Selfridges have confirmed to their customers that they will not stock Red Grouse in their Food Hall. Good for them! Looks like I’ll have to get out my credit card.
This was in response to an excellent letter from a reader of this blog which quoted from the Ethical Consumer report ‘Turn your back on grouse‘ thus:
‘Grouse are shot with lead ammunition. Previous studies have shown that a proportion of red grouse sold for human consumption in supermarkets and game dealers have far higher lead levels than would be legal for human consumption if the meat were beef, pork, chicken etc. Game meat has escaped proper regulation. The FSA recommend pregnant women and children, particularly but not exclusively, should pay attention to their lead intake. There is also an issue about the drugs Flubendazole and Fenbendazole (banned for human consumption) which are used in medicated grit given to grouse against Strongyle worm infection. It is possible that some estates are direct dosing the medication as well, which is illegal under the Wildlife and Countryside Act. We have been told that the
effective farming of grouse goes on on high intensity moors, though gamekeepers would not admit it. There is currently no routine Veterinary Medicines Directive (VMD) testing of grouse prior to entry into the food chain.’
That was quick.
Well done to Selfridges! And well done to the reader of this blog who used the information from this blog and their own wit and intuition to gain this quick win for consumer action.
And, by the way, the next major milestone for our e-petition (18,000 signatures) is fewer than 100 signatures away. Please sign here and then get a friend to do the same, please.
Jim Dixon, the outgoing Chief Executive of the Peak District National Park (famed for its raptors, like all our National Parks) took me to task, just a little, on what I wrote about the recently departed Dowager Duchess of Devonshire.
This was Jim’s comment on this post: ‘Jamie Horner sets the facts out on Chatsworth’s record on birds of prey which is exemplary. The dead Gos found earlier this year was unusual in many ways and was a bird that originated from a next (sic) well away from Chatsworth. In addition the estate has a good record protecting its SSSI deer park, woodland and moorland. There are bad guys out there but the people at Chatsworth aren’t amongst them. I’d be interested to know how many Gos were raised in Northamptonshire this year.’.
Jim was clearly wound up about this as he went on to Twitter (@PeakChief) and said that I had drawn a ‘sketchy conclusion about estate’s attitude and success with conservation from little data’ whereas, I think you can see, I failed completely to draw any conclusion at all.
It’s only because I am an ardent seeker after truth, and am keen to check my facts, that I thought I would look up the record of the Chatsworth Estate on their SSSIs.
Chatsworth Old Park SSSI is in Unfavourable recovering condition according to NE.
Here are the conditions of the SSSI units also managed by the Chatsworth Settlement Trustees in the Eastern Peak District Moors SSSI (all from the MAGIC system):
Unit 117, dwarf shrub heath – Unfavourable recovering
Unit 118, dwarf shrub heath – Unfavourable recovering
Unit 119, dwarf shrub heath – Unfavourable recovering
Unit 120, dwarf shrub heath – Unfavourable recovering
Unit 121, Upland bog – Unfavourable recovering
Unit 122, Upland bog – Unfavourable recovering
Unit 123, Acid Grassland – Favourable condition (although only for Merlin and Short-eared Owl)
Unit 124, dwarf shrub – Unfavourable recovering
In units 117, 119, 120, 121 & 122 overgrazing (historically) is implicated as the reason for the condition status, although it appears that this has been addressed in recent years hence the ‘unfavourable recovering’ status.
Those who know how the system works, as Jim certainly does, will realise that the ‘recovering’ tag attached to most of these units can mean simply that the land is benefitting from a Higher Level Stewardship Scheme payment (from you and me) to ensure that it gets into good condition. I have always been completely consistent in saying that I am a great fan of this form of public support for land owners. Indeed, one of the last successes ‘I’ had at the RSPB was campaigning to protect HLS payments in the first round of cuts after the 2010 general election.
