Why do they do this?

The reaction from the National Gamekeepers’ Organisation to yesterday’s RSPB report on the numbers of poisonings of birds of prey was a bit predictable.

After making the arguable claim that gamekeeping is a ‘profession‘ the NGO makes the obligatory nod in the direction of upholding the law and then talks about the ‘surge’ in birds of prey numbers and pats its own members on the back for their ‘tolerance’ despite the ‘problems’ that birds of prey can cause. It then seeks to shift ground completely (very wise since it was standing on shaky ground) by saying that many less ‘photogenic’ birds are doing very well on moorland managed by gamekeepers.  No outright lies in any of that but it sounds very much to me like a ‘profession’ which is in denial over the harm that its members are doing, illegally, to our wildlife.

It’s stuff like this that makes it very difficult for me, and many others, to take seriously the repeated claims that there are just a few bad apples causing all these problems.  If there are so few bad apples then why don’t the many good apples say something like:  ‘We’re glad that the number of poisonings went down a bit last year but we agree with the RSPB and the police that there are far too many.  We’re a bit ashamed of ourselves really because we can’t seem to root out these illegal practices which give us all a bad name.  Please don’t think we are all ‘at it’ because we aren’t and we are just as angry about it as the RSPB and other wildlife conservationists.’?  The NGO didn’t really come very close to that did they?

If the ‘good apples’ are always sticking together with the ‘bad apples’ then how can you blame anyone for chucking out the whole barrel?

In an article in this month’s (November) issue of The Field (which doesn’t get even a mention on their website so I don’t really know why I’m plugging it) I wrote of being affected by being told that people like me should take greater care to differentiate between the good apples and the bad – and that is a perfectly fair point.  But something similar applies to the NGO and the shooting community.  The rottenness and the canker are amongst your peers – sort it out!

But Andy Richardson – an ex-gamekeeper with whom I spent some time back in August – posted a comment on this blog yesterday which said amongst other things ‘We know within reason who’s at it and credit where it’s due the Scottish Gamekeepers are now coming down on the tiny minority like a ton of bricks. The only way it will stop is when our side shun and black ball these “companies”. ‘.  Thank you and well done Andy!  We need to hear more of that sort of thing from those who shoot.  The more remarks like that come from the shooting community the more that conservationists can believe that there is hope to banish poisoning from our countryside and make it easier for nature conservationist and fieldsports to reach an easier relationship.

If the NGO would like a guest blog here on the subject of raptor persecution, to put their side of the case, or to clarify what their position is, then they are welcome to get in touch.


And almost as an afterthought:

The coverage of this ‘story’ in the Daily Telegraph makes interesting reading.  The raptor-hating (that’s the impression it gives me) Telegraph knows about photogenic species – on a story about dead birds of prey it uses a picture of a live curlew!  And I wonder whether the NGO did use the word ‘bias’ as does the Telegraph in paragraph 3?  ‘Bias’ isn’t in the NGO statement on their website and it isn’t in quotes.  Maybe the Telegraph spoke to the NGO and someone used that very word or maybe the Telegraph just thought they would strengthen what the NGO said a little bit.  And what did the RSPB do in paragraph 6?  Apparently they ‘admitted’ something whereas I expect they ‘said’ it – what’s to admit?  In the seventh paragraph ‘But Martin Harper…’, why ‘But’? What’s the ‘But’ for?  And see how the three paragraphs of the NGO response are given such prominence high up the piece, including the irrelevance of photogenicity (!), rather than the actual report on poisoning.  This story could be used in media courses as an object lesson (as well as an abject lesson) in subtle insinuation.

I prefer this coverage by the BBC.



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16 Replies to “Why do they do this?”

  1. An article recently published in the Scottish Ornithological Club’s magazine correlates raptors killed between 1867 – 1988. Even as late as the 1980′s more raptors were killed on one estate than all the records for the whole of Scotland supplied out by the RSPB.

  2. Referring to the comment from John Miles above. From an objective standpoint this would indicate that no figures collected by the RSPB can be believed as they seem incapable of providing data that can be validated or subject to detailed scrutiny
    It seems to be yet another ' banner waving clarion call' for fund raising dressed up as pseudo science. IF there IS a problem with illegal control of birds in some places why can't the RSPB work with keepers (as Dr Avery evidently did above) instead of using them as fund raising whipping boys.
    The RSPB COULD do so much better, and to paraphrase a statement above "The rottenness and the canker are [also] amongst your peers – sort it out!"

    1. Dr Brook - welcome to this blog. You are very welcome to express your views forcibly here. But from an objective point of view if John Miles is right the RSPB figures are ridiculously conservative and underplay the scale of illegal persecution by a considerable amount. So perhaps the RSPB isn't banner waving enough about this isue. Actually, not having seen the SOC article, I would imagine the two sets of figures are entirely compatible as they will have (I am guessing) used different levels of certainty or proof - with the RSPB being the more cautious.

