Nick Moyes is former Senior Keeper of Natural History at Derby Museum; co-author of The Flora of Derbyshire, and technical advisor to the Derby Cathedral Peregrine Project, which he helped set up. He is currently campaigning to get The Sanctuary LNR restored by Derby City Council, and advises on biodiversity action plans across Lowland Derbyshire. He is a keen walker, mountaineer and Wikipedian, and his family have been National Trust members for some 15 years.
I awoke last Friday morning to two wonderful things.
It was 5:30am. Overhead, the piping call of a curlew roused me from my slumber amongst the soft bilberry and heather of Kinder Scout‘s plateau; the night’s rain and wind had finally passed over, and my bivouac bag had weathered it well. I had arrived late on Thursday night, just as darkness fell at Crookstone Knoll, and had made a low impact – albeit slightly elicit – stopover on Kinder’s extreme eastern end. I’d come to see for myself how grouse shooting was impacting on the landscape here.
The second wonderful thing to wake to was news on Twitter that the National Trust had just announced it was terminating the lease of one of its shooting tenants in the Hope Woodlands Estate (the bit I had been sleeping on!) This amazing news came after the release of a video of a camouflaged gamekeeper with a gun and plastic hen harrier decoy on land owned by the Trust. Pressure on the organisation to act had mounted over recent weeks, not only on my old colleague, Jon Stewart, who now works for the National Trust, but also on Helen Ghosh, the Trust’s Director-General, who many people had contacted to demand action. To their immense credit the NT had finally come out with a statement (reproduced here) in favour of evicting this shooting tenant on the grounds that their activities were no longer compatible with the Trust’s vision for the Dark Peak moors. This was wonderful news indeed. The long process of seeking a new tenant would begin in 2017.
All week I had been saying that I felt the next Hen Harrier Day on Sunday August 7th in Derbyshire needed a stronger, more clearly defined and achievable focus. And here now is the opportunity to ask (demand?) that the National Trust go one step further than their surprisingly wonderful statement last Friday.
We need to tell the National Trust to remove all the shooting butts from their land in
the Dark Peak SSSI/SAC/SPA (Special Protection Area). Kinder should be the start.
It makes no sense to me to spend immense sums of money on gully-blocking, re-wetting and restoring the western side of the Kinder Scout plateau, whilst on its eastern arm the shooting tenants (now presumably given notice to quit) have continued to burn the deep peat just to encourage heather for their grouse, and then dig pits for their trays of medicated grit to keep the birds healthy (prior, of course, to being shot by well-to-do lines of gunmen hiding in grouse butts after 12th August each year). I earnestly believe there should be no shooting whatsoever on any part of the Kinder Scout part of the Dark Peak SSSI/SPA. I would then like to see management for grouse-shooting removed from all National Trust land within the Dark Peak SSSI.
So, as I offered myself up as breakfast to the multitude of moorland midges, I made a note of the damage being done on Kinder in the name of driven grouse shooting. Below me at Crookstone Knoll, the biggest symbol of this was the line of grouse-shooting butts that emerged through the early morning mist towards me from the Snake Pass road. These symbols of greed, folly and moorland mismanagement really have no place at all today on the slopes around the Kinder Scout plateau. This part of the Dark Peak SSSI is one of our most heavily cherished ecological habitats, given special UK and European protection as an SSSI, an SAC and an SPA. Yet all around me there were signs of moorland habitat mismanagement – funded by HLS payments – but seeming to me to run totally counter to the good work being done elsewhere on Kinder by the National Trust, the Peak Park, and the Moors for the Future project. Numerous areas of burnt heather and white-tipped posts marked the location of plastic trays of medicated grit, many placed into holes dug into the ancient peat. Just look at the vast swathes of burnt moorland on the eastern side of the Kinder Scout plateau on this Google satellite view.
Kick the Butts Out Of Kinder Scout! No shooting on this part of the Dark Peak SSSI/SAC/SPA
It was 1932 when the Kinder Mass Trespass took place. The common man demanded access to the wild landscapes that had hitherto been denied them. Today it is the gamekeepers and shooting tenants who are now the trespassers here. And this time there is no place for them – they have no moral right here, even if some do still have a lease. With their guns, their medicated grit, their moorland burning, their snares and their stink pits – and sometimes even their poisons and snipers – they trespass onto these landscapes and do our wild places no good. Evidence of the damage that intensive grouse farming causes was all around on this, the extreme eastern arm of the Kinder Scout plateau and SSSI.
