What nature does for Britain – quotes

9781781253281I reviewed Tony Juniper’s book on ecosystem services quite a while back, but after a tweet from him yesterday supporting the questions I posed to Countryfile, I went back and checked what Tony had written about grouse moors.

Page 102: ‘We’ll always be able to treat the water, it’s just that it’s very expensive’ [A Yorkshire Water spokesman]. Another option is to look at ways of influencing land management, and specifically measures that will help bogs recover. Some estates are reluctant to join in with blanket bog recovery however as they regard such work as hostile to the aim of increasing grouse numbers‘.

Page 142-3: ‘Around half of the total area has been modified to the extent that little or no peat-forming vegetation remain, including because of burning to encourage grouse. As we have already seen this can present problems for water quality and flood risk. It is also a major source of carbon dioxide going into the atmosphere.‘.

Page 148: ‘Some blanket bogs have been damaged by burning, including as we’ve seen to create better grouse habitat.‘.

Page 106: ‘Perhaps we’d make faster progress at less cost if there were more appreciation by policy-makers and regulatory agencies as to the unfortunate situation we find ourselves in, whereby in cleaning up places like Poole Harbour and the water running off places like Dartmoor and grouse estates, British citizens are paying three times. We pay once in tax-funded subsidies  to farmers and landowners, we pay again in our water bills and a third time in picking up the bill for for repairing different types of environmental damage including the effects of flooding.’.

Well said by the President of the Wildlife Trusts who might just want to stir themselves to ask their members to sign this e-petition to ban driven grouse shooting.

What Nature does for Britain by Tony Juniper is published by Profile Books.


See you at Rainham Marshes on 6 August


RSPB will be hosting a Hen Harrier Day event at their Rainham Marshes nature reserve on Saturday 6 August (time TBC) organised by Birders Against Wildlife Crime and Mark Avery. Chris Packham will be speaking. Check back on the BAWC Hen Harrier Day website for more details from mid-May and on social media #HHDay2016.

The reserve has limited parking but is easy to get to on public transport, with regular trains to Purfleet from central and east London and Essex. It’s an easy, signposted 10-minute walk from Purfleet station – please attend by train if you can. We look forward to seeing you there!

Henry is very excited!



Please could Northumberland National Park…

By FWJ van Rooijen (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

By FWJ van Rooijen (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Please could Northumberland National Park name, or at least give a reference, for the 20% of Britain’s spiders that will disappear if upland heather burning were to cease. I’m pretty sure that the one above isn’t one of them.

But I was wondering, surely the lowlands are the place for spiders anyway – like they are the place for trees to grow!

Spiders for heather burning should not sign this e-petition to ban driven grouse shooting and its damaging management practices.


Richard Ali writes…badly!

imageBASC Chief Executive, Richard Ali, wrote to the BBC yesterday (presumably to BBC Wildlife magazine).

It can’t really be a letter that BASC expects to be published because it looks thrown together, is badly argued (though is very argumentative), is long and rambling, and has a split infinitive in its first line.

Ali is complaining about an article by Chris Packham in BBC Wildlife magazine – and the article is about me! Nothing contentious there then!

I was thinking of writing to BBC Wildlife magazine myself, to complain about the article too – it is far too gushing and goes over the top – but Ali has persuaded me that it was worth Chris writing it, if only to show how threadbare are the arguments of those who support the use of poisonous lead ammunition in our countryside and our food.

Ali describes the subject of the article (that’s me, I’m afraid) and the writer (that’s Chris) as a ‘pair’ (what are you suggesting Richard?) who ‘rely on unbalanced arguments to provide the thrust of this article’ – Hang on! I was being written about, how can I have relied on anything? Richard, you were so keen to have a go at Chris Packham that you didn’t actually make sure that your letter made any sense at all, did you? Or did you check it and fail?

But you are wrong about the science on lead. You describe the Oxford Lead Symposium as ‘shadowy’. Are you sure that members of the shooting community, in particular the members of the Lead Ammunition Group, weren’t invited to this ‘shadowy’ conference attended by a bunch of Fellows of the Royal Society and many other academics?  Here are its ‘shadowy’, peer-reviewed published papers.

And here are some quotes from it:

The Lord Krebs Kt, MA, DPhil, FRS, FMedSci, Hon DSc: ‘Lead ammunition may be traditional but
it is doubtful whether future generations would perpetuate a tradition of knowingly adding lead to food or exposing wildlife to poisoning.‘.

