The raptor haters? – Magnus Linklater

Magnus Linklater is a clever man as befits some Old Etonians and some former editors of The Scotsman newspaper.  I’ve only met him once and we got on quite well as we looked at the heather moors of the Langholm Estate one sunny day.

He wouldn’t deserve a place in this occasional series of articles, about those who appear to be less than full admirers of the magnificence of golden eagles, hen harriers, sparrowhawks and the like, just because he owns and manages a grouse moor (or is that his wife’s really?) as we all know that grouse moor managers and owners are divided on the merits of the hen harrier – not very equally divided, but divided all the same.  Magnus may, for all I know, be a great admirer of the talon-equipped raptors.

His article in the Scottish edition of the Times in 2007 entitled ‘All right eagles shouldn’t be poisoned. But...’ would be a strong contender for entry to this series on its own, and he has penned other articles which aren’t exactly gushingly in favour of the mighty eagles and falcons of the world (here, here).  I think he deserves his place – what do you think?

In his latest article, the claws are out for the RSPB in a kind of lazy, clever way.  His article, in the Observer, timed, provocatively you might think, to coincide with the ‘not very glorious 12th’ starts with a description of the AGM of the RSPB.  It’s quite a good description but I’m not sure it is a first-hand description as I didn’t see Magnus there last year.  Maybe I missed him, or maybe his account is based on that of a mate and padded out with information gleaned from the RSPB’s Annual report.

Magnus’s article is full of remarks like: the RSPB has incurred the hostility of farmers, landowners and even the rural communities among whom it works‘, ‘Landowners and farmers claim that there is something odd about the RSPB’s very public campaigns’, ‘Landowners and farmers, who find themselves on the receiving end of hostile publicity, say’ and, to be fair, these sweeping generalisations are  backed up with quotes from a single gamekeeper and a single land owner from Kent.  I’m sure that Magnus’s dinner party companions chunter on about the RSPB in such tones but it’s just possible that that is not a very representative sample of folk.

It suits Linklater’s paper-thin argument (that the RSPB is out of touch and out of sorts with all those ‘real’ country people) to promote the rural myth that most RSPB members are urban.  Those 1.1 million people are a bunch of townies apparently.  What evidence could Linklater provide to back up this assertion I wonder, other than the mutterings and splutterings around dinner tables after a day’s grouse or pheasant shooting?  I recommend that he reads Chapter 12 of Fighting for Birds for some corrective information on this subject.  But Linklater himself seems to live in a town, the New Town of Edinburgh, where he no doubt has dinner parties before decamping to the heather-clad hills for country suppers.  Apparently it’s OK to live in a town provided you go to the country to kill things now and again. I, myself, would like to be ‘rurban‘.

Let me give you one example of what I regard as Magnus’s lazy cleverness.  He’s kind enough to quote me in his article – in a rather disparaging way.  In discussing the RSPB’s reaction to an important piece of science carried out by the Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust, Linklater writes as follows;

‘This was dismissed by the RSPB’s former conservation director, Mark Avery, as “work… funded by grouse-moor managers who are keen to promote the wider value of grouse-moor management… predator control, legal and too often illegal, is part of the business of delivering lots of grouse to the shooting parties in the autumn.”

For a measured response to a serious scientific paper this borders on the facile, but highlights the yawning gulf between the two sides.‘.

You can check that I have faithfully recorded Magnus’s words by following the link that I have already given you (and here it is again). That passage is the only support that Magnus gives for his assertion that the RSPB ignored this important scientific study.  Those little rows of stops (…) show areas where words have been omitted. It is usual to do that to save space and preserve sense but here is the full text, the un-Magnussed version, of what I wrote:

work was funded by grouse moor managers who are keen to promote the wider value of grouse moor management.  This study does certainly confirm what has been thought for quite some time that the systematic removal of large elements of native wildlife such as foxes, crows, magpies, stoats and  weasels will benefit some ground-nesting birds.  No doubt the RSPB will be told that we should join in the massive scale of predator removal that occurs on many upland estates. Our management philosophy is to start with habitat management and to use predator control as a tool of last resort.  The situation is completely different for a grouse moor manager.  The whole business of grouse shooting depends on there being lots of grouse to shoot from the Glorious 12th onwards through the shooting season.  So predator control, legal and too often illegal, is part of the business of delivering lots of grouse to the shooting parties in the autumn. ‘.

