You can’t ignore 123,076 signatures

end2The shooting community lacks good losers – but they had better get better at it.

One of their current bugbears is the wave of public opinion that has carried the subject of driven grouse shooting into the Westminster parliament.

The simple fact is that only 38 petitions have been debated in this session of parliament (since September 2015). Our petition will be the 40th a week on Monday (31 October).

This is clearly not what the shooting industry would want – even though there is little chance that this government will ban driven grouse shooting – but government may, if sensible, recognise that the status quo, particularly on wildlife crime, is entirely unsatisfactory and a vote loser.  Government may, if sensible, also realise that doing something is likely to help keep a lid on this subject whereas doing nothing will only lead to an increase in pressure.

Amanda  Anderson was attempting to claim that a rival e-petition in favour of driven grouse shooting was doing well. The facts, as so often is the case, prove Amanda wrong. After two months and a week, that petition idles at 21,359 signatures. After two months and a week our e-petition stood at over 38,000 signatures. No wonder the Moorland Association think that grouse moors are good for wildlife – they get a bit confused by numbers.  It’s also worth noting that the s0-called rival petiton has only added c3000 signatures in the last three weeks so it’s not doing very well which is probably why a cry for help is going out now in the shooting press to try to drum up some support.  Fieldsports magazine, in their newsletter, sound a bit desperate when they say ‘this number needs to increase’. I’m sure it will.

But the Countryside Alliance, naturally, goes for the ‘slag ’em off’ option.  Whereas the Hawk and Owl Trust regard us as eco-activists and eco-zealots, the CA’s Liam Stokes thinks this:

‘The manufactured support that led to the petition to ban driven grouse shooting being signed by 100,000 people is not reflective of the true priorities of the British public. It was achieved through the support of animal rights organisations and with the help of Mark Avery’s friend Chris Packham, who used the platform provided to him by the BBC to actively promote the petition.’

You’ll be able to see what I think of Chris Packham in November’s Birdwatch magazine (out soon) but I’d be proud to call him a mate. It’s a bit rude of Liam to attempt to consign Ian Botham to obscurity though – the head-to-head on the Today programme (with those errors about breeding waders remember) helped our petition pass the 100,000 barrier so quickly.  Sir Ian ought to share a little bit of the celebrity credit.

And, of course, the BBC did not give Chris a platform to promote the e-petition.



Written evidence from the four witnesses who gave oral evidence.

799px-Houses.of_.parliament.overall.arp_My written evidence

RSPB’s written evidence

Countryside Alliance’s written evidence

Moorland Association’s written evidence


The inquiry received hundreds of statements of written evidence which will be published over the next few days. It’s a big job for the committee clerks to read it all, exclude any evidence that might be libellous or inappropriate for some other reason, and then put it all on the internet.

I look forward to reading all of it soon! I’ve seen some evidence submitted by readers of this blog and what I have seen is fantastic stuff.

If you have written to your MP (and have let me know!) then you will get an email from me on Friday with some suggestiosn as to how you might like to contact your MP ahead of the debate on 31 October.


An interesting session

799px-Houses.of_.parliament.overall.arp_Well that was interesting!

The evidence session yesterday took something like twice as long as the time for which it was scheduled because of the interest from MPs. That’s a good thing.

The transcript of the session should be available later today, I guess (which is remarkably quick). I’ll look forward to reading it as I know that between us Jeff Knott (who was very good) and I got most of our points across.  I have never given evidence in this type of event without thinking that I could have done better, and I could have done better.

It was an inquiry of two halves. The first half was quite feisty with some hostile questioning of Jeff and me, although, fair enough, the hostility was mostly aimed at me.  And then we settled down to the calm waters of the questioning of the Countryside Alliance by the Chair of the Countryside Alliance, Simon Hart MP who is paid £30,000 per annum by the Countryside Alliance. The homely atmosphere of the second half was maintained by us all being regaled by raptor observations from the kitchen window of the Director of the Moorland Association who, sees them all the time apparently.  It was a shame that the Moorland Association and Countryside Alliance were given such an easy ride.  Their arguments were not really challenged at all and Amanda Anderson appeared to say, we must check the transcript, that Hen Harriers do better on grouse moors than other moors which will come as a surprise to any Hen Harriers reading the transcript.

hen harrier

Here is the proportion of harrier nests started that fledged at least one chick for grouse moors in red and other moors in blue. Note that harriers on grouse moors bred much less successfully with evidence in many cases that the nest contents had been destroyed by people. This isn’t just a geographical difference between different parts of Scotland because a difference between the two types of moorland was seen within all five regions. Data from Green & Etheridge (1999) Journal of Applied Ecology 36: 472 – 483.

