There is nothing but stubbornness stopping M&S from dumping grouse meat. They have dumped it in the previous two years – once for a good reason and once for a bad reason. Last year, they just used what looked like an excuse but in 2014 they said they wouldn’t sell grouse meat until they received independent confirmation that estates are complying with the code that they were producing with GWCT and the RSPB. Since then the ‘industry-leading’ code of conduct has been much talked about but not seen outside the confines of M&S, the RSPB say ‘if the code of practice follows existing moorland management systems then it will fall short of what we believe to be sustainable moorland management. This would be a disappointing development.‘
So, the only thing that has changed is that the RSPB has baled out, the code of practice has become a secret document and that M&S has handled the issue incredibly badly.
Oh yes, something else has changed – the LAG report is published and I got grouse samples bought in Iceland stores analysed showing even higher lead levels than in previous government tests.
And something else has changed – M&S has handled the PR about this subject appallingly badly – they look like they don’t know what they are talking about and they sound like they don’t care what their customers think – or even what their customers want to know.
You would have to be a very stubborn man, for I doubt that any woman would take this line, to go ahead with selling a niche item from which you can make little money even if it goes well when the lack of brand integrity and customer trust is so very damaging.
So, perhaps the new boss of M&S, Steve Rowe, ought to go for a stroll through his headquarters and have this conversation with some random woman employee in the corridor:
Steve Rowe: Excuse me, I’m Steve Rowe, the Chief Exec.
Random woman: I know. Pleased to meet you.
Steve Rowe: Do you have a minute, I need some advice, please?
Random woman: Advice from me? OK.
Steve Rowe: I’m thinking of selling grouse meat that has high levels of lead in it and comes from shooting estates that we can’t reveal to the public. What do you think?
Random woman: Doesn’t sound great – will we make lots of money out of it?
Steve Rowe: I doubt it.
Random woman: Will anyone notice?
Steve Rowe: Yes, they will. It’s quite a contentious subject. Some people are going to boycott all our stores and others are going to buy the meat and get it tested to see how high the lead levels are.
Random woman: And lead…it’s not good for us I guess?
Steve Rowe: No, it’s not. There are no agreed safe levels. And the meat we sell is certain to have very high levels.
Random woman: So, let me get this straight. We are going to sell a rather rubbish product that we can’t easily defend and we aren’t going to make much money out of it and there’s going to be a big storm if we go ahead?
Steve Rowe: Yes.
Random woman: How much do you get paid each year?
Steve Rowe: You think we shouldn’t do it?
Random woman: I know we shouldn’t do it. I might start boycotting our stores myself if we do.
Steve Rowe: Ahh! Yes. thank you, that’s very helpful.
If you want to put forward a point of view on grouse shooting then you are very welcome to comment on this blog – where your comment won’t be deleted and won’t be selectively quoted.
If you want an argument with me about grouse shooting then come here and try your luck.
Yesterday evening a pack of Twitter accounts all started trolling me. Here are some of their outputs:
@richard_freelan is a new name to me but says he is a freelance writer on agriculture. His name is Richard Crowhurst. He doesn’t seem very keen on LACS or Chris Packham.
@gethinjones123 is more interesting in that he sometimes tries to string an argument together. He runs Britannia Sporting. He spends a lot of time asking me questions on Twitter – but always turns down the opportunity to post a comment on this blog – perhaps, who knows, because it would be there for ever and so would the answer to whatever point he was trying to makeI wonder whether it is a hobby or a job?
@wildlife_mgr is a NGO and GWCT member. His name is Mark Horsfall and he is a fellow blogger. He runs Yorkshire Wildlife Management from Catterick. Mark keeps asking me questions on Twitter which I’d be very happy to answer in more than 140 characters on this blog – where they would stay and could not be deleted. He has always turned down the offer. He gets a bit irritated if after slagging me off he then doesn’t get answers to his questions. He says he is an ambassador for Ridgeline Clothing.
@ can occasionally say something witty but believes that we are all plotting in some strange way. He has turned down the offer, still open., to post comments on this blog if he wants an answer in rather more than 140 characters but has so far turned down that opportunity. I wonder why? He posts widely in the media under the name of TheAldenham and has a blog too.
