The evidence session on Tuesday will take place in Portcullis House – opinions differ as to whether this is the ugliest building in London or just one of them. However, inside it is very nice, and modern – although lacking the charm of Sir Charles Barry’s and Pugin’s masterpiece over the road.
The evidence session will be in the Wilson Room which has been chosen because it has a larger than average capacity in the public ‘gallery’. So more of you can fit in if you come – and you can look at artwork of Harold Wilson if the evidence session gets dull, though I have a feeling it might not.
The image above is taken from Westminster Bridge facing towards Parliament Square. If you could see it, Big Ben (the Elizabeth Tower) would be on your left across the road.
If you kept walking behind the guy in the red shirt and crossed the road in front of you and took a few more paces then you would be at the entrance/exit to Westminster tube station before you got to what looks like (but surely can’t be) an ice-cream van down the road.
So if you come out of Westminster tube station you will see Big Ben towering in front of you. If you turn left and walk 20 steps along the pavement, and turn left instead of crossing the road onto Westminster Bridge you find the entrance to Portcullis House. Or in other words – somewhere between those two trees in the photo.
The evidence session starts at 14:15 with Jeff Knott of RSPB and myself until c14:45 (hardly any time at all) and we will be followed by Liam Stokes (Countryside Alliance) and Amanda Anderson (Moorland Association).
We are still in Big Match Fortnight – a period where your donation to the World Land Trust appeal to protect a habitat corridor for Indian Elephants will be doubled!
But time is running out so this weekend would be a good time to make that donation – it’s a very good cause and a very good deal.
The ‘team for nature‘ team (@team4nature300 on Twitter) is worth keeping an eye on. They have a big social media presence but a very low real life profile.
They have also been very helpful in promoting our e-petition on banning driven grouse shooting through Twitter and thunderclaps. I know a little about them – but not that much. But what I know, I like, and respect. One of their number is someone I speak to on the phone now and again, and have met face-to-face just three times as I recall. He, for it is a he, is an interesting guy who reacted well to me saying that I wasn’t sure whether he was a genius or a nutter.
The Team for Nature team have helped many good environmental causes and I usually add my Twitter weight to things they do – almost always.
One of their current causes is this one – #NatureOnTheNews – and there is a thunderclap you could join if you agree with it (I think you will, and I do (so I have)). You only have until 8pm to join but if you do you will be swelling a social media reach of 12.5m. Yes, twelve and a half million people will be reached by this thunderclap (at least in theory).
There aren’t many UK wildlife NGOs who could do that. I’m not sure whether any have done so – have they? And that’s what this lot have to offer to any environmental good cause. The team for nature have significant social media clout and clout that surpasses that of many wildlife NGOs. They don’t have all the other clout that many of our best NGOs have, but they do have social media clout. I’m a little surprised that they aren’t being courted by others more than they are.
Keep an eye on them if you are on Twitter. Follow them. And maybe add your voice to theirs.
I’ll be talking about grouse shooting and appearing on a panel at the Norwich Science Festival – on Friday 28 October.
It all sounds fun – I hope to see you there.
It won’t come as a surprise to regular readers of this blog that the strongest support for our e-petition for banning driven grouse shooting came from rural constituencies. We’ve known this for ages!!
Just looking at England, for example, rural constituencies give stronger support for our e-petition than do urban ones:
And this difference remains when one breaks the signatures down by the party holding the constituency:
Even within political parties, rural constituencies support a ban on driven grouse shooting more than urban constituencies. Not surprising, but worth keeping in mind…
Just as Defra did not submit written evidence to the inquiry into driven grouse shooting – nor did Natural England.
The fact that NE have been spending our taxpayers’ money on a detailed study of ranging behaviour and mortality of Hen Harriers since 2002 has not led them to think that they might have anything that they ought to tell parliament on this subject.
And the fact that NE started legal proceedings against the Walshaw Moor Estate over alleged illegal management practices (see all posts here, 54 of them, tagged Wuthering Moors) didn’t make NE think they had anything to offer on the subject of moorland management.
