Liz Truss – do one good thing


The continuing decline of farmland birds in our countryside (red line) is a clear sign that we are farming unsustainably (there are plenty of other signs – but this is a pretty good one). Yes 2012-13 was a pretty bad period for resident birds (and we are mostly talking residents here) but hardly one out of the range of many previous years.  maybe we will see an increase in next year’s figures – but then, we always hope that and the overall trend is solidly down.

The graph is at its lowest point since 1970 – but then, it often has been (particularly if you take the smoothed curve in the graph above (which I never do – as it adds nothing to the data)).  That line has been going down under all administrations and in times of economic success and hardship.  And yet we know that it needn’t do so as the same graph (over a shorter period) for the RSPB’s Hope Farm looks like this:


What the publication of last year’s BBS data does to the graph just above is add another point to the blue All-England line (a point a bit lower than all the others).

So it’s not a law of nature that wildlife must decline on farms – it’s just that not enough farmers are doing the things that would make the graph go up.

It wouldn’t be so bad, but it would be almost as bad, if you and I weren’t pouring millions, in fact hundreds of millions, of pounds into farming that are supposed to stop the graph going down and put it on an upward path. we are paying for this failure not only in a less beautiful countryside but also through our pockets.

Imagine that the red line in the top graph were a measure of educational achievement, or of health levels in the population – wouldn’t we all be moaning like hell? So should we be that Defra cannot produce enough graphs like Hope Farm’s a cross the country so that the farmland bird index rises.

So Ms Truss – what’s your plan?


Something from Defra

I had a response (yesterday evening) from Defra to my request for information on the Hen Harrier Sub-group.

Most of it is a series of e-mails trying to fix dates for meetings but there are just a few interesting bits too.

The information will also be published on www.govuk – good luck to you if you can find it.


These were some thoughts from the ‘Protected Landscapes’ (PL – which I take to mean National Parks and AONBs) representatives which were forwarded to all members of the group by Defra on 9 April 2014. They are interesting in setting out where National Parks had reached in their thinking.


Action 1: Monitoring of populations in England and UK
PLs support the continuation of monitoring of numbers in England, and the satellite tagging and tracking by NE and RSPB. Pls would also welcome data sharing that will enable them to contribute more to the co-ordinated monitoring of populations and protection of important Hen Harrier habitat.

Action 2: Diversionary Feeding
PLs welcome the research that is currently being undertaken and, where appropriate, will look to work with other organisations and landowners to implement the research findings when breeding attempts occur in PLs and where this is felt to be a requirement for successful breeding.

Action 3: Work with Raptor Persecution Priority Delivery Group CRPPDGl to analyse monitoring information and build intelligence picture
PLs welcome the collation of raptor persecution data, and where appropriate, support work with other organisations and landowners to implement the advice on the most effective enforcement and deterrent measures, including involvement in publicity and raising awareness – with local agreement between partners. We would wish to see longer term surety for the NWCU and further prioritising of the Hen Harrier in its work.

Action 4: Nest and winter roost protection
Where appropriate and locally agreed, PLs will work with statutory agencies, NGOs & landowners to provide a co-ordinated approach to nest and winter roost monitoring.

Action 5: Lowland Reintroduction
PLs welcome any conservation measures that will improve the conservation status of Hen Harriers in England. However, the action plan needs to ensure that any measures undertaken in the lowlands of southern England do not detract from the prioritisation of funding and focus in the uplands. The objective of re-establishing breeding Hen Harriers populations in the uplands of the north of England must be the priority for any available funding ahead of any introduction programme. The objective of re-establishing breeding Hen Harriers populations in the uplands of the north of England, including the protected landscapes is critical.

Action 6: Trial Brood Management Scheme

PLs agree with the principle of brood management but only as part of an integrated strategy, that includes the use of other measures such as diversionary feeding, for the conservation of Hen Harriers. The scheme would only be supported once numbers have increased to pre-agreed minimum thresholds that are appropriate for the conservation of Hen Harriers, and without significantly restricting the breeding range across northern England.


