Oscar Dewhurst – Kittiwake


Oscar writes:  These Kittiwakes were nesting offshore but would come to the islands on the scrape to collect nesting material This was taken just as one was coming into land.

Nikon D800, Nikon 600mm f4 AFS-II lens




Sunday book review – John Muir by Mary Colwell

9780745956664This year is the centenary of the extinction of the Passenger Pigeon and also of the death of John Muir – ‘the Scotsman who saved America’s wild places’.

John Muir was born in Dunbar in 1838 and died in California in 1914 – in between he fell in love with the USA’s wildlife and wild places and he did a lot to protect them.  He was an amazing man and this book does him justice.

I knew a bit about John Muir before I started researching and writing about Passenger Pigeon’s but his name came up a lot in my studies and I wondered whether someone was writing a book about his life at the same time that I was writing about that of Martha and other Passenger Pigeons.  Little, in fact nothing, did I know that Mary Colwell, Guest Blogger here, and one of the producers of the BBC Radio 4 programme, Shared Planet, was scribbling away too.  Hers is a sympathetic biography of one of the most important characters in American and world nature conservation.  Muir was not the only man who pressed for America’s wildernesses to be protected, but his writings influenced many others to support the idea of National Parks.

Wallace Stegner called national parks “the best idea we ever had. Absolutely American, absolutely democratic, they reflect us at our best rather than our worst.” and there is a lot of truth in that, except that it was this Scot, with a hard upbringing, who worked as a labourer, assistant shepherd and as a horticulturist, who was one of its main proponents.

Muir was a Christian, and a kind one it seems. He believed that we should protect nature for its own sake rather than as a wise investment in a resource that we might want to harvest in future.  This is a debate that goes on today – Muir might not be too keen on a heavy reliance on the ‘ecosystem services’ approach.  He argued against the flooding of the Hetch-Hetchy Valley in the Sierra Nevada, and near to, and apparently just as beautiful as, his beloved Yosemite Valley.  But if you go to Hetch-Hetchy today you will see it is dammed and its water supplies a distant San Francisco. That was a battle that Muir lost, although the Sierra Club still maintains its policy that the valley should be restored to wilderness.

Muir was a character and he had character; he was simple and complicated; he was a loner and a great communicator.

This book will appeal to you if you are interested in the origins of nature conservation, the rationale for protecting nature and if you share Muir’s love of wilderness. But the story of his life is an interesting one even without that context.

John Muir – the Scotsman who saved America’s wild places, by Mary Colwell, is published by Lion Hudson later this week) and the paperback is very good value.

A Message from Martha by Mark Avery is published by Bloomsbury.




And so…

Photo: Guy Shorrock

Photo: Guy Shorrock

Let’s just take a step back and survey the scene.

  • the number of Hen Harriers nesting in England over the last decade has fallen and this bird is almost extinct in England
  • Hen Harrier Day attracted hundreds of protesters (in appalling weather) and achieved a social media reach of millions
  • the opening of the Red Grouse shooting season was no longer treated by the media as a ‘celebration’ of a ‘traditional’ ‘fieldsport’ but was marked with discussions over the controversial nature of this industry and its reliance on illegal killing of birds of prey
  • a big academic study of the wider environmental impacts of management of the uplands for grouse shooting was damning – grouse moor management is an ecosystem disservice.
  • retailers are beginning to shun selling grouse meat because it is tainted not only with lead but also with illegality (here and here)
  • an e-petition to ban driven grouse shooting is heading towards 20,000 signatures despite not yet having the support of any major wildlife conservation organisation
  • prominent members of the shooting community are attacking the RSPB on a broad front and their attack is being publicised by the shooting press, and is not condemned by what are supposed to be the reputable organisations that may or may not represent grouse shooting
  • the Hen Harrier sub-group has stalled, it seems due to the unwillingness of the criminal elements within grouse shooting to recognise that they must not only give an inch but actually a mile

A few suggestions from me:

1. shooting organisations – you need to give ground, lots of ground, but even that will only postpone the demise of driven grouse shooting rather than cancel it all together.

2. RSPB – you have done the right thing by investing in dialogue with the driven grouse shooting community. This has been revisiting the measured and conciliatory approach adopted by at least two previous RSPB management teams and going back over 20 years.  And you have ended up in a worse position than ever before because of the appalling behavior of the grouse shooting industry.  To wit – there are even fewer Hen Harriers, a growing proportion of your membership thinks that you are too soft on shooting (that’s my impression at least), the criminals are still winning and yet they expect you to cave in, and now shooting interests are attacking you quite openly too.

