A nation of raptor-haters? Not all of us.

Photo: Guy Shorrock

Photo: Guy Shorrock

Yesterday a gamekeeper in Norfolk was found guilty of poisoning 10 Buzzards and a Sparrowhawk.  It’s hardly news except that this is England’s worst single case of bird of prey poisoning. But ‘Well done!’ to Norfolk Police and to the RSPB. And District Judge Peter Veits said some interesting things too.

If this had been a school teacher doing the poisoning, or a postman, or an estate agent then it might have been news but a gamekeeper? That’s what we have come to expect and our expectations are rarely ‘disappointed’ though our disappointment in the shooting community continues to mount.

Things are rather better in the lowlands than they used to be, in general, and are better in the lowlands than the uplands (not saying much) so we shouldn’t be too downhearted, and, of course, we now do have Buzzards and Red Kites in much of lowland England which was not true a few decades ago.  But it does seem as though there is an awful lot of rottenness in the shooting ‘community’.

Photo: I.Sáček, senior, via wikimedia commons

Photo: I.Sáček, senior, via wikimedia commons

They can talk as much as they like about a ‘few bad apples’ but those are what spoil the barrel.  Shooting’s reputation is tainted again and again by this type of case. And leaping in to say ‘the tags might have failed’ every time a bird of prey disappears in suspicious circumstances just gives the impression that organisations representing shooting are desperate rather than realistic.

Imagine if birdwatching faced news stories every few weeks about scandals and illegal behaviour. What impact would that have on us all?

And these cases are going to come thick and fast with modern technology and increased public awareness. There will be more and more and more news of this type over the next few weeks, months and years.  How will shooting respond? Denial?

And let us be clear, these cases are the tip of the iceberg. It’s very difficult to know the size of the iceberg – but it is clear that we only see its tip.  It is really, really difficult to know that a bird of prey has been killed on an estate. Most birds of prey are not satellite- or radio-tagged, but even when they are the information does not necessarily lead to prosecutions. Any birds that are shot will have their bodies disposed of by the person who shot them. Poisoned birds don’t fly far and their bodies can be hidden or destroyed.

Take the very sad case of the murdered child Alice Gross whose body was found in the River Brent yesterday. She disappeared over a month ago in a highly populated area, her parents reported her missing and CCTV revealed her last sighting to within minutes and her last location very accurately. As the time went on it felt overwhelmingly, and agonisingly, likely that this was a search for a teenager’s body, and resources piled into the search but it took over a month for that part of the tragic story to end. Quite rightly, no missing bird of prey has anything like the resources devoted to it as does a missing child but that does mean that the chances of finding evidence of a crime are relatively tiny. Therefore, although we know that few teenagers are murdered in our towns, we know far less about the scale of murder of protected birds of prey in our countryside.

How big an iceberg of raptor persecution is there in the countryside?  You will find it hard to find a shooting estate where anyone has a good word to say about most raptors.  Those organisations that represent the landed gentry are those that oppose the reintroduction of native birds of prey to areas where they were extirpated. A single ‘keeper, if active against birds of prey for much of his career may be responsible for the unrecorded deaths of hundreds, maybe even thousands, of fully protected birds of prey.  How far down the road from where you live would you have to go to find a ‘keeper with that attitude?

How shocking would be the story if we knew all the facts?

How embarrassed would be those who shoot if we knew all the culprits?


BASC chairman Alan Jarrett said: ‘BASC utterly condemns any persecution of birds of prey. Nothing can justify such actions. Every law-abiding person involved in game management and shooting will denounce anyone involved. In this case the law has run its course and justice has been served. Shooting is rightly proud of its excellent contribution to conservation. That record should not be tarnished by the actions of a few who believe they can flout the law.’.

Fine words, Alan, but wearing very thin aren’t they? How many times have you said the same? How many more times will you have to trot this out?  Shooting is proud of its contribution to conservation is it?  You know what they say – pride comes before a fall?





Disease implicated as a cause of Turtle Dove decline – a bit.

3)Turtle Dove : By Miguel González Novo from Melilla, Spain. (Paloma bastarda) [CC-BY-SA-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

3) Turtle Dove : By Miguel González Novo from Melilla, Spain. (Paloma bastarda) [CC-BY-SA-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

The Turtle Dove is a lovely bird but is declining dramatically in the UK but also in many other parts of Europe.