From RSPB (name withheld) to Chris de Grouchy, Defra on 21 May 2014.

Hi Chris

Following your chat with [name blanked out] last week, we’ve now had chance to discuss your suggestions for the Hen Harrier Action Plan (HHAP). We think your thoughts and ideas could lead to the genuine recovery of the hen harrier population in England and are keen to explore them further. Here are some comments on taking this to the next stage:
1. A crackdown on persecution
In 2007-08, Operation Yatta (based within the National Wildlife Crime Unit) focused on utilising seconded Detectives to target wildlife crime enforcement efforts towards the serious and organised element of bird of prey persecution. As part of the HHAP, our ‘red line’ is that we want to see a number of Detective-level Wildlife Crime Officers in persecution ‘hotspot’ areas and a Coordinator to work on raptor persecution. We would be prepared to consider part-funding of this activity and we know such a scheme will be costly.

2. A two-tier approach to the Brood Management Scheme (i.e. within SPAs, the hen harrier population target is the SPA designation level, and the BMS can only apply after it is reached. Outside, the BMS could begin earlier with a presumption that this is still triggered by reaching a threshold and that diversionary feeding is in place first)
As you know, we accept that a brood management scheme could be included in the HHAP and merits experimental investigation in England in the future, but only once hen harrier numbers have recovered to a pre-agreed level nationally and less interventionist approaches, particularly diversionary feeding, have been widely attempted. This is our ‘red line’. We would like to see further details of a two-tier approach, given that it gives us confidence our red line would not be crossed, but we urge you to consider legal scrutiny of the new proposals. Once we see firmer proposals, we can offer our legal analysis but we would suggest, in particular, early consideration of a) Section 16 WCA licensing implications and b) the possible adverse effects of brood management on SPAs and whether the derogation tests can be met.





Guest blog – Birders Against Wildlife Crime by Charlie Moores

d7Hev2TZ_400x400A little over two years ago I interviewed a certain Dr Mark Avery for a podcast.

Mark had prepared a list of ’10 things we can all do to become activists’, and it had some inspiring sentences written into it. Perhaps not ‘Ask not what your country can do for you‘ inspiring, but practical, sensible, achievable suggestions that resonated with at least one member of the audience (me). He didn’t actually say, ‘Develop a campaign group that will consume your every waking hour as you start to appreciate just how little you know’, but the seed was planted.

So when one rain-lashed crow-black evening I could still hear guns pummeling the local Wood Pigeons and wondered how they could possibly be certain they weren’t shooting Stock Doves and what the law might have to say about that, Mark’s words came back to me.

I had a thought that if I and close colleagues didn’t know the law, probably many other birders/countryside users wouldn’t know it either. And we should, because laws are there to protect our wildlife and to stop criminals from harming it.

A few (long) phone-calls and much writing/deleting/rewriting later, a new team and a new campaign group was born.

Yes, if you’re one of those people that don’t like Birders Against Wildlife Crime (BAWC) you can add that to your very own list of ’10 things that p*ss me off about Mark Avery’…

Having said that, what’s not to like about BAWC (or the genial grand-provocateur Mark Avery come to that)? We’re really a rather nice bunch. Passionate, committed, just doing what we can to raise awareness of the illegal persecution and unlawful coursing, trapping, shooting, and destruction of protected wildlife.

Which is a good thing, right?

Though I guess if committing wildlife crime is your bag, and you’d rather a poorly-informed British public remains in the dark when it comes to Recognising, Recording, or Reporting wildlife crime, then we might be – how can I put this, an irritant perhaps. If you’re someone with a vested interest in keeping Hen Harrier numbers in England artificially (and criminally) low you may not like us for initiating Hen Harrier Day (and I suppose especially dislike Mark for taking the idea into the heart of the moorlands). Perhaps if you’re someone who doesn’t want us to set up and run our ‘Eyes in the Field’ wildlife crime conferences (the first is in March next year) where we aim to really inspire people to get involved with tackling wildlife crime then there’d be a reason to want to stuff us down a fox hole or to hope we’ll just disappear into thin air like harriers and their satellite-tags.

