I’d like to thank Duncan Thomas…

The days of 13-15 May 2014 were very important in the genesis of our campaign to ban driven grouse shooting – you may recall that the first of three e-petitions was launched just two weeks later and that started the whole thing rolling.

I wrote about those days in short summary in this blog (see Upland balance 19 May 2014, Unprofitable farming 23 May 2014, National Trust – High Peak 22 May 2014) and again in Inglorious (see pp 184-192) but I can add a few words and some thoughts now that we have come to the end of the beginning of the campaign.

I was speaking at an upland conference at Newton Rigg college – the subject of the conference was ‘balance’. There was a strong turnout at that conference from the shooting organisations – Richard Ali was there (whatever has happened to him?) and, when asked, he said that BASC wanted to see hundreds of Hen Harriers in the uplands. We have still to see their cunning plan for achieving that – it was just nonsense of course. The sort of thing one has to say in public, even if it makes one’s organisation look foolish to those who know rather more about the subject. There were other BASC staff there too, some I liked and others too.  The chair of the Moorland Association, Robert Benson, was there and so was the Moorland Association’s Director, Amanda Anderson.

Things didn’t start that well – when I arrived all the other speakers were housed in a local hotel but someone had forgotten to book me in.  This seemed to be the type of welcome I was to expect.  That was sorted out and I spent the night in an excellent local B&B.

There were lots of people I knew at the conference and I had quite a jolly time, but the shooting brigade were noticeably cool and basically cold-shouldered me through the two days. Interesting.

I was asked to speak about raptors and my talk was near the end of the conference. I spoke a little more broadly, talking about what we had heard about agricultural funding in the uplands and how, yes, that was a question of balance but those deciding the balance of payments should be those paying (we taxpayers) not those receiving our money (the landowners). When it came to raptors I honestly cannot remember exactly what I said but it would have mentioned Hen Harriers, used the phrase ‘wildlife crime’ (while looking at senior members of the shooting community – you could have heard a pin drop) and made the point that the law is the law and everyone has to stick to it.

In the questions Amanda talked about the need for balance which seemed to mean that we couldn’t have any more Hen Harriers unless moorland owners let us and they wanted concessions on brood-meddling etc before they would let any Hen Harriers in – those weren’t the words she used then, but that was what I took from them.

And then in came Duncan Thomas with his ‘I used to be a police Wildlife Crime Liaison Officer you know’ speech. Duncan put forward the view, although he claimed that it was an absolute fact, that disturbance from birdwatchers was the major factor in losses of Hen Harriers and it wasn’t much to do with illegal persecution.  We’ve heard this line often since and it’s utter nonsense. Note how it was given as the reason for failure of Hen Harrier nests in Geltsdale and Bowland last year when male Hen Harriers disappeared from active nests, and note how the nesting success of those nests is still being trotted out (without mentioning the disappearing males) by the likes of the not-so-talented Viscount Ridley.

I was congratulated by others for standing up to the shooting brigade as the conference ended (though often in hushed voices as the people didn’t want to be heard aligning themselves with my view in the presence of powerful upland land owners) and I got emails from attendees at the conference for a few days later.

As I drove away from Newton Rigg it was a glorious spring day. I drove through the Trough of Bowland and pondered the conference.  Earlier I had spoken to my former RSPB colleague, Pat Thompson, about the fact that I was thinking of launching an e-petition on the subject of grouse shooting to follow John Armitage’s and Chrissie Harper’s ground-breaking petitions.  I remember I had some complicated plan swirling around in my head and as I sketched it out to Pat I was thinking to myself ‘This is too complicated’.

On that drive through Lancashire, and over Pendle Hill, and on to Hebden Bridge my mind was clearing. Faced with the continuing spin, intransigence and denial of the shooting industry, we needed something clear and challenging – not a tweak but a call for a step change.

That night I spent in Hebden Bridge – in the Crown Hotel which had been flooded in 2012, and I spoke to the hotel owner (it’s in Inglorious) about being flooded and the economic and personal pain it caused.  We needed to end driven grouse shooting for the sake of people and wildlife. And the people who could most easily bring about change, the shooters themselves, were not the least bit interested in change. Their intransigence needed taking on.