Simon Hart wants a fully costed economic analysis of grouse shooting. So do I, that would be a good idea and something that government should do. Mr Hart seemed to think I should have one so I’ve been up all night writing one. Here it is:

The industry’s claims of economic benefit from grouse shooting are small, in the order of tens of millions of pounds and have been shown to be overestimates based on flawed methods. They do not take  into account increased flood risk, water treatment costs, greenhouse gas emissions or lost revenue from alternative activities such as eco-tourism. But let us imagine, difficult though it is, that they are true – they depend on wildlife crime and therefore should be ignored. Whatever the case for driven grouse shooting is, it is not an economic case.





What’s up at HOT?

hotoNo news that I can spot on the Hawk and Owl Trust website following their AGM 10 days ago. Slightly odd?

Have there been new trustees elected?Was the Chair re-elected? Or what? Is it a secret?

The H&OT say in part of their website that they are supporting two elements of the government’s hopeless Hen Harrier Plan (here) but elsewhere on their website, of course, their Chair is banging on about a completely different element of the plan.

It doesn’t look very good, does it?




Evidence session at 2:15pm


Bob Dylan, Nobel Laureate Photo: Stoned59 via wikimedia commons


Come senators, congressmen please heed the call
Don’t stand in the doorway don’t block up the hall
For he that gets hurt will be he who has stalled
There’s a battle outside and it’s ragin’
It’ll soon shake your windows and rattle your walls
For the times they are a’ changin’!

The Times they are a Changin’ by Bob Dylan.


What people might say tomorrow.


Martin Harper helpfully sets out the RSPB case on driven grouse shooting in his blog today ahead of the evidence session tomorrow at 2:15pm.

There is not much between the RSPB and my position when it comes to the litany of problems associated with driven grouse shooting.  These arguments have been well rehearsed and Jeff Knott and I should form a harmonious duet for much of the short session.  And I’m looking forward to a chat with Jeff ahead of tomorrow’s session so that we don’t trip over each other in our evidence.

The RSPB position is for licensing of shooting estates although we all know that the RSPB failed to support John Armitage’s e-petition on this subject which closed in 2014.  Licensing could be a step forward although it would be difficult to design effectively, expensive to monitor and, of itself, would not help limit wildlife crime against protected wildlife (because what we need there is enforcement not regulation (since it is already illegal)).  I should, in all modesty, point out that our petition to ban driven grouse shooting received 12 times as many signatures in half the time, which doesn’t suggest a massive groundswell of public opinion in favour of the RSPB’s current favoured option.

I think that the RSPB is beginning to realise that talking about licensing as the solution to something that is already illegal looks a little weak and so they have two other strings to their bow.

The first is a renewed enthusiasm for vicarious liability – a measure that the RSPB also failed to support when Chrissie Harper set up an e-petition calling for it back in 2012. This is something worth pressing for and I would support it tomorrow if asked. I’d be surprised if the Moorland Association or the Countryside Alliance are keen on it, though.

The second is to try to sell to the shooting industry that Langholm II showed the way forward. At the second Langholm study Hen Harriers were fed (so they didn’t eat Red Grouse) and grouse numbers went up – although they did not reach a predetermined level agreed to represent viability for shooting (apparently, even though this contradicts previous and existing thresholds – the bar was set rather high!).  This hasn’t found any favour with the grouse shooting so-called industry.  Their response to the emerging results of Langholm was publicly to argue that the solution to there being hardly any Hen Harriers in England was to box up any that slipped through and ship them off the moors and release them somewhere else, some time later. A plan so shameless in its real intent that only the most arrogant so-called industry could propose it, only the most out of touch government department could agree it and only the most ‘ex’ of ex-conservation organisations could go along with it.  And in semi-private (ie not broadcast to the world (except on this blog thanks to Dr Ruth Tingay)) the Buccleuch Estate said that what they really wanted was licensed control of raptors. So there is some way to go for the RSPB to sell this idea in to the so-called industry and hobbyists of the world of driven grouse shooting.