Although one of the more dramatic problems it faces is being shot by hunters on migration, particularly unsportingly (and illegally) on spring migration, this has never seemed to me to be likely to be ‘the’ cause of the Turtle Dove’s Europe-wide decline.  You have to shoot an awful lot of birds to knock a big hole in their population.  And actually, there is rarely ‘a’ single cause of a species’ decline.

But when you have knocked that big hole in the population, all else being equal, the survivors ought to have a lovely time of it with copious resources of food and nest sites. And so they should do quite well. And so the population should tend to bounce back.

MarthanewcoverBut in the case of the Turtle Doves the evidence suggests that they are doing worse and worse in terms of breeding success on the breeding grounds – at least in the UK.  Removal of critical food supplies have been implicated in these declines (at least in the UK).  I discuss some of this in the last chapter of A Message from Martha.

So I was interested to see this paper published recently in the journal Parasitology (by RSPB, Leeds University, Cardiff University and Natural England scientists) which suggests that disease might play some part in this story. All Turtle Doves sampled (n=25) have the protozoan parasite Trichomonas gallinae in their bodies. These infections cause lesions which could make your average Turtle Dove feel rather rotten – or lead to death.  Such a factor could be a different explanation for low breeding success – they are just not in great nick!

It remains to be seen, I guess, how important this factor is in the UK decline of Turtle Dove. And, again I guess, whatever the answer it may take some time to check its importance across the whole European population.  But it is certainly interesting.

It would be interesting in the case of the Turtle Dove but it is also interesting to me, in what it might mean for the extinction of the Passenger Pigeon too. I am relieved to see that I didn’t dismiss disease as a factor for Passenger Pigeons although there didn’t seem to be that much evidence for it – but then how could there have been?

Trichomonas gallinae is found in pigeon species across much of the world.  It would have been present in North America, no doubt (particularly since domestic pigeons were taken across the Atlantic by European colonists).

If, and it is a big ‘if’, and only an ‘if’, but if disease is an important factor in the decline of the Turtle Dove then the question we might want to answer is ‘Why now?’.  There is a tantalising, but little more than an anecdotal smidgeon of information referred to in the paper and that is that the same strain (that might not be the right term) of Trichomonas infection is present in Red-legged Partridge too. But whether partridges give it to doves, or doves to partridges, is about as promising a discussion as whether men give women colds (which we don’t) or whether women give colds to men (which they do – often on purpose!), or whether badgers give bTb to cattle (which they do) or whether cattle give it to badgers (which they do).

A morsel of pure (or impure) speculation, that is in A Message from Martha too; maybe the introduction and rapid spread of the House Sparrow into North America (introduced from 1851) was the route by which a disease arrived in North America that drove the Passenger Pigeon to extinction. That would be highly ironic. But it is a big leap from where we are with Turtle Doves to that position. Still, makes one think doesn’t it?

More about Turtle Doves here.


A Question of Ivy


Yesterday was the last day of September and, as with most of September, it was a lovely sunny day. I made a point of sitting out in the garden to feel the warmth of the sun on my face.

A Pied Wagtail sat on a nearby chimney and called.

A Peacock butterfly whizzed past but with no whizzing sound.

House Martins, just a few, were still overhead.

But the main wildlife sensation to caress the senses was the hum of insects on the ivy.  If I closed my eyes and let myself drift with the sound it was easy to doze for a while.

There were some flies but the hum came mostly from what I believe were Honey Bees.  Scores of them.

It’s always like this on early autumn days when the ivy is in flower and the sun is out.  I like these moments. I like the ivy. I like the bees. At times like this – I like the whole world.

But there is a question that I must pose to you all-round naturalists, please.  When is the best time to cut back my ivy – it is overdue, I think. I realise that there may be hibernating butterflies (Brimstones?) that use the ivy later in the season (or might they be there now, already?), and that there will be pupae of Holly Blues there too (is that right?).  And, there are probably all sorts of other interesting invertebrates snuggling away within the ivy’s shelter.

I’m not cutting it all down, heaven forefend!, but I do need to get it a bit under control.  So the question is, ‘When is the best time to cut back my ivy to do the least damage to the ivy and the wildlife that may be using it?’.