And so, Amanda, Robert, Richard (wherever you are) and Duncan, and others have a share of the credit too, ‘Thank you!’. You helped stop me dithering. It would have happened anyway, but you certainly helped.


Hen Harrier missing over…guess what?…a grouse moor


The RSPB announced today that a young male Hen Harrier, fitted with a satellite transmitter as part of the Hen Harrier LIFE+ Project, has gone missing on a grouse moor in the Monadhliath Mountains, south-east of Inverness.

The bird, named Elwood, was the only chick to fledge from a nest in Banffshire, which was being monitored under the Partnership for Action against Wildlife Crime Scotland ‘Heads-up for Harriers’ scheme.

Tues 23 June 2015 CopyThe transmitter’s data, being monitored by RSPB staff, indicated that Elwood fledged in the first week of July, but stayed close to the nest site in the hills above the River Spey until 20 July, when he began to travel more widely. By the 27 July, Elwood had moved 20 miles to the south west, and had settled in the hills around Tomatin.

Elwood remained in this area, with the transmitter providing detailed information about his daily travels until suddenly, transmissions ceased abruptly on 3 August. His last recorded position was on an area of managed moorland a few miles from the Slochd summit on the A9.

Ian Thomson, RSPB Scotland’s Head of Investigations, said: ‘This latest disappearance of a satellite-tagged bird is deeply concerning, and joins the long list of protected birds of prey that have been confirmed to have been illegally killed or disappeared suddenly in this area. The transmitters being fitted to these birds are exceedingly reliable, and illegal persecution is therefore the most likely explanation of the disappearance of these birds of prey. The absence of typical breeding raptor species from areas of suitable habitat, or at traditional nesting sites, in large parts of the Monadhliaths is further supporting evidence of a major problem with wildlife crime in this general area.

This case is all the more depressing as the nest from which Elwood successfully fledged was monitored as part of a partnership project between PAW Scotland and the local landowner. It proves, yet again, that despite there being a good number of enlightened estates who are happy to host and protect nesting birds of prey – as soon as they move away from these areas they are being illegally killed.

The denials and obfuscation from representatives of the land management sector, and their consistent failure to acknowledge and address this problem, is one of the main reasons why our bird of prey populations are struggling in the central and eastern Highlands. We repeat our call to the Scottish Government to introduce a robust system of licensing of game bird hunting, where the right to shoot is dependent on legal and sustainable management of the land, in line with approaches adopted in most other European countries.‘.


One disappearing satellite-tagged protected raptor disappearing suddenly over a grouse moor is suspicious – the more that disappear, the more suspicion turns into certainty.  Add in those we know for certain were killed deliberately, and it adds up to a damning indictment of the way that driven grouse shooting is carried out in the UK. Driven grouse shooting depends on big bags of birds, a high kill rate, and cannot afford to let raptors survive, even though they are protected by law, and have been all your lifetime unless you are a bit older than I am.

Generations of birds of prey have been subjected to systematic, routine and ruthless illegal persecution because people want to shoot Red Grouse for fun.

The RSPB wants grouse shooting to be better regulated – I’d like to sweep it away altogether through a ban. If you agree with me, and I think most Hen Harriers and Golden Eagles would, then please sign here to add to the strength of our voice as we head to a debate on the future of grouse shooting in the Westminster parliament.

We’ll see what that comedy double act of McAdam and Baynes have to say this time – it sounds as though the RSPB expects more denial and obfuscation from shooters.




Writing to your MP – Firm Briefing 1

By Adrian Pingstone (talk · contribs) (Self-photographed) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

By Adrian Pingstone (talk · contribs) (Self-photographed) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Here are some words you could use to write to your MP about a hoped-for debate on driven grouse shooting.

This link will help you find your MP and their email address or postal address, provided you know their name or the name of the constituency in which you live.  You should only write to your own MP. Many MPs have their own websites with online forms that ask you for your details – they are quite easy to use.  If you simply email your MP then you should include your name and address to confirm that you are a constituent of theirs.

You should get an acknowledgement of your email pretty quickly – it may simply be an automated response at this stage – that’s fine.