Luckily, before NE were silenced by the coalition government, and then took a vow of silence thereafter, they did say something about their findings on Hen Harriers. Here are some quotes:
‘Detailed monitoring work since 2002 has shown that the critically low breeding numbers and patchy distribution of the hen harrier in England is a result of persecution – both in the breeding season, and at communal roosts in the winter – especially on areas managed for red grouse or with game rearing interests.’
‘The persecution continues for the small number of birds that do actually fledge from successful nests. There is further compelling evidence that this persecution continues during the winter at communal roosts.’
‘Over a 12 month period, six birds fitted with satellite transmitters have been tracked from the Bowland Fells into parts of the North Pennines managed principally as driven grouse moors, and have not been recorded subsequently. In another incident in one confined geographical area, three signals “went dead” between 2007-2008’
‘Following seven years of intensive monitoring and detailed research, the picture is unequivocal – hen harriers are being persecuted while they attempt to nest and birds are simply not returning to their breeding areas the following spring.’
There must be more to say about all these disappearing tagged Hen Harriers by now – here are some summary data – where did our money go if NE has nothing to say to a parliamentary inquiry?
And luckily, the RSPB complained to the EU Commission back in October 2012 (Saturday will be the complaint’s 4th birthday) so we know what they think of NE’s performance over Walshaw Moor:
‘The RSPB has today submitted a formal complaint to the European Commission over the handling of an estate in the South Pennines where a protected area of blanket bog habitat is under threat.
Following six months of investigation, the charity believes Natural England has contravened European environmental protection legislation in its dealings with the Walshaw Moor Estate, near Hebden Bridge in West Yorkshire.
The site is home to an important area of blanket bog – a globally rare and threatened habitat of delicate mosses which supports scarce breeding wading birds such as dunlin and golden plover. Walshaw Moor is so vital for these species and habitats that it is protected by the highest European environmental designations.
The management of the estate – including burning and draining of the bog – has caused Natural England to raise serious concerns in recent years. However, in March this year, without a clear explanation, Natural England suddenly dropped legal proceedings against the estate, including a prosecution on 43 grounds of alleged damage.
Mike Clarke, RSPB chief executive, said: “The decision to lodge this complaint has not been taken lightly, but this is a vitally important issue which centres on the Government’s statutory duty to protect our natural environment.
“Natural England – the Government’s wildlife watchdog – has dropped its prosecution without giving an adequate explanation and without securing restoration of this habitat. It has also entered into a management arrangement which we consider has fundamental flaws. This combination of actions is probably unlawful and will do little, if anything, to realise the Coalition Government’s stated ambition to restore biodiversity.
“Natural England has an excellent record but at Walshaw it has not fulfilled its duty to protect wildlife. This has happened in the year that the Government seeks to review its environmental agencies. We think this case is a timely reminder that we need a strong independent champion of the natural environment.
“This is just one of several protected areas in our uplands, and this case may set an important precedent for how these sites are managed in the future.” ‘
Maybe I can see why NE didn’t submit evidence to the inquiry – but it’s more difficult to see why the inquiry doesn’t demand evidence from Natural England.
31 October is the date set for a debate on banning driven grouse shooting.
The debate will be in Westminster Hall and will start at 4:30pm. Three hours have been allocated to this debate – which is a very long time for this type of thing. It may indicate the interest that MPs have noticed in this subject.
Let’s be clear – there will be no decision made, no vote taken and the world will not be different immediately after the debate. Except, except, except, that what is sitting in people’s heads will have changed dramatically since we set out on this route in May 2014. Back then it would have been difficult to find this phrase in a national newspaper ‘public disquiet about driven grouse shooting is growing’ as appeared in the Guardian this week.
What we have done, together, is raise awareness of driven grouse shooting, make it an issue, and get it into parliament. That’s quite an achievement in itself.