PS I really don’t mind if you tell me to leave it for 11 months – I’m not that keen – but you would have to make up a convincing reason as well please.

PPS While dozing I realised that it was exactly a year since I submitted the manuscript, on time and on length, of A Message from Martha to my publisher.


And it’s not even worth a bean to the economy

Photo: Tim Melling

Photo: Tim Melling

The grouse shooting industry is having a torrid time of it – and I can assure them that there is more to come.

Grouse shooting is a ‘sport’ or an ‘industry’.  Over the years it has tried to justify itself on the grounds that it either doesn’t do any harm or it does do some good. Neither is looking very convincing right now as reports and evidence stack up to show what a tawdry thing it is.

Photo: Kositoes via wikimedia commons

Photo: Kositoes via wikimedia commons

There was a time when we all went along with the idea that management for grouse shooting was pretty good for most other things too but those days are long gone. A few more Curlew is not enough reward for all the killing that goes on, legal and illegal.  The 1500 Mountain Hares killed in the Lammermuirs this spring, because they are a vector of ticks which affect Red Grouse, just shows the scale of the slaughter.  Stoats, Red Foxes , Carrion (or Hooded) Crows etc are killed legally and many other species, including Golden Eagles and Hen Harriers, Hedgehogs and Badgers are killed illegally.  The scale of killing is immense and it is all directed towards making the autumn stock of Red Grouse as high as possible so that they can be killed by paying sportsmen (and women).  The whole species balance is bent completely out of shape over large areas of upland Britain and the more you think about it the more bizarre and distasteful it will seem.


Heather burning. Photo: Paul Adams via wikimedia commons.

Heather burning. Photo: Paul Adams via wikimedia commons.

But that’s just the killing. Let’s come to the burning. Red Grouse, the pampered-until-shot species at the centre of this sport/industry nests and hides and shelters in long heather but eats young, tastier heather (it doesn’t look very tasty to me, but then, I may be a Red, and a grouse sometimes, but I am not a Red Grouse). Heather is burned in small-ish patches, every few years (8-25 is usual), to maintain a patchwork of young and old heather to provide ideal conditions for the bird. Today’s report from Leeds University shows that there are far-reaching consequences for carbon storage, water quality, aquatic wildlife and perhaps also for flood risk from this peculiar and intense form of management (see here and here for blogs by me and here for the summary of the report and here for the full report).

But the grouse shooting community, if they have cared at all about what the rest of us think, have always fallen back on the argument that grouse shooting is of economic importance.  This has always seemed to me, to be very weak ground and only of interest if you have an unhealthy interest in dosh. It reminds me of the story of the Kray twins being the largest donors to an appeal for the victims of the Aberfan disaster – how much does money exculpates other sins?

But today, another report is published which shoots holes in the economic importance of shooting, and of grouse shooting.  I haven’t paid much attention to the Public and Corporate Economic Consultants’ report on this subject. This PACEC report, which I like to call the Pay Cheque report, claims that shooting contributes £2bn to the UK economy. I haven’t paid much attention to it because although £2,000,000,000 is a big number the UK economy is £1,600,000,000,000 so the whole of shooting is a drop in the ocean.

I’m not against the whole of shooting, I’m against that species-killing, habitat-damaging, environment-polluting, atmosphere-carbonising part of shooting that is driven grouse shooting.  How big a share is that? Well, considering that the Pay Cheque report includes clay-pigeon shooting which is a pastime involving 150,000 folk and all that wildfowling on the coast and all those pheasant shoots and partridge shoots, then I’d guess that it might be generous to allow grouse shooting one fifth of the putative total of £2bn – let’s say £400m then (it’s a guess, it doesn’t matter much really).

First, I’d pay £6/yr for driven grouse shooting to stop – and if you would too then we may have a solution already!

But now we have to bring in the report published today by the League Against Cruel Sports and carried out by economists from Sheffield Hallam University and Cormack Economics.  It’s a bit heavy going, as economics usually is, but I’ve read it and it is rational and fairly convincing. It suggests that the Pay Cheque report overestimated the value of shooting to the economy many fold.  They think that an estimate of closer to £500m would be closer to the mark – a four-fold reduction (so getting rid of grouse shooting would only cost each of us £1.50/yr all of a sudden. That’s cheap!  I’ll pay a few other people’s share too at that price.

