Just a minor quibble.
I did several radio interviews last week and I noticed that I kept being introduced with the same words – later I discovered that they came, basically from this BBC news story by Claire Marshall.
The introduction on a series of BBC local radio stations often started by saying that animal rights activists were saying one thing and countryside groups were saying something different.
This is misleading, but is just the type of thing that shooters say, because those opposing driven grouse shooting or at least wanting change are not all animal rights activists (see Chris Packham saying so a week earlier at Rainham Marshes Hen Harrier Day). The term ‘animal rights activist’ does not apply to me – and I started the petition! I know a few animal rights activists who wouldn’t welcome me being counted in their number.
And countryside groups? The Caravan Club? The Ramblers? The RSPB?
What was done here, I’m not saying deliberately, was to define one side of the argument as a small group of agitators and the other side of the debate as a broad church of different interests. Whereas I think we can argue about whether it is the opposite way around.
I think the RSPB and Green Party, and the rest of us deserve to be called conservationists and/or environmentalists or something which encompasses our much broader concerns. Whereas the countryside groups are actually ‘killing things in the countryside groups’ in the main. It was wrong, and it gave a false impression of the truth.
I winced once or twice when I heard this but time on the radio is precious and you can’t spend all your time correcting the BBC’s errors, but when Radio Leeds described the Hebden Bridge protestors as animal rights activists (they did!) I did say ‘Hang on – these people are protesting against their homes and businesses being flooded because of unsustainable grouse moor management. That’s not an animal right issue’ (or something like that) and the presenter, who would just have been reading out the script, took it very well and we had an excellent chat about the issues after that.
Words are important as they frame the discussion and the thoughts we have. The BBC did a poor job of choosing the right words for this issue at the end of last week – they used the words favoured by the Countryside Alliance rather than the ones that would have been accurate.
We still have an e-petition that is open to animal rights activists to sign, and anyone else – there are over 108,000 of us – that’s pretty active!
I know many of you have spent months refreshing your browsers to check on the progress of our e-petition to ban driven grouse shooting. So have I. We can all do it a little less often now as we have crossed the magic 100,000 signature barrier which should deliver us a debate in the Westminster parliament.
A small group of us, including Chris Packham and myself, have taken to texting each other as the e-petition has passed each thousand-signature mark and it’s difficult to get out of the habit of watching the numbers click over. So last night I was watching the petition site as it passed 107,000 signatures and when I next looked it was racing away and passed 108,000 and 109,000 in very quick time. This was initially welcome but then seemed very strange. It felt wrong and so I tweeted as follows…
…where you can see that I included the House of Commons Petitions Committee to alert them (at about 10pm).
I also contacted LACS Chief Exec (Eduardo Goncalves), Chris Packham and other supporters to see whether they had any idea what was going on – they didn’t.
To cut a long story short, it seems that there was a bot automatically sending lots of signatures to the site (I didn’t know these things were possible but apparently they are – see the tweet by @AdamAdamsSmith above). This has happened before – maybe it happens a lot, but I’m glad to say the petitions site is wise to this and (don’t ask me how) they have a way of detecting it and correcting it. And so later in the night we lost about 2000 signatures and went back to close to where we were before this little episode.
That’s good. We’re not looking to gain by underhand means.
It is a sad situation that these things happen – it’s a bit like phishing, and spam emails – the digital world gives us great opportunities but also brings out the worst in some people (as we have seen).
So we are all left wondering who did it. I’ll wager my £5 to your £1 that it was an opponent of our campaign rather than a proponent who was responsible. It was interesting that some trolls (I guess they are people really) raised this slur against us the other day and then a number of pro-shooting (most decidedly pro-shooting) accounts were crying foul while this happened. It was almost as though they were expecting it.
Did you watch Countryfile yesterday evening? More on that later.
Just because we have passed the 100,000 signature mark doesn’t mean that handing out leaflets to friends and family and work colleagues, or putting them through letterboxes, isn’t still worthwhile. If anything, knowing that the Petitions Committee will sit on 6 September makes that our new deadline for maximising the number of signatures.
If you are attending the Bird Fair at the end of this week (Friday-Sunday) then you will be able to pick up individual leaflets, or just a few, from a number of stalls. And you will also be able to sign online, at the time, at the Birders Against Wildlife Crime and League Against Cruel Sports stands. Or if you stop me and ask to use my mobile phone, I guess!