So, Magnus’s version of what I wrote was 40 words and the actual version of his chosen excerpt was over 140 – that’s quite some edit! And the excerpt was from a blog of over 700 words devoted to talking about this study, written at the time the article was published, so hardly, as Magnus stated, virtually ignoring it.  I even called the study ‘interesting and important’ – which it is, but maybe I was just being facile.  Here is the link to that two and a half year old blog which you can see was not dismissive but was a reasonable thoughtful commentary on the work.  However, in a lazy clever sort of way it seemed to suit Magnus to portray it in a different way.  And here is the link to the study itself.

When it comes to ignoring science, Magnus does quite well himself. He fails to mention that the most powerful test of the potential impact of sparrowhawks on songbirds was not only carried out by the BTO scientist Dr Stewart Newson (whom he does mention) but also other BTO staff, academics from St Andrews University and a scientist from his own favoured GWCT.  Linklater’s description of the study is that the evidence against the sparrowhawk was ‘unproven’ although the authors say that ‘for the majority of the songbird species examined there is no evidence that increases in common avian predators or Grey Squirrels are associated with large-scale population declines‘.  When scientists say ‘there is no evidence’ that is a pretty strong statement.  Is this just the difference in terminology between the English and Scottish legal systems or is it that Linklater will never be  convinced, as a true countryman (with a town house in Edinburgh) that predators aren’t evil, aren’t causing havoc and should be tolerated by all?

There are plenty of clear errors of course (whose is the Red Data List, does the Red List really list only globally threatened species, wasn’t Linklater’s favourite GWCT study carried out at Otterburn (the clue is in the name – the Otterburn Study) which is in Northumberland rather than Yorkshire, are golden eagles flourishing (I wish!), do the BTO and RSPB differ over the population trends of raptors, were red grouse all but eliminated from Langholm?) which betray Linklater’s careless grasp of nature conservation and the facts that underpin our understanding of these issues.

There are jokes too – many will laugh (to use the type of phrase that Linklater employs so often) when he describes Lord Peel as a conservationist.  Clearly we are all conservationists now.  No-one, except some in the shooting community, equates nature conservation with the industrialised shooting of grouse and pheasants and the industrialised killing of so-called ‘vermin’ such as foxes and crows.

This article, as with this recent article in Shooting Times, is written, I assume, for consumption within the grouse-shooting community to buoy their spirits.  It is written to try to maintain flagging morale, rather than to make any serious points or advance any worthwhile cause.  It is the type of article that makes your side cheer and the other side snigger.  And you only have to read the comments attached to the article online to see that such a poor piece of argument, cleverly written all the same, backfires with those who are not the normal habituees of the Linklater dinner-party circuit – normal people are quite able to see through all of this.

In fact, we have to thank Magnus Linklater for collecting together in one place most of the misconceptions, downright inaccuracies, prejudices and myths about the RSPB in one handy article.  Rarely has such a complete job been done.  Here are the ones that I can spot:

  • the RSPB is obsessed with raptors (look at the RSPB’s website and see if you think the same – start here perhaps)
  • the RSPB’s members are townies (see above)
  • RSPB nature reserves are badly managed (see figures on bird numbers here)
  • the RSPB doesn’t care for small birds (look at the RSPB’s website and see if you think the same – start here perhaps)
  • the RSPB is anti-shooting (look at the RSPB’s website and see if you think the same – start here perhaps)
  • RSPB staff and members are anti-farmer (look at the RSPB’s website and see if you think the same – start here perhaps)
  • RSPB ignores the science (look at the RSPB’s website and see if you think the same – start here perhaps)
  • RSPB cares about membership numbers more than nature conservation (look at the RSPB’s website and see if you think the same – start here perhaps).

Some of the cleverness of the writing is really quite well deployed.  The RSPB ‘admits‘ that it helps the police try to catch people who break wildlife laws – I’m sure the RSPB is proud to be on the side of law and order and wouldn’t regard this as an admission. Linklater writes ‘ The RSPB, however, maintains a passionate campaign on behalf of all birds of prey, irrespective of their numbers’. Irrespective of their numbers? – I don’t think so, when hen harrier and golden eagle are missing from large parts of Scotland and northern England because of illegal persecution according to government, conservationists, scientific papers and even Linklater’s NGO of choice, the GWCT.  Linklater writes ‘Privately, RSPB officials will concede that farmers or landowners do much good work to propagate bird species – planting bird-friendly crops, burning heather and killing vermin in order to improve shooting prospects. In public, however, support for those who kill birds for sport is rarely if ever expressed.‘ whereas publicly the RSPB is always singing the praises of wildlife-friendly land managers, some of whom are also shooters.

