In the Languedoc area of France, the bourgoisie kill House Sparrows by throwing daggers at them. It’s a traditional pastime that came into existence when technology allowed the perfect manufacture of sets of spadger daggers.
Many areas of the Languedoc are managed to produce high numbers of sparrows for la chasse. Trees are felled (sparrows don’t nest in them), lines of privet hedges are planted, little shacks with ill-fitting roofs are constructed to create a landscape fit for sparrows. Some even say that it is a cherished landscape of great cultural significance.
The sparrows are fed with piles of birdseed, and a few other seed-eaters, linnets and greenfinches mostly, benefit from this highly artificial management regime. The densities of these seed-eaters can reach one hundred times their ‘natural’ levels and this causes disease problems, so the kind Languedocians add medicine to the bird food to try to keep on top of these diseases – after all, they wouldn’t want the sparrers dying of disease before they can be skilfully impaled on a thrown dagger, would they?
Of course, predators of House Sparrows cannot be tolerated. Any sparrow taken by a hawk or mammal is one fewer for the dagger throwers to kill a few weeks later. Although Sparrowhawks are completely protected in French law, they are hunted down ruthlessly by the agents of the sparrow hunters. You will not find a Sparrowhawk in the Languedoc or in a few other areas of France where this ‘traditional’ hunting occurs. It is a bit blatant, or ca creve les yeux, as we say.
Despite this the sparrow hunters will tell you that they are the Sparrowhawk’s greatest friends and the hawks are practically dependent on this management. When it is pointed out that in other parts of the world, House Sparrows and Sparrowhawks survive together without any human intervention, then the sparrow hunters change the subject with a Gallic shrug.
It takes a lot of skill to aim your dagger at a sparrow and bring it down – some just live for the thrill of it. When asked whether this form of mass killing wasn’t un peu trop the ‘chef d’equipe‘ of the chasseurs said ‘...it’s not an enjoyment based on killing, it’s an enjoyment to respect the countryside. Shooting is about not just the history of France, it’s about an innovative future.’. Sorry, I know that doesn’t make any sense at all, it must have lost something in translation.
If you would like to teach the French a lesson in wildlife management then sign this e-petition, s’il vous plait. Merci a vous, de la part des busards Saint-Martin.
Q: Is discussion of a ban on driven grouse shooting simplistic?
A: Yes. Firstly, it ignores the wider conservation, employment and economic benefits of moorland managed for grouse; and secondly, it fails to address why there are so few hen harriers on the 50% of the suitable habitat not managed for grouse shooting.
This can’t mean me because this blog has addressed (all of a month ago) why there aren’t many Hen Harriers on non-grouse shooting moors in England – it’s because if there is enough criminal killing of Hen Harriers in some places, they will be much rarer everywhere – it’s because Hen Harrier populations are more like soup than mashed potato.
However, if you look at where Hen Harriers nest across the UK, as government agencies did some time ago, then it is blindingly obvious that they are largely absent from those geographical areas where driven grouse shooting is widespread (north of England, southern Scotland, east Scotland) and yet widespread in those areas where driven grouse shooting is rare or absent (Wales, Northern Ireland, Isle of Man, northwest Scotland, Orkney, Western Isles).
The science shows that criminality is behind the fact that the UK Hen Harrier population is at one third its proper level given the available suitable habitat. The GWCT ‘briefing’ ducks the real issue – driven grouse shooting these days depends on widespread criminality. That’s just one reason (there are others) why you might want to sign this e-petition to ban driven grouse shooting in England.
I’m not sure where the 50% figure comes from by the way.
Hear about his artwork…
… and this refreshingly different take on things – click here.
It’s just brilliant stuff:
‘I intend to go on the day (August 10th) and I hope I’ll be able to speak to people there, and thank them for coming, and motivate them to take more action. And to promote [Mark's] petition‘
‘The fact is, I think the shooting industry should be slightly worried’
‘The problem with the shooting fraternity is that it hasn’t sorted its own act out’
‘Now they are facing a call, for the first time, to stop a particular sort of shooting. It is audacious’
‘We have run out of patience’
‘We have been robbed of that opportunity [to see Hen Harriers in many parts of the country] by the selfish actions of a minority of the shooting fraternity’
‘I don’t want a gamekeeper to be out of pocket…Please work with us to find an acceptable solution’
‘Now we’re gunning for you!’