The shooting butts should not be here at all; they make a mockery of the moorland restoration efforts being done further west on Kinder.
It would take just a few hours with a sturdy crowbar to Kick the Butts Out of Kinder Scout. We should seek to scatter these stones, or turn these places into simple cairns – monuments to the folly and anachronism of intensive grouse farming on what is undoubtedly the Peak District’s most well-known and valued wild place. We need the National Trust to take this further action in order to demonstrate a desire never to see grouse shooting on any part of the Kinder Scout again. It should create at least one shooting-free area on its land-holdings, and to do so on behalf of the vast majority of its members who, like me, care about a better landscape, rich in wildlife and delivering healthy ecosystem services for everyone’s benefit. Carbon sequestration by the peat; the retention of water and reduction of flooding downstream in the cities of Derby and Nottingham are just two of many services a more healthily managed moorland will deliver.
If you want to contact The National Trust you can email Dame Helen Ghosh, or Jon Stewart, and praise them for their action thus far, but why not also invite them to Kick the Butts out of Kinder Scout! and make this the first bit of the Dark Peak SSSI/SAC/SPA to be a completely lead-free zone?
With Natalie Bennett from the Green Party attending Hen Harrier Day in Edale this year, as well as our new Police and Crime Commissioner, Hardyal Singh Dhindsa, now is the ideal opportunity to both publicly applaud the National Trust for taking a firm line with one of their wayward shooting tenants, but also to call for one more small, but achievable action: Kick the Butts out of Kinder Scout!
I want to see all moorland management for grouse-shooting halted on National Trust land within the Dark Peak SSSI/SAC/SPA. Removing all 53 of the shooting butts around Kinder Scout should be our first goal.
I enjoyed talking in Oxford last week – a lovely, lively crowd of people. And they said nice things about my talk on Twitter:
And Oxford constituencies seem to have had a bit of a boost in the last 10 days or so, and slightly more so than Cambridge has. Can you get a blue for petition-signing?
Cambridge 110, 123 signatures
Oxford West and Abingdon 78, 92 signatures
Oxford East 70, 86 signatures
Thank you to BBOWT for inviting me and to the Oxford Museum of Natural History (Swifts in a Tower) for holding the event. It was great to see some long-standing friends in the audience and also some new faces of young people near the start of their careers.
The Swifts were screaming as I left the venue.
That’s the last talk I’ll be giving for quite a few weeks – next stop the UK Game Fair (heavens!). But I am available for talks on the subject of banning driven grouse shooting right up until 20 September when our e-petition to ban the dratted thing will close.
You might think that Gordon Brown is a bit of a miserable guy, grumpy and lacking in humour – well, I’m sure he can be, but yesterday he sparkled. Maybe it’s the freedom that comes from being an ex-PM that makes him look rather happy these days.
I notice that a tired old Guardian journalist (well actually I don’t know his age or his state of physical well-being) with whom I shared a train back to Kettering (in my case, he, of course was rushing back to the safety of London) reckoned that Gordon wasn’t firing on all cylinders but that’s not what the audience thought. Sure, if you’ve heard Gordon speak scores of times before (as a toGj) then you might just have heard some of the stories before (blimey – if you’ve heard me talk about grouse shooting then you might hear the same lines over and over again, and please sign this e-petition to ban driven grouse shooting) but for most of the people there it was a treat.
The speech did major on the fact that the world is a dangerous and difficult place and that being together, working together, internationally and regardless of creed, colour, gender, sexual persuasion, was vital, and that voting #Brexit made that far more difficult. The audience lapped it up in multicultural Leicester, and yes, the line about the importance of staying in Europe for Leicester City FC was a very good one actually.
The argument that the EU has set a floor for workers’ rights and environmental standards was well made. The importance of working within the EU to tackle climate change was a good nod towards the environmental agenda – can you imagine where a post-Brexit Tory climate-sceptic English government would take us? And the idea that the North Sea could be a source of shared EU renewable energy if we work together was very well made, and is absolutely relevant as other EU countries (and Norway) signed an agreement on this last week but the UK was absent.
The media just wanted to ask about immigration, and Leicester is a strange place to do that. Person after person stressed the fact that Leicester was a city working together across all boundaries. But it is an interesting question – if you have to be borderline-racist and xenophobic to win a #Remain vote do those ends justify those means?
There is no doubt that Gordon Brown is the finest Labour ex-PM alive – though that isn’t difficult, it is only a two-horse race.