Other problems arise with the Pay Cheque report too – it does not differentiate the money that is already our money (through agri-environment spending) that is deprived from other land managers if it goes to grouse shooters.  Clearly, stopping driven grouse shooting doesn’t lose that money from the economy, it just would go to other, perhaps more deserving, land  managers.  Or to the NHS or Education if we chose.

What is lost to the UK economy is all the money spent by shooting abroad eg the import of 8 million pheasants and partridges each year for the shooting industry.

But, let’s not get bogged down in the figures because they aren’t worth very much at all. For one thing, the environmental costs of driven grouse shooting have to be removed from the overall figure.  How much is each Hen Harrier worth? What is the cost of carbon emissions?How much higher are water bills because of the need to remove particulates from water supplies? None of these things was costed in the Pay Cheque report – and really they should have been (just as the Krays did a bit of harm along the way when earning their loot, allegedly, which we would want to assess to arrive at their nett worth to us).

But for another thing, there is no way that you can make grouse shooting look like a big earner – it’s a tiny thing. It’s a tiny thing economically which is underpinned by wildlife crime and which causes environmental damage.

So the grouse shooting industry is left with no solid ground on which to stand. It isn’t good for wildlife (in fact, it is bad for it), it isn’t good for the wider environment (in fact, it is bad for it) and it isn’t worth a bean once you do the economics properly.

So let’s stop calling it an industry – because it doesn’t make anything except make the world a worse place to live in.  It’s a hobby or a pastime. I think everyone should have a hobby or a pastime. But not one that kills wildlife and damages the environment.

Where is the justification for driven grouse shooting?

Can’t see it myself – please sign here to ban driven grouse shooting.

Photo: Donside April 2014 by Peter Cairns

Photo: Donside April 2014 by Peter Cairns



An ecosystem disservice

Heather burning Great Hograh moor. Photo: Colin Grice

Heather burning Great Hograh moor. Photo: Colin Grice

The nature conservation case for driven grouse shooting is pretty much bankrupt and today’s significant report on the ecosystem disservices of rotational burning bangs home a wider point.

If you live in a city or the country, shoot or don’t shoot, vote UKIP or Green, are vegan or live on raw meat, whoever you are – the management practices up in the hills affect your environment and your pocket.

The study shows that rotational heather burning on peatlands has clear effects on peat hydrology, peat chemistry and physical properties, river water chemistry and river biota.

Fishermen downstream of areas burned for grouse shooting should wonder whether the lower invertebrate communities, increased acidity and increased heavy metals are affecting their sport.

The peatlands of Britain are one of our largest carbon stores – degrading them is as foolish as burning fossil fuels without a care.  Transport fuels are quite important in our lives – grouse shooting is not.  ‘Altering the hydrology of peatlands so they become drier is known to cause significant losses of carbon from storage in the soil.‘ said co-researcher Professor Joseph Holden, who continued ‘This is of great concern, as peatlands are the largest natural store for carbon on the land surface of the UK and play a crucial role in climate change. They are the Amazon of the UK.

This study showed that there was a tendency (not proven) for burned catchments to be ‘flashier’ and more prone to high flows after heavy rain, this supports the arguments of the Hebden Bridge ‘Ban the Burn’ campaigners who claim that intensified moorland management upstream of their town was a factor in disastrous and highly costly floods. this study supports their views but doesn’t prove them – it could have weakened them, but certainly hasn’t.

Peat particles washed into rivers lead to discolouration of water, which is largely a cosmetic problem, but increases water bills when water is treated. Acidification of water supplies is a more serious treatment problem .

The ‘traditional’ moorland burning season runs from today until 15 April (which is much too late in the year anyway, particularly with climate change – many nesting birds must have to flee their nests as the flames engulf them).


What they say:

The Independent newspaper: ‘Commercial grouse shooting is ruining the countryside of Northern England and warming the planet as swathes of upland peatlands rich in wildlife are burned to provide the best conditions for red grouse‘.

Chris Packham (quoted in the Indie): ‘The old adage that shooting is good for the countryside is no longer holding water in front of an increasingly sophisticated audience.‘ indeed, Chris, and according to this study the land they manage isn’t holding water either!