We must thank the Observer for publishing such a long account (3000+ words) of the misconceptions of a clever man fully embedded within the shooting community.  Let’s have more of such nonsense as it will drive people to the arms of real nature conservationists in droves.



65 Replies to “The raptor haters? – Magnus Linklater”

  1. Great article Mark, glad to see Magnus out of the closet. If only he was honest in his articles about his background and misconceptions, although I would think most people could smell this within 2 minutes of reading his poorly researched and written article.

  2. There’s no need for any membership based conservation organisation to be apologetic about caring about membership. It is the members that give the organisations the funds that allow us to achieve our conservation objectives whether this is on our own reserves or in the wider countryside or through changing policy through campaigns. Naturally members have expectations that have to be met if they are to continue to be members.
    As an ex-townie I’m also through bored by the townie – ruralie (?) debate. What matters is whether people care enough to join and/or take action.

  3. Between you and George Monbiot I think you have just about nailed Magnus and demonstrated how a well-written piece of ‘investigative journalism’ should be sourced and referenced. Enjoy Birdfair.

  4. When I read Linklater’s article, the thing that struck me most was his outrage at the RSPB supporting the police in tracking down wildlife crime. In my younger, less respectable days, I was prepared to break the law in support of a cause I believed in. I thought that was morally justified, but it would be understandable if not everyone agreed. This is the first time I have seen supporting the law and helping the police portrayed as some kind of extremist behaviour!

    Linklater seems really angry that the police should interfere in what big landowners do on their property, and says that people wouldn’t like it if it happened in their homes. The fact is that if ordinary folk break the law, the police can come into our homes. Far from landowners being treated unfairly, it seems as though some of them feel the status quo is being challenged when people like the RSPB demand that they are treated like everyone else, and prosecuted for doing things that are illegal.

  5. RSPB obsessed with raptors – Why did they not get their members to sign the E petition!!
    On another note – ‘Bridge’ tunnel traps over all the moors killing Polecats, Red Squirrels [yes they do travel away from woodland] and Water Voles [Cumbria’s last population were found on the Alston moors]. My point being these traps kill everything that go into them. I even have a picture of a Tawny owl killed by one. Wide open with no defense for any thing. They need banning.

  6. The Observer article did make me laugh. Surely this chap is just trying to get more hits for his story by being deliberately controversial or to put it more accurately, plain wrong.
    Recently it seems there is a wildlife story about someone complaining wildlife everyday. a couple of days ago it was the Welsh NFU attack beaver reintroduction, last week this observer article….

  7. To add to my last comment, I’ve noticed comments have been closed on the Observer article. To many disagreeing with him perhaps?

  8. The little row of stops, that will be an ‘Ellipsis’ That’s the word for the three stops. Not trying to be smart, just really like the word, and that there is a word for those three stops. Love the language.

  9. I think I read this on the Guardian, he got slammed in the comments section, I think the man had better stay in his little manor-the commoners are not impressed…you could say the pitch forks were out.

    What a idiot of a man.

  10. As you have correctly pointed out Mark, this bilge from Magnus Linklater is really nothing new. In fact the general tone of his latest article is remarkably similar to one which appeared in The Times on the 9th February 1995 and was also published in the July 1995 edition of the short-lived ‘Farming & Conservation’ magazine, although on that occasion he didn’t single out the RSPB, just conservationists in general.

    The title for that article was: ‘Are the grouse-hunters better conservationists than the greens?’ This was accompanied with the sub-title: ‘Magnus Linklater believes that naturalists should come out from under the cover and leave the balancing of nature to sporting landowners’.

    Commenting on report on the condition of heather moorland (which he didn’t name lest the reader should wish to read it themselves and draw their own conclusions) he wrote:
    “It pays lip-service to the importance of a well-maintained (grouse) moor, but cannot quite bring itself to accept that the only people prepared to bear the cost are those whose interest it is to shoot large numbers of grouse; that grouse and birds of prey do not go well together; and that there will always be a conflict between the interests of the sporting landowner and the bird-lover”.
    “Forty years ago a good bag on a well-managed moor could be as much as 400 grouse in day. There were also higher numbers of golden eagles, hen harriers and buzzards too, so logically the report should be urging a return to something like the regime that existed then, when the game-keeper made his own rules and maintained the balance that he, rather than the conservationists, wanted”.

