers coming out of our ears: Barred, Whitethroat, Lesser Whitethroat, Blackcap, Chiffchaff, Willow Warbler, Sedge Warbler, Marsh Warbler, Icterine, Grasshopper, Savi’s and River.
But if you don’t like passerines there were waterbirds aplenty – Common Crane, Black Stork, Grey Heron, Purple Heron, Night Heron, Great Egret, Little Egret, Spoonbill and even a Bittern. And Ferruginous Duck too. And a Pygmy Cormorant.
But if you don’t like them either the day produced White-tailed Eagle, Lesser Spotted Eagle and Eastern Imperial Eagle as well as a Red-footed Falcon.
Lists of other people’s bird sightings are pretty dull I fear, but in a day we saw over 100 species with a whole bunch of species that would have been impossible in western Europe. And it was in a pretty location, with hardly anyone else around, with good paths and birdwatching towers.
And the beer was good although it did have a non-native species on it.
M&S are handling their grouse meat issue spectacularly badly.
They say they have an ‘industry leading’ Code of Practice – agreed with an organisation funded, to a large extent, by grouse shooters but not supported by a proper conservation organisation. That hardly inspires confidence, does it?
And they are so proud of this industry leading Code of Practice that they won’t share it with anyone. That is likely to inspire confidence too, isn’t it?
Well done to those who guessed correctly but the fact that Poland and Hungary were more popular choices shows that Slovakia has some ground to make up with British birders looking for a bird-rich destination in eastern central Europe. And that’s why the Kosice tourist board paid for a group of us to go out to see what was on offer.
The first thing that was on offer at the small and perfectly functional airport at Kosice (Slovakia’s 2nd-largest city (after Bratislava)) was a singing Fieldfare. I was abroad! And then a Hobby flew past scattering the House Martins.
A short drive later we were further east in a lakeside and very comfortable (and cheap!) hotel in Vinne. In the dark there were singing Song Thrushes, Blackbirds and Nightingales.
Over dinner we, two Brits and two Spaniards (one of whom is really a Catalan), got to know each other and learned more about Slovakia.
Before breakfast the next day I went for a walk. Tree Sparrows and Black Redstarts were hopping around the hotel itself. The song of the Cuckoo was almost omnipresent and Raven croaked in the distance. In the woods around the hotel there were Wood Warblers, Hawfinch, Golden Oriole and woodpeckers which I hoped weren’t but actually were Great Spots! And Red-backed Shrikes were perched outside as we ate breakfast.
We were off to a wetland after breakfast – more on this tomorrow.
A quick question about the performance of this blog (it’s not about whether you like it or not).
Does the blog load quickly or not?
Have you noticed any change in speed over recent months or not?
I’m being offered all sorts of different hosting options and I’d like some feedback before i make any decisions please.
As Steve wrote, the RSPB and I share almost completely common ground on the problems as we see them. Maybe we differ here or there, but I’m not sure that we do, and it will almost certainly be over small things that could be ironed out. Where we do disagree, but we disagree as friends, is in what are the best solutions to the problems.
And we do disagree on those things so I’d like to set out why I think the RSPB position is not wrong exactly, but less than perfect, and less fit for purpose than a ban of driven grouse shooting.
But first, let’s get a few minor comments out of the way.
I don’t think anyone, least of all me (and I do mean least of all me), has anything but the greatest respect for the RSPB Investigations team(s). Actually that isn’t quite true – there are quite a few criminals who don’t like them much but maybe even they have respect for them. However, it is the role of advocacy and changes in public policy to put the Investigations team out of work. They are collecting evidence, in 2016, of crimes that have been illegal for 62 years since the 1954 Protection of Birds Act. We need to use that evidence of crime, and the evidence collected scientifically too by the RSPB, raptor workers and others, to demonstrate the need for change – and we need to identify the types of changes that will work best.
Second, I’m not quite sure that I’d say that RSPB Council has shown steadfast courage when slagged off by YFTB – they are more like innocent victims in a car crash that wasn’t their fault. That’s not exactly brave. Maybe if RSPB Council or staff put their names out there on an e-petition to…well, presumably to introduce licensing, then that might show a little bit of bravery and leadership. How about it Steve – an e-petition to introduce licensing? But then, the RSPB could have got something close to that if, when I visited The Lodge in February, staff had taken the opportunity to work on the wording of a new e-petition with me, but that offer was rejected.
Although the RSPB says it is very keen on licensing of shooting estates it failed to support John Armitage’s e-petition on that very subject which ended only just over two years ago. And RSPB failed to support Chrissie Harper’s e-petition on vicarious liability the year before. As comments on your blog yesterday made clear, it seems to many that the RSPB is timid in asking for the things that it says that it wants, and in seeking the support of its membership and the wider public for those things.