In addition though, if you can take away 250 leaflets, or a multiple thereof, to deliver locally to your home then you can pick them up at the BAWC stand throughout the three days (while stocks last). If you know you are coming to the Bird Fair and are sure you want to take away leaflets then an email to me (firstname.lastname@example.org) of the number you would like (in multiples of 250 please) would be helpful but not essential. However, if stocks run out, then they run out! I will order more leaflets on Tuesday lunchtime so please get your requests in to me then if at all possible. Many thanks.
I’ve only got a few hundred leaflets in the house, and they say we have 60,000 signatures (as below!), so I’ll be delivering them locally over the next few days. As a guide, a pack of 250 leaflets takes me just over an hour to deliver in an urban setting with lots of semi-detached houses without too many long garden paths.
These are the MPs who will decide whether or not our e-petition to ban driven grouse shooting, which passed 100,000 signatures yesterday, the 13 August (the day after the Inglorious 12th), will be debated. They next meet on 6 September so the more signatures we can amass by then, the better.
Are any of you constituents of any of these MPs and fancy going along to a surgery (soon) and telling them, as a constituent, that you would like to see this matter debated and that you signed the petition? Can’t do any harm and these MPs work for you. If you go, I’ll send you a copy of Inglorious to give to them.
Since the average number of signatures per constituency is now 164, I feel we are slightly unlucky to have only four of the eleven above that threshold (I know, it’s not a normal distribution…).
Helen Jones (chair) Labour – Warrington North 141 signatures
Ian Blackford SNP – Skye, Ross and Lochaber 457 signatures
Ben Howlett Conservative – Bath 236
Steve Double Conservative – St Austell and Newquay 201 signatures
Jim Dowd Labour – Lewisham & West Penge 187 signatures
Catherine McKinnell Labour – Newcastle upon Tyne North 123
Nick Hurd Conservative – Ruislip, Northwood and Pinner 106 signatures
Paul Flynn Labour – Newport West 100 signatures
David Mackintosh Conservative – Northampton South 98 signatures
Paul Scully Conservative – Sutton and Cheam 93 signatures
Oliver Dowden Conservative – Hertsmere 89 signatures
OK let’s get back to Hen Harriers. Aren’t they lovely?
Those who have been defending or promoting driven grouse shooting find Hen Harriers difficult to talk about. It will be interesting to see how much utter tripe some MPs may come up with in the debate we expect to see over the future of driven grouse shooting. As an MP, you can get away with saying almost anything in parliament but you can’t get away with saying it secretly or erasing the account of your saying it. Any MP who misrepresents the facts about Hen Harriers in a debate on the future of driven grouse shooting should expect to be swamped by letters from her or his constituents afterwards.
In all modesty, you will find Chapter 1 of Inglorious a good guide to the biology and status of the Hen Harrier in the UK and Chapter 3 deals with the crucially important Langholm study (Inglorious was the second book in the BB Book of the Year list after all – with Prof Ian Newton FRS on the panel of judges).
You won’t have heard, because of editing, Andrew Gilruth being challenged to admit the scale of illegal killing of Hen Harriers on Farming Today. Andrew finds this subject difficult. You can hear how difficult a subject he finds it by listening to the unedited and free (though slightly fiddly to get to) podcast (it’s the 3rd item this week) which accompanies the Spectator article by Matt Ridley. I will wait with interest to see how the editing of Countryfile this evening deals with this subject because Andrew was, again, challenged by me to admit that the main problem for Hen Harriers is wildlife crime. Andrew finds the subject difficult.
I was on BBC Radio Cumbria on Friday morning and heard Moorland Association chair, Robert Benson, avoid the subject for quite a while until the presenter asked him outright about Hen Harriers (as I had raised the subject in my slot). My recollection (I did make a note of it but I seem to have lost the scrap of paper) was that he said that he ‘hoped and prayed’ that there would be more Hen Harriers in England next year. Well Robert, that isn’t necessarily a winning strategy and I doubt very much that it is a view shared by all your members. The Moorland Association has massive problems of credibility here – Hen Harriers are being killed on grouse moors and the motive for that killing is to protect unnaturally high densities of Red Grouse whose purpose in life, seen by Moorland Association members, is to be shot for fun. Hen Harriers are killed illegally on grouse moors so that Red Grouse can be killed for fun. It’s an impossible state of affairs to defend which is why all try their best to steer clear of it – which is what Andrew Gilruth has tried to do and what Robert Benson tried to do too.