I would be very grateful if you would let me know that you have contacted your MP by emailing me at mark@markavery.info with your name, the name of your MP, the name of your constituency. When you get a substantial reply from your MP I would be grateful if you would let me know. If you use the template below then I would be grateful if you would let me know whether your MP says he/she will try to attend any debate, whether she/he intends to speak, and any indication of the line they might take.

The more emails that are sent the better. Please don’t assume that someone else will do it so you don’t have to – they may be thinking the same.  Please do let me know that you have done this – I will be keen to help you with any ensuing correspondence on this subject – you aren’t alone in this.  If you have never emailed or written to your MP before – don’t be afraid, they are all too human.


Dear [name of your MP]

I am a constituent of yours and I signed the e-petition on the parliament website entitled Ban Driven Grouse Shooting https://petition.parliament.uk/petitions/125003. That e-petition has passed 100,000 signatures and therefore is expected to receive a debate in Westminster Hall some time later than 9 October.  In our constituency of [name of constituency] XXX people have supported this petition. [You can look up the number by using this link http://petitionmap.unboxedconsulting.com/?petition=125003].

I hope that when the date of the debate is determined you will be able to attend the debate – would it be your intention to do so?

I hope that when the debate occurs you might feel able to represent my views in that debate. I want to see driven grouse shooting banned/stronger regulation of driven grouse shooting/changes in the way our hills are managed [select one of these or use your own words]. Do you think you would be able to speak on that subject?

I would be grateful for your response and the opportunity to brief you on the subject if you are planning to attend the debate.


Yours sincerely

Your name

and address if you haven’t already given it.










Fizz! Cheers M&S!!


Well, sometimes you need to celebrate, don’t you. And although I would normally go up market from this I did want to spend my money with M&S to mark their sensible change of mind over selling grouse meat in their stores this year.

Although M&S do sell champagne in their stores, my local outlet doesn’t sell champagne with an M&S label on it – and that label was important to me.


How many M&S customers have signed this e-petition to ban driven grouse shooting?




Letter to my MP

101628.jpgDear Mr Pursglove

Do you remember that e-petition on the parliament website which I have mentioned before? My e-petition to ban driven grouse shooting? Well, it has recently passed 100,000 signatures (with five weeks to go) and so it will be considered by the Petitions Committee on 6 September and is very likely to be tabled for debate.

I don’t know when that debate might be but I thought I’d tell you as you have always said that you would attempt to attend.  In this parliament only 47 e-petitions, out of over 13,000 submitted, have passed the 100,000 signature threshold so rather few MPs and rather few constituents find themselves in the situation in which we find ourselves.

Last year I sent you a copy of my book, Inglorious, on why we should ban driven grouse shooting and after a while you returned it to me – it didn’t look very well thumbed but that’s understandable, MPs are busy people. However, under these current circumstances I would be happy to send you another copy (there is an updated paperback edition just out) for you to read at your leisure.  Would you like one? If so, please let me know to which address I should send it.

I was wondering if you would be prepared to speak in the debate? Although this subject might not seem, at first hand, one of great relevance to Corby, in fact it is of relevance to us all because the management of moorland for intensive grouse shooting increases flood risk (and therefore all of our home insurance costs), increases water treatment costs, increases greenhouse gas emissions, reduces aquatic biodiversity and is underpinned by wildlife crime. It is therefore a societal issue which affects your constituents, and, of course, one of your constituents initiated the e-petition.

I would regard it as a great favour if you were prepared to speak in the debate (if there is one).  I would not seek to embarrass you by asking you to speak in favour of banning driven grouse shooting as I guess that rather few Tories will, but you could speak and make some factual points on the issue which would for ever be enshrined in Hansard under your name. The Countryside Alliance, the Moorland Association, the British Association for Shooting and Conservation and the Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust will all, I guess, be briefing MPs against my petition.  I have never been impressed by the accuracy of the views of the shooting community on this matter (and nor is George Monbiot in today’s Guardian).  And so I am asking you whether you would be prepared to put some facts into the debate on the subject of illegal persecution of birds of prey, especially the Hen Harrier?  There is more than enough time for me to brief you and for you to check whether the information I give you is correct – it will be!