On the day, the subject will be introduced by Stephen Double MP (St Austell and Newquay, 234 signatures) who is a member of the Petitions Committee (and whom I have offered to meet). Then MPs of all parties will have their chance to make points. And then there will be a period for SNP, Labour and then a Defra minister, presumable Therese Coffey, to state the government’s position.
Now is the time to ask your MP whether, now the date is known, whether they intend to attend and whether they will represent your views.
Ahead of the debate there is an evidence session on Tuesday between 215pm and 315pm. In the first half Jeff Knott from RSPB and I will give evidence (which really means answer questions) and then we can sit back and watch The Countryside Alliance and Moorland Association have their say.
Soon after Tuesday, probably on Wednesday, the written evidence submitted to the inquiry will be published. That will make fascinating reading, I’m sure.
In theory, MPs will read the evidence, get well briefed on the issues and then be prepared to speak from a place of authority on 31 October. We will see.
So we are heading for the endgame of this bit of the campaign. If you still have energy left then please get back to your MP, tell them about the evidence session and ask whether they intend to speak on 31 October in the Westminster Hall debate on grouse shooting and whether they will represent your views.
After cogitating (aka as delaying) for a month, Defra finally told me it wouldn’t answer questions about its response to our successful e-petition on banning driven grouse shooting (123,076 signatures). The House of Commons Petitions Committee will hold an evidence session, jointly with the EFRA Committee, on this subject next Tuesday (see here and here) and there will be a debate in Westminster Hall fairly soon afterwards (I know the date but it has not yet been published).
These are the questions I asked (in blue) and the government’s response to the e-petition (in black) and some ideas for what Defra might have said if they answered the questions honestly (in red). Instead they haven’t answered them at all. If my thoughts on how honest answers would have looked are anywhere near the mark then one can see why Defra is trying to get away with silence.
Public policy is about one’s beliefs but it is also about the truth. Because Defra is dealing with the natural world of biology their remit is even more about the truth – there is not a Tory truth and a Labour truth, there is biological truth. On badgers, neonicotinoids and grouse shooting we have seen this government, and this department, ignore the truth wherever it is inconvenient to their belief system or the interests of their constituency which they seem to think is landowners and the shooting industry.
Which brings us on to beliefs. Defra has to change dramatically if it is to play any part in supporting, and avoid seriously undermining, the PM’s promise not to act for the rich and powerful but to act for us all. Some movement on driven grouse shooting would be an excellent starting place.
But you also have to ask where are the media and the Opposition MPs in holding Defra to account?
Q1: Was this government response signed off by a Defra minister?
Q2: Was this government response signed off by Rory Stewart MP?
Q3: Given the passage of time since this government response was produced, would Defra respond in precisely the same manner today and are there any gaps or errors which Defra would, today, like to rectify? Or does Defra stand by this response as a full and accurate response to the e-petition.
A3: We’d have to admit that we didn’t imagine that this e-petition would reach 100,000 signatures, let alone the 123,076 that it did. Therefore, we thought that we could just fob you off and that would be it. We had no idea that there would be an evidence session that would make us look like apologists for driven grouse shooting. If we hadn’t been so arrogant we’d have been a lot more measured in our response. But our response did please our friends in the shooting industry and they are important to us.
‘Defra is working with key interested parties to ensure the sustainable management of uplands, balancing environmental and economic benefits, which includes the role of sustainable grouse shooting.’
Q4: What does Defra understand by ‘the sustainable management of uplands’?
A4: Well, it’s a bit too late for us to think about this now but it would be along the lines of preserving and enhancing the ecosystem services provided by the uplands in terms of wildlife (and public enjoyment of them), carbon storage, flood alleviation and water quality. the type of stuff that the Natural Capital Committee worked on, and we praised, but we ignore when it is inconvenient.
Q5: How would Defra and the general public recognise ‘sustainable grouse shooting’ if they saw it?
A5: varied upland landscapes, more natural woodland, clean water, lowered flood risk, active blanket bogs storing carbon and a wide variety of wildlife. To be honest, it would have to look a lot more like walked up shooting than the current system of driven grouse shooting which is based on highly intensive management. But we really would have annoyed our friends in the shooting industry if we had said that.
