To Rory Stewart, Defra
The government response to the e-petition to ban driven grouse shooting is simply awful. It is partial and inaccurate. I have previously asked Defra whether responses of this sort are seen and signed off by ministers and have never received a response. Did you sign off this response? Did one of your ministerial colleagues? And do you take responsibility for it?
Given that you have had, as requested, a copy of my book Inglorious on this very subject, I would have thought that the government response might have been a bit more carefully written. Have you read Inglorious yet, by the way?
Here is a first pass at the government response. There some things that really ought not to be in this response – if only IPSO covered matters of this sort then I feel sure that we could press Defra to make a corrections and apologise. And that is what the department should do anyway.
Defra is working with key stakeholders to ensure the sustainable management of uplands, balancing environmental and economic benefits,
Balancing environmental and economic benefits – you do realise that many of the environmental benefits of the uplands are statutory and legal requirements, don’t you? There is no question of balancing the environmental goods such as favourable condition of protected sites and protected species with economic activity. It is Defra’s job to ensure that Natura 2000 sites are in favourable conservation status and that Hen Harriers and other protected species have favourable status too. Would you agree? This response is not suggesting, or is it, that this government is relaxed about trading off legal environmental requirements for short-term economic gain?
…which includes the role of sustainable grouse shooting.
Sustainable grouse shooting – how does Defra define that? I think this is a phrase that you have just invented. Would you not agree that sustainable grouse shooting, if it could be defined, would be grouse shooting that did not damage the environment? Or do you have another definition? Given that the UK is currently dealing with a complaint to the EU over damage to protected blanket bogs right across northern England due to grouse moor management (did you see Martin Harper’s blog today?) and that English Hen Harrier breeding populations are more than 300 pairs below their potential level (according to a statutory agency report) and that protected Peregrine Falcon populations are routinely persecuted on English grouse moors and that rivers whose catchments are dominated by driven grouse shooting have reduced aquatic biodiversity and are more polluted and are more prone to flooding, and that the Committee of Climate Change has just recently criticised the management underpinning driven grouse shooting thus ‘The damaging practice of burning peat to increase grouse yields continues, including on internationally protected sites.’ I suggest that we are far away from sustainable grouse shooting and are getting further away from it with every year that passes. How does Defra define sustainable grouse shooting, and how prevalent is it in the real world? It doesn’t seem that you have got to the end of Chapter 5 of Inglorious yet?
When carried out in accordance with the law, grouse shooting for sport is a legitimate activity…
When carried out accordance with the law, grouse shooting…is a legitimate activity – come on Minister, you wouldn’t have got away with this when you were at Eton, let alone when you got to Balliol, would you?
…and in addition to its significant economic contribution, providing jobs and investment in some of our most remote areas, it can offer important benefits for wildlife and habitat conservation.
Grouse shooting can offer important benefits for wildlife and habitat conservation – it could, but does it? In particular, does it deliver nett benefits or does it just offer some benefits that are vastly outweighed by the disbenefits? What is your position on this – and is it the position of the foxes, stoats, blanket bogs, mountain hares, raptors and native woodland? This statement is in the same category as ‘Hitler wasn’t all bad’ – it might be true but it isn’t important.
The Government’s position is that people should be free to undertake lawful activities should they wish to do so.
The Government’s position is that people should be free to undertake lawful activities should they wish to do so – that’s big of the government! Gee! Thanks!
However, we encourage all shoot managers, owners and their staff to follow best practice to reduce the chances of a conflict of interest with birds of prey.
What form does this encouragement take please? Of what, precisely, does this practice comprise? The conflict of interest between driven commercial grouse shooting and birds of prey is a biological inevitability – the birds of prey eat the grouse the killing of which grouse managers want to sell to clients. Defra must surely be aware of the Langholm study? If not, you will find an account of it in Chapter 3 of Inglorious.