Yours sincerely


PS While writing this email the e-petition passed 110,000 signatures.



Great effort!


One man’s leafletting has made the formerly rather underperforming constituency of Warwick and Leamington stand out from the Midland crowd in terms of signatures for our petition to ban driven grouse shooting..

warw2I won’t embarrass him by naming him here but I have thanked him personally. And he’ll be at the Bird Fair this weekend and I’ll certainly buy him a pint or an ice cream!  Delivering over 2000 leaflets is a great task for one indefatigable person. Thank you!

There are other tales to tell about the success and the ups and downs of leafletteers – watch this space.

Remember you can pick up leaflets to deliver near where you live from the BAWC stand and at the LACS stand at the Bird Fair on any of the three days (while stocks last).   Take a pack of 250 to deliver through letterboxes or a handful to give to friends, why don’t you?  Leaflets will be available at other stands too.





And from George Monbiot…

In today’s Guardian, from George Monbiot: The grouse shooters aim to kill: the first casualty is the truth

Crispin Odey, Ian Botham, the Daily Telegraph, Paul Dacre, the Daily Mail, Jonny Scott, Ian Gregory, YFTB, Richard Benyon and David Cameron – all in one article.

Please remember to ask your friends to sign the e-petition to ban driven grouse shooting.



Advance warning

100,000I wrote to the HoC Petitions Committee to find out as much as I could about when our expected debate might take place.  Here is their (very rapid) reply:







Dr Avery,

Thank you for your message. We are always here, even in the depths of August!

The petition will be considered for debate when the Committee next meets, on Tuesday 6 September. The Committee has the power to schedule debates in Westminster Hall on Monday afternoons, from 4.30pm. The slot on Monday 12 September is already taken.

The next available Monday is when the House returns from the conference recess, on 10 October. There are several petitions waiting for a slot for debate, of which yours is the most recent to pass the threshold. You can see the full list here.

Of these, you will see that two already have dates for debate in September. I’m afraid that I can’t give you a very clear idea yet of when the Committee might choose to schedule your petition for debate, since that will depend on the decisions the Committee takes on the other petitions and, to a lesser extent, on the availability of the MP who volunteers to lead the debate.

We will be in touch after the meeting on 6 September with more information – either on the Tuesday evening or the Wednesday morning. We tend to wait until we have some more concrete information before contacting petitioners – as you can see, at this stage we aren’t able to give any very helpful indications. The Committee is conscious that members of the public need to plan for attending debates, and does always try to give as much notice as possible.  In this case, the date will be agreed with at least a month’s notice, and probably more than that.


So, we should hear whether and when we will get a debate on 6 or 7 September. The debate, if we get one, will be on a Monday on, or more likely after, 10 October and in the late afternoon.  I know it is a long slog for many people, but if you signed the e-petition and want to come along then I hope you will. We could have a party afterwards! The Palace of Westminster is a fine building – it’s your parliament and you have a right to see what is going on in it.  I am very confident that if we get a debate, the committee will need to book a bigger room than usual to accommodate those people wishing to attend and to watch.

Please sign this e-petition to ban driven grouse shooting – it has already passed 110,000 signatures so should be debated in parliament.




That other petition

Flag_of_Scotland_(navy_blue).svgThe Scottish Raptor Study Group petition to the Scottish parliament to bring in licensing of gamebird shooting is in its last few days (it closes next Monday).

It has gathered nearly 5000 signatures online and there are more that have been collected on old-fashioned pieces of paper.  That’s pretty good by the standards of these things in Scotland I believe.

It’s well worth anyone signing this petition, and I did earlier today, but especially if you are resident in Scotland. Of the c5000 signatures around half come from Scotland and another 1200 or so cryptically say they are from the UK (including me), which leaves another 1300 or so from England, Wales, Northern Ireland and every other country in the world!

The petition asks for the introduction of licensing and it is clear that this has a bigger chance of gaining support from the leading parties in Scotland than it currently does in England. Scotland looks like it is leading the way, as it did with vicarious liability, and it will be interesting to see what emerges in future if the Scottish government pick up this ball and runs with it – as it should.

