Saturday cartoon by Ralph Underhill

boilingfrogThe boiling frog

 

 

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Postcards for the Queen

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20,132 postcards for the Queen!

Paul, me, Hilary Photo: Felicity Millward/LUSH

Paul, me, Hilary Photo: Felicity/LUSH

This morning, Paul and Hilary from LUSH, and myself (since Chris Packham is out of the country) delivered a couple of boxes of postcards (the rest will follow later) to the Queen. Well, no, not directly to HM The Queen but to her house. And no, not to the front door, wherever that is, but by the side entrance.

Photo: Felicity Millward/LUSH

Photo: Felicity/LUSH

After a long period of negotiation with the Palace the actual handover took less time than I believe it took me to shave this morning! Our identities were checked – I’m glad my Cambridge University Library reader’s card passed muster – and then we were escorted, by a nice Police Inspector, into the building where a man in livery, with braid, took our boxes of cards.  I can’t say he looked thrilled, but there you go! And then we were escorted back to the real world of the busy London pavement.

Photo: Felicity Millward/LUSH

Photo: Felicity/LUSH

We were told that Her Majesty might get to see a postcard or two, but she would certainly see mention of them on a list of correspondence received. I have a feeling that they may not get a mention in the Queen’s Christmas Message to the nation – but, we’ll see. Maybe Her Majesty will bring up the subject of Hen Harriers with David Cameron the next time he pops around for a chat.

The importance of this handover was that the views of more than 20,000 people from the High Streets and Shopping Centres of the UK have been delivered to the Head of State and the centre of the Establishment.

I think LUSH did a fantastic job in their shops, in just a week last August, to enthuse people to speak out for nature.  Those shoppers for bath bombs often came into the shops never having heard of a Hen Harrier and went out feeling angry that these birds are killed illegally by grouse shooting interests.

As we stood on the pavement outside Buckingham Palace I wondered how many of the people passing by would know of Hen Harriers – not very many, I guess. Many were tourists and the Americans would know of the bird as the Northern Harrier (but they would be more likely never to have heard of it), the Scandinavians might know the bird quite well if they were interested in birds and Russians, Chinese and Koreans all stood a chance of knowing the Hen Harrier from their countries. But none would know much about driven grouse shooting, that peculiarly British pastime.

One would be much more likely to find some grouse shooters inside Buckingham Palace than outside I would guess. I do hope that Earl Peel, Lord Chamberlain of the Royal Household, former owner of Gunnerside grouse moor and Vice-President of the Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust gets a chance to flick through the postcards signed by LUSH customers.

This e-petition to ban driven grouse shooting is open to anyone, titled or untitled, rich or poor, LUSH customer or unwashed, to sign provided they are a British citizen – please sign here.

PS the nearest LUSH store to Buckingham Palace appears to be Victoria Station – just five minutes away.

 

The less glamorous side entrance

The less glamorous side entrance

 

 

 

 

 

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RPA considering…

Photo: Guy Shorrock

Photo: Guy Shorrock

Several readers of this blog contacted the Rural Payments Agency at the news of the conviction of a Norfolk gamekeeper for poisoning birds of prey.  They have received letters of this form:

Thank you for your recent e-mail concerning the Norfolk gamekeeper found guilty of killing protected species of birds.
 
I can confirm that RPA will consider what action can be taken under the cross compliance rules in respect of the offences for which the gamekeeper was convicted.
 
Thank you again for bringing this case to our attention.
 
Should you have any further queries please contact us again quoting reference number XXXXX
Photo: I.Sáček, senior, via wikimedia commons

Photo: I.Sáček, senior, via wikimedia commons

Photo: I.Sáček, senior, via wikimedia commons

Photo: I.Sáček, senior, via wikimedia commons

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Two months on

 

Photo: Guy Shorrock

Photo: Guy Shorrock

 

It is only two months since 10 August and Hen Harrier day, when hundreds of hardy folk gathered together to protest at the illegal killing of Hen Harriers (and it has taken this long for some of them to dry out!).

It is now two months until the end of the grouse shooting season on 10 December.  For news of the next ‘event’ on this subject watch this space and other spaces – plans are being made involving several major NGOs.