Professor Chris Perrins, LVO, FRS: ‘Then, as now, the stakeholders involved appeared to have some sort of blind-spot when it came to seeing lead as a poison.’ andNowadays, no one can be oblivious to the issues of lead because of the damage to human health, particularly children’s health due to impacts on their developing brains. Eating food with lead purposefully shot into it, of course, now seems like a bad idea.‘.

Professor Ian Newton OBE, FRS, FRSE: ‘My own view is that a legislative ban is needed on the use of lead in all ammunition used for hunting. At one stroke this would alleviate the problems created for people (especially the hunters themselves), for wildlife and for domestic livestock by this unnecessary but highly toxic material.’.

So it seems that Richard Ali will be writing to the Royal Society next to correct the science of three of its fellows. It seems that Chris Packham got it right all along doesn’t it?

Let’s see the secret Lead Ammunition Group report and then we can make up our own minds. But I’ve already made up my mind on the evidence and so I’d ask you to resist the bullying of BASC and react to it by please signing Rob Sheldon’s e-petition to ban toxic lead ammunition.

But I was also thinking of writing to complain that there wasn’t enough about Hen Harriers in Chris’s article (nice t-shirt though!) – probably too contentious for BBC Wildlife magazine (mustn’t upset the shooting lobby at a time of charter renewal)!

Seriously, the BBC is under ferocious attack with letters of the type that Richard Ali has sent (although, to be fair, his is a pretty poor attempt at a letter; most are much better written) routinely heading to BBC Wildlife, Countryfile, Springwatch, the governors and all sorts just to put pressure on the BBC to cut words here, cut articles there and, remember, to cut their links with people like Chris himself.

The BBC needs our, the public’s support at this time – but they also need to demonstrate that they deserve that support by standing firm against bullying tactics from small but vocal pressure groups.






Countryfile 2

imageYesterday’s blog on the item on heather burning on Sunday’s Countryfile clearly chimed with a lot of people.  It was read by over 5000 folk yesterday evening and attracted a lot of comments both here and on social media.

Controlled burning to stop wildfires has been likened to throwing away all your money to prevent theft, or knocking your house down so it doesn’t catch fire.  I see that controlled burning is sometimes not quite as controlled as the name suggests – I hope these people are OK. Where were Countryfile filming by the way?

You can continue burning in upland areas of England for a few more days – until 15 AprilCountryfile claimed that ‘Heather burning is strictly regulated: and is only permitted outside the breeding season for ground-nesting birds‘. Like most things in the uplands ‘strictly regulated’ is a wish rather than a description and what about those ground-nesting birds? According to the BTO, first clutches of Golden Plover can be laid in the UK as early as 3 April and we do know that nesting seasons are shifting earlier with climate change. It’s probably time to end the habitat-torching season rather earlier. Dartmoor NP recommend no burning after 31 March already because of this issue – but that is not ‘strict regulation’ it’s a plea not to set fire to the habitat whilst birds are nesting. Imagine a similar approach with hedge-cutting.

Can you imagine Springwatch or any other BBC programme getting away with even a mildly critical piece on heather burning without the moorland establishment ringing the BBC phones off their hooks? And yet this Countryfile item somehow slipped through the BBC’s superfine net of impartiality.

It feels as if the mesh of the net of impartiality is decidedly of a different spacing depending on whether it is a load of nonsense from the shooting establishment or some well researched science by their critics.

Does the BBC know what it is doing, or is it just running scared at a time of its charter renewal?  It is time for the BBC to rediscover some journalistic standards on the environment, countryside and wildlife.  What processes does Countryfile use to make sure they get their facts straight?  Whatever they are, they failed in this piece (no-one’s perfect).

But the shooting community are gunning for free speech – come back at 08:45 for the latest example.

But while you are at it, please sign this e-petition to make decision-makers take the ecological damage from driven grouse shooting seriously.


Dear Countryfile



Dear Countryfile

I’m pretty sure I am the type of person you think you are appealing to – interested in nature and the countryside – but I rarely watch you because you have such a blatant agenda of trying to paint a small subset of those of us who live in the countryside as hard-working, suffering, brave and splendid people whom we should all want to clasp to our bosoms and to whom we should continue to hand our taxes.  You appear to be the media arm of the Country Land and Business Association.

So I tend to watch bits of your programme on iPlayer – and usually when someone else has gone bonkers about them on social media – and that was how I came to watch your piece on last night’s Countryfile about burning heather moorland. Now there is nothing wrong with showing Ellie Harrison and a bunch of hunky firefighters on a Sunday evening but quite how you managed to show such a long piece without mentioning grouse shooting is completely beyond me.  Do you think that you were really educating or informing the public by this omission?  You do know (and this is a trick question), that the primary reason for burning heather in the British uplands is to produce ridiculously high densities of a gamebird for people to shoot for fun? It’s only a trick question because if you say ‘no’ then you look a bit dim, and if you say ‘yes’ you are left having to answer the question of why you failed to mention it?