The Scotsman: ‘Heather burning on Scotland’s grouse moors may be causing serious damage to peatlands, rivers and wildlife

Lead researcher Dr Lee Brown (quoted in the Scotsman) said: ‘Until now there was little evidence of the environmental impacts of moorland burning. Unsurprisingly, a push away from moorland burning without solid scientific evidence to back up the need for change has created a lot of tension. The findings from the Ember project now provide the necessary evidence to inform policy.‘.

The Times newspaper: ‘The owners of grouse moors who set fire to heather to promote green shoots for young birds to eat are polluting rivers and contributing to climate change‘.

Adrian Blackmore, Countryside Alliance’s director of shooting, (quoted in the Indie) said: ‘Burning has been a vital management tool in our uplands for more than a century and one that has provided significant benefits to wildlife, creating as it does a mosaic of different-aged heather which provides protection for many species of threatened ground nesting birds.‘ which is not  a response to this detailed, long-term scientific report, merely an admission that the problems have been in existence for more than a century. Might be time for a change then?


Ecosystem impacts  have always been the smoking shotgun for driven grouse shooting. This study very strongly suggests (many would say, ‘shows’) that there are measurable impacts of burning on wider environmental health.  All the impacts in this report are deleterious impacts. All are ones that scientists have suspected for a long time.  Many sound a bit complicated and perhaps sound trivial but add up to a clear message that as well as affecting wildlife through killing it, driven grouse shooting affects the environment through altering it in ways that are generally harmful – and all for a few days blasting away at Red Grouse!

Driven grouse shooting is a sport/industry that could be regulated to be better – but it couldn’t be regulated to be good enough. There is far too much wrong with it; massive tolls on wildlife through legalised predator control, culls of ‘inconvenient’ native species such as Mountain Hares, illegal persecution of raptors to the point where they are absent from large areas of the country, damage to protected blanket bogs, increased water bills, polluted rivers, lower fish stocks and increased global warming. That’s quite a list – and all for the fun of expensive shooting?

The sport of the few should not be allowed to degrade the environment of the many.  It is the whole management system underpinning driven grouse shooting that is rotten – it needs to be swept away, not tinkered with.

Sign here to ban driven grouse shooting.










Important new study on impacts of moorland burning on river catchments

Photo: Donside April 2014 by Peter Cairns

Photo: Donside April 2014 by Peter Cairns06

The EMBER study by the University of Leeds (funded by NERC and Yorkshire Water) has been a five-year study of 10 river catchments – five that have lots of heather burning for driven grouse shooting and five that do not. The study area was the North Pennines.

The British uplands collect and distribute rainwater, sequester carbon in the form of peat and provide the habitats for many important species.  In some areas, land management is dominated by the industry of driven grouse shooting where burning of heather to produce artificially very high densities of Red Grouse for shooting is part of the traditional management regime.

Rotational burning of heather is important for grouse shooting but what does it do for the rest of us?

These are the results of this major study and they indicate, in just about every respect, that burning of heather imposes a cost on the taxpayer and society.


  • Heather burning. Photo: Paul Adams via wikimedia commons.

    Heather burning. Photo: Paul Adams via wikimedia commons.

    Prescribed burning on peatlands was shown to have clear effects on peat hydrology, peat chemistry and physical properties, river water chemistry and river biota.

  • Burning reduces the organic matter content of the upper peat layers. The net result is that the peat is less able to retain important particles known as exchangeable cations. In other words, the peat in burned sites is deprived of chemicals which are important for plant growth and for buffering acidic rainfall.
  • Lower concentrations of nutrient elements found in peat soils in burned river basins do not support the idea that burning  enriches the peat with nutrients from ash.
  • Rivers draining burned catchments were characterised by lower calcium concentrations and lower pH relative to rivers draining unburned catchments. Rivers draining burned sites had higher concentrations of silica, manganese, iron and aluminium compared to unburned catchments.
  • There was no difference between burned and unburned catchments in peat nitrogen concentrations or in carbon to nitrogen ratios (high C/N is considered unfavourable to microbial decomposition of peat), and no significant difference in peat soil pH.
  • Water-table depth is very important in peatlands for maintaining their stability and function as a carbon store. Water tables were found to be significantly deeper for burnedcatchments than for unburned ones. Deeper water tables would suggest a greater scope for degradation of the peat and loss of carbon to the atmosphere.
  • Heather burning. Photo: Paul Adams via wikimedia commons.