Anyway it was a great pleasure to be trolled by them all at once yesterday evening – while I was cutting the grass. It would be impossible for them to claim that this was anything but a coordinated hate attack from a bunch of accounts that support shooting. Thanks guys – you have done yourselves proud. You’re the type of allies that M&S really need to appeal to their customers.
Other trolls are available.
And, by the way, the photo of me belongs to Charlie Moores and the book is out of print.
John Burton is one of the most experienced and free-thinking of British conservationists. He was a founder and the first chief executive of the World Land Trust. He stood down from that position recently but will still be working hard for WLT into the future.
Defining Britain’s native wildlife is complex. The beginning of the 21st century is when ‘biodiversity’ became fashionable. Unfortunately the term also became synonymised with species diversity. The species diversity for a habitat such as Arctic tundra is dramatically smaller than that of a tropical rainforest. But the biodiversity is appropriate to the habitat. Britain’s species diversity 5,000 years ago was almost certainly significantly smaller than at present, but appropriate to the habitats of that time. Ever since the end of the last glaciation or Ice Age, ca. 12,000 BP/BCE the fauna and flora (biodiversity) has been evolving and changing. But one major geographical event has had the most significant impact of all: the floods which isolated the British. This occurred around 5,000 BC, at the time when the immense area of land, swamps and rivers, known as Doggerland, now submerged under the North Sea, was flooded as well. Britain became an island.
At that time a large part of the European fauna was still expanding northwards as the climate ameliorated, and in fact continues to do so, possibly accelerated by anthropogenic climate change. The majority of 21st century conservation biologists believe that conservation actions should strive to create ‘natural’, ‘native’ ecosystems. But in England there are virtually no natural ecosystems left, and all are influenced by humans in some wayThe entire agricultural, silviculture and pastoral landscape is manmade,the ‘weeds’ associated with agriculture are often of exotic origin, and non-native plants abound in the so-called British landscape.
But it is generally the reintroduction of vertebrate species that attracts the greatest controversy. Beavers (extinct in Britain from around the 12th century) have been successfully re-established (2009), while a population of Coypu descended from fur-farm escapees was eliminated at great expense by 1978. Wild Boar (or rather boar x domestic pig hybrids) have established themselves after escapes in the 1987 gales. Some conservationists are arguing for the introduction of Lynx – which probably became extinct before AD 400 when the habitats of Britain were far removed from those of the 21st century. Not only are the habitats very different (the west of Britain was a temperate rainforest), but the range of prey was very different. Within the existing range of lynx in Europe, the range of prey items are very different to those available in Britain – who knows, domestic cats might become the preferred prey of an introduced population; they certainly are part of their prey range in other parts of Europe.
There are also suggestions that Pine Martens (which are slowly regaining much of their former range) should be re-established in parts of England. But why not introduce Stone Martens? This species is widespread in continental Europe and appears to have failed to colonise Britain because of the English Channel. It is better adapted to anthropogenic habitats than the Pine Marten and would undoubtedly flourish in lowland Britain, leaving the upland forests to the Pine Martens. In fact in the 19th century many naturalists believed that both species occurred in Britain. However, to many conservationists it is ‘politically incorrect’ to even suggest such an introduction. So what about introducing the American Red Squirrel (Sciurus hudsonicus)? The American Grey Squirrel was deliberately introduced into England in the late 19th century and has since colonised most of England and Wales and much of Scotland, and in so doing displaced the native Red Squirrel (Sciurus vulgaris). The latter appears unable to co-exist with the ‘alien invader’ but the smaller (and equally attractive) American Red Squirrel co-exists with the Grey over large parts of North America.
These fairly random examples highlight an issue rarely discussed –that is that conservation is subject to fashion. It is simply not fashionable to promote the introductions of exotic aliens any more. But it was once very popular. But in the case of Britain, what is alien in an alien landscape?