Another approach is to get the facts very badly wrong. Well, I say it is an approach but it might be an honest mistake of course. Matt Ridley got the facts wrong in his Spectator article and we see it happening again and again in the media. Any MP who takes briefing from the grouse shooting industry will have to be aware that their words, for which they will be responsible, will be in Hansard for ever. They have a responsibility to be truthful and on our side of the argument we will be doing our best to make sure that MPs are perfectly briefed on this subject but also that any mistruths are publicly exposed afterwards.
There is another approach, which is so rare that it demands recognition even though it may make the person concerned blush – and that is to tell the truth.
Amanda Anderson was quoted in the Sunday Times last week saying:
‘If we let the hen harrier in, we will soon have nothing else. That is why we need this brood management plan’ – Amanda Anderson, Director, Moorland Association
If we let the Hen Harrier in… Yes, ‘if’…
The fact of the matter is that driven grouse shooting is underpinned by wildlife crime against raptors that are fully protected by law and have been for decades. There are some who regard themselves as untouchable (a phrase well-coined I believe by our big brother blog, Raptor Persecution UK) when it comes to the law. Wildlife crime is wildlife crime and the uplands of England, including our National Parks such as the Yorkshire Dales and Peak District and North York Moors are massive wildlife crime scenes.
Here’s a great Hen Harrier plan – ban driven grouse shooting.
Nice photo of Henry too! He’ll be unbearable!
Ian Gregory of YFTB, who has done so much to help get us to the 100,000 signature threshold, says that he ‘…would welcome a debate because there is is such a strong ecological case for grouse moors.’. Yeh – right.
Next the Countryside Alliance and RSPB will be joining together to promote our e-petition to their memberships just to get a debate on the subject. It’s nice to have brought everyone together so effectively.
That e-petition, which delivers a debate that the grouse shooting industry apparently wants, is still available for all to sign. And now stands at 105,529 signatures.
Matt Ridley and I were friends a long time ago, but we haven’t seen each other for quite a while, and although I would gladly share a bottle of claret with Matt, we might start talking politics, climate change or grouse moors and that might spoil the mood. I remember we had a very good time in Washington DC nearly 30 years ago. But I did send my regards to Matt via his brother-in-law, Owen Paterson, at the Game Fair last year.
Matt wrote an awful piece of rubbish for this week’s Spectator on grouse moors. It would take too long to go through it all and point out the errors so let’s just look at a few things – let’s look at what Matt writes about Hen Harriers.
Actually, I can’t resist pointing out that Matt refers to the same piece of unattributed ‘research’ which shows that some unnamed grouse moor is knee-deep in breeding waders as does Sir Ian Botham, but doesn’t make the Botham false shot of ascribing it to the BTO – far too savvy for that! Matt is right to say that the ‘results’ of this survey have gobsmacked conservationists – the BTO has never heard of them!
And Matt seems to have forgotten that his uncle, Nicholas Ridley, long, long, long ago, made sure that new conifer plantations would not be planted in the English uplands and so all that nonsense of the threat of conifers is simply that, nonsense.
But Matt is at his way-off-the-mark worst when he writes about the Hen Harrier. Or was he playing for laughs all along?
Apparently ‘Hen harriers, which are ground-nesting birds vulnerable to foxes, are thriving in Scotland, especially on fox-free islands such as the Orkneys or in places where gamekeepers control fox numbers.’. Really Matt? Really? This is a statement that is verifiable by the data after all – shall we have a look at them?
There ought to be c500 pairs of Hen Harrier nesting on UK driven grouse moors and yet most years (if you exclude the study site at Langholm which is crawling with scientists – GWCT bird botherers?) there are fewer than double figures. That’s thriving is it? Have a look at the statutory agencies’ Conservation Framework for Hen Harriers to check the facts.
There are no Hen Harriers nesting on English grouse moors this year – that’s thriving is it? There should be about 150 pairs or so. Zero is quite different from 150 isn’t it? Whatever else they are doing, Hen Harriers are not thriving ‘in places where gamekeepers control fox numbers’ are they Matt? Are they? No they aren’t.