The RSPB complaint to Europe is indeed excellent and I have been glad to keep the issue alive over the years with over 50 blog posts on the subject here and a good chunk of a book devoted to it too. It is very important. And you are right to say that it ‘has the potential to alter fundamentally the context of the debate about the future of our English hills, and in time land use practise in other parts of the UK’ but it also has the potential to deliver nothing at all. By which I mean that success is not guaranteed and that the complaint can only be one part of a strategy for progress. We’ll see. Experience shows that in policy work one must hope for, and strive for, the best but often you get the worst.
I wonder what you mean when you say that you ‘can’t stress enough how important this year’s breeding season has become.‘ and ‘we are very clear that the Defra Hen Harrier Action Plan must lead to real change (see here), including the cessation of illegal killing and a more positive outcome for those harriers that settle on England’s moors and hills in this and future years‘. So I just wonder what the RSPB position will be if there are very few Hen Harriers nesting in England this year (I’m not expecting an answer now – but the RSPB will have to answer that question in a few months). As Mike Clarke said at the Game Fair ‘…the longer it takes any industry to address its problems, the stronger those calls [for a ban on driven grouse shooting] will become.‘ The calls are getting stronger all the time and many wonder when the RSPB’s patience with an intransigent industry and a hopeless government department in Whitehall, will run out.
Well, those are all pretty minor points really – ones we could have a friendly discussion about over a drink some time. But where we differ is over the proposed solution (where I am sure we could also have a friendly discussion over a drink some time too). I have targetted driven grouse shooting and call for it to be banned and the RSPB asks, very quietly, for all shooting estates to be licensed.
Arguably your proposition, including all types of sporting estate (including deer stalking and fishing?) including pheasants and partridges, is the more radical option. But that means it is also, very complicated. Despite the RSPB’s enthusiasm for a licensing system that covers illegal activity and unsustainable activities, for all types of sporting estate, we haven’t seen this drafted. This sounds like a pretty complicated piece of policy work – rather more so than the points system for drivers losing their licenses. I can see how it could work in the best possible world, but not in this one.
In policy work one must, as I said, hope for and strive for the best, but you often get the worst. Let me give you an illustrative example. The agri-environment system (the old English one at least) also had the ‘potential to alter fundamentally‘ the fate of farmland birds in the countryside, but it didn’t. It didn’t because the industry, in this case the farming unions, fought hard to water down any meaningful elements of the Entry Level Scheme and what they didn’t water down the civil servants did because, quite reasonably, they said that the scheme had to have low monitoring costs. Now, that was a subject on which hundreds of millions of pounds of taxpayers’ money were spent every year for decades so quite a lot of thought was given to it – but the vested interests won. In the best possible world it would have been great, but in the real one it produced very little.
Think what a scheme for licensing of sporting estates would look like. It would have to encompass estates of different sizes and types and encompass illegal activities and unsustainable ones. It would have to involve detailed monitoring of a standard that would stand up to legal challenge for any estate about to lose its licence would take every legal route to stop this from happening. I can think of a few other problems with licensing but I’ll keep them to myself, as if you ever do get licensing off the ground, of course I’ll give it my support. But licensing isn’t an ideal way to regulate unsustainable land use nor wildlife crime and certainly not the combination of the two. I really don’t see it working. That’s my biggest problem with the RSPB solution to our agreed problems. If I were a grouse shooter though, I’d obviously prefer the RSPB proposal because I’d reckon I could water it down and maybe get it thrown out!
The RSPB Council really ought to have a re-think – over 38,000 people have signed up for a ban, or at least a debate on a ban, and we are only a third of the way through the life of this e-petition. What level would it have to reach before the RSPB decided, too late, to reconsider? Imagine we get to Hen Harrier Day and this e-petition is heading for 50,000 signatures, there are very few Hen Harriers in the English uplands and even more Red Kites or Hen Harriers or Peregrines have been found dead on or near grouse moors. What will RSPB do then?
Anyway, thanks very much Steve for responding so clearly – and we should have that drink some time. I somehow suspect that you and most RSPB Council members have actually signed this e-petition to ban driven grouse shooting but just in case you haven’t, please join us.
Other birds included River Warbler, Pygmy Cormorant and White-tailed Eagle.
It’s been a bit odd over the last few months – being on the same side of an argument as David Cameron and George Osborne. My instincts are always to take what they say with a pinch of salt (as pictured right) but the size of the pinch just keeps growing as the Brexit/BRemain debate continues.
I’m sure I heard the PM saying that there would be plagues of locusts, frogs and boils, and that water would turn into blood if we voted to leave the EU. Steady on boys, steady on!
I can’t take PR PM Dave seriously even when he is on the same side of the argument as me – does he actually believe this garbage? Does he actually believe in anything? (That was a rhetorical question and there is no need to answer it here – but go ahead if you must).
I see cartoonist Paul Thomas was taking the mickey too with these two tweets (@PaulThomas992) today:
NEWS:Cameron warns that
#Brexit could lead to reserves like Titchwell and Minsmere closing as the EU refuse to share their birds
#Brexit the birds will stop at the Channel in protest at Prime Minister Johnson’s environmental policies #Remain
I find Paul’s humour ridiculously childish – it’s right up my street!
