At the Game Fair – I said those couple of days could keep this blog going for ages – I picked up a report by the National Gamekeepers Organisation considering the state of nature on commercial shoots. It’s an interesting read.
With the snappy title ‘Gamekeepers and Wildlife’ this report compiles information from a postal questionnaire of under a thousand gamekeepers who represent around a fifth of all employed in such work.
Given the methods behind this report, we are dealing with what gamekeepers themselves say and believe rather than hard facts, and that needs to be borne in mind by the reader. And that just adds to the interest, of course.
Interestingly, there is a high reliance by shoots on agri-environment schemes – not surprising but one of the reasons why the shooting community should be an ally in many debates on the future of public policy.
Something is made of the large area covered by this ‘survey’ – I only put survey in quotation marks because it was the gamekeepers who were surveyed, not their ground – it is an area five times greater than the area covered by National Nature Reserves and 13 times greater than that of RSPB nature reserves. Well, that is a little bit interesting. It’s a pity though that the figure used for the area of RSPB nature reserves is 102k ha whereas the correct figure is over 140k ha (a figure easily found on the RSPB’s website for those keen to check their facts) but that doesn’t really matter except than every time I find a wrong ‘fact’ in a report I tend to look closer at the other ‘facts’ too.
There was another part of the report that made me wonder a bit – the list of birds regarded as breeding or visiting these 941 shoots according to their gamekeepers. Remember that these shoots are distributed right across England, Scotland and Wales and yet 56% of them claim to have lesser-spotted woodpeckers, 33% turtle doves, 9% hawfinches and 8% bitterns. I do wonder a bit about these ‘facts’ but I can see how they might be strictly speaking true, but still misleading, if there are lots of small shoots in those parts of southern England which are great for wildlife.
So I was interested, too, to see the distribution maps of various quarry and predator species and to read what gamekeepers think about them. Although most of the distribution maps look pretty accurate to me there are certainly some interesting records such as those grey partridges further west in Wales and the West Country than I would have expected and a whole bunch of red grouse in parts of Devon where I would be surprised to see them. I wonder what the BTO/SOC/BWI Atlas will say? Have a look for yourself as the report is online (although it does take a while for the maps to download) and tell me what you think. In particular, are there really still red grouse in those parts of southern Devon?
Over 95% of shoots in this survey have woodcock (including wintering ones) and I was surprised to see that this species is a sporting interest on two thirds of those estates with the species present. I had thought, and I had been told, that many pheasant shoots discourage the shooting of woodcock on conservation grounds but maybe that’s a kind thought about shooting that I should now dismiss from my mind. Please, those of you who know, comment on this subject here as I’d like to know the true situation.
If you are an avian predator on a shoot then you are probably best off being a barn owl, kestrel or red kite because the majority of gamekeepers surveyed here believe that these species cause problems for neither game nor other wildlife species. Buzzards, sparrowhawks and badgers are far less popular.
This report also shows where the gamekeepers’ legal predator control efforts are most directed. More than three quarters of those shoots where the species is present will cull foxes, crows, rats, grey squirrels, magpies, rooks, jackdaws, mink, stoats, weasels, feral cats and jays. I’m always taken aback by the fact that rooks and jackdaws are in this list.
When covered in the Daily Telegraph this was what the paper thought about this report – somehow turning it into a competition between shooting estates and the RSPB. I was interested to see that the Telegraph says that the League Against Cruel Sports says that 12,300 wild birds and mammals are killed on UK shooting estates every day. That’s a lot of death – I wonder whether that is the right figure? It’s about 5 million deaths a year – quite a few.
I think that many readers of this blog will find this report interesting. The thing that would have made it much more interesting would have been if the NGO had asked its members what proportion of them killed kites, buzzards, sparrowhawks, harriers etc. That’s the piece of information that would be fascinating to know the truth about but a questionnaire is not a reliable way to get to that truth. If only we knew those figures it would be so much easier to move further on the relationship between the shooting community and nature conservation. Is it the small minority or the rather large minority or even the majority?