Apparently, Hen Harriers ‘…have struggled to recolonise England‘ despite all those friendly ‘keepers wanting to clasp them to their moorland bosoms. Not quite right is it Matt? Hen Harriers were much commoner in England 40 years ago, 30 years ago, 20 years ago and even 10 years ago than they are now. That’s not ‘struggling to recolonise’ they are being bumped off! That’s why Defra set up a stakeholder group and why the world is up in arms about wildlife crime. But in the townie pages of the Spectator you can get away with spouting any nonsense about the wildlife of the UK provided you own a chunk of it – then you are an expert.
Shall we just look at the struggles of the Hen Harrier to ‘recolonise’ the Bowland Fells SPA?
From 2000 onwards the number of Hen Harrier nesting attempts each year was; 6 (2000), 4, 4, 9, 8, 11, 10, 12, 10, 7, 10, 6, 0, 0, 2, 6, 0 (2016). That looks a lot more like ‘being wiped out’ than ‘failing to colonise’ to me. Remember that last year, when there were 6 nesting attempts, four males, who had successfully ‘recolonised’, disappeared from active nests. Disappeared rather abruptly. Disappeared in the abrupt manner that shot birds would disappear, for example. Matt, you’re right that Hen Harriers are struggling, but not to recolonise: they are struggling to dodge the wildlife crime.
And Matt gets the facts about last year’s breeding success of Hen Harriers wrong as well – compare what he says with what Natural England said and with what the RSPB said (and which has not been contested to the best of my knowledge). Matt uses the strange phrase ‘controlled by’ to describe some Hen Harrier nests (I seem to remember that YFTB press release using the same phrase) but fails to acknowledge, as clearly stated by the RSPB last autumn, that the RSPB was involved with guarding both the successful Hen Harrier nests on FC land. Did Matt get his information from his mate Ian Gregory? Or maybe Ian Botham? Who knows, but it wasn’t from any verifiable source because it’s plain wrong and has been clearly wrong for months and months.
I’ll come back to Hen Harriers later today, because although our case against driven grouse shooting is much wider than Hen Harriers, wildlife crime is the subject that the grouse shooters find very difficult to cope with. And that may be why Matt writes as he does, inaccurately, about them.
One last thing. Matt goes back in time to the 2014 report on BBC coverage of the countryside matters and uses it to have another swipe at the RSPB and the BBC – unjustifiably I would say (but you can read the report). We know, so I rather think that Matt knows, that the author of that ‘independent’ report is a grouse moor owner herself (provided her husband has shared it with her). I bet Matt knows that don’t you? Funny he didn’t mention it really.
Oh, by the way – there’s an e-petition to ban driven grouse shooting that is heading for a debate in the Westminster parliament.
Have a look at this article and photographs from the Ban the Burn protest at Hebden Bridge.
Good luck to them!
Calder Valley remains the constituency with the highest number of signatures on the e-petition to ban driven grouse shooting – 679 of them as I write. I wonder whether, assuming that we get a debate in parliament (as we should), local MP Craig Whittaker will attend – he should! I wonder whether he will speak – he might well wish to. I wonder whether he will speak on behalf of his flooded constituents of recent years or on behalf of the millionaire grouse moor owner, Richard Bannister, who lives up the hill. Whatever he does, this blog will certainly publish his behaviour here if there is a debate.
It was bound to happen – the internet trolls are claiming that the recent rush of signatures for our e-petition to ban driven grouse shooting has been fraudulent in some way. Ho, ho ho!
There certainly has been a rush of signatures, and the speed of growth of the e-petition has taken me by surprise too, but knowing what I do, and that is probably more than anyone else, about what has happened in the last few days, then it’s not such a great surprise.
I’m not going to give away all our actions, but since some of our supporters might be interested in how we got so far so fast with their help and support, I’ll give you some headline information.
We have always known that the Red Grouse, the Hen Harrier and the whole sorry business of driven grouse shooting are not much known to the average person in the average street – but that if we could put the facts about grouse shooting in front of more people then we always thought that more and more of them would flock to our cause to ban driven grouse shooting. And so our devilishly cunning strategy for getting lots of people to sign our e-petition was to tell lots of people what goes on. How devious was that?!
