Defra response to John Armitage’s e-petition

Photo: Kositoes via wikimedia commons

Photo: Kositoes via wikimedia commons

John Armitage’s well-supported e-petition has received the following response from Defra:

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

The Government is aware of incidences of illegal killing of birds of prey and Ministers take the issue very seriously. To address this, senior Government and enforcement officers in the UK identified raptor persecution as a national wildlife crime priority. Raptor persecution is subject to a prevention, intelligence, enforcement and reassurance plan led by a senior police officer through the Raptor Persecution Delivery group. The National Wildlife Crime Unit, which is funded by the Government, monitors and gathers intelligence on illegal activities affecting birds of prey and provides assistance to police forces when required.

Shooting makes an important contribution to wildlife control and conservation, biodiversity and to the social, economic and environmental well-being of rural areas, where it can provide a supplement to incomes and jobs. The overall environmental and economic impact of game bird shooting is therefore a positive one and it has been estimated by the industry that £250 million per year is spent on management activities that provide benefits for conservation.

When carried out in accordance with the law, shooting for sport is a legitimate activity and our position is that people should be free to undertake lawful activities. There are no current plans to restrict sport shooting in England. This Government encourages all shoot managers and owners to ensure they and their staff are following recommended guidelines and best practice to reduce the chances of a conflict of interest with birds of prey.

We acknowledge that crimes against birds of prey are abhorrent but it should be noted though that, despite instances of poisoning and killing of birds of prey, populations of many species, such as the peregrine falcon, red kite and buzzard have increased. While a small minority is prepared to kill birds of prey, and where possible these people are brought to justice, this demonstrates that the policies in place to conserve these species are working.

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.’

Well, there are a few mistakes in there surely? Not least, the fact that government doesn’t even know that this e-petition is now closed to further signatures.

Shooting makes an important contribution to wildlife control and conservation’ – means what? And this is an e-petition about grouse shooting not shooting in general.  Is this government in favour of wildlife control – it certainly seems that it might be?

The overall environmental and economic impact of game bird shooting is therefore a positive one’ - eh? ‘therefore’? Such a lapse in logic would be castigated in an undergraduate essay!

it has been estimated by the industry that £250 million per year is spent on management activities that provide benefits for conservation’ - but that is for shooting as a whole and this is a petition about grouse shooting.  And does this mean that government simply accepts the industry figures for everything? What about the conservation industry’s views then?

this demonstrates that the policies in place to conserve these species are working.’ - an interesting perspective and, again, this is an e-petition about grouse shooting. Amazing that the response does not even mention the Hen Harrier – the species most affected by illegal persecution by grouse moor managers. The sentence could have ended ‘but we recognise that the fact that around 300 pairs of Hen Harriers are missing from the English uplands, and that this is due to illegal persecution, shows that the policies in place for this species are not working.  Furthermore, the low densities and breeding success of Peregine Falcons nesting in areas dominated by driven grouse shooting also demonstrate that the policies in place to conserve this species are not working well enough. In fact, let’s be honest, sites designated partly for their populations of birds of prey in upland England are drastically under-performing in acting as conservation measures.  In fact, we the government are doing an awful job for nature all being said.’

This is a response that suggests, once more, that Defra doesn’t know what it is talking about.  And also it doesn’t care about the facts.

In fact, it is an apologia for shooting rather than a response to the e-petition signed by 10,000+ voters.

The Defra response takes the approach that there isn’t a problem so there isn’t anything that need to be done about it.  There is a problem, and something does need to be done about it.  Licensing might be a good approach, but there are others too, but we have a government that isn’t even on the right page on this subject.

The government response is extremely helpful to those of us who believe that more needs to be done about illegal persecution of raptors – it shows that this government has its head in the sand.




Leaden lack of progress?

By Lord Mountbatten (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

By Lord Mountbatten (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

The Lead Ammunition Group was set up in April 2010 and has made pitifully slow progress.

The latest minutes of the group include this short statement:

The group received a presentation by Dr Ruth Cromie on the WWT Wildlife Health Unit compliance monitoring investigation and perceived barriers to behaviour change. The study results suggest that there has been no improvement in levels of compliance.

Really? You mean that after last summer’s Game Fair majoring on the importance of sticking to the law (not using lead ammunition to shoot wildfowl because it has been illegal for over a decade) and a well-publicised  campaign by all the ‘responsible’ shooting orientated organisations, there has been no improvement in the levels of legal compliance? What? Really?!