On 10 August our e-petition to ban driven grouse shooting stood at 13,000 signatures, it now stands at well over 18,000 signatures.

 

Photo: Jim Nettle

Photo: Jim Nettle

 

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The non-joint non-plan is a non-joint non-plan says Defra

1408 p001 cover_with comp v2.inddThe Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust launched an e-petition in mid July asking Defra to publish a plan developed by a group of stakeholders (as I believe we should call them – I loathe that term) to aid the recovery of the Hen Harrier.

This e-petition has been enthusiastically promoted by GWCT, the Moorland Association, Countryside Alliance, gamekeepers and BASC.  Despite all this support it reached 10,000 signatures only in September and the GWCT et al. have been waiting expectantly for a response from Defra.

This blog has given short shrift to this e-petition as right from the start it appeared to be a poorly judged publicity stunt rather than a serious contribution to the debate.  I have called it the non-joint non-plan and Defra’s response, see below, does much the same.  Because it isn’t agreed it isn’t a plan, and until it’s agreed it won’t be joint.  Well, no surprises there then.

The Defra response is rather perfunctory – it made me smile. However, it does, for once, actually answer the question posed rather than ramble around it in an unconvincing manner as has usually been the case.

The Defra response also reminds us all that as recently as 2010 there were a dozen pairs of Hen Harriers in England and that is a poor show when there is enough available habitat for 330+ pairs (although Defra don’t mention the 330+ figure – they never do – it’s too embarrassing).  Under this government the Hen Harrier population has fallen in just four years from 12 to four pairs and there is just the hint in the Defra response that they are waking up to the fact that they need to do something about this (bit late now chaps!).

The conflict between driven grouse shooting and the conservation of protected wildlife is a real one.  It is clear that you can’t have lots of Hen Harriers and enormous ‘bags’ of Red Grouse shot for ‘sport’.  At a time which is described as a ‘golden age of grouse (shooting)’, with bags reaching record levels on many moors, the Hen Harrier population is at pretty much an all-time low in England because of illegal killing of these protected birds.

No, you can’t have lots of shot grouse and lots of protected Hen Harriers. You have to choose. Which do you choose?

The ill-judged plea to publish the non-joint, non-plan, was an attempt by the grouse shooters to railroad Defra, the RSPB and the public into agreeing that we want lots of grouse shooting and will live with few Hen Harriers.  That, quite palpably, isn’t what we want.

The non-joint, non-plan would have allowed, it seems, chicks to be moved from one of the Hen Harrier nests in the Forest of Bowland this year because it was too close to the other nest – and we have four pairs in England.

Even this government wouldn’t be foolish enough to position itself, after buzzard-gate and badger-gate, as being on the side of the grouse shooter instead of the Hen Harrier this close to a general election.  Maybe after the general election…

The shooting community, and nothing else, has reduced the Hen Harrier population to its parlous position through illegal acts – at a time when grouse bags are booming.  The choice is stark – lots of grouse shooting and very few Hen Harriers or very little grouse shooting and rather more Hen Harriers?

And it isn’t just about Hen Harriers ( or Peregrines, or Goshawks or Short-eared Owls), or Stoats, or Mountain Hares, it’s also about climate change, flood risk and water bills, it’s about blanket bogs and what sort of uplands we want.

Society as a whole needs a plan, preferably a joint plan, for the future of the uplands, and when you take that wider longer perspective there is no place for driven grouse shooting and its ecosystem disservices and its assault on wildlife. So please sign this e-petition to ban driven grouse shooting.

 

 

 

The Defra response to the GWCT’s e-petition.

This e-petition has received the following response:
As this e-petition has received more than 10 000 signatures, the relevant Government department has provided the following response:

The Government is concerned about the hen harrier population in England and acknowledges the need to take urgent action.

The latest survey undertaken in 2010 found only 12 pairs in England. In 2013 no young fledged for the first time in over 50 years and although we are encouraged that there are four nests this year with good numbers of young, hen harrier populations are so low that recovery across their former range is unlikely to occur unaided.