The overall environmental and economic impact of game bird shooting is a positive one…
The overall environmental and economic impact of bird shooting is a positive one – you are in trouble here Defra. You used this phrase in your response to John Armitage’s e-petition calling for licensing of shoots and I pointed out that it was not backed up by evidence then. In reply to a letter from my then (and excellent) MP, Andy Sawford, asking for the evidence on ecological costs and benefits of releasing pheasant and red-legged partridges into the countryside Defra replied they didn’t have any evidence and had no plans to collect any. So why have you resurrected this phrase for this response? It’s probably because you aren’t really trying to base your response on evidence and that you, for some reason I can only guess at, are taking the side of the shooting industry rather than looking at this matter objectively. You should correct your response. If IPSO had jurisdiction here, I bet they’d make you!
…and it has been estimated by the industry that £250 million per year is spent on management activities that provide substantial benefits for conservation.
Estimated by the industry… – and you as government take that as true do you? Why? As you know, those industry estimates have been taken apart by economists (funded by Animal Aid, instead of funded by the shooting industry) on the grounds that they are overestimated by a factor of around fourfold and that they include public money (taxpayer money) that would be spent elsewhere and perhaps to greater benefit, if not in this way. Why does a government department simply regurgitate industry figures without checking them? You are the Daily Telegraph of government departments it seems – failed to check figures given to you by a single source which happens to be the shooting industry. Defra should correct this bit of its response. You may find Inglorious (pp 229-30 and references at the back) of value here.
For grouse shooting in particular, according to the Moorland Association (http://www.moorlandassociation.org/economics3.asp) estates in England and Wales spent £52.5m on managing 149 grouse moors for shooting in 2010; Scottish landowners manage a further 150 moors for shooting grouse. The industry also supports 1,520 Full Time Equivalent jobs and is worth £67.7 million in England and Wales. In Scotland grouse moor management is estimated to be worth £30 million per year.
You are here again taking the industry figures as true and accurate. Why? Have you checked them? But, in any case, these figures do not take into account the externalities of economic costs and loss of value of natural capital, do they? (No they don’t!). The external costs include increased greenhouse gases (as referred to by the Committee on Climate Change above), increased flood risk (and house insurance costs), increased particulate matter and acidification of catchments (and increased water bills for the consumer), damaged landscapes which are burned in unsightly geometric shapes and loss of wildlife which is part of our natural heritage. How much do these add up to? What is the nett effect? Do you have any idea? At any conservative estimate the externalities far outweigh the economic activity of grouse shooting. And moreover, Minister, the money spent on grouse shooting would not disappear from the economy if not spent on blasting birds out of the sky – rich shooters will spend their money in some other way, perhaps not in the same geographic localities, but the money will not be lost to the economy if grouse shooting disappeared tomorrow. Would it? There’s quite a lot about all this in Inglorious Chapters 4 and 5 – have you got that far Minister?
Grouse shooting takes place in upland areas and the Government is committed to helping create a more sustainable future for the English uplands. They are endowed with natural assets that are important for delivering a range of valuable “ecosystem services”, including food and fibre, water regulation, carbon storage, biodiversity, and recreational opportunities for health and wellbeing.
With regards to carbon storage in particular, the Government recognises the significance of peat as a natural carbon store and acknowledges that historic land use and management has caused degradation of UK peatland and resulted in the loss of stored carbon. The last decade has seen increasing numbers of conservation initiatives (such as Nature Improvement Areas and Sites of Special Scientific Interest) which have halted the loss of and re-established areas of peatland in UK and therefore reduced the loss of peat stored carbon.
The Government is also taking measures to protect peat including the pilot Peatland Code. The pilot Peatland Code was launched in September 2013 with the aim of promoting the restoration of UK peatland through business investment. It is hoped the Code will assure restoration delivers tangible benefits for climate change alongside other benefits such as restoring habitats for protected species and improving water quality.
In response to the three paragraphs above – yes, but banning driven grouse shooting would solve many of these problems at source and at a stroke. You aren’t making much progress on these issues, because you are far too wedded to market solutions. The economic ‘benefits’ of grouse shooting accrue to a small number of land owners – the costs accrue to a large number of taxpayers and the public in general. This is a classic case where government needs to intervene to prevent the selfish interests of a minority overriding the public good. Defra is not doing its job and the suspicion has to be that this is partly because those few beneficiaries of the current unsustainable system are supporters of the present government.