Were it not for the English Channel (or La Manche when viewed from the other side), there are a couple of dozen vertebrate species alone, which would now be part of the ‘native’ fauna. These includes several bird, including Serin, Crested Lark, Melodious Warbler; mammals such as Garden Dormouse, Common Vole (as well as the already mentioned Stone Marten); as well as amphibians and reptiles, such as Fire Salamander, Agile Frog, Moor Frog and Wall Lizard. Bearing in mind that a significant proportion of the existing vertebrate fauna already only exists as a result of deliberate human introductions (including Mute Swan, Red-legged Partridge, Pheasant, Rabbit, Brown Hare, Midwife Toad and several North American terrapin species, and there are also numerous ‘accidental’ introductions such as Brown Rat, House Mouse and White-toothed Shrew). There are also some species regarded as native, which have strange distribution patterns which are almost certainly as a result of deliberate or accidental introductions – the Natterjack Toad in Ireland is a classic example.
Most of the examples I have given are of non-volant species. Birds (and possibly bats) are still colonising and re-colonising Britain. Little Egrets are now a major part of wetland ecosystems and cranes have been breeding after an absence of several centuries. Avocets returned after a century or so of absence and Spoonbill will soon be a permanent re-colonist. All over Britain various birds are spreading and recolonising.
Amphibians cannot swim across the Channel, but Marsh Frogs were deliberately introduced into Romney Marsh in the 1920s and are still slowly spreading, filling a vacant ecological niche. The Midwife Toad was established in the early 1900s, and subsequently new populations have been established; Alpine Newt colonies already exist and across the Channel Tree Frogs, Moor Frogs, Agile Frogs, Yellow-bellied Toads, Marbled Newts and Fire Salamanders are all prevented from crossing the channel and enhancing the ecosystems of England.
Serins sometimes manage to fly across the channel and even breed occasionally, so why not give them a helping hand? It would be a very easy captive breeding programme – they are, after all, only canaries.
One of the concerns that conservationists have is, naturally and correctly, the impact an introduction would have on other species. An example of this is the Ruddy Duck. This species became established in Britain as a result of escapes from the Wildfowl Trust, near Bristol. The population grew until it also started to colonise mainland Europe, where a very closely related species, the White-headed Duck exists. This latter species was in serious decline in Europe, but hybridised freely with the Ruddy Duck. It was therefore decided that the North American alien should be exterminated; at a cost of millions of pounds this was achieved. There is now an ongoing cost of maintaining the fragile European population of the White-headed Duck; would it not have been more sensible to allow the Ruddy Duck genes to have mingled and produced a more vigorous European White-headed Duck? Plus, who knows, despite the extermination campaign there could still be some Ruddy Duck genes out there. In the same way, some of the undoubtedly British mammals may have ‘foreign genes’ – Siberian Roe Deer have been introduced and Red Squirrel have been re-introduced in the past following mass mortality from disease. In the late 19th century and early 20th century there were also huge numbers of ‘Edible’ frogs released in Norfolk (so many that by the end of the 20th century they were being claimed as ‘native’).
Humans have been moving wildlife around for thousands of years – it’s the only way that the distribution of some reptiles, amphibians and mammals on the Mediterranean islands can be accounted for. Similarly it was only when genetics could be studied that it was realised that the Wood Mice (Apodemus) on Hebridean islands were more closely related to Scandinavian mice than those on nearby mainland of Scotland. But they were sub-specifically distinct, so had probably arrived with Viking colonists around 1,000 years ago. There are conservation action plans for the Brown Hare, but they were introduced around the time of the Roman occupation of Britain. Rabbits, on the other hand (a Norman introduction) are almost universally treated as pests in Britain despite being an essential part of the ecosystems and food chains of the present day. Where is the logic?
In conclusion, I believe that there is little or no logical or scientific basis for the recent conservationist attitudes to the introduction of exotic species, particularly when it relates to species found to the immediate south and east of the English Channel. If maximising species diversity is a conservation goal, then an examination of the species potential for the largely anthropogenic landscape should be undertaken, and a programme developed to encourage appropriate species assemblages. I would also add that such an approach is only appropriate on islands, like Britain and most Mediterranean islands, which are almost entirely lacking ‘natural’ functioning ecosystems. I certainly would not consider suggesting it elsewhere. In fact I am not actually suggesting action, I am suggesting a rational examination of the facts.