You’ll recall then, or maybe you really don’t give a fig, that this started with me telling a little story about a letter that the lately-departed Dowager Duchess of Devonshire had written to me, going out of her way to make her dislike of the RSPB clear, and basing this on the RSPB’s stance on birds of prey. I imagine, and my imagination is based on quite a lot of experience, that her view was shared by many other Dukes and Duchesses, Lords and Ladies and even by mere Mrs and Mrss dotted around the large country houses of the UK.
The Peak District National Park’s Chief Executive then criticised me for drawing a ‘sketchy conclusion about estate ‘s attitude and success with conservation from little data’ but adduced no data himself to back up his claims. It’s so good that we can check on these things ourselves.
‘The Peak District National Park has a pioneering story as the first UK national park. One of our country’s most precious assets, with outstanding natural beauty, the Peak District has the potential to lead the way and show how we can maximise the value of these assets financially as well as for the environment and for people. It will take an inspirational, enabling leader to build on our legacy and realise our ambitions.’
Yorkshire Water supported the study released on Wednesday which looked at the impacts of heather burning on the wider environment.
I contacted Yorkshire Water and was impressed by their speed of reply. My first contact was with a young lady called Brook with whom I was allowed to chat online – this was an excellent way to ask my questions about the Leeds University study. Not surprisingly, Brook , who I imagine is more often dealing with complaints about bills or supply, didn’t have all the answers to hand but she promised to pass on my details and that I would be contacted.
I find this is often the kiss of death to any enquiry to a large corporate, but Yorkshire Water got back to me quickly to say they couldn’t get back to me quickly with a full answer – I understood that. But they did get back to me by the end of Wednesday afternoon with this and they are happy for me to share it with you:
‘As promised, below is an explanation of our position on peatlands and their effect on our reservoirs. Excuse the long response but I hope you appreciate it’s a complicated issue.
45% of Yorkshire Water’s supplies derive from internationally important peatland uplands that drain into our reservoirs. Over the last 30 years the colour in the water has increased, caused by degraded peat. Increased colour in the water costs more to remove in the treatment process so high quality drinking water can be produced for our customers.
We have commissioned extensive research into the cause of the increased colour, including work with Leeds and other universities. The key factors are moorland drainage; overgrazing; historic atmospheric pollution and finally heather burning. All have increased colour but the impact of burning was less certain. The conclusions from EMBER add to the evidence base that current management by burning is having an adverse effect.
Whilst banning heather burning may seem a logical step, it does not address the more fundamental issue; the need to conserve and enhance active blanket bog and meet the needs for biodiversity, farming, grouse management and water quality management in terms of colour. We have been working closely over the last 6 months with Natural England, the Moorland Association, RSPB and the Heather Trust on a solution. Through reasoned and impartial debate, all parties are now agreed that active blanket bog with a reduction in heather coverage can deliver what we all need from the uplands; Biodiversity, Water, Carbon, Sheep and Grouse. Active blanket bog with an abundance of sphagnum and other peat forming mosses will sustain the heather needed for grouse, but it will not grow as vigorously, and will therefore require far less burning, if any. We believe this is a significant change in the future management of these incredibly important habitats and something that would not have happened if the call to ban heather burning immediately was implemented.
Over the last 4 years we have applied the research findings and invested in moorland restoration by blocking man made moorland drains and revegetating bare peat in the worst areas. Over the next six years we will be investing further to secure the quality of the water draining into our reservoirs by further moorland restoration.‘.
Last week was apparently Sea Otter Awareness Week – I wish I had noticed at the time. I spent an unforgettable time watching a Sea Otter in June 2013 – he or she was sooooo cute! I will never, ever forget those moments.
Almost all of those who comment on this blog are cute too – whether they agree with me or not. However, from now on, I may delete all comments by commenters who don’t submit a real email address when making a comment and/or who do not respond to emails from me. I’m not going to go into details on this – it affects a tiny proportion of comments.
I’m very happy with the numbers and quality of comments on this blog – some comments are simply superb. Please keep them coming.
The Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust blog is reeling.