    Heather burning. Photo: Paul Adams via wikimedia commons.

    Sphagnum is an important peat-forming species. Changes in the hydrological properties of the peat after fire make the peat less conducive to moss growth.

  • River flow in catchments where burning has taken place appears to be slightly more prone to higher flow peaks during heavy rain. However, this was not a conclusive finding.
  • Burning vegetation alters the natural peat hydrology in the upper layers of the peat affecting the balance of where water flow occurs. Recovery of many hydrological properties appears to be possible if a site is left unburned over many years.
  • Prescribed peatland vegetation burning leads to significant increases in mean and maximum near-surface soil temperatures in the years following burning as well as lower minima (and thus wider thermal variability).
  • Thermal regimes appear to recover as vegetation regrows. This recovery was also seen in soil hydrology data from burned plots of different ages.
  • Heather burning. Photo: Paul Adams via wikimedia commons.

    Heather burning. Photo: Paul Adams via wikimedia commons.

    Macroinvertebrates play a vital role in aquatic food webs by feeding on algae, microbes and detritus at the base of food chains before they themselves are consumed by birds, fish and amphibians. The research found that river macroinvertebrate diversity was reduced in burned sites.

  • Particulate organic matter (predominantly peat) deposits were increased up to four-fold in the bed sediments of burned rivers compared to unburned rivers.
  • In burned sites, river macroinvertebrate populations were dominated by groups that are commonly found in higher abundance in disturbed river systems, such as non-biting midge larvae (Chironomidae) and burrowing stonefly larvae (Nemouridae).
  • Increases in the abundance of disturbance-tolerant taxa counteract declines and/or losses amongst some groups (e.g. mayflies) which are typically sensitive to reduced pH, increased aluminium and deposition of fine sediments. These changes show that burning increases the effect of biological stressors compared to unburned rivers.

In other words, the researchers say that heather burning puts particulate matter into your rivers, makes rivers more acidic, reduces the numbers of many invertebrates (some of which are replaced by ones characteristic of knackered rivers), reduces the soil quality and organic matter of the peat, reduces the water table and makes carbon loss to the atmosphere more likely.

Farmers simply wouldn’t be allowed to behave in this way.

A day’s driven grouse shooting has a cost of maybe £45,000 for a group of six guns.  The environmental damage caused by heather burning is picked up in increased water bills, increased risk of flooding and increased climate change impacts by all of society.

Any policy-maker or politician, unless they shoot grouse (as have several recent Defra ministers, of course), should see that the public costs of grouse shooting vastly outweigh the private benefits.

The sport of the few should not be allowed to degrade the environment of the many.  Sign here to ban driven grouse shooting.


That pile of postcards

Postcards - Hen Harrier campaign 2

There’s a big pile of postcards waiting to be delivered to HM The Queen – 20,000 of them, signed by LUSH customers.

By the way, this morning I used one of the bath bombs I bought in the LUSH shop in Northampton in the days just before Hen Harrier Day (seems like a long time ago yet it is only a little over 50 days – how time flies when one is enjoying oneself!).  I spent my bath with a dragon’s egg and very refreshing it was too!

You may not have seen the postcards if you aren’t such a keen LUSH shopper as I am (giggles) so here is the text:



I write humbly to ask for your assistance.

As you know, the populations of many of our birds are in very serious decline for a multitude of reasons. One such group, our magnificent birds of prey are endangered solely due to direct human intervention – illegal persecution by persons with a vested interest in shooting game birds.

This year there are only three pairs of the beautiful Hen Harrier trying to breed in England. There could and should be more than three hundred. Criminal killing is threatening their survival. I believe these wonderful animals are an invaluable part of our heritage and, as the greatest champion of that I sincerely hope you can help us put an end to this illegality so that you and all your subjects’ children, grandchildren and generations beyond ours can enjoy all the riches our landscapes have to offer.

I have the honour to be Madam, Your Majesty’s humble and obedient servant.


I have to say that this idea has grown on me over time. It is quite audacious but very respectful – an interesting mixture.