In its document “Biodiversity 2020: A strategy for England’s wildlife and ecosystem services”, the Government set out priority actions. One of these is to “Take targeted action for the recovery of priority species, whose conservation is not delivered through wider habitat-based and ecosystem measures”. The Government considers that hen harriers merit additional action to reverse the decline in their population numbers.

In 2012 Defra established the Uplands Stakeholder Forum Hen Harrier Sub-Group to seek shared solutions for hen harrier recovery. The Sub-Group comprises senior representatives from Natural England, the RSPB, the Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust, the National Gamekeepers’ Organisation, National Parks UK and the Moorland Association.

Since the establishment of the Sub-Group, the members have developed a draft Joint Action Plan which contains a suite of complementary actions intended to contribute to the recovery of the hen harrier population in England. The e-petition suggests that the Joint Action Plan could have been published in January 2014, but final agreement is still being negotiated. Since the Sub-Group members all have a role to play in delivering the suite of actions, it is important to secure as much agreement as possible before publication so that it can be implemented in the co-operative and pragmatic way needed to help the recovery of the hen harrier in England.

This e-petition remains open to signatures and will be considered for debate by the Backbench Business Committee should it pass the 100 000 signature threshold.

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Map of Hen Harrier last locations

HH map jpeg

The RSPB Skydancer project released this map yesterday showing the last known locations of the missing Hen Harriers, Sky and Hope.

A quick look at Google maps, entering ‘Forest of Bowland’ and looking at the northern area, north of Wolfhole Crag, will get you to the right area. Switch from ‘map’ to ‘satellite image’ and you’ll see the characteristic burning pattern of heather between Wolfhole Crag and the River Roeburn.

Then go to MAGIC and find the Bowland Fells SSSI and you’ll see that these two birds were last recorded in or near that SSSI.  The records from NE show that quite a lot of this SSSI is in unfavourable condition – much of it not recovering (which is something of a rarity these days) and that the reason it is considered to be in unfavourable condition and declining is given as being due to the decline in the Lesser Black-backed Gull colony where NE found evidence (in 2012) of widespread culling and disturbance.

Much of the area in the bottom half of the map above is a Special Protection Area for birds, designated under the EU Birds Directive – these birds may not have been specially protected enough.

If you have any information about these birds then please contact Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111 or the RSPB’s confidential hotline on 0845 466 3636

 

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Guest blog – What Martha Means to Me by Emma Websdale

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Emma Websdale is a Conservation Biologist and Writer. Working as the Communications Support Officer for The Wildlife Trusts, she is particularly motivated in engaging younger audiences, helping them make sure that nature doesn’t drop off their agenda.

 

Passenger Pigeon by John James Audubon

Passenger Pigeon by John James Audubon

I sit on a train that’s heading to London, September’s issue of BBC Wildlife in my hands. I feel remorse and frustration. I stare at page 75 – John James Audubon’s illustration decorates the page, a beautiful hand-drawn picture of two Passenger Pigeons. They are warming to the eye – the male’s chest the colour of autumn, a wash of red and orange. The female is perched above him; leaning down and taking food from his mouth, giving a subtle hint of the bird’s affection. This species was gregariously sociable – a bird that nested in colonies of hundreds of thousands of pairs that the sheer weight of their winter roosts would make large branches abandon their trees. This was a species that travelled the skies together by the million, taking many hours to pass through an area.

I stare into their red eyes. I feel deep discontent. I will never get to see this bird alive, nor will anyone else. For just over 100 years now, this bird has been extinct – completely wiped from the planet. I read Mark Avery’s words, “The passenger pigeon was the most abundant bird the world has ever seen, only decades before extinction. So how on earth did we wipe it out?” And how on earth did we? I read the story… sadly; it is always the familiar one.

This was a bird whose survival was against many odds. Its habitat greatly reduced and replaced with resources to feed our appetites of firewood and agriculture. Competitors including wild (and feral) pigs and the arrival of the House Sparrow were also contributing factors. However, what really pushed this species to its extinction was the culling of their colonies. Culls that would result in areas of forest either set alight or felled in attempt to flush out flocks. These birds were culled in a magnitude rich enough to fill up hundreds of barrels each year for transportation which ended up becoming an item on a restaurant menu.