Here’s a prescription for a fine afternoon on a warm day in June.
Take smartphone and drink of choice. Sit in garden. Wait for sun to come out and bees to take to the wing, use smartphone to record which type of bees you see and how many. Repeat with second drink of choice. And with further drinks if the mood so takes you.
If this sounds appealing, then the Great British Bee Count is the app you’ve been waiting for.
This is the third year Friends of the Earth – with support from Buglife and Waitrose – has asked people to record bee sightings in their parks, gardens and open countryside using a free app which is available for iphone and Android. The count runs until the end of June.
The aim is to raise awareness of Britain’s bees: the number of bee species (over 250), the threats they face and what people can do to help them – such as creating bee-friendly habitats in their home and community.
The data is of scientific value too. It will be will uploaded to the National Biodiversity Network so it can add to the UK-wide picture of bee species health, numbers and locations.
Bee numbers are in decline, some species have already gone (20 since 1900) and others are being confined to increasingly narrow swathes of land. Our bees are in trouble – which is why Friends of the Earth’s Bee Cause campaign to protect them is so important.
Bee decline is a syndrome. It has a number of causes. The loss of more than 97 per cent of the nation’s wildflower meadows since the 1930’s is one significant factor. Mono-cropping on farmland that has replaced the meadows compounds the problems as crops only flower for a short period each season, depriving bees of season-long forage.
Climate change too is an increasing threat – for example certain bee species and their preferred flowers are likely to become out of synch because the moments and seasons when flora and fauna thrive are shifting.
But growingly we know that the use of some pesticides is also contributing to the decline of our bee species. That’s why, in December 2013 a ban came into force on three of a family of five nerve agent insecticides called neonicotinoids.
The ban was supported by a majority of European Member States. The UK government however (courtesy of the then Secretary of State, Owen Paterson) voted – and vigorously lobbied – against the ban.
We know, with a growing level of certainty, that this family of pesticides harms bees. But, as I may not need to spell out to readers of this blog, there is also evidence that they harm bird populations and even butterflies too. And yet the ban is coming under increasing pressure from lobbyists and commercial interests.
National Farmers Union
Last year, the National Farmers’ Union and pesticide companies worked together to apply for the emergency use of two of the banned chemicals in some locations on the grounds it was essential to combat a pest that attacks the oilseed rape crop.
Official statistics later emerged showing that average UK oilseed rape crop yield actually grew by nearly 7% in the first year without access to the banned chemicals.
The process by which permission was granted was handled in secret and it wasn’t until Friends of the Earth filed court proceedings and Freedom of Information requests that the government was forced to publish the background documents and advice that underscored its decision.
Earlier this year, the same toxic cabal of NFU and purveyors of pesticides attempted to get another ‘derogation’ under the ban to use the banned chemicals on this year’s crop of rapeseed. But their first application was turned down last month on the recommendation of the Government’s Expert Committee on Pesticides.
Pesticide ban under threat
Cause for celebration? Not yet! The NFU has just resubmitted a second application and the Expert Committee on Pesticides will – in all likelihood – look at this revised proposal to use seeds treated with neonicotinoids on Tuesday 14 June.
We have made opposing submissions (which are published for all to see – at the bottom of this blog) but without their evidence in front of us we are always at a disadvantage. We hope good sense and sound science prevails, but of course in the teeth of an EU referendum who knows what sort of principled or evidence-based policy making is likely to be defenestrated.
Next year, the European Commission will ask nations to review the latest evidence from European Food Safety Agency [EFSA] on neonic pesticides. The chances are that EFSA will recommend making the ban permanent and perhaps even extending it to some of the crops, such as wheat, not currently covered.
Friends of the Earth will be working hard to ensure the ban stays in place as, with each new study, the evidence that neonicotinoids are harmful to bees (and increasingly birds and butterflies) only hardens.
Your time in the garden spotting bees this month will be well-spent – indulge yourself and enjoy it. Count as many as you can. Grow flowers bees enjoy and edible crops they can pollinate.
To save bees we will need a big change in how land is used, but we will also need to ensure we do not poison them.
And for that, it’s time our decision makers turned their backs on neonicotinoid pesticides and helped farmers adopt better, safer ways to protect their crops.
Today we passed the 42,000 signature milestone! That is just fantastic – thank you so much for all your support!