The truth is that wildlife crime is a festering sore. It reeks of disrespect and a lack of imagination. It’s a primitive response to modern problems, and its stench has been tolerated for far too long.

Like any severe infection it won’t be beaten with kind words and a spoonful of sugar. It needs to be attacked hard, and we can all be a part of the cure. We public don’t even need much in the way of specialist training. BAWC is already building an information hub to help. Many of us are out in the field anyway; we have the optics; we have camera phones; we have nothing to fear because the law is on our side.

At this point perhaps I should ask you to join BAWC.

While we do have a Donate page if you feel like supporting us, we don’t have members so there’s no pitch coming. Everything on our website is free to access and always will be. You can subscribe to a monthly newsletter if you’d like to, but that won’t cost you anything either. And if you do follow us we won’t bleat about how unfair things are and ask you to pay us because we’re the only people who really ‘gets’ the ways of the countryside. And we certainly won’t be trying to convince you that it’s the ‘Sparrowhawk what done it guv‘ or that killing things is the only conservation worth funding.

No, we’ll just try and help us all to tackle wildlife crime. Doing what we can to support charity investigation officers and the police. Meeting people, developing partnerships and initiatives like the one that has led to the recently-launched ‘Wildlife Crime Aware‘. Oh, and coming up with Star Trek-based t-shirt slogans like, ‘We are BAWC, resistance is futile‘. Because we wouldn’t want anyone to think that BAWC doesn’t have a playful side.

Anyone except – well, you know who you are. And where you’re concerned we are never anything but serious.


Natural England coming clean, at last, on Hen Harrier tracking data.

HH map jpegNatural England has just published some of its data (that I believe we paid for – as taxpayers) on satellite-tagged Hen Harriers. This is to be welcomed as what can possibly be gained by keeping secret data that in some cases are seven years old?

It’s not exactly data of the quality of those published by the RSPB a little while ago – but it’s a good start.

In 2014, nine Hen Harrier chicks were tagged in England and only three are still known to be alive. Two have died from what are thought to be natural causes and the remaining four have disappeared.  Two of these, Sky and Hope, we have known a little about for a while because the RSPB told us about them. The other two missing birds (one from Langholm and the other from ‘somewhere in northern England’) disappeared on 1 September and 21 September – both in the Yorkshire Dales.

Photo: Jude Lane, RSPB

Photo: Jude Lane, RSPB

There are plenty of wise caveats about what the disappearance of these birds from the airwaves might mean – these are well worth reading.

Also, and these will repay careful examination, NE has published some information about the length of time that the satellite tags continued to transmit and the status of the birds. They don’t seem to last long do they?

I’ll be having a careful look at these data over the next few days and pondering over them.


Guest blog by Robert Adams – Petition to oppose the planned expansion of Sandy Beaches Caravan Site