In other words, people with guns are routinely breaking environmental laws because they can. And the organisations representing these people appear powerless to influence their members. The message that those organisations promoted was simple: if you want to keep lead, keep to the law.  Shooters are not keeping to the law, and there has been no improvement over more than a decade.

It’s time to ban the use of lead ammunition in the UK as has been done in many other parts of the world.  Why allow criminal activity to persist?





Rams rampant now

Derby County FC had a variable March.

The month started (1st March) with a disappointing but perhaps not wholly unexpected away loss to Burnley but the home defeat (8th March) by lowly Millwall was definitely a grave disappointment.  The home draw with Bolton on the 11th wasn’t such a great result but an away draw at Reading was definitely a point gained rather than a couple of points lost for the Rams. And then on Saturday local rivals Nottingham Forest lost 5-0 at Pride Park keeping the Rams in a very promising 3rd place in the Championship and putting their goal difference 8 above 4th placed QPR.


It’s almost as though a weight had been removed from the team in mid-March – almost as if they were emancipated – almost as if they could stop feeling ashamed of their home city.

Revocation of Cycle Track Planning Application


This day in 1900

MarthanewcoverIn his book, Hope is the Thing with Feathers, Chris Cokinos describes the death of what may have been the last wild Passenger Pigeon at the hands of the young Press Clay Southworth in rural Ohio.  That was on 24 March 1900 – after that, the only Passenger Pigeons known to man (and woman) were captive ones which dwindled away to the last bird, Martha, who died in Cincinnati Zoo on 1 September 1914.

Chapter 4 of A Message from Martha contains accounts of my visits to a range of sites which were important in the story of the Passenger Pigeon’s demise.  Although the Passenger Pigeon is long gone – Martha died on 1 September 1914 – the places are still there and I wanted to see what they are like now, and imagine what they would have been like a century or more ago.

The story of the shooting of the (perhaps) last wild Passenger Pigeon on a farm by a young boy is told well in Cokinos’s book and I wanted to see where this bird was killed.  Rural Ohio isn’t that different in appearance from rural Northamptonshire so I felt quite at home on the sunny Sunday in May last year.

The Passenger Pigeon that Southworth shot was stuffed and can now be seen in a museum in Columbus, Ohio – I went there too.

Elsewhere in Chapter 4 I tell of the places where John James Audubon and Alexander Wilson saw flocks of billions of Passenger Pigeons, of the monument to the Passenger Pigeon in a beautiful spot overlooking the confluence of the Wisconsin and Mississippi rivers, of the largest Passenger Pigeon colony ever described and of the woods around Petoskey, Michigan where Passenger Pigeons were slaughtered in their millions and where a young Ernest Hemingway spent his vacations.

But that’s just a little bit of Chapter 4 of A Message from Martha which will be published in the UK on 10 July and in the USA in August.  You can pre-order it from Amazon at £16.99 right now by clicking here.


Oscar Dewhurst – Manx Shearwater

Skomer 05,6-07-12_0269-Manx-Shearwater


Oscar writes: When I was on Skomer, off the cost of Pembrokeshire, I was very surprised to see this Manx Shearwater perched on a stone wall during the middle of the day. They are nocturnal birds that breed on the island, but I was very glad to have the opportunity to see one in daylight.
Nikon D300s, Nikon 200-400mm f4 VR

Sunday Book Review – The Global Pigeon by Colin Jerolmark

9780226002088‘I never paid much attention to pigeons until one defecated on me’ is not a bad opening line for a book. This book is about the interaction between pigeons and people – which of the two gets more defecated upon?

Domesticated pigeons, and urban feral pigeons, are derived from the Rock Dove but are normally ignored by most birders. I never add feral pigeon to my day list, unless it is languishing on 99 at the end of the day.

This book is really much more about people than pigeons – and people can be quite interesting.  The author uses the relationships between men (mostly) and pigeons to explore our human relationship with nature.  Are city-dwellers, for example on the rooftops of Brooklyn, who keep, breed or race pigeons using the birds vicariously to connect with nature? Or is the relationship more to do with with us dominating nature?

Why are we so divided about the place of pigeons in the midst of our towns whether it be Trafalgar Square in London or Venice’s Piazza San Marco? Some want to feed them, some want them gone; both feel strongly about it.

Sun City, South Africa organised a pigeon race where the first prize was $200,000 – that seems to be a reason to be interested in pigeons.

This book is a mixture of ethnography and sociology and explores our relationship with nature.  The more academic explanations of our behaviour weren’t for me, but the descriptions of human behaviour were fascinating. We are, perhaps, almost as interesting as pigeons.