There’s another 1000 signatures! We have momentum!
Over five weeks ago I wrote, with the help of Shania Twain, a blog that stated: ‘The RSPB … now faces the situation where well over 40,000 people support a policy position that the RSPB does not support and that figure is certain to pass 50,000, likely to pass 60,000, might well pass 70,000, could pass 80,000 and might just conceivably pass 100,000 signatures without any RSPB support at all.‘. Not wrong was I? Hen Harrier weekend is a little under three weeks away and this petition closes nine weeks tomorrow.
Nine weeks to go. Nine weeks of 2000 signatures/week? That would get us to c80,000 signatures.
But, so far, in July, we have passed 14 1000 milestones in 18 days! Did I say before – we have momentum!
Here are the leading constituencies over 200 signatures:
- Calder Valley Craig Whittaker MP 348 CON
- Ross, Skye and Lochaber Ian Blackford MP 254 SNP
- High Peak Andrew Bingham MP 244 CON
- Isle of Wight Andrew Turner MP 238 CON
- Inverness, Nairn, Badenoch and Strathspey Drew Hendry MP 233 SNP
- Skipton and Ripon Julian Smith MP 227 CON
- Bristol West Thangam Debbonaire MP 224 LAB
- North Norfolk Norman Lamb MP 220 LIBDEM
- Derbyshire Dales Patrick McLoughlin 217 CON
- Brighton, Pavilion Caroline Lucas MP 217 GREEN
- Argyll and Bute Brendan O’Hara MP 212 SNP
- Westmorland and Lonsdale Tim Farron MP 211 LIBDEM
- Torridge and West Devon Geoffrey Cox MP 200 CON
And here is the list of newcomers to the ‘100 club’:
- Vale of Glamorgan Alun Cairns MP
- East Surrey Mr Sam Gyimah MP
- Edinburgh South West Joanna Cherry MP
- Banff and Buchan Eilidh Whiteford MP
- Glasgow North Patrick Grady MP
- South Swindon Robert Buckland MP
- Aberdeen South Callum McCaig MP
- Milton Keynes North Mark Lancaster MP
- Newark Robert Jenrick MP
- Hackney North and Stoke Newington Diane Abbott MP
- Ashford Rt Hon Damian Green MP
- Amber Valley Nigel Mills MP
- Portsmouth South Flick Drummond MP
And do you remember being offered the chance to guess the total that we would reach by midnight on the 31 July? Here are the guesses (closest gets a signed copy of the new paperback edition of Inglorious):
51495 Robert Kingsbury-Barker
51798 Roger Little
54356 Peter Swallow
55333 Steven Savage
56000 Emma Thompson
57356 Graham Sorrie
58713 Kate Cartmell Done
61645 Ollie Hornbeam
62773 Murray Marr
63587 Tom Jones
63800 Simon Watts
64000 Jen Plumstead
64125 John Conlin
65372 Sue Scowcroft
65450 Philip Collins
66569 Gerard Hobley
67201 Michael Cavanagh
67549 tim B
67976 Jim Clarke
68324 Les Wallace
69780 John Wilde
70237 Chris Hawkridge
70000 Andy Paton
71234 Sean M
74278 Mick Ryan
75213 Watching with Interest
77377 Richard Ebbs
79845 Northern Diver
86725 Nick Miles
91249 Nick Bee
97079 Ross Mason
100027 Ruth Peacey
101673 Karen Scammell
I really wouldn’t like to guess myself which of you is the best placed to win that book.
But if you are towards the bottom end of the list please ask lots of your friends to sign the petition to ban driven grouse shooting which has momentum.
There was a piece in yesterday’s Sunday Herald where Rob Edwards asked M&S whether they would answer any of the questions that we have been asking them – and they wouldn’t. M&S are getting it so, so, so wrong. If you started believing that they couldn’t be doing anything wrong in selling grouse meat you would now believe that M&S must have something very dodgy that they are hiding because they aren’t answering questions and they aren’t coming clean.