To get to 100,000 signatures, for that is the aim of myself, Chris Packham, Bill Oddie and LACS, we need 534 people to have signed the e-petition every day since 20 March and to sign it until 20 September. At present we have fallen behind that rate, and currently scoring at a rate of c490 signatures a day, so we’ll need c580 signatures a day from now on to reach 100,000 signatures. That’s a big ask.
I’m expecting we will fall further behind the asking rate over the next few weeks (but maybe we won’t!). However, it is pretty much certain that from August onwards, through Hen Harrier Day, the Inglorious 12th and the Bird Fair that rate will begin to race away to the finishing line. It’s a bit like a run chase in a limited over cricket match: we got off to a very good start and are now keeping the run rate ticking over so that the asking rate doesn’t get too high, and then we’ll be throwing our bats around with gusto as we chase down those last runs. Well, we’ll see!
This is, as you might remember, my third e-petition on this subject. Each time I have thought hard before starting an e-petition, and each time, thanks to hundreds of people I know and tens of thousands of people I don’t know at all, I have been thrilled and surprised at how many signatures we have gathered. this time around I thought 50,000 would be a good total but now, obviously I would be gutted if we ended on that figure in 100 days’ time.
My, our, first e-petition gathered signatures at around 70 signatures a day and I was, and we were, delighted!
My, our, second e-petition gathered signatures at around 180 signatures a day and I was, and we were, even more delighted!
My, our, third e-petition has, so far, gathered signatures at around 490 signatures a day and I am utterly delighted!
So we are doing really, really well! Thank you! Whatever you are doing out there to persuade people to sign – please keep it up! There are hundreds of thousands of people out there who will readily sign this e-petition to ban driven grouse shooting. Our job is to give them the opportunity.
Last week I went to Otmoor. I like Otmoor. I go as often as I can – which isn’t that often (see here, here, here and here for some previous visits). As you can see, it was an overcast and dull morning weatherwise but an uplifting visit otherwise.
In the winter it’s possible to see murmurations of Starlings but on this trip there weren’t 40,000 Starlings performing synchronised flying before pouring into the reedbed for a good night’s sleep. On this visit the focus was bird song.
In the car park two men discussed the Song Thrush that mimics, it seems to our ears (but no-one has asked the Song Thrush I’m guessing) an Oystercatcher’s call. I heard their conversation while putting on my wellington boots and smiled as the said Song Thrush was doing its said mimicry while the men spoke and they appeared completely oblivious of it actually happening while talking of the possibility of it happening.
As we started our stroll we heard our first Turtle Dove of the visit purrrrring away. We stopped to listen to what used to be a a familiar sound of summer in southern England and which is now a rarity – a sound to be sought out and savoured rather than encountered in the normal course of a birding day, week or summer. We listened and enjoyed what used, not that long ago, to be a characteristic sound of summer and pointed it out each time it re-started its song as we walked on.
As we reached the wet grassland area a Snipe was drumming – it’s throbbing song filled the air but the bird was difficult to pick out by sight. The Snipe makes its drumming song by diving at c45° and allowing the wind passing its body to vibrate special tail feathers. As we located the bird high in the sky we could see it dive and then a split second later the vibrating sound reached our ears. I don’t know whether it is due to the speed of sound being so much slower than the speed of light, or perhaps because the bird needs to reach a certain speed before the sound starts, but it always seems to me that the Snipe has almost finished its dive by the time I start to hear the drumming sound.
At the same time, and for the rest of the walk, there was a Cuckoo singing. I’ve not heard many in England this year and we heard them all the time on this visit.
And as we arrived and then departed there were brief snatches of song from a distant, unseen Curlew.
This was a great visit to an RSPB nature reserve near to Oxford and in that area of central southern England that doesn’t immediately leap out for its ornithological quality.
Otmoor has been protected by the RSPB and BBOWT, and there has been a lot of wetland restoration work too. I can remember, not that long ago, when the wet grasslands we scanned for Redshanks and Lapwings were wheat fields. Now this is once again a fantastic wetland which holds the sounds that were once much commoner in the wider countryside.
In my youth I could not have imagined having to go to a nature reserve to hear Turtle Doves, nor that that would be the way I could hear Cuckoos singing through the morning like they did at the bottom of our garden when I was a kid. There are very few places in lowland England where one now can hear drumming Snipe or bubbling Curlew, and even fewer where one can hear both. In fact, I can’t think of a site in lowland England that is now like Otmoor was that morning. Where else could I have heard Turtle Dove, Cuckoo, drumming Snipe and Curlew on a short stroll?