      There is always the call to work with keepers. How do you work with the keepers doing the killing? It is quite difficult to work with criminals.

      But you are very welcome here and do feel free to express your views..

  3. As I understand it, the RSPB figures are a body count - dead raptors shown by post mortem analysis to have been poisoned - is that correct, Mark ? As such, they are a completely trustworthy MINIMUM. I speculated yesterday that they're perhaps just 1/10th of the birds that are being killed - bearing in mind how difficult it is to find the victims, especially as many must be poisoned on land with limited access by people who don't want to be discovered - as recorded incidents of finding buries corpses suggest.

    And what about the surge in numbers ? Well, it comes after a relentless campaign against predators painstakingly and horrifyingly described in Roger Lovegrove's book 'Silent Fields' which we topped off in the 50s and 60s with DDT. So, this peak is from an incredibly low base - what I'd ask again is what, now we have such good raptor science thanks to people like Ian Newton, is the capability for raptors of a British landscape free of persecution ?

    Gamekeepers good and bad will go on being hammered till they sort out the bad apples - and noone knows better then themselves who those are. I know. The whole forestry proffesion took the flak for the Flow Country - despite England by then having long stopped upland planting and there are still attempts over 20 syears on to resurrect it by some conservationists - reputations are hard won and every gamekeeper suffers, however unjustly, from those who break the law.

  4. Great blog Mark. It really annoys me that people like Loise Gray writing for the Daily Telegraph are actually "allowed" to print this rubbish. I agree with your view that this rag can rightly be added to your list of "RAPTOR HATERS". Louise Gray has published bird of prey related nonsense stories in the past, and whilst other papers can also be gulty from time to time, the Daily Telegraph appear to be top of the league by some distance.
    Whilst you post this part of your story under the sub-title "almost as an afterthought", to me it the most important part of your blog. The NGO and other members of the shooting fraternity often make spurious claims, but without the oxygen of publicity provided by the press then they largely fall on deaf ears. You only have to read Alex Hogg's SGA blog to see what some members of the shooting crowd believe. When 'respected' members of the national press publish such unbalanced articles, even putting their own additional sensationalist spin on things, then I believe it is far more damaging. In some cases you can probably put these stories down to lazy journalism, but others including the one today are a little more sinister.
    Perhaps a seperate article on such stories is called for. I am sure that you have a wealth of similar tripe that has been published in the past at your disposal. It would be interesting to see who has been the main culprit for writing these garbage articles and which members of the national press are most to to blame for printing them. A league table would be nice.

    1. Mal - thank you. You probably shouldn't look at Robin Page's piece in the Telegraph today - i will blog on him and it next week.

  5. There’s a useful piece about the SOC article on the Raptor Persecution Scotland blog (http://raptorpersecutionscotland.wordpress.com/2011/11/01/tip-of-the-iceberg/) that predicts exactly the type of response that Dr Helen Brook has provided. It’s hard to comprehend that someone who is presumably well-educated can be so poorly informed as to question whether the problem of illegal raptor persecution exists. It does exist, as any rudimentary research on the topic will show.

    Re: the SOC article itself. I’ve read it, and although it’s not the best written paper in the world, it’s an important one because it provides ‘better’ evidence than do the usual anecdotal reports about the extent of unreported persecution incidents. It uses data that are derived from archival material held by Atholl Estate. The main weakness of the paper (in my view) is that the author did not review the archival data himself; he relied upon material that had been gathered from the archives by someone else. This isn’t ideal, because as any historian will tell you, you need to understand the context of the data and the way the data were collected, stored and subsequently analysed. However, given that these data originated from the Atholl Estate archives, presumably if they have been misrepresented within this paper then someone from Atholl Estate will make that known. Until Atholl Estate decides to publish the original archival data for public scrutiny, then we can only rely upon someone else’s interpretation of those data. Given the caveats above, I personally don’t (yet) have any good reason to doubt the authenticity of these data, which show, very clearly, that illegal raptor persecution is far more prevalent than the official statistics would suggest.

    You ask ‘why do they do this?’ It’s simple – because they can get away with it, with a few rare exceptions. To use your apple and barrel analogy: it’s a rare apple that rots alone in the barrel.

    1. Ruth - welcome and thanks for a very thoughtful and interesting comment. I agree with your last paragraph - and even if we are both wrong, it's not at all an unreasonable view to hold. I hope that you and others will also be responding to the request in the November Birdwatch for views on the way forward with hen harriers. Thoughtful comments most welcome.