Folks who love Spurn – we are asking for your help. The Spurn peninsula is about to be cut across with caravans almost from the sea to the River Humber shore line. Local people, the Spurn Bird Observatory and many of our visitors are deeply concerned.
We ask you to help us by taking action.
Sandy Beaches have recently submitted a planning application for North Field to site 97 caravans and a club house/night club on the high ground within the fields along the far edge with the clubhouse being positioned hard up against the newly created Church Field. Spurn Bird Observatory have just spent in excess of £50,000 on Church Field in creating a super bird-rich habitat for breeding Tree Sparrows and many other migrant birds to shelter and fuel up on their way through, all of which will be at serious risk if this planning application is allowed to go ahead.
This proposed development is also where the Masked Shrike spent the second half of its stay in front of Warrenby Cottage. As you know this bird was a 3rd for Britain and a first for Spurn and Yorkshire. The Shrike’s preferred habitat would be gone if we allow this proposal to go ahead. Surely this cannot be allowed to happen.
From Road opposite SBOT landThe application is on the East Riding of Yorkshire Council website ref as follows : 14/02595/STPLF and can be viewed here
We ask that you sign this petition to register your opposition to such a development for the following reasons :-
• It totally undermines the ringing/scientific studies in Church Field carried out by Spurn Bird Observatory and opposes the considerable investment that the Observatory has recently made to make this area more suitable for breeding Tree Sparrows and migrant birds;
• The visual impact will be horrendous and unsightly in this unspoilt picturesque landscape which is part of the Heritage Coast as these fields are slightly more raised than the surrounding land the caravans will be viewable throughout the Spurn area;
• Habitat loss, although they may argue they are creating more habitat off the existing site – Just as a Warning – the site was developed to the North without planning permission and despite losing their appeal the caravans have only just started to be removed in order to support the current application, we would question whether the old site will ever be moved and so no new habitat be created.
• It will without doubt have an adverse effect on the Little Tern colony at Easington Lagoons, by increasing visitor pressure to this already sensitive area, the last 2 years have been our most successful in fledging young birds but if more caravan owners began using this area this would have a significant impact on the success of the colony;
• Increased Light and noise pollution will have a profound effect on breeding and migrating birds;
• The bird observatory have just purchased an additional piece of land (at a significant cost to the observatory) directly opposite the proposed development to further the cause of improving suitable habitat for breeding and migratory birds to rest up and feed in before they continue their migration. This proposal will have a serious adverse effect on these plans and put the breeding and migrant birds under increasing pressure.
Please review the submission online at East Riding of Yorkshire Council and form your own opinion.
The layout of the proposed site can be found here
and here
As can be seen the proposed new clubhouse would be immediately adjacent to Church Field as well as caravans right up to Church Field.
Please support us in every way you can and stand up for what really matters, the future of Spurn and the way it is now! Remember your voice really counts.
We ask you to please sign this petition to register your objection to the planned expansion to Sandy Beaches Caravan Site.
The deadline for registering an objection is the 31st October 2014 so we do not have long to try to protect the Spurn area from being transformed into a Caravan Park at the detriment to our birds and area.
Robert Adams is Vice Chair of Spurn Bird Observatory.

Guest Blog – Monitoring by Prof Tim Birkhead FRS

Tim Birkhead in the 1980s

Tim Birkhead in the 1980s

I am a professor of Zoology at the University of Sheffield and a life-longer birder. I study reproduction – mainly infidelity in birds – and have kept a study of guillemots on Skomer Island going since the 1970s. I’m passionate about research and teaching undergraduates; I also enjoy communicating science to the public and have written a number of popular science books including The Wisdom of Birds (2008) and Bird Sense (2012). Together with three colleagues I founded New Networks for Nature in 2009, which runs an annual festival to celebrate the way nature inspires creativity among scientists, musicians, writers, poets and artists. I am married with three children and a dog.



It is almost a dirty word, but it needs to be done. Without monitoring we don’t know whether what we are trying to conserve is increasing, decreasing or stable. In many quarters, monitoring is held in such low esteem it is farmed out to poorly qualified personnel. Yet, this, the most fundamental feature of conservation.

Forty years ago there was concern about the UK’s seabird populations. Numbers were declining. Old photographs showed cliff tops covered in puffins where they no longer were, but there were no standardised census methods so it was difficult to assess the scale of a decline. What was known was that huge numbers of seabirds died in oiling incidents like the Torrey Canyon (1967); or in the more mysterious Irish Seabird Wreck (1969) which killed thousands of guillemots.

When I started my PhD on guillemots in 1973 we had virtually no idea how to count them or what the numbers meant if we could. We also had no idea how to measure breeding success or the timing of breeding. The first part of my PhD research was to rectify this, and fortunately it wasn’t too difficult. We now know that for every 100 guillemots on a cliff there is about 67 pairs; we also know the best time of day and of the breeding season to make counts.

We also know that there is more to monitoring than numbers. Measuring annual adult survival, by marking birds individually with colour rings and recording the proportion that return year on year, is a vital statistic of how the population is doing. It is a notch above counting individuals, because seabirds often behave in slightly mysterious ways. A repeated pattern following oiling incidents or wrecks in which we know from the body counts that huge numbers of birds have died, is that counts at the colony the following season show no decline or sometimes even an increase. How can that be? The answer is that the huge pool of non-breeding individuals, which for guillemots can be anywhere between 1 and 10 years of age – respond to that additional adult mortality by changing their behavior – and presumably spending more time at the colony.