Defra will also be investing over £3 billion in agri-environment schemes (Environmental Stewardship and the new Countryside Stewardship scheme) in the next Rural Development Programme 2014-2020.
You will, will you? Just remember that is my money, and the money of all taxpayers, and it should be spent for public good not private profit. And actually, that sum is surely for England as a whole – a very small proportion will be spent in the uplands, and an even smaller proportion spent on the issues under discussion here.
Addressing loss of biodiversity will be a priority for the new scheme. In addition, and as a core element of the approach to securing synergies across a wide range of rural habitats, funding will look to maximise opportunities to deliver biodiversity, water quality and flooding benefits together.
In response to the issue of illegal killing of protected wildlife, the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 affords protection to all wild birds and certain other species. Despite the protection afforded to birds of prey, such as the hen harrier, incidences of illegal killing of birds of prey continue to occur. To address this, senior Government and enforcement officers in the UK identified raptor persecution as a national wildlife crime priority. The National Wildlife Crime Unit, which is part-funded by Defra, monitors and gathers intelligence on illegal activities affecting birds of prey and provides assistance to police forces when required. Despite instances of poisoning and killing of birds of prey, populations of many species, such as the peregrine, red kite and buzzard have increased.
The level of illegal persecution is still unacceptably high – wouldn’t you agree? What level of wildlife crime would be acceptable to Defra? The human population is increasing but trapping, poisoning and shooting are still regarded as crimes across the world – aren’t they? What level of Hen Harrier and Peregrine population is Defra aiming to achieve?
With regards to hen harriers, it is encouraging to learn that there were six successful hen harrier nests this breeding season, fledging 18 chicks, figures which show it is on track to be the most successful year since 2010.
It is, isn’t it? What a shame then that so many males have disappeared under suspicious circumstances this year. Given that the statutory agencies estimate that the English uplands could have 330 pairs of Hen Harrier if these birds were not illegally killed, how many pairs of Hen Harrier would Defra like to see in England? How many pairs of Hen Harrier would Defra wish to see in the SPAs that were designated with Hen Harrier as part of their biological interest – to remind you there should be at least 13 pairs of Hen Harrier in the Forest of Bowland SPA (and they shouldn’t be mysteriously disappearing) and this year there were six nests (and several males did disappear). We should celebrate some movement in the right direction – but Defra should not look and sound so complacent and should be taking greater steps to rectify the Hen Harrier deficit in England. Inglorious covers this in Chapter 1 (and elsewhere) – you must, surely Minister, have got to Chapter 1?
The Uplands Stakeholder Forum Hen Harrier Sub-group was set up in 2012 with senior representatives from organisations best placed to take action to address the decline in Hen Harriers. These include Natural England, the Moorland Association, the National Gamekeepers’ Organisation, the Game & Wildlife Conservation Trust, National Parks England and the RSPB. Defra welcomes the involvement of all parties.
The Sub-group has developed a draft Joint Action Plan containing a suite of complementary actions intended to contribute to the recovery of the hen harrier population in England. We are working with Sub-group members to finalise the Plan. Does the plan include a massive increase in the number of satellite-tagged Hen Harriers in order to deter illegal killing and aid detection of crime and criminals?
I ask you again Minister – did you sign off this response? Because it is a poor response. It is partial and inaccurate. It looks as though Defra is a rather poor public relations machine for the shooting industry.
We, the taxpayers and voters will remember this and we are watching your future action. Please remember you work for all of us, not for the shooting industry.
In the meantime, please watch the number of signatures continue to rise as the public demands that you ban driven grouse shooting.
Yesterday, as I was talking to the East Berks RSPB local group, our e-petition to ban driven grouse shooting passed 19,000 signatures. Last year it took over five months to reach this level – this year we got there in under two months. Momentum is building and we are gaining support all the time. Thank you to all who have signed – now find a friend to sign too, please!