Yes, the wording on the card could be improved (but then I want to edit most things I read – including things I have written) but the idea of going to the Head of State and saying ‘This is a bit rubbish, M’am’ is a very good one. I can’t remember a similar thing happening on an environmental matter in my lifetime – can you?

And, yes, both Sandringham and Balmoral are shooting estates and the Royal Family do shoot, so Her Majesty probably knows of the issues to which the postcards refer.

I gather those clever people at LUSH are seeking an early date on which to hand over the pile of postcards. I would have thought that an early date would suit everyone best.

And for the first time ever, I am not going to accept any comments on this blog post in case any hint of disrespect should creep in.


FoI request to Defra

Dear Defra

Please supply me with copies of any communications (emails or letters dated April-September 2014) between Defra and the participants in the Defra Hen Harrier Sub-Group of the Uplands Stakeholder Forum concerning Hen Harriers and/or grouse shooting and/or the progress on the drafting of a joint report.

Thank you,

Dr Mark Avery (mark@markavery.info)


PS Isn’t it a little strange that the search engine on the Defra website does not provide any information on this group when I search for ‘Hen Harrier’ (only a speech by a former grouse-shooting grouse moor-owning Minister and some information on a Special Protection Area for Birds which hasn’t been updated for a year).

Nor does your search engine deliver anything that appears relevant when I enter ‘Defra Uplands Stakeholder Forum’. Are you sure you have such a body? If not, you’d better tell the GWCT because they have been banging on about it for weeks and yet you, Defra, seem to be keeping it hidden from we the electorate and the taxpayers.

You may remember, but if not, I do, that our Prime Minister (at around the time he promised us the ‘greenest government ever’) also promised that ‘Greater transparency across Government is at the heart of our shared commitment to enable the public to hold politicians and public bodies to account‘. I’d be interested to hear how a website that doesn’t return any information on the Upland Stakeholder Forum (let alone its much talked-about Hen Harrier sub-group) meets those standards.

PPS I thought your response to my e-petition on banning driven grouse shooting was execrable.


It’s not very complicated…

1408 p001 cover_with comp v2.indd…they kill





…so that

  • Photo: Tim Melling

    Photo: Tim Melling

    they can kill our Red Grouse.




And this is a ‘sport’ and a ‘business’?




Show your abhorrence at the slaughter in our hills and call for a ban to driven grouse shooting - sign here and spread the word.

Yesterday evening, this e-petition became the 8th most successful ever aimed at Defra and is only four months old.  Thank you everyone who has shown that they care – now go find a friend or two!



Selfridges – please withdraw Red Grouse from your Food Hall

Dear Selfridges

I am glad to hear from some of your customers that you are reviewing the sale of Red Grouse in your Food Hall – this is an excellent move on your part. Well done!

You are probably aware of the report from the Ethical Consumer magazine which highlights the environmental problems with intensive management of moors for Red Grouse shooting (but if not, see here and here).

Intensive management of land for driven grouse shooting involves the killing of large numbers of native wildlife (some of this killing  – of birds of prey – is completely illegal), damage to protected blanket bogs, discolouration of water supplies (and therefore higher water bills for all), erosion of carbon stores in peatbogs and increased flood risk in downstream areas. See here for a brief resume of the evidence.

turn-your-back-on-grouse-logo-webYou may also be aware of the advice from the Food Standards Agency on ingestion of lead in game food.

And you may have noticed that M&S decided to withdraw grouse meat from its stores because it was unable to prove that its suppliers were sticking to the law and did not want to be associated with an industry that profits from wildlife crime (see also here).

These matters are of increasing relevance because this year only four pairs of Hen Harriers nested in England (there should be over 300 if they weren’t killed illegally by grouse shooting interests) and already two of the young birds fledged this year have disappeared in suspicious circumstances consistent with them having been shot.

Does your business really want to be associated with such an industry?

Over 17,000 people have signed an e-petition to ban driven grouse shooting in the last four months because they feel so strongly about it.  So the nature-loving public will look with interest at your decisions on whether or not to sell Red Grouse in your store.

I, for one, promise to spend £100 online with you if you withdraw Red Grouse from your store for the next three years.


Yours sincerely


Dr Mark Avery

not currently a customer but willing to become one if you do the right thing.