  6. Well I hate any form of raptor persecution but it is almost impossible to stop and the argument that it is illegal gathers no backing from me as it seems from my observation that very very likely those people claiming the high ground that it is illegal almost all of them use mobiles while driving and/or exceed speed limits.Now they do not see that as bad indeed some even brag but if they kill a child or anyone else then they are just as big a criminal as those they condemn.Quite honestly I think that the idea that the gamekeepers know the guilty ones is wrong as I very much doubt the guilty ones say anything about it and so the innocent ones are annoyed at being accused of things they are innocent of.The two things such as raptors and game birds enjoying the same space on estates managed for shooting is an impossible ask to which no one seems to find a answer and for sure lots of clever people have tried so it must be almost impossible to solve.

    1. Hi Dennis,

      As you have pointed out if you have an unaturally high density of prey, it is able to support and likely to attract an unnaturally high denisty of predators, Driven Grouse shooting relies upon having these very high densities to make the shoots as profitable as possible.

      Are we not entitled to expect the law to be enforced? and where there is a continual failure to abide by the law should we not expect further action to be taken (we licence drivers and ultimately these licences are revoked for continually flouting the speed limit etc).

      Non of which moves us any closer to a solution to the problem, my personal belief is that stiffer punishments (suspension of shooting rights for example) would discourage the practice and ultimately see raptors protected, unfortunately that does beg the question of how these commercial ventures would survive and opens a whole new bag of worms both in how they continue to operate and what would become of the moors without their management.



  7. I think the big thing that has changed in recent years is the increase in 'greed' by many of these estate owners. When I covered both Croglin and Knarsdale moors the number of breeding Birds of Prey went up. The new owners want 1000s of Red Grouse and nothing else. They then only employ game keepers that give them results. They will even go to buying local village shops to try and win over the locals. Map all these Red Grouse moors now and you will be lucky to find a breeding Peregrine even though they were there in the 1980s and 1990s.

  8. Mike,I completely agree with you but of course no one has the courage to bring in such draconian measures to deter these crimes which are harder to catch than mobile phone users,the latter could be completely stopped if anyone caught had their car crushed and the same type of thing applies to all crime.If the punishment is severe most of it will disappear.

  9. Lets be honest here, the individual keeper or the NGO if they do not have precise evidence know who does what, they are better informed amongst themselves than we seem to be. They say what they say because all they do and say is at the behest of their employers!
    They do it, yes because they can get away with it, because by and large they are instructed to, not to goes against the MAJORITY view and gets them the sack.
    its estate owners we need to target not their minions.

  10. A very good Blog Mark, although extremely one sided, I also see you have a great dislike for newspapers who do not post great pictures of the persecuted species for your own gratification.
    Anyone, who dares to disagree with your well publicised opinions is branded a Raptor Hater.
    I have read articles referring to yourself as a legend of our time.
    The UK's No1 Raptor Worshipper.
    We live on an Island, would you agree?
    This Island has limited space, would you agree?
    What happens when a large powerful organisation like the RSPB, yes I did say large powerful organisation. Refuses to listens to hundreds of thousands of other concerned inhabitants. Who raise great concerns about the overpopulation of certain species of Raptors.
    Alarm bells, siren, warning!! Raptor Hater Alert.
    Actually, I am not and have done much over the last 25 years to help them and other endangered species, that also inhabit this Island.
    I am a concerned member of the public, who has over the years, tried to publicise many injustices on this great Island of ours.
    Maybe in 12 months from now I may be in line for your much publicised The Nature Of Harming Award.
    Many claims have been made about great concerns about overpopulating our Island with Raptors. But being of the highly educated portion of the population, who is a great authority on all things concerning Raptors, you choose to rubbish any suggestion.
    You show pictures of small numbers of killed Raptors and suddenly we have turned into a whole Island of Raptor Persecutors, who want to hunt down these magnificent creatures to extinction.
    Nothing could be any further from the truth.
    There is a problem and it's a huge problem. You just refuse to hear of it.
    As our population of pigeon fanciers have been trying to tell the RSPB for the last 20 years, there is a problem.
    A problem that needs addressing and addressing very soon.
    You are trying to your best to discredit the pigeon fancier, because he has great concerns. But it's not really a true picture of the pigeon fancier, is it?
    4 out of over a hundred thousand.
    I know that they should not have said what they have said and as a pigeon fancier myself, I do not condone their actions.
    But I do agree with their concerns.
    I, on the other hand, am a good natured person, who believes in democracy and will not take matters into my own hands.
    Instead, I have decided to take your approach and publicise this matter and am currently running a petition, to get our concerns heard.
    Because I have every faith in the system, that you are currently abusing.
    If persecution of Raptors, is as widespread as you say, then I am afraid you have caused it.
    Many people say I am wasting my time, trying to publicise this action, I am not one of them. I do believe with the support of the other unimportant people that reside on this Island, we can make our concerns heard and maybe stop you thinking you are a god like figure, that should be worshipped by the rest of The Raptor Worshipping Community.
    Kind Regards


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