Whilst it is always captivating to watch the Conservative and Unionist Party tearing itself apart over European Union I find myself feeling most light-headed when having to agree with the likes of Bernard Jenkin and Liam Fox that the PR PM is losing a grip on reality. If his public statements keep getting more hyperbolic every day until 23 June then he’ll be promising an extra apocalyptic horseman every week until referendum day. Come off it!
This couldn’t be the most subtle ploy to undermine the remain case could it? How fiendishly cunning that would be.
And the same thought has occurred to the leader over Hadrian’s Wall, Nicola Sturgeon, as she is quoted as saying that the government approach risks insulting people’s intelligence. Well, Leader over the Wall, you try living down here and you’d be very accustomed to that happening. We hardly notice it these days.
When is the SNP going to start standing in English constituencies by the way? Corby must be a very good bet with all those Scottish steel workers down here.
As I promised, I’m responding to your questions and challenges set out in your earlier blog.
You regularly and accurately point out that we are all basically after the same thing: we a future for England’s moors and hills that is free from the illegal killing of birds of prey and where land management supports upland recovery with all the benefits that brings for wildlife and people. The RSPB shares the passion and anger at the illegal persecution of birds of prey and the state of affairs on some of our finest wildlife sites. And why wouldn’t we, given our struggle over decades to bring strong protection to species, habitats and special sites. These are my own very powerful feelings every time I hear another report of a shot red kite or hen harrier. I’ve been both impressed and encouraged to see the increasing role that Birders Against Wildlife Crime (BAWC), raptor groups north and south of the Scottish border and the Raptor Persecution UK blog, have played in raising awareness of the issues associated with intensive management on some grouse moors. You, too, have played a significant role in framing debate and articulating widely-held concerns around the impact of the grouse shooting industry and how society should respond.
While the RSPB shares much of your analysis about the threats and the new data that gives clarity to those impacts, our approach to finding a lasting solution is clearly different. Your challenge to me in my role as Chair of RSPB Council was whether we would revisit our position, which currently advocates licensing of sporting estates, rather than a ban of driven grouse shooting.
Since you posted your blog the context has changed considerably. It is now public knowledge that the European Commission has begun legal action against the UK Government over its approach to implementing the Habitats Directive on Special Areas of Conservation in the English uplands (see here). The RSPB’s complaint that triggered this action was the result of years of patient behind the scenes work assembling the case, and pursuing this through diligent advocacy, much of which has been unseen. But it has the potential to alter fundamentally the context of the debate about the future of our English hills, and in time land use practise in other parts of the UK. These legal proceedings strike to the heart of the issue – land management practices that support an intensive industry that can often badly damage priority habitats and the species that rely on them. We are also mindful of the fact that bird of prey persecution occurs in areas that are not managed for driven grouse, so banning this would probably not end the persecution, whereas a tightening up of regulation, with associated penalties and withdrawal of the opportunity to shoot on all areas if breaches are found, will achieve what we want incrementally.
Licensing could help deliver these desired reforms. We believe there are real opportunities in Scotland for progressing this once the Scottish Governments review of sport shooting regulation has reported. This could set the standard for other parts of the UK.
So, having carefully considered your suggestion, I don’t feel the time is right to review our plans. Of course, as with any policy area, we will periodically assess progress and any changes to the external situation and respond accordingly. We are committed to implementing our current strategy, which we believe has the potential to bring real change. We remain committed to working with progressive voices on all sides of the issue.
I started by acknowledging the role that you and your blog have played in framing the debate and while I don’t anticipate that our commitment to see our course of action through will provide the answer you want – I do expect you to recognise the effort, commitment and determination that staff and volunteers at all levels of the organisation are putting into this issue. Just think about many of the wildlife crime convictions which are now celebrated, or the success of achieving the vicarious liability sanctions in Scotland. The RSPB continues to involved right through those processes, so our staff deserve support, and I hope that critics are ready to commended our Council for its steadfast courage in the face of pernicious public criticism from the ‘grouse industry’ and its spokespeople. I am the first to admit that it is easy to be cynical. On the ground evidence for progress is hard to come by, not least with the continuing absence of hen harriers across much of northern England and parts of Scotland.
On hen harriers specifically, we are very clear that the Defra Hen Harrier Action Plan must lead to real change (see here), including the cessation of illegal killing and a more positive outcome for those harriers that settle on England’s moors and hills in this and future years. For this plan to build credibility it must clearly deliver positive progress. Everyone – including the grouse shooting community – must play their part to deliver its key objective: more hen harriers.
We believe fundamentally that grouse shooting practices need to change and we are determined to use the European Commission process and DEFRA’s Hen Harrier Action Plan to test the industry’s willingness to tackle bad practice. But, where positive steps are taken, and change occurs, we will welcome them. That will help drive reform and isolate those who behave as if they are not subject to standards set by Parliament.
I can’t stress enough how important this year’s breeding season has become. On 6-7 August we will be supporting BAWC’s third Hen Harrier Day, including on three of our reserves. I hope that we can take that opportunity to reflect on a season of success and one that points to a more positive future for our most persecuted bird.