Earlier in the day, after six weeks of thought, the Westminster government published its response to our e-petition, as it was required to do because the e-petition had amassed over 10,000 signatures. I’ll blog this evening on what I make of the government response, but many of you have already had your say here and on social media. Here are a few examples:
@blythestorm Read response. Government should read Inglorious. Big load of bullshit and we are looking after our friends.
Emma Garnett is an ecologist who is usually happiest when hiking through mountains. After graduating with a first in Natural Sciences at Cambridge in 2011, she spent two years studying in five different countries for a Masters in Applied Ecology. She has a keen interest in marine conservation and for her thesis spent four months on the Galápagos assessing the importance of mangrove habitats for juvenile fish communities. These experiences gave her an international perspective on conservation issues and sustainability, as well as a love of travelling, learning languages and Latin dancing. She teaches undergraduates at the University of Cambridge and was awarded the Janet Moore prize for supervising in Zoology. She has worked for organisations including IUCN and Zoological Society London, and is currently working for Microsoft Research.
Plenty more fish in the sea?
I had never seen so many dead fish in my life; the pavements were wet with the evening’s rain and fish blood.
Lonely Planet had reliably informed me that this night market in Kota Kinabalu, Malaysia, was one of the best in South East Asia. The ordinary-looking stalls we had watched being set up in the afternoon were transformed by the darkness and produce into something extraordinary, almost magical.
The variety and colours of the seafood was astonishing, a combination of science exhibit and art gallery. In comparison the meat counters were monotonous and dull; most of the meat we eat is chicken, pig, sheep or cow: four species. The seafood stalls contained dozens of different species from many different taxa: fish, molluscs, crustaceans, echinoderms. They were unnervingly beautiful, many fish perfectly streamlined with large bodies that, even dead on a table, conveyed power. Fish eyes stared from plates alongside comical looking squid and prawns larger than I had thought possible. The tail of a yellow fin tuna stood erect on the table like a morbid statue.
The rows upon rows of stalls with raw and barbecued fish underlined to me the appeal of seafood: a food stuff that does not have to be bred, grazed and grown but can be both hunted and cooked within hours. Let us hope that these species survive ecologically and economically. It would be a poorer world and platter without them.
Unfortunately, the sheer volume and abundance of produce at sea food stalls across the world make it difficult to believe that the oceans are being stripped, dredged and trawled bare. Quite simply, we are now removing fish at a faster rate than they can reproduce and replace themselves.
The oceans were once believed to be limitless, the British eighteenth century ecologist Thomas Huxley famously stated in 1882 that probably ‘all the great sea fisheries are inexhaustible’. Their former abundance would have been astonishing to modern eyes: when Europeans first arrived in North America it was possible to fish for cod using only baskets they were so plentiful, and shoals of herring miles long off British coasts were common in the 18th century.
However, the proverbial tide has turned and there are too many fish out of water. Since the 1950s more and more boats have been chasing fewer and fewer fish across ever greater areas of the oceans. Annually, approximately 90 million tonnes of wild seafood are caught, but we have the global vessel capacity for 360 million tonnes (ref 1). Seafood consumption is only increasing globally due to the exponential growth of aquaculture, which brings its own environmental problems, primarily coastal habitat destruction and pollution.
Destructive practices such as bottom trawling, where nets large enough to contain a jumbo jet are dragged across the ocean, indiscriminately catch everything in their path and also destroy the marine habitat. The consequences of bottom trawling on the seafloor have been likened to clear felling a rainforest.
Not only are we decimating the fish populations, but our exploitations are fundamentally changing the structure of the ecosystems. Predatory fish at the top of the food chain, such as tuna, shark and swordfish, are culinary favourites and have been disproportionately reduced by over fishing (ref 2). With their predators declining, jellyfish are thriving in the empty, warmer oceans, with NGOs warning that our grandchildren will be eating jellyfish burgers unless we protect marine life (ref 3). We are now ‘fishing down the food chain’, taking smaller and more herbivorous species, as well younger individuals. We are waging a war on fish, and we are winning (ref 4).