You are not, in any way, constrained by your Royal Charter, under these circumstances, from arguing for the end of driven grouse shooting. Your Chairman has said so and it is indeed true. It is time for RSPB Council to grasp the nettle and shift the RSPB’s position to be in favour of a ban of driven grouse shooting in England – if they do, they will find it was a Dead Nettle all along, nothing to be scared of at all, no sting.

3. Wildlife Trusts – although you have not been as active, overall, as the RSPB many individual county trusts have made very significant contributions locally to this debate and to highlighting these issues.  Be brave and be more outspoken – you have nothing to lose but your reputation for being rather timid (and yes, that is the reputation you have).

4. Defra and the government – you are supposed to be in charge but have decided to preside over a long drawn out discussion where you have, if anything, pressurised the good guys to give ground rather than hammering the bad guys.  May I remind you that you are neither a neutral arbitrator in this matter, nor are you the Moorland Association in government. You need to uphold the law and protect wildlife from criminal acts. Get a grip or be gone! What is your plan on this subject? What is your view?

How about moving to a policy where there will be a five-year moratorium on grouse shooting in all English National Parks starting in 2015? That will give everyone something to think about.  Why are National Parks still filled with grouse butts and access closed to the public for days shooting? What is the model of National Parks that permits industrial scale killing of wildlife inside their boundaries? National Park authorities are basically planning authorities, not much more, who can prevent someone having the wrong sort of extension on their house because it will spoil the character and attractiveness of the National Park and yet permit the blasting of guns for private pleasure of a minority interest.  Why?  How many Hen Harriers do you think there would be at the end of a five year moratorium in the Yorkshire Dales, North York Moors, Peak District and Northumberland NPs? Wouldn’t it be fun to find out? It would certainly help the next government get a little closer to its 2020 targets and have something to brag about.


Oh yes, and the Labour Party, we know where Barry Gardiner was on Hen Harrier Day (and very welcome he was too, and very appreciated by the crowds) but where are you on this issue?

Peak HH Day G Shorrock RSPB_017


Grouse shooters – time to give a mile


The issues surrounding driven grouse shooting are far wider than ‘just’ the despicable illegal killing of protected wildlife – but that isn’t a bad place to start.  And we need to start to end it.

IMG_2604It is clear from today’s blog by the RSPB’s Conservation Director, Martin Harper, that the RSPB feels that the criminal elements embedded cosily within the grouse shooting community have not given an inch. Well, it’s actually time for them to give a mile, not an inch.

This is what the Moorland Association, the Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust, the Countryside Alliance and the National Gamekeepers’ Organisation should do to lessen the heat on themselves and perhaps to prolong the existence of driven grouse shooting for a few more years (for it is surely doomed whatever they do):

  • issue a joint statement saying that they admit that wildlife crime is far too prevalent amongst grouse-shooting estates and that this is the main reason for the low densities of many protected birds of prey in the uplands of England.
  • state that they realise that no-one in wildlife NGOs, in government or in the public should trust grouse-shooting while this situation remains and so…
  • …state that they will do their upmost to reduce the illegal persecution of birds such as the Hen Harrier.
  • Accept that this would be without prejudice to ongoing discussions over damage to protected blanket bogs, the use of lead ammunition and the wider impacts of heather burning etc on greenhouse gas emissions, flood risk , water quality etc (ie accept that fixing crimes against birds of prey is not the end of the debate over grouse shooting).
Photo: Kositoes via wikimedia commons

Photo: Kositoes via wikimedia commons

In return, they should expect that wildlife groups should come back to the table to talk to them about brood management schemes once all relevant English SPAs re-attain the qualifying thresholds of Hen Harrier and Peregrine populations but not before.

This won’t be at all palatable to the grouse shooting community but they are the ones who have to move – they are making a fortune out of record grouse bags and those profits are partly based on illegal activity.

Through its intransigence, and its tolerance of criminality, grouse shooting has let the cat of public opinion out of the bag and it won’t be going back in again. Grouse shooting is going to be very scratched whatever happens.  From now on, there is a light shining on the English uplands that has never shone before.  As those nice people in Birders Against Wildlife Crime (and aren’t they brilliant?!) say – ‘Wildlife crime is everywhere. So are we’.

IMG_2638Despite a series of dirty tricks and an outpouring of misinformation this year, the heat is on grouse shooting like never before. And the reason for that is that grouse shooting has a very poor case. The more the public hear of the details of grouse shooting the more people will be against it.  This is now a one-way street.