Q6: Does Defra regard the current state of grouse moor management in England as representing a good example of ‘sustainable upland management’? Please explain and justify your view.
A6: it’s not great is it?
Q7: Does Defra accept, because in its response it did not say, that working towards ‘sustainable management of uplands’ requires an assessment of environmental and economic costs as well as benefits?
A7: of course it does.
Q8: My reading of the government response is that it enumerates some economic and environmental benefits, rather uncritically in my opinion, but fails to mention many of the economic and environmental costs of the system. Would Defra agree that its response was extremely partial in setting out what is in effect the grouse shooting industry’s side of the case?
A8: we’d agree that it could give that impression, yes.
‘When carried out according to the law, grouse shooting is a legitimate activity and in addition to its significant economic contribution, providing jobs and investment in some of our most remote areas, it can offer important benefits for wildlife and habitat conservation. The Government’s position is that people should be free to undertake any lawful activities. However, all those involved are encouraged to follow best practice.’
Q9: Does Defra believe that if all illegal bird of prey persecution ceased then driven grouse shooting would be able to continue at current levels in the English uplands? Your response to this question will need to take fully into account the results of the Langholm study (Redpath, S. M. and Thirgood, S. J. 1997. Birds of Prey and Red Grouse. Centre for Ecology and Hydrology, London.). If Langholm is a more or less representative grouse moor which shows the impact of illegal persecution on protected birds of prey, and the impacts of birds of prey on grouse populations (very small) and grouse shooting (very large) then if the results from Langholm were played out across the English uplands it is my contention that driven grouse shooting would be economically unviable in most of the English uplands. Another way of putting this is that driven grouse shooting is an industry which depends on wildlife crime and cannot exist in its current form if raptor persecution ceased.
A9: it’s certainly the case that grouse bags would be much reduced if birds of prey were protected across the uplands as they were during the Joint Raptor Study at Langholm. It’s difficult to know whether any driven grouse shooting would survive but it would be a greatly reduced activity. Our friends in the shooting industry would be facing large losses of income and a massive drop in the capital value of grouse moors. Of course we recognise that raptor perwsecution is endemic in driven grouse shooting. You’d have to be a bit dim not to recognise that.
‘A report by the UK shooting community (Public & Corporate Economic Consultants report 2014: The Value of Shooting) concludes that the overall environmental and economic impact of game bird shooting is positive, and industry has estimated that £250 million per year is spent on management activities substantially benefiting conservation. For grouse shooting in particular, according to the Moorland Association, estates in England and Wales spend £52.5 million each year on managing 175 grouse moors. The industry also supports 1,520 full time equivalent jobs and is worth £67.7 million in England and Wales. ‘
Q10: Defra quotes a report by the game shooting industry on the overall impact of that industry but this e-petition is solely about driven grouse shooting – does Defra believe that the overall environmental and economic impact of driven grouse shooting is positive? If yes, what is the evidence for that? If not, why did Defra quote this report in this misleading way? And if not, what is the overall environmental and economic cost of driven grouse shooting?
A10: we don’t know. We haven’t done any research on this. We simply trotted out dodgy industry figures. They are our mates you know?
Q11: Does Defra employ a team of economists?
A11: yes we do.
Q12: Were Defra economists asked to evaluate the game shooting industry’s PACEC report (PACEC (2014) The Value of Shooting. The economic, environmental and social benefits of shooting sports in the UK. PACEC, Cambridge, UK.)? If not, why not?
A12: nah! We thought it was easier to cut and paste the industry figures. They are our mates you know?
Q13: Is Defra aware of the criticisms by academic economists that have been levelled at the specific industry report that Defra quotes in its response (Cormack & Rotherham (2014) A review of the PACEC reports (2006 & 2014) estimating net economic benefits from shooting sports in the UK.)? If yes, why were these criticisms apparently ignored in Defra’s response? If not, why not? And would Defra like to clarify its view (not the industry’s view) on economic impacts of driven grouse shooting?