    I came across this article in early 2001 whilst in my final year at University and kept a copy as it serves as a good reminder, if a reminder is needed, of the breath-taking arrogance and ecological illiteracy of many ‘sporting’ landowners.

  11. How we need people like yourself Mark to show what awful people they are.
    Hate this nonsense how they try and make out us who live in the country are hunting shooting people,having spent all my life in the countryside it seems to me most love the wildlife and raptors are part of it.Lots of villages have wildlife groups.

  12. Marcus Linklater fully deserves his place here. In fact, I believe he should go to the top of the table. As well as trashing birds of prey, he has openly disparaged the RSPB, with a pathetic and unsupported argument. It’s men like him, that drive me, an ex-shooting man, in favour of the ‘nuclear’ option you describe in Chapter 11 of your book Mark.

    I’d rather be a Rurban than a Ural…

  13. Well I hadn’t heard of Magnus Linklater until this article and thought that he was Ghost writing under a made up name for Enid Blyton.
    A superb response Mark – chapter 11 page 194 – you have my vote for route 3.

  14. Yes.

    The shooting industry has a clever line on the RSPB. It is that at the RSPB is a secret conspiracy to push raptors only, and absolutely only, to bring in money from ignorant urban punters. The RSPB do this in secret.

    So if anyone asks the RSPB about this, the RSPB will deny this is so – this denial being part of the conspiracy – and proving the conspiracy.

    In such a situation the RSPB just can’t win that enquier over.

  15. Urban man smart…think pigeon. Pigeon picks away at a hamburger in the street and jumps out of the way of a ten tonne double-decker bus with a nano-second to spare.

    Rural man stupid… think pheasant. Pheasant picks away at some grit in a country lane and on sight of a 4×4 (preferably with CA, GWCT and BSCA stickers) happily waddles under the wheels.

  16. There must be a bit of an obsession with raptors if people are calling for vicarious criminal liability for people whose employees persecute them. When people are persecuted – for example by genocidal militias the people in charge of them have to be proved to have had a role in instructing such genocide to be carried out. This does seem in line with natural justice. We have an offence of corporate manslaughter but again it requires proof of failings on the part of those in charge of a company.

    From what I can tell your proposed offence would not require the Grouse Moor owner to have had any role whatsoever in the crimes of their servant. It seems odd that you do not think he or she should be afforded the same basic principles of natural justice as meglomaniac generals and political leaders who oversee genocide. Yes shooting an eagle is a heinous crime but so was the death of so many innocent Muslims at Srebrenica or over half a million Tutsis in Rwanda.

    However heinous these acts before we hold people criminally liable for them we need to prove in a court of law what their role in their perpetration was. That is a fundamental tenet of natural justice to which every one has a right.

    Even if they are Eton educated toffs…

    1. Sorry Giles you and I have spoken of this before and you are wrong you would still have to prove that the employer/agent whatever was liable it is not and would not be automatic. I will say one thing several ex and retired keepers have told me that no keeper persecutes without being told to, those doing the telling are currently getting away with it is this right? No it damned well is not they are as criminal as the culprit and it is long past time they were held responsible.

      1. Of course you’d have to prove the grouse moor owner was liable. Under the concept of vicarious liability he’s liable if he is the grouse moor owner! There would be no need to prove he had any role whatsoever in instructing or commissioning the crime.

        I’d completely agree that people who instruct or commission employees to commit crimes should share criminal liability for those crimes.

        Civil liability is of course a completely different situation. There is certainly a case to me made for an estate’s civil liability for actions committed by its employees and representatives.

        You say “they are as criminal as the culprit” – in that case their criminality should be proved just as the culprits has to be.

      2. So now we have the defenders of raptor killers showing their true colours – they also defend some of the most brutal of the world’s dictators! Says it all!

        1. Not so Gladys. I am in fact against genocide and people poisoning protected birds of prey. I personally think genocide is somewhat worse than raptor killing. Thinking that responsibility for a crime should have to be proven by a court before a conviction is a basic tenet of natural justice.

          I don’t defend any of these things nor do I defend murder and rape or many other criminal offences.

          1. The fact is we all know that the idiots running our moors tell their keepers to kill wildlife. That’s proof enough.

            And your attempt to play the ‘class card’ is pathetic.

        2. Well it was Mark that bought up the subject of Eton so I assumed it was somehow relevant.

      3. “Those doing the telling are currently getting away with it is this right?” NO! It’s not right.