So how did we get that recent surge in signatures?:
- actually, we’ve been on a roll for quite some time. Things have certainly picked up but, as I have said many times here, we have momentum. And that’s what we aimed to have running up to…
- …Hen Harrier Day last weekend (see here and here). It’s clearly not a fluke that Hen Harrier Day is just before the Inglorious 12th and therefore will create publicity for the cause, and this year’s larger number of larger rallies spread the word very well ahead of…
- …the Inglorious 12th which was bound to be an important date for our e-petition (and was a crucial date in my decision, back in January, of when I would start this third e-petition to ban driven grouse shooting).
- we also produced our own material such as a variety of videos involving the wonderful Chris Packham (eg this one and this one) and another with the wonderful Bill Oddie in order to warm up more and more people to the message.
- there was a media storm around the Inglorious 12th including Farming Today, the Today programme, three pieces in the Daily Mirror, a great Guardian article, STV (I think – I know I recorded a piece for them), BBC Radio Cumbria, BBC Radio York, BBC Radio Leeds, BBC 3 Counties, BBC Radio Northampton and probably many more that I don’t know about. Terry Pickford was interviewed in the Lancashire Telegraph who also printed the link to the e-petition. These all sent people away with more information and knowing that they could do something with their feelings by signing the e-petition.
- then there is the paperback edition of Inglorious which has been selling well since it came out in late July (again, the publication date was not just a happy coincidence with the Inglorious 12th) which has the url to the current e-petition on p11 – so that will generate signatures from readers right up until 20 September – although rather small beer in the big scheme of things, I’ll admit.
- there have been articles appearing in various newsletters and websites to coincide with the Inglorious 12th – here’s an example which will also have helped to boost the Scottish Raptor Study Group petition on regulation of gamebird shooting too.
- and M&S quietly announced that they were not going to sell grouse meat again this year – that was a story too.
- But then there are welcome but unplanned and unexpected burst of publicity too – the Scottish-based OneKind emailed their supporters ahead of the Inglorious 12th promoting the e-petition and it looks like that was very helpful. Although the Chief Exec of OneKind used to work with me at the RSPB I had no idea that was happening until I received the email myself.
- another example of unplanned but very welcome publicity was from Highland Titles who have featured our cause before – I believe that generated lots of support too. Many thanks to them!
- but we have to thank our friends in the grouse shooting ‘industry’ too – they have given us every support they could. For example, those missing Golden Eagles on grouse moors was a perfect story for the start of the grouse shooting season and we couldn’t have done it without those years of help that you gave us. ‘Scotland’s national bird keeps being poisoned and many young birds ‘disappear” is bound to attract publicity – and it did.
- and all the attacks on Chris Packham, some on myself , and others, and just general nastiness from shooters in the public eye on social media certainly set the tone of the debate and must have turned many people away from thinking that grouse shooting was harmless to wondering quite what sort of people support this hobby of killing birds for fun.
- then we must thank scores of pro-shooting social media accounts for promoting the recordings of Farming Today and the Today programme so widely. Trumpetting your view that Gilruth or Botham had won the argument was perfect for our cause – it drove more and more people to realise there was an argument to be seen, and all who agreed with us had somewhere to go with their newly found abhorrence of driven grouse shooting – our e-petition.
- and let me just mention leaflets. It’s no secret that we have been producing leaflets promoting our e-petition (see here and here) and that tens of thousands of them have been handed to friends and relatives, work colleagues and pushed through letter boxes. May I give a big ‘Thank you!’ to those who have done this and also to those who will pick up more leaflets at the Bird Fair next Friday-Sunday (more on this tomorrow on this blog). I know a bit, from knowing where the leaflets have gone, about how well this is going. There will be many who glanced at a leaflet some time last week and then heard or read something about the Inglorious 12th at the end of the week and thought to themselves ‘I had a leaflet about that. I meant to sign that e-petition – I’ll do it now’. It’s old-fashioned but effective. And thank you to those who helped fund those leaflets too.
- and talking of money, we also, and this was no secret either, raised funds here and so did LACS, to promote the e-petition through social media. This has been hugely effective. We have had time to test various approaches and designs and then to use the best of them. When would you have invested your money in advertising? On 2 August or the Inglorious 12 August? Doesn’t take much working out does it? How fiendishly devious was that?!