The Global Pigeon is published by The University of Chicago Press and is available on Amazon, as is Fighting for Birds by Mark Avery.


Saturday cartoon by Ralph Underhill





Last day of…

If today is the first day of spring, then yesterday must have been the last day of winter.

I spent the evening of the last day of winter giving a talk to my local mid-Nene RSPB group – as a stand-in for a much better speaker, Ian Newton, who had lost his voice.

There were five reasons why someone might have felt a bid sad about this. First, Ian must have felt rotten so that was a shame. Second, the audience was robbed of a great speaker and had to put up with me instead.  Third, I missed hearing Ian talk.  Fourth, I missed Ian’s company as we had planned some chatting and birding around his visit to my local patch, and therefore fifth, Ian missed the four Sand Martins I saw at Stanwick Lakes this morning (proving that it is, indeed, the first day of spring).

But there were some up-sides too – for me at least.  I enjoy talking to people and I enjoyed yesterday evening.  I also sold eight copies of Fighting for Birds, was told some local localities for Little Owls and had some interesting chats with people.

The talk went down well, as it did at Benson a few weeks ago and this talk will get its last outing next Saturday at the Hampshire Ornithological Society meeting. So HOS, expect to hear about gorgeous Duchesses, expensive bird books (not mine – mine are cheap), Blue Whales, men with moustaches, a graph which doesn’t look like progress and a bit about the Orange Kite.  But I only have three copies of Fighting for Birds to sell so it’ll be first-come, first -served.

Yes, four Sand Martins this morning. And a few Small tortoiseshells too.  Bye, bye winter – thanks for the Smew, Long-tailed Ducks, Barnacle Geese, Snow Buntings etc but roll on spring with a hat-full of warblers, Swallows, Cuckoos, Swifts, Sandwich Terns, Garganeys and so much more.  It’s difficult to miss winter when spring is upon us. The next 10 weeks are the best of the year – let’s hope for good weather, at least sometimes, and great wildlife.



Labour – hopeless on the natural environment

I received an email from Angela Eagle over 10 days ago, as a Labour Party member, excitedly telling me that the party had published eight policy papers ‘that will provide the foundation of our One Nation manifesto’.  I have until 13 June to respond and ‘make sure Labour’s election manifesto reflects your views, beliefs and aspirations for Britain’.

The paper on Living Standards and Sustainability Policy has two paragraphs headed the ‘Natural Environment’.  Neither says anything wrong, but neither says anything exciting or inspirational. Neither actually says much at all. Here they are;

‘The current Government has set back efforts to protect Britain’s wildlife and natural environment, and sought to undermine Labour achievements in office on animal welfare. They have threatened a vote on the repeal of the hunting ban, made a shameful attempt to sell off the nation’s forests, and questioned environmental legislation which has given us cleaner beaches, better air quality, and protected our wildlife.
The last Labour government committed to introducing fundamental change in environment policy. Instead of focussing on individual species or habitats we aspired to take an approach based upon whole ecosystems. We commissioned the UK’s National Ecosystem Assessment which has established that 30 per cent of the UK’s ecosystems are in decline and many others only just holding their own against an increasingly hostile background of rising population, consumption and pollution. We will protect Britain’s natural environment, right to roam and wildlife for future generations.



More bits and pieces

Xerces Blue 'memorial', Lobos Dunes.  Photo: Liam O'Brien

Xerces Blue ‘memorial’, Lobos Dunes. Photo: Liam O’Brien

I wrote in June about a day I spent being shown butterflies in San Francisco by Liam O’Brien.  Liam showed me the last site of the now-extinct Xerces Blue butterfly and now sends me this image of a memorial which has suddenly appeared.

The Moorland Association, having met Lord de Mauley to bend his ear, is seeking an urgent meeting with Owen Paterson to discuss the importance of burning on deep peat according to their newsletter.  Maybe they will learn how to spell his name before meeting him (Paterson not Patterson).

Commentary on yesterday’s Budget by some NGOs – RSPB, GreenpeaceCPRE, Wildlife Trusts.

Apparently the National Gamekeepers’ Organisation has confirmed that the man posting a video of drinking deer’s blood in a sick ‘neknomination‘ video is one of their members (only click here and here if you have a strong stomach).  The NGO exists to ‘ensure high standards’ throughout the ‘profession’ of gamekeeping.  I’d advise Martin Harper to watch his drinks when he addresses the NGO AGM.

Interesting letters in the Shooting times reproduced on the Raptor Politics website.  Good to see the good speaking out.

I’m raising money for BirdLife International – although not too much so far…

I still haven’t seen a Sand Martin yet this year.