        It’s also not right that rapists get away with it, nor murderers, nor other criminals. However they do and one of the reasons they do is that we have to prove they committed the offence.

        I completely agree that instructing an employee to commit a criminal offence should itself be a criminal offence. I’m pretty sure it already is. But like rape, murder etc the act of instructing the employee would have to be proved in court.
        However that is not what the offence of vicarious criminal liability is.

        1. Sorry Giles vicarious liability is actually a bad name for it. there is absolutely no doubt that under the law as operating in Scotland and any proposal in England you would have to prove liability to convict.

          1. “vicarious liability is actually a bad name for it” – Maybe Mark could explain exactly what the offence he wishes to create is?

    2. There is news today of strengthening the law against dangerous dog owners. The owner is liable for damage caused by their dog against a third person and can go to jail for failing to prevent their dog causing any damage. Why is this any different to a landowner failing to prevent his gamekeeper from causing damage to wildlife that has legal protection. Seems like the principle is well accepted and should be applied more widely where people failure to take responsibility for the damage their pets/employees cause. It could be argued the position of the landowner is worse than the dog owner. The latter is merely negligent, the landowner deliberately causes the law to be broken for his own pleasure/profit.

  17. Yes Linklater is relatively clever in the way he has put things even condeming, although mildly the lack of harriers in England but unfortunatley that is a transparent attempt to appear reasonable so we swallow the rest of the bilge about raptors and RSPB.
    If RSPB are being attacked and villified by the likes of this man and the rest of the persecution apologists and benefactors of persecution then quite simply the RSPB is getting it right, I for one think they are being too mild, soft and not outspoken enough about the criminals and apologists for criminals that infest the shooting fraternity. One only has to read Shooting Times( which I do in the supermarket without buying it!) to see acres of unscientific drivel about raptors, predators in general, RSPB and those of us that don’t like the way shooting conducts itself. This week some dimwit says that if wolves were introduced to Scotland then they would kill sheep in preference to deer, this is in direct opposition to all the research done in Italy and Spain where it has been shown that wolves will kill 98 deer for very sheep—– seems they dont like plucking wool or the taste of mutton.

    The Countryside Areliars ( a great name Coop!) praise Linklaters article on their website as “balanced” That says it all, they are all head in the sand fools or support criminality no if but or may be.

    1. Could you link to that research? – I tried googling for it but could only find an article about wolves killing 98 sheep overnight in Russia! I’m interested in arguments pro and anti wolf and lynx reintroduction.

    2. Ok found a write up of a report here:

      however it does say “Levels of losses to wolves are likely to be far higher than those experienced in the USA and Europe, where sheep are generally grazed in flocks on pasture, attended by shepherds.”

      so they may have a point…

      Interesting that it also says wolf reintroduction might benefit grouse moor owners by reducing foxes and other predators.

      I’m sure that the missing large predators have a massive effect on our ecosystem.

  18. The day the RSPB stops pursuing the conviction of those who persecute birds of prey will be the day I cancel my membership subscription DD. Linklater’s bitching about the fact this is very much a part of the RSPB’s current operation serves to convince me that my annual investment in membership is money well spent.

    I did take the time to write to my MP about the Buzzard “control” nonsense. A reply never was forthcoming.

    (I’m enjoying the new book by the way Mark……)

    1. John B – Thank you, welcome, I’m sorry you’re not the sloop because I like the sloop, and I’m glad you are enjoying the book!

        1. There’s a good one in Porthgain too but this is not a geographically specific sloop. It is culturally specific though.

  19. Agree 100% about the VCL issue. The thinking on it seems to be – we know that some estates instruct keepers to kill protected wildlife but it’s hard to prove. So the answer is to create a new offence that does not require proof that they instructed their keeper to kill wildlife.

    Unless you can prove that ALL estates instruct keepers that kill protected wildlife this is unjust. And if you can then there’s no need for the new offence anyway.

  20. You ask: “Will we get a well-penned series of comments defending Linklater? Not so far!”

    1. Well, I am more than happy to stand up for Magnus and his piece in the Observer. But I should declare an interest first. I know Magnus; indeed we first met at Lake Vyrnwy of all places where we had been kindly invited by your former RSPB colleagues after we had separately been critical of the management there: I had asked a question at the AGM about research findings that highlighted the devastating impact on young blackgame as a result of predation by goshawks, and Magnus had written a questioning piece in a Scottish newspaper. Like Magnus I am a landowner in Scotland. I am a longstanding member and supporter of the Game & Wildlife Conservation Trust whose research Magnus commends in his piece. Oh, and I also went to Eton, though quite what that has to do with the debate I really don’t know. Likewise I was struck by your reference to the fact that Magnus lives in the [exclusive] New Town of Edinburgh, “where he no doubt has dinner parties before decamping to the heather-clad hills for country suppers. Apparently it’s OK to live in a town provided you go to the country to kill things now and again.” With its not very subtle allusion to the contents of David Cameron’s text correspondence I assume you are seeking to present Magnus as the equivalent of a posh boy who doesn’t know the price of milk. Mark, such gratuitously chippy swipes do your argument no favours, frankly.