Yesterday they were in a complete spin over the Leeds University study showing impacts of heather burning on soils, waters, emissions and biota – a pretty clean sweep of physics, chemistry, biology and backed up by quite a lot of maths. They got themselves into a distracting lather about those calling for a ban on heather burning. It was a rather pitiful sight. I wonder who is calling for this ban – not me. I’m calling for a ban on driven grouse shooting (remember?). I don’t mind a bit of heather burning now and again as a management tool but we don’t need it very much, certainly not on a landscape scale.
GWCT, presumably because they haven’t yet found a nit to pick, said that the report looked ‘perfectly sensible’ and then started erecting straw men instead of addressing the question of whether driven grouse shooting would be possible without the level of harmful moor burning that we have experienced for decades?
Then they get lost in a false analogy with ploughing – they can plough their own furrow for as long as they like but they are simply digging a deeper hole.
But GWCT fails to address the issues, instead they have written to the Times saying that Mountain Hares like heather too – I thought they were a pest that had to be culled so that Red Grouse could flourish?
You need to go back just a couple of weeks (19 September) to a blog which sets out the 10 public goods and services delivered by grouse shooting as follows, the annotations in bold are my comments.:
1. Employment and investment in remote rural areas: a very small figure now that the Pay Cheque report has been eviscerated (see here and here). Rather trivial sums of money. True, they are in rural areas but there are plenty of urban areas, or rural areas away from grouse moors, that would like more jobs too.
2. A key cultural landscape: you don’t have to shoot grouse to keep the landscape. And anyway, many of us think that burned squares across the hills are very ugly. The landscape promised by the National Trust in the absence of driven grouse shooting looks pretty good to them and me.
3. Support for nature-based recreation: eh? You mean grouse shooting is good for grouse shooting?
4. Reduced risk of damaging wildfires: you don’t have to shoot grouse to stop fires. And you don’t have to ban all fires in the absence of grouse shooting. How big is the fire risk, anyway?
5. Carbon storage: see the Leeds University report of yesterday. This argument never had many legs and is now fatally wounded.
6. Flood risk alleviation: see the Leeds University report of yesterday. This argument never had many legs and is now fatally wounded.
7. An alternative to and mitigation of forestry, farming and renewables in the uplands: nonsense. All SSSIs, SACs and SPAs are protected already (unless this government weakens the statutory sector even more or we leave the EU – and if that happens this will be the least of our worries). National Parks are protected too. Those designations are there to protect these areas from the greedy short-term interests of individuals. But if private individuals outside of designated areas wish to make use of market forces then presumably GWCT would cheer them on? I think better of GWCT’s grouse shooting members than obviously does the GWCT itself.
8. Retention and restoration of heather moorland; you don’t have to shoot grouse to protect heather moorland. The best areas are all designated. Those designations are there to protect these areas from the greedy short-term interests of individuals.
9. Conservation of globally important ground-nesting species such as waders: I think that means the Curlew – and i have always acknowledge this as a point. It clearly doesn’t mean the Hen Harrier. Nor does it mean the Mountain Hare. Nor the Short-eared Owl from all I am told by folk with boots on the ground. Do cliffs count as ground – what about Peregrines?
10. Bracken and tick control, benefitting graziers: I thought you had massive problems with ticks which affect grouse numbers and that’s why the Mountain Hares need to be culled? Which is it?
Of the 10 points, several have nothing to commend them at all (1, 2, 3, 5 and 6), several have almost nothing to recommend them (4, 8 and 10) and a couple have some resonance but can be sorted out (as I’ve always said)(7 and 9).
I’d give it a score of about 2.5 out of 10.
And therefore, the case is terribly weak and we should simply decide to instruct the next government to ban driven grouse shooting.
PS and by the way, in the last three days over 200 people have signed this e-petition whereas a mere nine have signed the GWCT e-petition on the non-joint non-plan which is a non-solution to the long list of problems associated with driven grouse shooting.
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’.
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?
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.
But 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.