I think that some in grouse shooting may recognise this and have determined to delay the inevitable and cash in for as long as possible.  They have almost given up fighting the arguments and are now just attacking their opponents. By the way, who funds Beefy’s nasty little website? A bunch of keen cricketers – I doubt it?

If shooting is to get even a small proportion of its demands from the public and government it will have shift its position hugely – not an inch, not a few yards, but a mile.

1408 p001 cover_with comp v2.indd


Inner steel

It’s not often that Martin Harper posts a blog on a Saturday but this one is well worth reading. Here is an extract:

There is little sign that the grouse moor industry is prepared to condemn, let alone end illegal killing. The industry has to prove that it can deliver the recovery of hen harriers BEFORE we can even consider brood management, which will only work if the illegal persecution has stopped. At present, even if chicks were taken from the wild, reared and released, we have little confidence that they would be allowed to fly free from harm. 

I’m sorry, but surely it is the responsibility of those who are breaking the law to change their behaviour? Why should it be the duty of everyone else to compromise with them, especially when the stakes are so high?  We will have no part in such a scheme until there are signs that the hen harrier population is recovering WITHOUT the need for brood management. As I said in my previous email, this is a matter of trust.

I thought I knew the RSPB, I thought the position would harden in response to attempted bullying and I was right.  Yet another miscalculation by the shooting community…

When will the RSPB be asking its members to sign this e-petition to ban driven grouse shooting?


Saturday cartoon by Ralph Underhill

ttipGeorge Monbiot on this subject.




Round up


Simon Barnes cpt David Bebber

Yesterday, the Wildlife Trusts awarded Simon Barnes (pictured right) their Rothschild Medal. this is a richly deserved honour in recognition of Simon’s campaigning journalism and beautiful writing – it probably deserves a mention in The Times.  This year Simon has been closely associated with two issues that will be familiar to regular readers of this blog: the successful battle to save the Sanctuary LNR and what will be the ultimately successful battle to end persecution of Hen Harriers.  Congratulations! Simon, and Well Done! Wildlife Trusts.







When I was reading about the Protection of Birds Act (1954) I came across one MP who spoke about one species of predatory bird, one that occasionally takes gamebirds apparently, thus: ‘I rather regret the complete protection of **** ‘ and ‘…where the **** is doing damage on sporting estates, it will I’m afraid, be shot, irrespective of the provisions of this bill’ and ‘It is the bird which I dislike the most’. Any idea what voracious predator he meant? Answer at foot of this post.

binsI’ve dropped my binoculars again – this is a bad habit – but In Focus tell me that they can be repaired – big relief!





By Tommy Hansen.B.A.C. at da.wikipedia [Public domain], from Wikimedia Commons

By Tommy Hansen.B.A.C. at da.wikipedia [Public domain], from Wikimedia Commons

I used a spare pair of binoculars to look at a swirling mass of, say, 40,000 Starlings, at RSPB Otmoor yesterday as the birds poured, liquid-like, into the reedbed to roost.  A great sight.







Photo: Guy Shorrock

Photo: Guy Shorrock

Some of the summing up of District Judge Peter Veits in the Lambert case: ‘It is clear to me that such deliberate poisoning of birds of prey deserves custody, the issue therefore is whether that should be immediate or suspended. 

Mr Lambert is 65 and has not troubled the courts before. He has worked all his life in farming and then game keeping, but never received any formal training for this role. As a result of the prosecution, he has lost his employment, although his employers allowed him to take early retirement, and as a consequence lost his home and his good name.  Mr Lambert, no doubt like many in his position, appears to have largely been left to his own devices is his day to day duties. There is some disagreement as to the level of supervision given by his employers but even if he was subject to some form of annual appraisal that was clearly not enough.

Those who employ gamekeepers have a strict duty to know what is being done in their name and on their property. They also have a duty to ensure that their gamekeepers are properly trained and capable of keeping abreast of the complex laws relating to the use of poisons. In other industries employers as well as the employee could be facing prosecution in such cases and I hope therefore that this case can serve as a wake up call to all who run estates as to their duties.It is clear that the buzzard population in Norfolk is increasing and this is something that is to be applauded and not something that is seen as an inconvenience to those who chose to run shoots. Nature must be able to live side by side with such activities. I do not believe immediate custody in Mr Lambert’s case is warranted and am therefore prepared to suspend my sentence to reflect the ongoing implications for him and his family.

That seems a pretty clear call for vicarious liability.


Jan Weenix (1639/1643–1719) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Jan Weenix (1639/1643–1719) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

I hear, from shooting friends, that the GWCT staff were shuffling with embarrassment when Mike Clarke was given a tough reception at their annual meeting last week by some of their members. Of course, we’re all on the same side really…. Here is a link to Mike’s speech where he hardly gave his audience a hard time, so one wonders why they were a bit unfriendly.