Mark’s story reminded me of how the last remaining wild Passenger Pigeon went out. Shot down in Ohio in 1900 by a 14-year old boy. This was the same year that the first hamburger was sold. Following 14 years later, Martha – the very last remaining known Passenger Pigeon died in her cage at Cincinnati Zoo at lunchtime. I cannot help but wonder how many people (ironically) were consuming a hamburger during Martha’s last breath – a big contribution to the removal of her habitat to make space for raising cattle.

Personally, the most devastating part to this story isn’t the Passenger Pigeon’s extinction. You see – humans can be messy, greedy and busy, but despite these negative tendencies, humans can also learn to restore a loss into something much better to create a gain. But we didn’t. Only 4 years after Martha’s passing, Incas – the last brightly painted Carolina Parakeet in the world, also breathed his last breath in the exact same cage as Martha. Now that is something unforgivable. Did we really make the same mistake twice? Two incredible species both lost in the same way? Yes, the frightening answer is yes.

A  panda in the snow?

A panda in the snow?

Frustratingly, it is this mistake in humans – to ignore ecological losses by focusing on economic gains that remains a stronghold within our attitude. This week, a crucial report released from the WWF and ZSL entitled ‘Living Planet Report 2014’ announced that the number of wild animals on Earth has declined by half in just the last 40 years. The reasons – the same as the ones behind the Passenger Pigeon’s extinction. Humans living unsustainably while polluting and degrading habitats. For one of the first times I can recall these frightening statistics on wildlife losses broke out into a main news channel – at 18.30 on channel 5, which welcomed Chris Packham’s viewpoints.

So what is the next species to leave us? Might it be the Spoon-billed Sandpiper or perhaps the Black Rhino?

Now this is what we are up against – very recently, I encouraged my brother to visit London’s Natural History Museum. As soon as we submerged ourselves into the ancient and intriguing world of nature, I instantly sought out the bird section in hope to see a Passenger Pigeon. There in front of me behind the glass, stood the solid, stiff body of a passenger. Among it was an Great Auk, Dodo and Carolina Parakeet. The eeriness of their stiffness reminded me that their once presence in the wild had been reduced to nothing more than a museum collection. No one seemed to even bother to stop and look at these lost birds. It angered me.  “Isn’t it frustrating to see that no one is bothered about these birds? They are gone. Forever.” I pointed towards the birds. To my horror, my brother simply turned around and replied with “So? It is only a bird. Not like a lion or tiger.” And that was from my own bloodline, my older brother – someone who I thought would know better. This is miserably such a common occurrence – people who are so disconnected from nature that they can’t even comprehend what such a beautiful loss could mean for both its ecosystem and even us humans.

I think back to Charles, Robert and many other young boys who eagerly attend the Wildlife Watch group I volunteer at, and feel proud. The excitement and thrill that explodes on their faces as they stumble across a newt or catch a pill millipede. Perhaps, just perhaps, if we continue engaging this exciting youth conservation movement with real and unforgotten natural experiences it can make some kind of dent. So that when they turn 14, unlike the boy in Ohio, their gun equipped hands are replaced with bug pots, lens caps and binoculars. And even better, perhaps with wildlife decline statistics finally making mainstream news, these children’s parents – who most likely don’t care about a bird going extinct… just might give it a second thought.

Martha was a warning. Incas was a consequence of not listening to her warning. With only 50% of our wildlife left, now really is the time to be listening.

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This is what it is like to be on the front foot.

 

Photo: Guy Shorrock

Photo: Guy Shorrock

The debate has changed dramatically over the last few months – let’s say since 28 May when this e-petition was launched to ban driven grouse shooting.