A13: well no-one had told us about that. Doesn’t look very good does it?
Q14: Would Defra agree that a full economic assessment of driven grouse shooting would need to take account of costs to society as well as benefits to individuals?
A14: well, of course it would.
Q15: Would Defra agree that a proper economic evaluation of driven grouse shooting would include the loss of wildlife experiences for the public, the loss of commercial value to the tourism industry of that wildlife value, any increased risk of flooding due to moorland management, any loss of or damage to protected habitats caused by inappropriate moorland management, any increased water treatment costs caused by moorland management, any increase in greenhouse gas emissions caused by moorland management, any loss of fish stocks caused by moorland management and probably a range of other costs?
A15: of course it would. That makes it a lot more complicated.
Q16: Has Defra evaluated the tourism benefit to English National Parks if Golden Eagles, Hen Harriers and other raptors were present in natural numbers? The RSPB has some pretty impressive data on this matter for the Loch Garten Ospreys, White-tailed Eagles on Mull etc etc.
A16: No, of course not. Our shooting friends wouldn’t be keen on that at all. Like I said, we didn’t expect to get this far down the road with this e-petition. We thought we could give you an arrogant brush-off and get away with it. Rory Stewart really left Therese Coffey in a hole.
‘Grouse shooting takes place in upland areas, which are important for delivering a range of valuable “ecosystem services”, including food and fibre, water regulation, carbon storage, biodiversity, and recreational opportunities for health and wellbeing. The Government is committed to helping create a more sustainable future for the English uplands, including by protecting peatlands through measures such as the Peatland Code.‘
Q17: I’m glad that Defra is aware of the ecosystem services approach but this paragraph ignores, rather spectacularly, the evidence from studies which show that the management of moorland for driven grouse shooting imposes costs in these areas on society as a whole. Does Defra agree that these costs must be taken into account to undertake a proper assessment of the economic contribution of driven grouse shooting to society as a whole and to arrive at a nett value?
A17: yeah, yeah, yeah. Of course.
Q18: Is Defra aware of the EMBER study (Brown L.E., Holden J. and Palmer S.M. (2014) Effects of moorland burning on the ecohydrology of river basins. Key findings from the EMBER project. University of Leeds.)?
A18: we are now, but our shooting friends didn’t tell us about it. Looks quite a good study.
Q19: Is Defra aware of this follow up to the EMBER report (Holden, J., S. M. Palmer, K. Johnston, C. Wearing, B. Irvine, and L. E. Brown (2015), Impact of prescribed burning on blanket peat hydrology, Water Resour. Res., 51, 6472–6484, doi:10.1002/2014WR016782.)?
A19: we are now! That shows that burning increases flood risk in heavy rain doesn’t it?
Q20: Is Defra aware of the 2015 report by the Committee on Climate Change which stated ‘The damaging practice of burning peat to increase grouse yields continues, including on internationally protected sites’. https://www.theccc.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2015/06/6.738_CCC_ExecSummary_2015_FINAL_WEB_250615.pdf
A20: they did say that didn’t they? And they gave evidence to an Environmental Audit Committee inquiry on soil health in similar vein. Our friends in the grouse shooting industry have told us to ignore it.
Q21: Is Defra aware of this scientific paper which documents the increasing intensity of moorland management for driven grouse shooting (David J.T. Douglas, Graeme M. Buchanan, Patrick Thompson, Arjun Amar, Debbie A. Fielding, Steve M. Redpath and Jeremy D. Wilson (in press) Vegetation burning for game management in the UK uplands is increasing and overlaps spatially with soil carbon and protected areas. Biological Conservation, 191, 243-250.)?
A21: yep! Seen that one.
Q22: Is Defra aware of this report which documents the increasing intensity of moorland management for driven grouse shooting (Burning in the English Uplands – A Review, Reconciliation and Comparison of Results of Natural England’s Burn Monitoring: 2005 – 2014 www.gov.uk/government/publications/improvement-programme-for-englands-natura-2000-sites-ipens )?