Three years after my time in Malaysia I am living in Kiel, a sprawling, industrial city on the German Baltic coast. One warm evening in late summer I walk along the fjord, waiting for the music at the festival behind me to start. Looking into the water, at first I think I can see plastic bags, and curious, look closer. There are dozens upon dozens of jellyfish, floating in the brackish water. Small sprat nibble at vegetation on the harbour’s wall, completely dwarfed and outnumbered; a lone flounder, mottled orange and brown, swims past and out of sight. Suspended, pulsing, the jellyfish remain.
1) Eric van Doorne, personal communication, 2014
4) Review by Daniel Pauly of Charles Clover’s book The End of the Line, 2009
Our (there are very nearly 19,ooo of us) e-petition to ban driven grouse shooting has just received a government response.
I’ll write a few words about it tomorrow evening – but you can see for yourselves that it isn’t very7 good.
More on this tomorrow.
Nobody could find this response the least bit convincing – and so there is even more reason to sign this e-petition calling on government to ban driven grouse shooting. Wouldn’t it be great to see this debated in parliament?
The sun was shining yesterday lunch time so I thought I’d go out and pick some blackberries – I’d been in Canterbury on Saturday and then it had rained on Sunday, so the weekend had not been a harvesting opportunity. I think others must have been similarly occupied or put off because the hedgerows were blackbery rich – and black blackberry rich to boot!
But I sat in the car listening to radio 4’s World at One rather than picking blackberries as the new shadow Defra SoS, Kerry McCarthy, was talking about national anthems, potential defections of right wing Labour MPs to the Conservatives (which would simply confirm what the public had been saying about the Labour Party of recent years that it was Tory-light) and then about her new role.
You can hear that latter bit here (after c35 mins).
I was impressed. She is right, that being against the current planned badger cull is the rational approach as it is not a good way to reduce the amount of bovine TB. You don’t have to be a vegan to recognise that, you could lick your lips at the thought of eating a badger and still think that, because the science says that.
She is right, that Defra ministers have too often looked like NFU mouthpieces and that is wrong.
She is right to say that the Defra brief is a broad one and that it is about much more than farming.
She is right that David Cameron made a bizarre choice when picking a climate change sceptic (or denier?) in Owen Paterson as SoS – and lived to regret it, methinks.
She is right to highlight her experience, involvement and commitment in this area. Kerry McCarthy will have a lot to learn but there is every indication that she can and will.
It was a confident assured performance right across the board.
By the time I’d sat through all that the sun had gone out but I just had time to pick an ice-cream tub full of blackberries before the first spots of rain started to fall.
Yesterday the Daily Telegraph admitted errors of reporting (see previous blogs: We’re not really the complaining type but… 14 August, A lie can travel… 6 August, It gets worse, or better, depending which side you are on 5 August, You forgot the truth 4 August) about the RSPB and Hen Harrier nests after a number of readers of this blog (and others no doubt) complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation.
This is the correction and apology:
CORRECTION: An earlier version of this report stated that the RSPB was “expected to come under fire” from Natural England in a forthcoming report about hen harrier nests. The information on which this conjecture was based came from a single source and was not checked with Natural England. We accept that further enquiries might have revealed this and that our article was misleading. Although the RSPB was involved in guarding all six nests that failed, we understand that – contrary to what was stated in the original version of the article – it was also involved with three of the six successful ones. We have amended the article accordingly and we apologise for the error.
If you have a good memory you will see that quotes from Ian Gregory of You Forgot the Birds attacking the RSPB have also been removed.
Today’s Daily Telegraph should carry the same correction and apology on page 2 (if not today, then soon).
The Daily Telegraph has admitted that it did not check its facts and that as a result its coverage was misleading, and it has apologised for these errors.
That’s a small victory for truth and for the readers of this blog. It wasn’t my idea to contact IPSO – that came from Hugh Webster (in a comment on this blog) – we should thank Hugh for taking the lead which many of us followed.
I posted my complaint on here but was asked to remove it by IPSO as part of the resolution process – so I did.