In that time:

  • Morris_driveM&S have been persuaded to change their mind about selling Red Grouse on their shelves until they can assure the world of the sustainability of their supply chain.
  • Selfridges have said they will not sell Red Grouse in their Food Hall.
  • The Ethical Consumer magazine has published a hard-hitting report attacking the sustainability of grouse shooting.
  • Animal Aid has published a report on the waste of public money that goes to grouse moors
  • The RSPB has said that nett impact of grouse shooting on wildlife is ‘almost certainly negative‘ and hardened its stance by suggesting that grouse moors should be licensed
  • LUSH customers have signed 20,000 postcards asking the Queen to help the Hen Harrier
  • Hundreds of people turned out on Hen Harrier Day across the country to protest against the illegal persecution of protected birds of prey by grouse shooting interests
  • A Leeds University report has shown that heather burning for driven grouse shooting adds to flood risk, reduces water quality (and puts up water bills), damages river wildlife and increases greenhouse gas emissions
  • An analysis of the economic claims behind shooting has shown that the claims for economic value of grouse shooting have been exaggerated
  • And, a few days ago, the number of people who have signed this e-petition to ban driven grouse shooting passed 18,000.

We should now look to politicians to respond to the public mood and tell us what they plan to do about driven grouse shooting. Any political party (actually, not all, I’m not posting anything from the BNP here) who wishes to write a Guest Blog on grouse shooting is welcome to get in touch.

 

 

 

 

 

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More Crex than ever – well, for 45 years.

CrexCrex

Photo; Ziegentom (www.fotocommunity.de) via wikimedia commons

The Corncrake is not the most charismatic bird in the world –  a Moorhen-like bird that lives in long grass, has a rasping ‘song’ (crex! crex!) which it mostly sings at night and looks like it finds getting airborne difficult, but which flies to the other side of the Sahara every year (and back of course).  Actually, now I write that, it seems to have a certain something about it.

But this year it was crex-ing away in bigger numbers than usual – the biggest numbers since records began of detailed counts, 45 years ago. Of course, the Corncrake was a common bird right across the UK until modern farming, but this was early 2oth century farming, (that was modern enough), scrunched up so many of its eggs and black fluffy young that its population tumbled.

Photo: Sergey Yeliseev via wikimedia commons

Photo: Sergey Yeliseev via wikimedia commons

But now the crexing corncrake is a conservation success story. Thanks to research, management trials and the rolling out of well-tested conservation measures (the right mix of grants to farmers and nature reserves), the Corncrake numbers, despite falling in 2013, have bounced right back in 2014 to 1,289 singing males in Scotland.  It’s a record!  It’s almost certainly the most there have been in my lifetime.

Nearer to home, the reintroduction project on the Nene Washes about which I tend to write at least once a year  (eg 2009, 2010, 2014), has had a record year too. Woohoo! In the Cambridgeshire Fens there were 22 singing males compared with just 7 last year (the previous year had been a disaster with flooding of the Washes).  That’s the most ever and there is a record number of home-bred birds in that total (as compared with reared and released birds) which is a good sign for the future too.

These projects are long and difficult – they require great skill and knowledge to pull off – but when they look like they will work it’s a great reward.

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Gamekeepers

Ansdell_Richard_The_GamekeeperYesterday evening’s blog did not overflow with complimentary remarks about gamekeepers – it could have done, but it didn’t.

An occupation which evokes such strong and negative responses has an image problem – and that is true however fair or unfair are the comments.

We don’t hear that much from gamekeepers in the debates over the future of driven grouse shooting. We don’t hear much from gamekeepers at all, in fact.

I could be very sympathetic to the view that the poor gamekeeper is at the mercy of his (for it usually is a he) uncaring, unsympathetic, harsh landowner master if there were much evidence to support it but there is not. We hear little from gamekeepers saying that they have a tough time. We hear nothing from gamekeepers whispering that they are under enormous pressure, some (not all) of them, to break the law and they would much rather not. We hear nothing from gamekeepers to suggest that they would appreciate the arrival of vicarious liability in England so that more of the burden fell on their bosses.  We hear very little.  Some of this is understandable, there must be a risk of sticking your head above the parapet, but some of it is not.

I have rarely seen any evidence that gamekeepers or their organisations have any view even a little bit different from the Moorland Association and the Countryside Alliance.  This seems to me to be strange as the interests of gamekeepers’ and their bosses’ cannot be exactly the same.

I would welcome a Guest Blog about the future of driven grouse shooting from the National Gamekeepers Organisation  from the point of view of gamekeepers.