Chris Packham told the Sunday Herald that he doubted whether any driven grouse moors could prove that they were environmentally sustainable, ‘The public no longer believe that these places are being suitably or sustainably managed,’ he said, adding, ‘There’s no more hiding it. So something has to stop … and because we care, we are going to do something about it. Crime is crime and in the end criminals get their come-uppance.’ which was presumably a reference to wildlife crime against raptors and other protected wildlife on grouse moors and the fact that Chirs supports the petition to ban driven grouse shooting.
There are signs that M&S are having second thoughts though – and so they should. As the Sunday Herald piece says ‘Questioned repeatedly, an M&S spokeswoman declined to say whether or not it would be selling grouse. She also refused to name the estate with which the company is having discussions, or to provide a copy of its codes of practice.‘.
The interesting thing about that is the reluctance of M&S to say that they will, or that they intend to, sell grouse this year. They may be thinking again and that would be very wise.
Responses from the office of the CEO of M&S are now saying ‘As explained by my colleague, we haven’t yet committed to supplying this product just yet. Due to this, I hope you can appreciate that I can’t go into any further detail or answer any specific questions you may have.’. Well, if that isn’t a sign of wavering, then what is?
It’s either a sign of having second thoughts or perhaps caused by not really having had any first thoughts before embarking on this customer-losing project.
M&S must be wondering what it does for their brand that the first reaction of the shooting community after Chris’s video appeared was to call for the BBC to give him a damn good hiding! The shooters went straight for the man and didn’t make any pretence about playing the ball. It is from this community that M&S presumably got their self-styled ‘industry-leading’ Code of Practice which nobody else has seen and which the RSPB disavowed. Who looks like the typical M&S customer: Chris Packham and the RSPB or a bunch of angry and rude shooters trying to get someone removed from their job for speaking out on an environmental issue? On which side would your customers like to see you, M&S?
If any more evidence were needed then look again at the video which Chris made (below) and then look at the comments below it. There is a torrent of abuse and bad language (and bad spelling too) from those on M&S’s ‘side’. What is cuddling up to the shooting industry doing to your brand M&S?
Let’s put it this starkly; M&S you have failed even to attempt to defend your plans to sell grouse meat and those who are defending it for you appear to be a rather nasty bunch of people. You should dump grouse meat now – it’s a toxic subject for you.
And so we say farewell to Liz Truss and Rory Stewart – both of whom were promoted in Theresa May’s reshuffle. Truss remains in the Cabinet and got the bigger job in Justice (never has a promotion been so unjust) and Rory Stewart is made Minister of State at International Development. Only George Eustice, the only Brexit-favouring minister in Defra, and the one who knew a little about his brief and did a little too, remains. It is easy to see why the minister who knows a little had to remain to prop up the new Secretary of State, but quite why Truss and Stewart should have been rewarded with promotions is unclear.
Truss was a complete disaster in Defra and Stewart was a nonentity despite the great hopes invested in him by some wildlife NGOs. Stewart delivered nothing for nature and now he’s gone. Wildlife NGOs should learn from this and not give the incoming ministers too much of a honeymoon period and not be so fooled by smooth talking.
You might think that no-one could be worse than Truss as Secretary of State but the incoming Andrea Leadsom (be honest, had you heard of her a couple of weeks ago?) might be actively awful rather than passively awful. We’ll have to see, and every incoming minister deserves a period when they can get their feet under the desk, their heads around the subjects and their views straightened out for public consumption.
However, the signs are not too good. As a climate minister Leadsom asked whether climate change was real, and as a candidate for Leader of the Conservative Party she promised a vote on fox-hunting. She is said to be in favour of flogging off our forests too. Leadsom’s grasp of agriculture (she suggested there should be sheep in the big fields and butterflies up the hills) appears to be at Ladybird Book level – which may mean that she hasn’t yet been completely nobbled by the NFU or CLA. Her South Northants constituency is a rare oasis of fairly mixed farming. Also, worryingly, Leadsom is known to be close in thinking to Owen Paterson who was a close supporter of hers in the leadership contest. Crikey!
One of the very biggest jobs she has to do over the next year – for it cannot take much longer than that without confidence in farming and land prices dribbling away – is to set out a path for English farming. There are two questions that need to be answered: how much should the taxpayer give to farmers in a post-CAP world and what conditions should the nurse in Newcastle and the builder in Brixton expect to see imposed on farming in return for their dosh.