IMG_4644For the last forty years my colleagues and I have monitored guillemots on Skomer Island, Wales, one of southern Britain’s most important seabird colonies. Our monitoring has allowed us to follow the guillemot’s fortunes. My aims have been: (i) to understand how the population works: it has taken forty years but we know that now, and (ii) to continue to monitor the population so that if there is an environmental disaster, such a huge oil spill we are in the best possible position to know what its effects are.

Since the late 1980s guillemot monitoring on Skomer has been funded, modestly, but adequately at £12K pa by the Countryside Council for Wales (CCW). Sadly in 2013 that body was consumed by a new quango, Natural Resources Wales (NRW) who promptly terminated this funding. Their timing couldn’t have been worse for it coincided with one of the worst environmental seabird disasters for many years: a huge ‘wreck’ of 40,000 birds including many from Skomer. Ferocious and persistent storms – part of climate change – disrupted feeding and many birds starved to death.

I asked NRW to reconsider their decision. I organized a conference to demonstrate the value and necessity of robust monitoring, but NRW remained unmoved. Worse in way, they excused themselves by claiming that adequate monitoring of guillemots is already in place on Skomer. But in my opinion having seen it at first hand, this is rather like a faith-healer for guillemots, compared to the complete body scan they’ve thrown out.

Continuing the long-term study – the proper monitoring of guillemots on Skomer – is not about me, although of course I’d deeply committed to it. Rather, it is about a moral responsibility – surely the Welsh government’s responsibilty.

Monitoring is a not a tick-box exercise that than be performed by untrained and unsupervised volunteers or minimum-wage staff. If you really want to know how a population is performing you need to be confident about both the methodology and the results, otherwise it is a complete waste of everyone’s time.

With no official funding, I’m seeking unofficial support through crowdfunding, and the response so far has taken my breath away. If you feel like supporting this work you help will be greatly appreciated:

You might also consider reminding the Welsh Natural resources minister of his responsibilities. He is Carl Sargeant and he can be contacted by email:

70 High Street Connahs Quay Flintshire CH5 4DD. Phone: 01244 823547. Fax: 01244 823547



Not about birds at all.


This blog is not about birds, nature conservation, politics or any of the usual subjects.

The lady picture above died 96 years ago today and was named Lucy Jane Saint. She was my mum’s aunt – although she died eight years before my mother was born.

My Great Aunt, known to her family as ‘Jinny’, was born at Pontypool, on 18 August 1895,  a daughter of Samuel and Lucy Saint of 4 Club Row, Tranch, Pontypool.  She was a former pupil of George Street Council School, Pontypool (as was my mother years later).

The 1911 Census refers to her father Samuel, being a ‘Colliery Timberman below ground’ and her mother, also named Lucy (who I do remember as she lived into her 90s and stayed with us at times when I was a child), was aged 38. Other family members listed were, sons, Alonzo (my mother’s father, my grandfather – how did a miner get a name like that?), Reginald Henry, Samuel Rowland and daughters Kate Allwyn and Irene May (both of whom were Great Aunts I do remember).

Lucy enlisted in the army in 1917 at Bristol (where years later my mother and father met and where I grew up) on 1 October 1917 and was posted to Christchurch, attached to the 5th Reserve Battalion, Royal Engineers.

Lucy, aged 23, served as Assistant Waitress 5558 in Queen Mary’s Army Auxiliary Corps during the First World War.

She was taken ill with influenza on 14 October 1918 and was admitted to The Royal Victoria Hospital, Boscombe where she died of pneumonia on 27th October. Her mother and other relations were at her bedside.

IMG_2695She was buried at Llanfihangel Pontymoel (St. Michael) Churchyard and that is where we headed this morning for a short memorial service and when my mother and a current pupil of George Street School placed a cross on the grave.