So, the Daily Telegraph took information from one source, You Forgot the Birds, and printed it unchecked. It didn’t wait until the ‘government report’ (which was a Natural England press release) came out and it didn’t check with Natural England. It took an account of the Hen Harrier breeding season from a pressure group (funded by the British grouse industry) that it should have known, must have known, was antipathetic to the RSPB and published that same source’s criticisms of the RSPB. This was terribly poor journalism and it’s right that the Daily Telegraph has corrected its error. Let us hope it remembers this case when it deals with other stories from this or other sources with an agenda.
And let us hope that this case may also serve as a warning to other newspapers and media outlets to be careful about checking accounts fed to them.
The Daily Telegraph eventually came to the view, once challenged very strongly by many people, that it had made a mistake for which it should apologise. It maybe could have arrived at that point quicker, but it got there in the end.
I am very grateful to the staff of IPSO who handled the process sensitively and with politeness and skill. IPSO has been criticised by some but my experience of it, limited to this case, has been entirely positive. If only Defra moved with the same speed and purpose as IPSO then the world would be a better place.
You Forgot the Birds is funded by the British grouse industry – an industry that we would be better off without – please sign the e-petition to ban driven grouse shooting.
Indeed, I think we were talking, in a friendly way, about how Mr Wiggin’s constituents were flocking to the cause of banning driven grouse shooting. Or maybe we were just talking about one of his constituents, whom I know well, who keeps putting Bill on the spot on this subject.
Bill’s, parting riposte, said in good humour and with a smile on his face, was that I should find something more useful to do. My reply, with an even broader smile (I hope) was that he should do the same.
And then I checked my phone and the e-petition was on 18,003 signatures. The next person to talk to me was an official from Defra with whom I shared the good news that the people were speaking and telling Defra what they should do – ban driven grouse shooting.
And, already, the e-petition is much closer to 19,000 than 18,000.
Speaking as one who loves a good sing – as part of a crowd anyway – I’d have been belting out the words of the National Anthem (which nation is that by the way?) with more gusto than skill if I had been in Jeremy Corbyn’s position.
I miss the alternate Saturdays at Nene Park (only readers of a previous blog existence will understand this reference) as much for the chanting and pitch-perfect renditions of ‘Hi Ho! Rushden Diamonds!’ as for the pitch imperfect football.
And if ever lucky enough to attend a Wales v England game in Cardiff I would be one of few England supporters keen to join in with Hen Wlad Fi Nhadau as well (but only in Welsh – I can never recall the English words). The words are a celebration of Wales to which almost all could subscribe.
Corbyn’s non-singing of the National (which nation is that?) Anthem is the type of bold symbolic (but otherwise fairly irrelevant) stand that can characterise the far-Left. Usually it’s the only thing they can do because nobody gives them any power!
Whether Corbyn sings the National (?) Anthem in future will be keenly watched. I suggest he flips a coin each time just to keep people guessing. Sometimes sing with all your might, deafening those around you and irritating some with your flat notes (that would be me anyway) and sometimes keeping silent.
Or, perhaps to show maximal respect we should all sing all verses of the National (?) Anthem each time it comes up – all six of them. Verse four is rather international socialist in flavour, but I particularly suggest you watch the lips of David Cameron and Nicola Sturgeon when we all, singing in unison, get to verse six:
God save our gracious Queen
Long live our noble Queen
God save the Queen
Send her victorious
Happy and glorious
Long to reign over us
God save the Queen
O Lord our God arise
Scatter her enemies
And make them fall
Confound their politics
Frustrate their knavish tricks
On Thee our hopes we fix
God save us all
Thy choicest gifts in store
On her be pleased to pour
Long may she reign
May she defend our laws
And ever give us cause
To sing with heart and voice
God save the Queen
Not in this land alone
But be God’s mercies known
From shore to shore
Lord make the nations see
That men should brothers be
And form one family
The wide world over
From every latent foe,
From the assassins blow,
God save the Queen!
O’er her thine arm extend,
For Britain’s sake defend,
Our mother, prince, and friend,
God save the Queen!
Lord grant that Marshal Wade
May by thy mighty aid
May he sedition hush,
And like a torrent rush,
Rebellious Scots to crush.
God save the Queen!