The instincts of the Tory Right are to remove all the subsidies and let the market deliver a wonderful future for us all because individual action for profit is so likely to deliver public goods – they believe. This is, generally, a pretty discredited view anyway, but particularly in agriculture where the public goods we want from farming are non-market goods such as Skylark song, insect-rich meadows, flood relief, carbon storage and clean unpolluted water.
There has been a clear out of brains and experience in Defra civil servants and Natural England and a killing off of environmental think-tanks and quangos – so Defra is looking very exposed on the issue. Leadsom needs to read the Curry report back from 2001 days, and maybe ought to call on some of its authors to help her come up with some clever stuff. Or will she just take Opatz’s advice as good enough because he owns a bit of land? We’ll see.
Potentially, there is a lot to play for, and the wildlife and environmental NGOs need to form a coalition to present a strong and convincing case to Defra and to dispel the self-serving views that may come from the NFU in particular. We’ll see how keen the Tory Right is to see subsidies removed and to face the (rather low) electoral consequences now they have the chance to do what they have always said they wanted to do and would do.
The future of agriculture policy is also a good test of PM May’s promise that her government will act for the many and not the powerful few. Defra needs to appeal to the public over the heads of land owners to deliver a fairer and more effective agriculture policy and to do that they need NGO help too.
Personally, I’d like to see less money going into farming from my taxes but that money being spent to much better effect. Ignore the vested interests and that is surely possible.
We must all hope that Mrs Leadsom does a good job because the job is an important one. However, it would be a great test of anyone’s ability to produce something cogent, effective, efficient and popular in the next few months using the few assets left at their disposal after the pillaging of Whitehall’s environmental expertise by the last six years of government.
This is not a time for dogma, nor is it a time for dithering. You can see why Truss would have been completely unsuited to this task and Stewart would not have been much help either. I don’t rate Eustice that highly, but at least he knows a bit – he may know enough to know that he and his new boss need a lot of help from a wide circle of people, and not just vested interests. Their new colleague, Therese Coffey (185 signatures), at least has several RSPB nature reserves, including Minsmere, in her constituency.
These are interesting times, and although there is much at stake in other areas too, the future of the farmed landscape of England will probably be set on its path in the next 18 months.
Oscar writes: Following on from last week’s post where I talked about the Black-headed Gull colony and predation of their chicks, Marsh Harriers were another bird that would take the chicks to feed their young. Whenever they came over the scrape at Minsmere the birds would get very agitated, and for good reason, as this was often the end result.
If you would like to win a signed copy of my new book, Remarkable Birds, then write 400-1200 words on one of the four subjects below and maybe you will.
We, myself and two other judges, will be looking for good writing about nature and its place in our lives. In any of these categories you could write about wildlife itself or about what we can do to help it or how it should be conserved. It’s up to you really, but if you wander far from the title of the category then we might be less impressed than if you don’t.
These are the four subjects:
- international wildlife
- wildlife and the arts
- wildlife and politics
In addition, if you are aged 18 years or younger (on 10 September 2016) then you can write on any nature-related subject you like and stand a chance of winning the ‘youngsters’ prize – that might be one of the four categories above or about anything else you like.
Entries should be sent as WORD (.doc or .docx) attachments to emails sent to email@example.com to arrive by midnight on 10 September 2016. The entries should stand alone and not require any images or web links. All entries are considered on the basis that the five winning entries will be posted on this blog as winning guest blogs. Non-winners may be asked whether they would consent to have their blogs published as well. Entries should not have appeared in substantial form elsewhere on the internet or in print (but it will be quite difficult for us to check!). Entries are welcome from anywhere in the universe. You can enter as many essays as you like including multiple entries to individual subject categories.
I’ll tell you the names of the judges in a while (which actually means I have only spoken to one of them, who said ‘yes’, so far!).
We will be looking for writing that grabs our attention – even if we don’t necessarily agree with what you write. This is a writing competition – we ‘d like you to impress us with your words.
The decision of the judges will be final.
Published by Thames and Hudson.
Five signed copies available to be won – see later today for details of a writing competition.