Lucy, having died ‘in Service’ during WW1 would have been entitled to her Grave being marked by a Commonwealth War Grave Commission’s formal Headstone; however, it appears her parents choose a ‘Family Memorial’ but the grave is still listed as a War Grave and is visited by the CWGC for maintenance and record purposes.

‘Lucy’s Grave lies in an area of the Churchyard that has proved difficult, with the limited resources we have, for us to maintain as we would like’ said Reverend Nicholas Taylor, Associate Priest ‘However, we are delighted that the CWGC have recently visited and created a pathway, through the overgrowth, to her memorial and we hope to enlist the support of community groups to keep it maintained in that way’.

The Mayor of Torfaen, Cllr. Amanda Owen, Torfaen’s MP Paul Murphy and veterans from the Royal Welsh Regimental Association, Torfaen Veterans Association along with Cwmbran and District Ex-Service Association attended a short graveside service conducted by the Rev Nicholas Taylor.  The Last Post and Reveille were played.


They shall not grow old , as we that are left grow old;

Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.

At the going down of the sun and in the morning,

We will remember them.’



By the gates into Pontypool Park

I’m grateful to all involved for this touching service which meant a lot to my mother (and, because of that, to me).




This is the first time for years and years the RSPB AGM has been held away from London (and it’s back in London next year). The ICC in Birmingham was a short walk from New Street station and a perfectly good venue. As I arrived I remembered that I had been here before – for Tory party conferences.

The RSPB has over 1.1m members (and rising), the Conservative Party has 134,000 (and I would guess falling as UKIP rises) but unfortunately the RSPB is not running the country. Would I really want that – not really – but they couldn’t do much worse the ConDems really?

A new friend

A new friend

I met quite a few old friends (not just RSPB staff who are former colleagues) and some new friends.  Three people told me how much they had enjoyed reading A Message from Martha – one of whom (and this is really nice for an author) said that he had finished the book the night before and all the way through the last two chapters had been thinking ‘That’s what I think!’.

There were fewer than usual recognisable faces in the audience, as you would expect with the change of venue. No Philip Astor asking a question about killing things but Clive Cohen had made the journey to ask about killing things from a different perspective.

One familiar face was Graham Wynne who, as a Vice-President, was chairing the event. He slipped very easily into being in charge again – it made me smile.

There was mention of Sir Ian Botham but we didn’t see him in the audience.  The RSPB’s Finance Director, Alan Sharpe, was very clear that 100% of the RSPB’s expenditure is on its charitable objects and 90% of it on conservation work. The audience was not the least bit bothered about this issue, I felt. There was no murmur of concern (except over the time and expense that will be wasted on this complaint to the Charity Commission) and no muttering in the corridors either before or after the event as far as I could tell.  If the hope of the ‘Shooting Three’ had been to sow seeds of discord then they had failed completely – the RSPB still has the trust of its membership.


The wind turbine at The Lodge is going ahead, I’m glad to say.

A question was asked about Hen Harriers and I was interested to hear Stuart Housden making a good and passionate response from a Scottish point of view, and Graham was indicating that we would then hear from Martin Harper but Mike Clarke jumped in.  It was a slightly strange thing to do as Mike didn’t have anything much to say on the subject but the RSPB is against people killing Hen Harriers.

There was an interesting question about lessons learned where Tim Stowe (International Director) put forward the failed rat eradication project on Henderson Island as a lesson learned – good for him! And good for the RSPB! And we members don’t blame our NGOs for being ambitious and failing, we blame them for being unambitious and succeeding.

There was another question about international work which maybe should prompt the RSPB to start talking about that aspect of its work (about 10% of the total – but Sir Ian Botham, Martyn Howat and Sir Johnny Scott wouldn’t count it as conservation work, of course) rather more. The RSPB is very, very quiet about its international work, and also, really, about much of its conservation work, and that is bound to get it into the type of awkward position that it finds itself with the nuttier members of the pro-shooting and anti-RSPB community.  But here’s a good news story on albatrosses (not real nature conservation, of course, because it’s not on a nature reserve) which was used at the AGM as well…


There were three new Council members elected:

New RSPB Council members: John Bullock, Neal Ransome and Jennifer Ullman

New RSPB Council members: John Bullock, Neal Ransome and Jennifer Ullman

…and the president made a really good inspiring speech at the end of the event…

Miranda Krestovnikoff opens the new RSPB hide at BowLing Green Marsh nature reserve  (and cvery nice it is too - I was there at dawn the weekend before last listening to the calling Teal, Wigeon, Redshank and Snipe).