A22: yes, that’s quite good too.
Q23: Has Defra taken into account any estimates of increased flood risk, increased flood damage, increased home insurance costs, increased water treatment costs, increased greenhouse gas emissions, damage to protected habitats, loss of popular and iconic wildlife, reduced aquatic biodiversity and reduced fish stocks to evaluate the nett economic contribution of driven grouse shooting to society?
A23: No, we completely ignored all that stuff in our response to the e-petition and in every letter we have sent to MPs to send on to their constituents. It’s all a bit inconvenient to our position, and that of our friends, so it’s easier to pretend it isn’t there and see whether we can get away with it.
Q24: Does Defra believe, and can it prove, that there is a nett economic benefit of the activity of driven grouse shooting to society as a whole once the benefits are properly enumerated and the externalities and costs are fully taken into account?
A24: We certainly can’t prove it because we have done no work on it and it probably isn’t true, so it would be very difficult.
Q25: Does Defra have an estimate of the economic cost or benefit of driven grouse shooting to the economy? If so, what is it?
A25: No we haven’t got one of those.
Q26: Would Defra accept that if driven grouse shooting depends on wildlife crime then it is not justifiable, whatever any economic benefits might be?
A26: I’ve been told that we are going to carry on ignoring that issue for as long as we can get away with it. We are the party of law and order you know.
‘With regard to predator control, we welcome the proactive approach taken by game keeping organisations to ensure a sustainable, mutually beneficial relationship between shooting and conservation, for example through the BASC green shoots initiative. Control of grouse predators such as foxes and stoats on shooting estates has a role to play in the recovery of rare or declining species, particularly ground nesting birds. Mountain hares and other tick carrying species such as deer are controlled to reduce disease mortality in infected red grouse chicks. We also recognize that controlling mountain hares and deer is a legitimate practice in other circumstances: for example, to protect young trees and vegetation or as quarry species.’
Q27: Does Defra accept that legal predator control is a management practice carried out in a targeted rather than a blanket way by organisations such as the National Trust, the Wildlife Trusts, the RSPB and others, and can, and is, carried out without other aspects of intensive moorland management that accompany driven grouse shooting?
A27: questions, questions, questions! Yes, of course.
‘The Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 affords protection to all wild birds; despite this, incidents of illegal killing of birds of prey continue, so we have identified raptor persecution as a national wildlife crime priority. Each wildlife crime priority has a delivery group to consider what action should be taken, and develop a plan to prevent crime, gather intelligence on offences and enforce against it. The raptor persecution group, led by a senior police officer, focuses on the golden eagle, goshawk, hen harrier, peregrine, red kite and white tailed eagle and is led by a senior police officer.
The National Wildlife Crime Unit, which is part-funded by Defra, monitors and gathers intelligence on illegal activities affecting birds of prey and assists police forces when required. Despite instances of poisoning and killing of birds of prey, populations of many species, such as the peregrine, red kite and buzzard have increased.’
Q28: How would Defra describe the overall picture on wildlife crime directed at birds of prey in the uplands of England?
A28: it is a bit of a problem really.
Q29: Is Defra aware of the Hen Harrier Conservation Framework report which sets out the status and potential status of the Hen Harrier in different parts of the UK (JNCC Report No: 441 A Conservation Framework for Hen Harriers in the United Kingdom. Alan Fielding, Paul Haworth, Phil Whitfield, David McLeod and Helen Riley. February 2011)?
A29: Yes thanks, we are aware but we never mention it because it is so damning.
Q30: Does Defra accept that statutory agency peer-reviewed report as being more or less correct?
A30: it can’t be a million miles away can it?
Q31: Given that that report predicts that there is sufficient suitable habitat to support over 300 pairs of Hen Harrier nesting in England does Defra regard this year’s 3 pairs as satisfactory?
A31: No, it’s piss poor, obviously.
Q32: Which English SPAs had nesting Hen Harriers as part of their reason for qualifying for notification as SPAs? What were their Hen Harrier populations in those years? What are their nesting Hen Harrier populations now?