And one can see why. There is a lot of money in driven grouse shooting – a lot of money has been invested and a lot of money can be made from capital growth in land value and some more in year on year income.  The RSPB is selling a vision of either walked up grouse shooting or driven-grouse-shooting-lite.  And that’s not what the so-called industry and hobbyists want – and that’s not what some of them have invested their money to get.  It’s an impossible sell. And talking, talking, talking in the hope that the criminals will desist just allows those profits to continue to roll in at our expense.



My solution doesn’t have that problem, nor any other serious problem except getting decision makers to sign up for it. I’d ban it and move on. It’s simple, it’s clean, it’s right.


The Moorland Association:

Photo: RSPB

Photo: RSPB

What do you think Amanda Anderson will say? Will she say ‘If we let the hen harrier in, we will soon have nothing else’? Maybe not, but maybe she will be asked why she made this apparent admission that her members bump off birds of prey. I’d certainly ask her that if I were a member of the Petitions or EFRA Committees – but I think we can rely on Simon Hart MP not to ask that question.

Will there be some hand-wringing about the fact that the Moorland Association members love birds of prey and hardly ever have poletraps on their land and don’t mind at all that birds of prey eat Red Grouse?  Will there be any sign that the Moorland Association accepts the science on the impacts of bird of prey persecution on Hen Harrier, Golden Eagle, Goshawk, Peregrine Red Kite, Golden Eagle or White-tailed Eagle?  I’d like to see those questions answered rather than ducked.


Countryside Alliance:

Shotgun killed red grouse - Lagopus lagopus scoticus - Scotland.

Shotgun killed red grouse – Lagopus lagopus scoticus – Scotland.

It will probably be something along the lines that there is too much red tape at the moment and we country people ought to be allowed to get on with whatever we like without these townies who pay for it all having any say whatsoever. Maybe their evidence will be ‘real country people like killing stuff and that’s how things ought to stay, and luckily our lot are running the government’.

You’ll find out tomorrow if you attend in person or watch the parliament channel, or if you wait for the session to appear in the parliamentary record.

And eventually, I will probably blog about it but it may not be tomorrow and it may not be early on Wednesday either.




Every grouse moor needs a Magritte


A typical grouse moor By Chapiro, via Wikimedia Commons


A typical Magritte photo: Peter Cairns

A typical Magritte. Photo: Peter Cairns


No, grouse shooting isn’t a rich man’s thing.

No, we aren’t subsidising it as taxpayers.


It’s an every day story of grouse-shooting folk. First buy your grouse moor – Muggleswick, 13,000 acres, for £7m.

Not enough?

Buy another, East Allenheads, another 13,000 acres, for £10m. That’s more like it.

Buy a Magritte for c£3m because you can’t make grouse shooting pay unless you have a few nice pictures hanging on the wall and claim Enterprise Investment Scheme relief.  Phew!! That is a relief unless the HMRC notice that you don’t need to look at a Magritte in order to blast Red Grouse into oblivion.  But even then you could argue that ‘achieving sales in the shooting industry can involve lavish entertainment’ and that’s not just a lick of paint but a nearly £3m lick of paint for starters.

Most of this is way over my head because I’d never heard of EIS until a few days ago, but delving into the details, as a hobby, does reveal that East Allenheads shot 1500 brace of Red Grouse in the year 2000 but after Mr Herrmann (hedge fund manager, fan of cannibilistic trout and shooter) bought the place in 2003 bags increased to 7750 brace in 2013.

So the bag increased approximately five-fold. No intensification of grouse moor management there then? Does the capital value of the land increase five fold too? Now that would mean that East Allenheads was worth £50m now. Surely that can’t be right? Probably not. A barren bit of hill, just used for shooting birds for fun, is suddenly worth £50m. Wouldn’t it be awful if someone came along and suggested that driven grouse shooting should be banned – how much would it be worth then?  Errr – practically nothing?  Probably worth investing in YFTB, the Countryside Alliance, BASC, the Moorland Association (provided they don’t say things like ‘If we let the harriers in…‘) and the GWCT to safeguard that investment then.