And so our devilishly cunning strategy was to tell the truth, tell it as widely as possible and make the most of the period around the Inglorious 12th. Simples (as they say – I believe)! Simple in theory but many thanks to all those who helped to bring it off in practice.
We reached 100,000 signatures much quicker than I expected – indeed, it is only very recently that I have dared to think we would get to 100,000 signatures. We would like many more signatures please right up until the close of our e-petition to ban driven grouse shooting on 20 September.
But my focus has already shifted towards working with others to come up with the devilishly cunning plan to influence MPs in a debate over the future of driven grouse shooting. I suspect that our strategy will be rather similar, it’s the way we do things: tell the truth, tell it clearly, tell it often.
Mr Thomas will, I understand, be on Countryfile this evening talking about grouse shooting.
Over the last year and a bit Mr Thomas has shown a rather persistent interest in my finances (nothing to see here!). In particular he has repeatedly asked how much of the money I raise from sales of Inglorious I will donate to practical nature conservation work. It’s a bit of a cheek since I don’t ask him how much he earns, but now that we have passed 100,000 signatures I’ll tell him the embarrassing truth.
Bloomsbury paid me an advance of £3000 to write Inglorious. That was fine with me – I wanted to write a book that set out the facts about the driven grouse shooting industry as part of a campaign to get it banned. An advance is a payment ‘in advance’ of royalties (the author’s cut of book sales – see below) which in theory is a debt – the publisher can ask for some or all of their money back if sales are poor (and certainly if the manuscript is sub-standard or not delivered at all).
So, £3000 as an advance.
In addition, I was paid £500 for writing the extra chapter for the paperback edition.
So, now we are up to £3500 – are you following this Duncan?
Take away from that the author’s, (that’s me) share of legal expenses in getting the manuscript read by a lawyer – £750.
So now we are down to £2750 – are you still with me Duncan?
In addition, I have sold signed copies of Inglorious myself, having bought them with my author’s discount from the publisher. I can’t be bothered to look up how many copies that is, but let’s say it is as many as 300 copies, which I doubt, and that I make £2/copy, which I don’t. Let’s say that’s another £600 in sales.
We’re back up to £3350 now. Are you coping Duncan?
That’s about it for income. I give talks about why we should ban driven grouse shooting, and I write articles, for some of which I have been paid, but I’m not including them here because Mr Thomas wanted to know about my huge earnings from Inglorious but they wouldn’t add up to much money and, in any case, I would have done them even if I didn’t have a book published.
Now writing a book does have some costs (if you write about Passenger Pigeons you might travel to the USA to do the research), and travel and buying research material etc does cost money. Shall we call it £1000 just to make things simple?
So now we are down to £2350 ‘profit’. And that of course is taxable.
We haven’t taken any account of my time so far have we? How long would it take you, Mr Thomas, to write 100,000 word book? Let’s say it took me 3 months actual work – most would say that is pretty damned quick – but then I do write quickly. That’s not the end of it though – there is working with an editor ( a delight – but still it takes time), reading proofs, all that stuff with lawyers, getting copyright permissions (the author’s job) etc etc. Shall we say another 3 months, to make things simple? That’s 6 months time overall (an underestimate rather than an overestimate).
So for 6 months work, and if I might say, quite skilled and difficult work that not everyone could do (could you Mr Thomas – just wondering?), I have made about £2350 – that’s equivalent to an annual income for writing Inglorious (before tax) of £4700pa.
And you, Duncan Thomas, really have the nerve, on your BASC twitter account, to ask how much of my earnings I am donating to anything?
Of course, Inglorious may sell fantastically well for decades to come – but that’s a bit unlikely isn’t it? If it does, then every April, or so, I will get a cheque for royalties of 10% (I think) of net receipts. Now net receipts are not what you pay for the book, but what the publisher sells it for, which clearly is way below the cover price and way below what you pay as a buyer of the book (and something over which the author has no control).
So, when you buy the paperback Inglorious at the Bird Fair this weekend you will be contributing to my finances to the order of about 50p or so, before tax, and I don’t get the money until April 2017. My, what a money earner it is!
But I wrote Inglorious as part of a campaign (that’s why you will find the url to the e-petition on p11 of the paperback edition) and now we know it’s a successful campaign, to get 100,000 signatures to ban driven grouse shooting, not to make money. Just as well really isn’t it?