Tim Birch is the Conservation Manager of the Derbyshire Widlife Trust. He has worked in nature conservation for many years, much of it abroad, but grew up in Derbyshire to which he has now returned.
It’s now been almost 18 months since I’ve been back in Derbyshire working with the Derbyshire Wildlife Trust as their conservation manager after many years of working on the frontline of global conservation issues.
From helping to fight the destruction of the rainforests from the Amazon to British Columbia, I’ve been lucky enough to meet some incredible people who are doing extraordinary things to try and protect our planet’s amazing biodiversity from being destroyed.
It was with a sigh of relief then that I came back to the Derbyshire moors where I grew up and tramped the moors with family and friends and where I could once again hear my first Cuckoo and see Lapwings tumbling in the sky to announce the arrival of spring.
At least things couldn’t be as bad as some of the truly desperate things that I had witnessed overseas in terms of environmental abuse. Or so I thought.
Over the past six months I’ve had my view of the Peak District uplands radically altered, as it’s clear that once you scratch below the surface, things aren’t quite right – in fact there is a festering sore.
It’s clear to me now why as a teenager in the Peak District, I was never lucky enough to spot Hen Harriers sky dancing on the moors – because they were and continue to be relentlessly persecuted by people who won’t tolerate these magnificent birds on their grouse moors.
Indeed, as I’ve discovered, the situation is actually far worse and extends far beyond the Derbyshire moors. It’s not just Hen Harriers that have been relentlessly pursued but other birds of prey including Peregrines and Goshawks.
Let’s not forget that these birds are legally protected and all this is happening within a National Park in a highly developed country – the UK – not the lawless Amazon frontier but right here, right now in one of our most spectacular landscapes in the heart of England.
I was recently lucky enough this Spring to spot a sky dancing male Hen Harrier in the Upper Derwent Valley, a very rare event indeed. High up on the moors it was performing its big dipper display flight, carving a breathtaking route across the evening sky – it was ghostly, even moth like and it was truly stunning.
A couple of days later a female appeared but then promptly “disappeared” or did it simply move on? That male then proceeded to sky dance for nearly six weeks without finding a mate.
Sadly, no breeding took place this year but it’s an indication that these spectacular birds want to re-occupy what is surely a traditional breeding area for them – they want to come home. They are as much a part of our national heritage as Westminster Abbey or Big Ben, but a small group of people are denying the opportunity for tens of thousands of visitors to the Peak District National Park to witness some of our most amazing wildlife.
This cannot be right.
Millions of people in the UK are members of wildlife and conservation groups whilst TV programmes like Spring Watch show the passion that people have for their wildlife. To my mind this is almost unrivalled anywhere in the world.
People want to see healthy birds of prey populations back on our uplands. The opportunities for ecotourism to showcase our thriving wildlife full of Hen Harriers, Peregrines, to name but a few species, is tremendously exciting. At the moment though this simply isn’t possible and the persecution of Hen Harriers to the point that we have none breeding in one of our premier National Parks is something that needs to be urgently addressed. It is a national disgrace.
I’ve met with many members of the public recently in the uplands of the Peak District National Park in the course of my work and when you explain that protected birds of prey aren’t able to breed in a National Park due to persecution every response is one of incredulity. How can that be happening in a National Park they say ? Aren’t National Parks supposed to protect our precious wildlife ?
Like millions of people, I deeply care about the illegal hunting of elephants and rhinos in Africa as well as the illegal shooting of migrating birds in countries such as Malta. And like many people I also care about the on-going persecution of birds of prey in the Peak District and across the UK. Elephants, rhinos, Hen harriers – it’s all part of the same problem: a lack of respect for the natural world and the laws.
Despite this depressing scenario I now sense a growing movement of people who want to strengthen our links with the natural world and restore it – not destroy it. This is why I and the Derbyshire Wildlife Trust will be supporting the Hen Harrier Day on August 10th in the Peak District.