But here are some quotes about recent events from gamekeepers:

 

NGO website:

Gamekeeper found guilty of poisoning birds of prey

Thursday 2nd Oct 2014

Allen Lambert, a 65 year old Norfolk gamekeeper, was found guilty at Norwich Magistrates’ Court on 1 October 2014 of two charges that relate to the killing of eleven birds of prey (a sparrowhawk and 10 buzzards) and possessing pesticides and other items capable of being used to prepare poisoned baits. Lambert had pleaded guilty to five other charges at an earlier hearing including pesticide offences and the possession of nine dead buzzards.

A spokesman for the National Gamekeepers’ Organisation said: “The NGO stands for gamekeeping within the law and we condemn these actions utterly. The selfish, stupid actions of one man – who was not and never has been a member of the NGO – must not be used to tarnish the good name of gamekeeping, which does so much for the countryside and its wildlife. The gamekeeping profession genuinely deplores those very, very few among their number who break the law. They are the pariahs of the modern keepering world, losing the right to call themselves gamekeepers in the eyes of their peers.”

Allen Lambert has never been a member of the National Gamekeepers’ Organisation.

 

NGO website:

Focus On Hen Harriers Can Start Species Recovery

Wednesday 6th Aug 2014

The British Association for Shooting and Conservation, CLA, Countryside Alliance, Game & Wildlife Conservation Trust, The National Gamekeepers’ Organisation, and the Moorland Association all want to see more hen harriers nesting in England and are calling for Defra to publish a plan for their recovery across England.

Three events have been planned by bird enthusiasts in Derbyshire, Northumberland and Lancashire to raise awareness of the current low breeding success of the birds of prey in England.

Last year there were just two breeding attempts, both on or adjacent to moorland managed for red grouse, but no chicks fledged.

There have been three known successful nests this year fledging 11 chicks, again all on moorland managed for grouse shooting interests, but the organisations say that there need to be more.

Amanda Anderson, Director of the Moorland Association, speaking for the group of organisations said: “All of the organisations welcome the spotlight on harriers and condemn wildlife crime. We need to build on this year’s successful breeding to springboard a wider recovery. There is a Defra-led Joint Recovery Plan we wish to see published. If implemented it would see the growth of a sustainable population of hen harriers without jeopardising driven grouse shooting, along with the environmental, social and economic benefits it delivers.”

Three parts of the recovery plan tackle any wildlife crime against the birds and three parts deal with the sustainable growth of the harrier population. One key element, nest management, is taken from tested conservation techniques in France. This would see hen harrier chicks in nests 10km from another nest reared in an aviary and released six weeks later in suitable habitat. This will help ensure harriers nest without impacting on ground nesting birds on which they prey, especially red grouse.

 

SGA website:

SGA RESPONSE TO LEEDS UNIVERSITY MUIRBURN REPORT
In response to a new report by Leeds University stating that burning of grouse moors leads to environmental changes, the SGA has given the following response:

Scottish Gamekeepers Association Chairman Alex Hogg said: “It is important to monitor the affects of all management practice on land.
Those clamouring for curbs on grouse shooting, for example, should assess the carbon released through widespread afforestation and pine regeneration programmes on peat soil in the Scottish uplands, which have the same drying and degrading affect as described in the Leeds study, including the release of stored pollutants.
“Controlled heather burning, following the strict Muirburn Code, only takes place within very short, regulated, seasons. Following best practice, it only takes place when the fire will not burn into peat edges.
“Aside from providing benefits acknowledged by SNH and organisations such as RSPB when it comes to conservation for black grouse, for example, controlled muirburn helps alleviate more damaging environmental problems on peatland.
“Rotational strip burning acts as a fire-break against the spread of wildfires which scorch peat over large areas, releasing carbon into the atmosphere at a far more damaging rate than any controlled muirburn would. We saw this at Mar Lodge when a campfire caused the loss of 10 hectares of important blaeberry amongst Pinewoods.

“Regenerating heather, which has lost its nutritional value, through cyclical muirburn provides vital food and shelter for birds such as waders, some of which are now only stable on grouse moors, so it is important to see the study within context.”

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