And, sticking with GWCT, you could almost believe that the GWCT were appalled by the case of the Norfolk gamekeeper Allen Lambert – but they somehow fail to say so themselves in a blog of their own writing. They quote others, in the way a journalist might, but they fail to lay out their own thoughts. An opportunity missed.



I’m talking at a BTO regional conference in Nottinghamshire on Sunday.


I spoke at the RSPB Oxford Group yesterday – and a very nice bunch they were too.  And excellent questions, and a rich source of further signatures for our e-petition to ban driven grouse shooting.

Mistle Thrush

I saw my first Fieldfares of the year at Otmoor yesterday too – they made me smile.





Debbie-Pain-02-09-2012-5-SD-200x300Here is a link to the WWT’s Dr Debbie Pain speaking about lead poisoning at the Convention on Migratory Species in Quito – worth a listen (it’s just 3 minutes long). Let’s hope the UK takes a helpful line – and I shall be asking them about this at the end of the conference.





IMG_2630The Defra Hen Harrier sub-group met this week and, I gather from a variety of sources, that nothing was agreed – not even a date for their next meeting – not even whether there would be a next meeting.  Sounds to me as though the long grass is about to be cut.




By Trebol-a (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

By Trebol-a (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

…and that voracious predator? Not the Hen Harrier; not the Goshawk; not the Peregrine, but, the Little Owl.


A green deal

By Crispin Semmens (thirty metre blades) [CC-BY-SA-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

By Crispin Semmens (thirty metre blades) [CC-BY-SA-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

I got my electricity bill today and it was a bit less than I was expecting so that was nice!

I also got an email from my electricity supplier, Ecotricity, the other day.  They’d like me to persuade you to switch to them and then they’ll give you £50 worth of vouchers and me £50 worth of vouchers.  I would have £50s coming out of my ears if every reader of this blog were to switch to Ecotricity – so I hope you do.

How should I persuade you? Well, the electricity I get seems to work as well as all the other electricity I have ever bought – will that do? Maybe not. It is 100% green energy – that was the big appeal.

I am not going to plug Ecotricity hard because being a green consumer is a bit of a nightmare of doubt, indecision and confusion. At least it is for me.

Ecotricity sounds green and looks green – that’s why I joined them some time ago (and also because I was mightily pissed off with other suppliers (I must tell you about my ongoing experiences with Scottish Widows (capital ‘S’, capital ‘W’) sometime (not an electricity supplier, I know – it was the ‘mightily pissed off’ phrase that made me think of them again)).  Have a look and decide for yourself – and if you do choose them, then if you click on this code RAFE-O3V7J, or mention it if you sign up by ‘phone, then we’ll both be quids in.


Suspended sentence for ‘worst bird of prey poisoner’, Allen Lambert

Photo: Guy Shorrock

Photo: Guy Shorrock

10 poisoned Buzzards =  10 weeks suspended sentence.

This is totally outrageous.

Media coverage – click here.



RSPB will come out fighting

Whoever is behind the ill-conceived attack on the RSPB fronted by a silent and absent ex-cricketer, a silent baronet and a silent ex-nature conservationist, and carried into the pages of the Mail on Sunday (did you know that the Daily Mail’s editor, Paul Dacre, owns a grouse moor?), I believe they have miscalculated.

They have misconstrued the more conciliatory tone and approach of the current RSPB leadership as a sign of weakness and an invitation to bullying. This is a serious error. First, neither Mike Clarke nor Martin Harper is weak, and neither is likely to take well to being bullied by the likes of an absent Beefy and the Mail on Sunday on behalf of the shooting community as a whole.   This attack will bring out their inner steel.  Second, the personal nature of the attack on the RSPB, timed to bridge the gap between the RSPB AGM and yesterday’s Hen Harrier meeting, is bound to wake up those remaining RSPB Council members who are still under the misapprehension that nature conservation and shooting are like two peas in a pod they are so alike. Third, it is a sign of panic which will merely encourage those who believe that the RSPB should take a tougher line (as they should) on driven grouse shooting now that its wildlife and wider environmental damaging impacts are so well known. Fourth, it has demonstrated (as has the Lead Ammunition Group (don’t forget that)) that shooting’s self interest is blind to science and immune to reason. Fifth, as I understand it, the RSPB membership has remained unconcerned by a bunch of shooters having a tantrum except they await the RSPB’s robust and strategic response.

I could go on, and on, but the upshot is that the RSPB will harden its stance on driven grouse shooting.