We gained the right to access our uplands with the mass trespasses of the early 20th Century in the Peak District – we led the way in this part of the UK. Now we need a mass movement of people to show the way again and reclaim our natural heritage on these uplands. Our Hen Harriers, and other upland wildlife desperately need our help. I hope to see many of you there.
This is a copy of my earlier blog post but now including the Peak District National Park’s rapid and helpful response to points 1 and 2. They tell me that they are checking on point 3 now.
Dear Peak District National Park
This is a request under the Freedom of Information regulations, but in any case you should be happy to answer it.
Please answer the following:
- Did the PDNP contact The Times newspaper by email, letter or telephone concerning Simon Barnes’s articles about raptor persecution in the Peak District? I ask, because it has been suggested to me that you might have done. A rapid straight ‘no’ would suffice if that is the answer.
- If the answer to question 1 is ‘yes’, please send me details of what you wrote or said and any replies that you received.
- Are you aware (perhaps through being copied in) of any other representations made by others on this subject? I’m not sure this falls under FoI – you had better check – but I’d still like to know the answer please.
I am grateful to the PDNP for a copy of the following letter which was sent by them to The Times but not published:
Simon Barnes is right to shine a light on the sad and unacceptable level of persecution of birds of prey on some Peak District grouse moors.
However, he misses important facts and is blaming the wrong people.
Simon Barnes appears to associate the Authority with the illegal actions taking place. Nothing is further from the truth. We wholly condemn illegal persecution of wildlife. Our policies and staff on the ground focus only on supporting land managers who protect wildlife. If we discover any illegal activity we report it to the police.
Moreover, Simon Barnes fails to explain that bird of prey populations have recovered well across much of the national park in recent decades. There is, for example, a good breeding record of goshawk across much of the national park and peregrines have recolonised successfully important historical sites such as The Roaches.
There is clear evidence of a problem with persecution of hen harrier, goshawk and peregrine associated with some grouse moors. That is where the problem lies. The individuals who own and manage those moors should be accountable and the target of any censure, not the hard working staff of the National Park who labour tirelessly for the conservation of this landscape and its wildlife with good effect.
Cllr Tony Favell MBE
Chairman of the Peak District National Park Authority
The World at One say they had such a strong response to the chat between Martha Kearney and me on the subject of Passenger Pigeons that they have put up a separate link to it and included a film of the interview too - click here to hear and see the interview.
I also enjoyed the chat we had off air – she had clearly read A Message from Martha (as we talked about some of the details in Chapter 6 and without reading it, you wouldn’t know them) and she said some nice things about it to me – we authors are desperate for praise you know!
And the first review of A Message from Martha appeared today in the Independent and the ‘i’ (p42) – and I’m relieved to say it’s a very good one including phrases such as:
‘In its science, its history and its ecological insights, the book excels‘.
‘Avery’s description of the 40 per cent decline in British birds over the past century, and the bone-headed refusal of farmers’ leaders to endorse ecologically friendly farming methods, provide a chilling echo of his American discoveries. Will our own turtle dove follow the passenger pigeon into extinction over the next decade?‘.
‘Martha’s message rings out loud and clear‘.
You may have noticed, though I wouldn’t bet on it, that there is an e-petition relevant to you rapidly gathering signatures.
Once it reaches 10,000 signatures, you will have to reply to it. I point this out to you so that you might, with all this warning, make a better fist of it than you did to the last e-petition on this very subject which passed the 10,000 signature mark. Your response then was, quite frankly, appalling in missing the point almost entirely. Please do better next time around – maybe start thinking of something to say now?
As you know, I have asked you, so far with no reply, whether ministers signed off the awful response to John Armitage’s e-petition. I’ll be interested to know whether, in due course, ministers will sign off the reply to my e-petition.
My additional question now, under FoI, which I asked of Natural England, but they said I should ask you directly (joined up government?) is as follows:
What interests, financial or otherwise, do Defra Ministers have personally (including through close family) in grouse shooting in the UK?
You really are shocking. You have not acknowledged or answered this FoI request made on 7 April this year. I have reminded you about this once before.
Please respond by Wednesday next week or else I will complain to the Information Commissioner about your woeful disregard for the principles of open government.