The last thing you would want would be a bunch of raptors flying around the place looking beautiful and eating a few grouse, or even quite a lot of grouse, or as Langholm showed us, enough Red Grouse to make driven grouse shooting unviable.  Nobody would believe that you could shoot 15,000 Red Grouse off a moor in a year unless someone, somewhere, quite possibly miles away, is making sure that there are no raptors to attack the capital value of grouse moor land.

As far as I know, Mr Herrmann’s grouse moor is impeccably managed but isn’t he lucky that he isn’t troubled by protected birds of prey otherwise he might have to sell ‘his’ Magritte in order to scrape by.

Maybe the abbreviated accounts over the years would paint an interesting picture for someone who understood them too – I know I don’t – here’s one example.





Oscar Dewhurst – Puna Teal

Oscar writes: This is another one from Peru. There was a lot of driving to get from place to place, and on one of these routes we stopped at a couple of high Andean lakes where there were some wildfowl and other birds, including some Puna Teal with their bright blue beaks.
Nikon D800, Nikon 400mm f/2.8 VR lens, Nikon 1.4x TC

Sunday book review – Bring Back the King by Helen Pilcher


Helen Pilcher is a science writer and comedian – and not many people can claim that. In this book she looks at the possibility of de-extinction – bringing back extinct species – and searches for the species most worthy of the effort.

This book made me laugh (as early as the last four words on page 10)  and made me think (many pages and for a quite a while after finishing the book).

Helen Pilcher has a track record in doing science (a PhD in fiddling about with DNA) and in writing about it, and that’s a lot more important to the success of this book than her background in comedy (though that definitely helps too). This is a serious, but yes, amusing, overview of what de-extinction might entail, how feasible it would be (a very interesting review to my mind) and how desirable it would be.

The reader is invited to let their imagination run riot at the beginning and to think which species they would like to see back on Earth were it possible to do so, and then we are brought through a series of reality checks to the realisation that not much is feasible and not that much is desirable.  But the journey is very enjoyable.

The Passenger Pigeon makes an appearance and the right decision is made, in my opinion.

And when Pilcher reveals her choice for the species to benefit from the possibility of de-extinction she makes an excellent case – but I’ll leave it to you to discover for yourself.

I notice that others have praised this book for being funny – some of it is funny but that is almost a slight to the skill of the author.  This book should win prizes because it takes the ‘we could do this’ of the subject and examines its real possibilities but then moves on to the more important question of ‘should we do this?’ and treats that very seriously (in a very readable way). There are many things that we can do that maybe it would be better if we didn’t do. Is space exploration really worth the money? Is Trident worth the money? Is the spend on medical research to make us live longer on an overcrowded planet really worth it?

This book takes a somewhat unpromising subject and makes it fizz. It’s a really good read and will make you think.

Ugly cover – that’s a shame.

Bring Back the King – the new science of de-extinction by Helen Pilcher is published by Bloomsbury.


Inglorious: conflict in the uplands by Mark Avery is published by Bloomsbury – for reviews see here.  Updated paperback edition now out.

Remarkable Birds by Mark Avery is published by Thames and Hudson.



Tim Melling – Green Violetear Hummingbird


Tim writes: I have always wanted to photograph a Hummingbird in flight and it isn’t as difficult as you might think.  They often visit hummingbird feeders but that does not look anywhere near as good as one feeding on flowers.  This was taken at a resort at Savegre in Costa Rica where hummingbirds were numerous on the feeders and in the gardens.  I chose an isolated flower and waited for the hummingbird to arrive, which didn’t take long.  I didn’t quite manage to freeze the wing tip on 1/1600 of a second but I was pleased enough with this.  Green Violetear is a common hummingbird throughout Central America and northern South America, but only at high altitudes.


Taken with a Nikon D7000 and an 80-400mm Nikkor lens on 400mm 1/1600 f5.6 ISO 800