Miranda Krestovnikoff opens the new RSPB hide at BowLing Green Marsh nature reserve (and very nice it is too – I was there at dawn the weekend before last listening to the calling Teal, Wigeon, Redshank and Snipe).

But one of the more interesting parts of every RSPB AGM is the presentation of the RSPB Medal.  It has been given to a few stars of the conservation world, and a few duffers too, but this year was a year for stars. The RSPB Medal was given to the team, from BTO, SOC and Birdwatch Ireland who produced the Bird Atlas.  This was a good thing to do (and on Andy Clements’ birthday too!).


And then it was time for lunch for most people, but time for me to head off to the Manchester Science Festival to talk about Passenger Pigeons. On the journey I was thinking about the RSPB.  It’s in pretty good shape but it needs to talk about conservation a lot more.  It has an awful lot to talk about. It’s still the best nature conservation organisation in the UK.







Guest Blog – There is nothing Green about these Country ‘Sports’ by Caroline Allen of the Green Party

Caroline Allen cropCaroline Allen is a practising vet and the Green Party Spokesperson on Animals as well as Co-Chair of London Green Party. Caroline has worked on many animal-protection issues, most recently campaigning against the badger cull, expansion of factory farming and the overuse of antibiotics in animal farming.

Shooting birds such as grouse and pheasants is portrayed by its supporters as a wholesome country activity, in tune with nature. The dead birds are then sold to a growing market as ethical, free-range and healthy. In reality this couldn’t be further from the truth.

From environmental degradation and a devastating impact on local wildlife, including protected birds of prey, to severe welfare issues, this is an industry based on lies and misinformation.

The issue of shooting grouse has gained a high profile recently with the launch of a petition to ban driven shooting, which has already gained more than 18,000 signatures [1]. The Government’s response thus far has been very weak, which is no surprise given the millionaire landowners in their ranks and amongst their supporters.

The Green Party is clear on this subject: we support a complete ban on grouse shooting. Our policy states that we oppose the killing of, and the infliction of pain and suffering on, animals in the name of sport or leisure and will work to end all such practices. On a recent visit to Ilkley, Green Party leader, Natalie Bennett, offered her support to the Ban Bloodsports on Ilkley Moor campaign, which has also had strong support from local Green Party campaigners. In addition we value and work to protect our precious natural environment and wildlife. It is clear that this industry is in complete opposition to these aims.

Wildlife is in great danger anywhere near a commercial shoot. The legally protected hen harrier has been driven to the brink of extinction by grouse-shooting interests, with only two pairs nesting in 2013. This Government has shown scant regard for the legal protection afforded to birds of prey: last year the Government agency Natural England issued licences to allow the destruction of the eggs and nests of buzzards to protect a pheasant shoot. This is also a Government that chose a millionaire landowner, whose family estate runs shoots, as Wildlife Minister, the same minister who in 2012 refused to ban carbofuran, a deadly poison used to kill raptors, which prompted the Green Party MP, Caroline Lucas, to state: “The minister’s shocking refusal to outlaw the possession of a poison used only by rogue gamekeepers to kill birds of prey illegally would be inexplicable were it not for his own cosy links to the shooting lobby.”

And it is not just birds of prey that are targeted: any wildlife seen as predators are fair game, with gamekeepers using snares, traps and poisons to kill tens of thousands of animals each week[2], including protected species such as badgers and otters. Even domestic pets have been caught up in the carnage. Snares are heavily used by gamekeepers; they are horribly indiscriminate and cause significant suffering [3].

The Green Party is calling for an immediate ban on the use of snares.