A32: Bowland Fells and North Pennines which have held scores of pairs of Hen Harrier and now usually have none. NAture cosnervation is part of our job – of course we know this stuff.
Q33: Is Defra aware of the scientific paper which documents high rates of nest failure and absence from traditional sites of Peregrine Falcons in upland areas of England, many of them National Parks, associated with driven grouse moors (Amar, A., Court, I. R., Davison, M. et al. 2012. Linking nest histories, remotely sensed land use data and wildlife crime records to explore the impact of grouse moor management on peregrine falcon populations. Biological Conservation 145, 86–94.)?
A33: that’s a very good study and shows the scale and extent of illegal persecution of peregrines. Can’t argue with it really.
Q34: Is Defra aware of the failure of the Peak District Bird of Prey initiative to meet its targets for recovery of bird of prey populations in the moorland areas of the Peak District National Park?
A34: it’s called keeping the issue in the long grass while pretending something is happening.
Q35: Is Defra aware of the numerous cases of Red Kites being poisoned or shot in upland areas of northern England this year?
A35: Well, between you and me (and I wouldn’t want this to be too widely Known) we do keep an eye on Raptor Persecution UK to hear what’s going on. So, yes!
Q36: Is Defra aware of the case on the Mossdale Estate near Hawes in Yorkshire this spring when three illegal pole traps were set by a gamekeeper who was an employee of the estate?
A36: wasn’t that awful?! And the former minister, Rory Stewart, had his photo taken with the owner of Mossdale Estate too. A bit embarrassing.
Q37: Is Defra confident that the current enforcement approach will dramatically reduce wildlife crime directed against birds of prey in the uplands of England in the next five years? And if so, why hasn’t the same approach done so in the last five years?
A37: No, we couldn’t claim that. That would be daft. Nothing is changing and won’t unless we have a completely new approach.
‘With regard to hen harriers, in January 2016 the Defra led Upland Stakeholder Forum hen harrier sub-group published the Joint action plan to increase the English hen harrier population. This sets out six complementary actions to increase hen harrier populations in England. These actions are individually beneficial, and when combined have the potential to deliver stronger outcomes and contribute to the recovery of the hen harrier population in England. These are:
1: Monitoring of populations in England and UK
2: Diversionary feeding
3: Work with Raptor Persecution Priority Delivery Group (RPPDG) to analyse monitoring information and build intelligence picture
4: Nest and winter roost protection
5: Southern reintroduction
6: Trialling a Brood Management Scheme
The Action Plan sets out who leads on each action and the timescale and benefits of each. The plan was developed with senior representatives from organisations best placed to take action, including Natural England, the Moorland Association, the National Gamekeepers’ Organisation, the Game & Wildlife Conservation Trust, National Parks England and the RSPB. These organisations will now take the plan forward led by Natural England. They will monitor all the activities carried out and report annually on progress to the Defra Uplands Stakeholder Forum and the UK Tasking and Co-ordinating group for Wildlife Crime.’
Q38: the Hen Harrier plan is supposed to be a plan for Hen Harriers – what impact would the successful implementation of this plan have on other birds of prey which are illegally killed in the English uplands such as Peregrine Falcons, Red Kites, Goshawks, Buzzards and Short-eared Owls? Does Defra have a plan for those species?
A38: No, we don’t.
Q39: How much extra money has Defra allocated to each of the 6 action points in the plan since its publication?
A39: Nothing at all. Though we reckon that our shooting friends will fund the bits they like.
Q40: How many pairs of Hen Harrier in England have been fed through diversionary feeding in the last 20 years since this technique was trialled at Langholm – please give the numbers for driven grouse moors and other areas separately?
A40: Bugger all as far as we know.
Q41: What size of population of nesting Hen Harriers (in England) would represent favourable conservation status?
A41: We’ve never even thought about it. Luckily we are Brexiting so maybe we won’t have to… I guess it would be in the order of at least 60 pairs or so.