I’d rather see a ban on driven grouse shooting, but a well-worked licensing system would be a step forward. And it would be interesting to watch how the game played out in Scotland too – I’m sure there would be lots for us to learn from down south.  Let’s give it our support – especially if you do live in Scotland.

It’s a nice touch that the signatories are all actually listed – so you can see my name, and Stuart Housden’s name, and a lot of familiar raptor workers’ names and the names of many who comment on this blog. Can I see your name?




Bird Fair debate on future of grouse shooting


We’re in the run-up to the Bird Fair (btw weather forecast suggests some rain) and one of the stand-out events on Day 1 is the ‘debate’ on the future of grouse shooting chaired by Rob Lambert and featuring Natalie Bennett, the leader of the Green Party (who spoke brilliantly at the Peak District Hen Harrier Day event), Simon Lester (the former head gamekeeper at Langholm) Stuart Housden of the RSPB in Scotland and myself.

This event is 16:45 – 17:30 in the main event marquee (which holds 500 folk) and will include a lot of Q&A from the audience so it’s your chance to ask any questions you like.

I guess many people will know what I think and what the RSPB thinks (almost exactly the same but with a friendly difference of opinion on the correct solution) and so I think this is an opportunity to hear from the leader (outgoing leader, but nonetheless leader) of a political party about why her party supports a ban on driven grouse shooting but also to hear from Simon Lester.

Let’s make sure that Simon gets a friendly and polite, albeit if you like, challenging reception.  I have no idea what he will say but I’m guessing he won’t be majoring on the need to ban driven grouse shooting.

All credit to him for volunteering to attend when the Moorland Association (who represent grouse moor owners) and the Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust (who do too – even though they keep banging on about what great scientists and conservationists they are) failed to find a single representative from their memberships or staff for this debate.  And by the way, I hope Philip Merricks isn’t given the chance to ask a question from the floor as he turned down the offer of a Hawk and Owl Trust seat on the panel too (he might have faced questions on brood-meddling I guess).

Have you noticed that the GWCT scientists and Chief Exec are practically never seen speaking on this tricky issue for them? How often have you seen or heard Teresa Dent on the radio or TV on this subject? It’s always Andrew Gilruth, not a scientist but a public relations expert, who is doing his best to bat on an incredibly sticky wicket.  And Robert Benson who is a moorland owner and chair of the Moorland Association is as rare facing questions in the media as are Hen Harriers on grouse moors in England.  Instead we have the poor-sighted Amanda Anderson who has a public relations background but however skilled you are at the dark arts of public relations you can’t do much with the Moorland Association’s case.

And then there is Ian Gregory from YFTB and the willing if not very able Sir Ian Botham leading the charge for a grouse-industry funded outfit called YFTB.

You notice that the leaders of the shooting community do not lead the debate – they recruit public relations experts to do that for them, and in some cases (I would suggest Ian Gregory), a pretty pathetic job they are making of it in terms of winning over any of the general public.

In contrast, the names attached to our e-petition to ban driven grouse shooting are mine, Chris Packham, Bill Oddie and the Chief Exec of LACS, Eduardo Goncalves.  All have been interviewed on this subject and some of us have certainly been putting ourselves about in the media as much as possible. We have, as far as I know, not turned down any opportunity to debate this issue or to talk about it to a wider audience. Which side behaves as though it believes in its case and its cause?

And the RSPB, which is friendly to our cause whilst not in any way agreeing whole-heartedly with it, is out there in the media and at public events too. Mike Clarke has spoken at Hen Harrier Days and at the Game Fair to my knowledge, and Martin Harper and Stuart Housden are always quoted in the media and there are many RSPB staff who are happy to talk about these issues in front of a camera or a microphone.  Of course, the Wildlife Trusts (with the noble strong exception of the Derbyshire Trust) have kept very, very quiet about this issue. Who knows which side they are on? What they think? What is their proposed solution? Have a look here.

So come to the debate and come armed with questions for the panel. Be nice to Simon Lester. And remember that the other side were too scared to face you in public.