The local ecosystem is also damaged, rather than protected, by the presence of shoots.

In the case of grouse shooting, gamekeepers burn the heather on these important moorland habitats in order to promote new growth for the chicks to feed on. The Ember Report (Effects of Moorland Burning on the Ecohydrology of River Basins) showed that burning heather is much more damaging than previously thought[4].

The reports showed how burning heather dries out and warms up the peat it grows in, causing it to disintegrate and release large amounts of carbon dioxide. Peat is a vital carbon sink and the release of carbon dioxide has a significant impact on climate change.

The burning also has profound effects on the water table, including an increase in the release of pollutants such as toxic heavy metals into rivers, a reduction in the number and diversity of insects in rivers draining from burned areas and an increased risk of flooding.

In addition to the effect on local wildlife and habitats there are severe welfare issues for pheasants and partridges reared for commercial shoots. (Grouse are not reared in this way.) Of course there is also a welfare impact on the birds that are blasted from the sky, some of which are not killed outright, especially if shot by inexperienced shooters, and all of which suffer severe pain and stress[5].

While people are used to seeing the adult birds flying in fields the reality is that the rearing process is more comparable to the factory-farming of poultry.

In 2008 the respected Farm Animal Welfare Council (FAWC) reported on the welfare of game birds and found a number of serious problems associated with the intensification of the industry[6]. Although Defra codes of practice have subsequently been introduced they were watered down significantly following lobbying by the Countryside Alliance and the Game Farmers’ Association with the result that the ban on battery cages used for rearing pheasants was reversed. When discussing cages the FAWC said that the “design appeared to be influenced more by cost and manufacturing requirements than the birds’ welfare”. A significant number of pheasants and most partridges are sourced from overseas, with the primary determinant being price. Unsurprisingly the welfare of the breeding birds does not seem to be a major concern.

Just as in the egg-laying industry the birds do not respond well to living at a high density and as a result develop stereotypical behaviour such as feather plucking and even cannibalism. And just as in that industry, rather than the conditions being improved and the stress reduced the birds are further abused either by beak trimming or more often by the use of devices such as bits (a device fitted to the jaw to ensure it doesn’t close properly) and spectacles (blinker-type devices that clip to the nostrils, reducing the range of vision to minimize the effects of aggression). The Green Party does not believe that these measures are an appropriate response to stressed animals in any situation: it is the way in which animals are kept that is the problem and must be changed.

The Green Party is opposed to factory farming. The breeding and rearing of game birds is clearly analogous to factory farming and the same rules must apply. Currently whilst the 2006 Animal Welfare Act applies to these enterprises other important EU and UK legislation does not[7].

Far from being organic, like any animals kept at high stocking density they often need medication. Infectious diseases such as parasitic and bacterial infections[8] are an issue and blanket in-feed medications, including antibiotics and antiparasite treatments, are used, just as in intensive poultry farming.

It is clear that this industry is not only damaging the environment, harming wildlife and millions of birds, it is also conning people. Only the Green Party will stand up to the landowners who are causing this damage while falsely claiming to be protecting our vital natural heritage.

1. Ban driven grouse shooting petition.
2. Tapper, S.C. 1992. Game Heritage: An Ecological Review from Shooting and Gamekeeping Records. Game Conservancy Trust. Fordingbridge
3. Defra Report of the Independent Working Group on Snares. August 2005.
4. 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
5. Medway, Lord (Chairman) 1980. Report of the Panel of Enquiry into Shooting & Angling (1976-1979). Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, Horsham
6. FAWC Opinion on the Welfare of Farmed Gamebirds November 2008
7. Veterinary Record 2010; 166:376 doi:10.1136/vr.c1651.
8. Common Disease of Game Birds in Great Britain AHVLA, September 2014.


Oscar Dewhurst – Stonechat


Oscar writes:  While in Richmond Park one morning I came across a group of Stonechats moving through the bracken. With a bit of patience, one landed close to me, allowing me to get this image of it.

Nikon D800, Nikon 600mm f4 AFS-II, Nikon 1.4x TC