Q42: What level of Hen Harrier breeding success (in England) would represent favourable conservation status?
A42: Good question. Can I phone a friend? Oh no, that won’t work. Our friends wouldn’t know.
Q43: In what year, if the Defra plan is fully implemented, would Defra expect the English nesting Hen Harrier population to reach favourable conservation status?
A43: We’d hope you’d all lose interest after a decade or so.
Q44: Does Defra have any estimate of the number of illegal pole traps and/or poisoned baits which are set in the English uplands each year? Does Defra have any useful estimate of the scale of the problem that law enforcement agencies are trying to tackle? Does Defra have any estimate of how much resource would be necessary to tackle the scale of this illegal activity? Does Defra have any confidence that the resources being deployed are sufficient to tackle the issue of bird of prey persecution?
A44: There must be loads and loads but we don’t have any real idea. Our friends in the shooting industry are a bit tight-lipped about all that. They won’t tell us.
Q45: Is Defra considering introducing vicarious liability for wildlife crimes into English law?
A45: Not really. Only if forced by the public and the opposition. Our friends in the shooting industry are against it.
Q46: Is Defra considering introducing licensing of upland game shooting estates in England?
A46: well our friends don’t want it. You don’t want it. It’s only the RSPB that wants it and it won’t work anyway so I can confidently say ‘No’ to that question.
Q47: Is Defra considering providing any extra resources and taking any new approaches to dealing with wildlife crime and unsustainable management of driven grouse moors?
A47: We hope not but we might be forced into it.
Q48: Has Defra considered the possibility of banning driven grouse shooting in England as a result of over 120,000 citizens (most of them apparently from rural areas, many of which are grouse shooting areas) asking for that to happen?
A48: Our friends say ‘no’.
Defra have felt unable to answer the questions that would put them on the spot over their inadequate response to our e-petition. I can understand why – their response, signed off by Rory Stewart, was hopelessly biased. They should now face questions from MPs over their position.
This is a wholly fictional account (think Yes Minister) of how they came to answer my questions in the way that they did:
Sir Humphrey: Good morning Minister
Therese Coffey: Good morning Humphrey! What have we to deal with today?
Sir Humphrey: well Minister….
…and then lastly there is this response to an enquiry from a member of the public ahead of a parliamentary inquiry into grouse shooting.
Therese Coffey: grouse shooting? Do we do grouse shooting?
Sir Humphrey: Yes we do, Minister. Remember those letters that you have signed to lots of MPs whose constituents have written to them about grouse shooting (or, to be more accurate, driven grouse shooting)?
Therese Coffey: no, not really.
Sir Humphrey: Well, there have been quite a lot. A lot more than we usually get on an e-petition. This one seems rather popular. So we’ve drafted three responses to this guy, Dr Avery, for you to choose from. Here’s the first, this is a full response to his questions (see later blog for my guess at what this would look like).
A few moments pass…
Therese Coffey: Well, we can’t possibly send that out. Makes us look like idiots.
Sir Humphrey: Indeed Minister. So here is the second version. This answers some of the questions but not the difficult ones.
Therese Coffey: Humphrey, don’t be an idiot. That makes us look even worse. We can’t say ‘Yes we have a team of economists’ and then say ‘No we didn’t ask their advice on a report on economics’ can we?
Sir Humphrey: It’s entirely up to you Minister. I take your point. So this is our third version.
Therese Coffey: We don’t answer any questions and come up with some lame excuses?
Sir Humphrey: If that’s how it looks to you Minister.
Therese Coffey: Can we do that and get away with it?
Sir Humphrey: Well it all depends on whether the Opposition – I guess that’s the Labour Party and the Libdems, perhaps the SNP – get their act together. So there must be quite a good chance that you’d ‘get away with it’ Minister – your words not mine.
Therese Coffey: Let’s do that then. The first two options we are certain to look like idiots. At least the last one gives us some hope, provided nobody Tweets about it or mentions it in the press.
Sir Humphrey: Whatever you say, Minister.