You do know, don’t you (Guess what? Another trick question of just the same type) that moorland burning is quite a contentious issue? And you described the piece as ‘Ellie discovers the best way to manage moorland‘ and your website has a similar statement ‘Ellie Harrison is on the moors learning that the best ways (sic) to conserve vital moorland is (sic) to burn it“.  Would you say that these are entirely neutral statements?

You do know, don’t you (You’ll be getting the hang of this now, perhaps) that the Committee on Climate Change wrote last year ‘‘The damaging practice of burning peat to increase grouse yields continues, including on internationally protected sites ‘.

You do know, don’t you (don’t you?) that the Leeds University EMBER study found a whole bunch of damaging impacts of heather burning on water catchments including discolouration, increased flashiness and lowered biodiversity?

But I enjoyed Andrew Miller from Northumberland National Park apparently saying that trees were for the lowlands and weren’t wanted up in the hills of our National Parks – really? I guess it depends who is planting the trees, doesn’t it?

He also seemed to think that if men in tweed (so sorry, firefighters in high-vis jackets) stopped burning the heather then 20% of British spiders would disappear. Now, I’m only an ecologist by training so what would I know, but I’m guessing that they wouldn’t. I’m relying on ecological intuition here, but if they coped for several thousand years before men in tweed or high-vis jackets burned the heather then I am guessing that they would cope after too.  And I’ve tried to track down that 20% figure and it seems very elusive but I’ll keep trying (you weren’t including lowland heathland in that figure were you Andrew?).

All in all it wasn’t a very bad piece – just a rather peculiar one when the real world, outside Sunday evening TV, is discussing the role of heather burning in floods, greenhouse gas emissions, increased water bills, increased flood costs to us all, lowered aquatic biodiversity and the role of grouse shooting, for which most heather burning is done, in those issues and in wiping out protected wildlife from very large areas of the British uplands.

So I won’t be tuning in again until the next time that someone gets het up about your cloying take on our countryside.  I’d be interested to learn where the BBC does discuss the real issues, or is the countryside just a theme park funded by the taxpayer and enjoyed by landowners , and filmed by the BBC?




I’ve been away birding for a few days and am thrilled to see that our e-petition is still steaming ahead: 17,000 signatures reached in three weeks!

Inverness, Nairn, Badenoch and Strathspey was the first constituency to reach 100 signatures with Ross, Skye and Lochaber not far behind.

Here are the top ten constituencies so far:

Inverness, Nairn, Badenoch and Strathspey 109 signatures –  Drew Hendry MP, SNP

Ross, Skye, Lochaber 107 signatures – Ian Blackford MP, SNP

Calder Valley 91 signatures – Craig Whittaker MP, CON

North Norfolk 86 signatures – Norman Lamb MP, LIB

Argyll and Bute 80 signatures – Brendan O’Hara MP, SNP

West Aberdeenshire and Kincardine 74 signatures – Stuart Blair Donaldson MP, SNP

High Peak 71 signatures – Andrew Bingham MP, CON

Brighton Pavilion 69 signatures – Caroline Lucas MP, GREEN

Stroud 68 signatures – Ian Carmichael MP, CON

Ochil and South Perthshire 67 signatures – Tasmina Ahmad Shaikh MP, SNP

East Lothian 67 signatures – George Kerevan MP, SNP


The very strong, and very welcome, Scottish showing persists but there are a lot of constituencies in the north of England, where grouse shooting is practised, which are just off the top-ten list.  The support, so far, in Northern Ireland, Wales, urban areas, and Labour constituencies, is much less strong.

It looks touch and go whether we could reach 20,000 signatures by lunch time nest Sunday – but we won’t be far off that score in the first four weeks of the e-petition’s existence.

Please ask a colleague at work, today, to sign this e-petition to ban driven grouse shooting and trigger action from our politicians on this unsustainable and damaging pastime.



I’m reading…

71tiLQgy1yLI’m reading Chris Packham’s book – out in May – Fingers in the Sparkle Jar.

I hope to review it next week. But, wow!



Saturday cartoon by Ralph Underhill




41dtDGw5TtL._SX309_BO1,204,203,200_It seems a long time ago that I spoke to the Devon Birds society and the Somerset Ornithological Society – but both were great evenings. Thank you!

Next week it is back to Devon and the RSPB Exeter group on Tuesday, then east Surrey RSPB group on Wednesday and RSPB central London group on Thursday!