Maybe you know of some places, but there won’t be many, and we should cherish them, as I cherish my visits to Otmoor.
The Daily Mail is edited by Paul Dacre who owns a grouse moor.
Saturday saw a piece about a scourge of Red Kites attacking young girls and old ladies – men seem to be immune. There is a serious issue here and that is that artificial feeding of Red Kites has made them less fearful of people and that does make it more likely that the occasional kid will be scratched by a brave Red Kite. I think that Red Kite feeding may have become a bit excessive but that’s the free market for you!
I’d guess that Paul Dacre believes that we should largely be left to ourselves to act freely and that through allowing individuals to do their own thing the common good is achieved. I believe that we should largely be left to ourselves to act freely and that through allowing individuals to do their own thing sometimes society benefits and sometimes it doesn’t, it all depends. And so The Daily Mail seems to blame the Red Kites, and gives air time to people who want them culled, and I would rather try to persuade people to be a bit more sparing in putting sirloin steak out for them in their gardens. Freedom always carries with it responsibilities to ensure that doing your own thing doesn’t disadvantage others (at least too much, and at least unfairly).
I’m really not sure how big a problem Red Kite attacks are, although I can acknowledge the possibility that there have been a small number of misdemeanors on their part. There is a Red Kite over my Northants garden almost all the time and I never fear having a snooze out there and have failed to use kite-attack as an excuse not to hang out or collect in the washing (though maybe I’ll try it). I am sure that the call of a Red Kite, and then sight of it in a sky that has lacked it for well over a century, makes me happy.
The Daily Mail uses reintroduced Red Kites as an example of rewilding, which they really aren’t, and can find no-one better than Robin Page to say ‘I like red kites but I like one or two of them. To keep the population in balance, you should decide on a certain number and then dismantle their nests to control the population‘. I have a feeling that Robin and the Daily Mail may feel the same about people too. I imagine the Red Kites might have a case for saying that about people anyway.
So, it’s largely an anti-nature piece of writing but it has a breath-takingly inaccurate and gratuitous short paragraph on Hen Harriers too:
‘The protection of hen harriers on northern grouse moors has led to a decline not only in grouse numbers, but also in wild birds such as the golden plover, ring ouzel, wheatear, dunlin and lapwing.’.
Look out for the stories of kindly old gamekeepers being attacked by swarms of vicious Hen Harriers defending their nests when the kindly old gamekeeper was just looking out for the bird’s welfare. In a week when we heard that England has bugger-all Hen Harriers (a technical term) the Daily Mail thinks we have too many of them. Luckily, the Red Kite is not allowed to spread onto grouse moors otherwise all hell would break loose.
The Daily Mail is edited by Paul Dacre who owns a grouse moor.
Oscar writes: Another bird that kept me busy while waiting for Bitterns in Suffolk was this Snipe, which was feeding in front of the hide for most of the afternoon. It was an effort to get an unobstructed view though, with reeds always seeming to obscure its face or beak!
Mark Osborne, the exiting shooting tenant of the National Trust in the Peak District, is a very well-known name in shooting circles. He is not a nobody, he is someone for whom ‘failure is not an option’ according to Lord James Percy in Fieldsports magazine. Mr Osborne is prone to tell people that he is a very rich and powerful man (he told me that once), so it’s likely that the parting of the ways with the NT may have given him some pause for thought.
From what we have seen in the NT statement, it seems that a difference of opinion over birds of prey might have been one factor in the NT’s decision as they put a lot of emphasis on any new tenant ensuring an increase in bird of prey numbers.
A couple of years ago I wrote of Mr Osborne as he seemed to have had something of a conversion to being a big admirer of the Hen Harrier but those in the shooting community have pointed out how unlucky Mr Osborne has been in the past to have managed land near to which birds of prey have been found poisoned. But that last article was written long ago, in 2009; surely that run of bad luck can’t have continued?
This blog, and our big brothers in Raptor Persecution UK, thought that it might be interesting to see how lucky or unlucky Mr Osborne has been on the land in which he has had an involvement over the last few years. We have a list of over 50 land holdings to work with. Watch this space to see whether we can make any sense of this dossier – but it might take a while.
We wish Mr Osborne good luck with birds of prey on all his current and future grouse moor involvements. He’s welcome to a Guest Blog here if he would like to write one.
I somehow doubt that Mark Osborne has yet signed our e-petition to ban driven grouse shooting – but that needn’t put you off.