    2. But turning to the substance of the argument, I dare say that you and Magnus are never going to agree about raptors. Having said that, I seem to recall that around this time last year, both on this very blog and in The Field, you were supporting the idea of some kind of ceiling or quota scheme for hen harriers of the sort proposed by Professor Steve Redpath. Can you please tell me why is it ok for scientists such as you and Steve to endorse the idea of a managed solution to the grouse/raptor debate, but when someone like Magnus expresses concern about the impacts of raptors he is damned on the grounds of his class and branded a raptor hater? I do note that you appear to have hardened your position since last year; I have now received my copy of “Fighting for Birds”, and was naturally disappointed to see your shift towards “the nuclear option” of banning driven grouse shooting altogether, a course of action that I dare say would find favour with some of the followers of this blog.

    3. In what I can only describe as a rather supercilious way you dismiss as “misconceptions, downright inaccuracies, prejudices and myths” the clear and widespread concerns that are felt by many in the countryside about the RSPB’s policies, power and influence, as highlighted by Magnus. It is quite clear that far from relying on “the chunterings” of his fellow Edinburgh toffs, he has spoken to a lot of people in a variety of fields in his research for the article, and possibly, just possibly, some of them might be right. Remember, as you yourself concede in “Fighting for Birds”, it took the Joint Raptor Study to change the RSPB’s cast-iron view on the acute impact that hen harriers can have on grouse populations. Similarly, largely thanks to the findings of the Otterburn study, I suggest, the RSPB is gradually adopting a more active approach to predator control to protect upland ground nesting species such as golden plover, lapwing and curlew. Incidentally, you complain about Magnus’s selective quotation from your blog entry about Otterburn. But I remember your piece very well – indeed I think I may well have chipped in about it at the time. Whatever gloss you try and put on it now, it really was a snide and grudging response to a truly significant piece of scientific research.

    4. Furthermore, you seek to address many of Magnus’s criticisms simply by providing links to the RSPB’s own website, but that is inevitably likely to be self-serving and in some cases wholly inadequate. Take one example, namely the disappointing results from Geltsdale and Lake Vyrnwy. Understandably the RSPB is very coy about the fact that, in terms of wader populations at least, Geltsdale has historically fallen far, far below the surrounding managed grouse moors in the North Pennine SSSIs. That said, I note that George Monbiot in the Guardian quotes the RSPB to the effect that “the number of golden plovers rose by 70% between 2000 and 2010, while curlew numbers doubled”. Certainly, put like that, the percentage increase looks pretty dramatic, but without knowing what numbers we are talking about it is difficult to judge just how successful it has really been. Thus a 70% increase in a population of, say, 2 pairs is not that impressive… It’s also right to observe that the improvements in habitat that have been undertaken (commendably) at Geltsdale may well have encouraged immigrants from neighbouring ground. But significantly, the RSPB is silent about fledging success on its own reserve. Incidentally, in fairness to Magnus, he was quite open in acknowledging that Geltsdale has bucked the trend with its recent increase in blackgame numbers.

    5. However, moving on to Lake Vyrnwy, if anything Magnus was too generous in his comments. For not only has there been no increase over 10 years in the populations of curlew, lapwing or golden plover, their plight has in fact been significantly worse. For example no golden plovers have bred there since 1986. There have been no lapwings since the late 1980s; likewise no snipe. Curlew numbers went down from the 18-21 pairs that there were in 1984-6 to just two pairs in 2000, and despite a management plan that included a discrete curlew restoration project there were still only two pairs last year. I’ve yet to hear a satisfactory explanation for such a lamentable record of stewardship. And as if that isn’t bad enough, the RSPB has the gall to think it is the right body to buy Lake Vyrnwy.

    6. One final point: I really must come to the defence of the noble Lord Peel and challenge your sniffy response to Magnus’s characterisation of him as a “conservationist”. I have no doubt that you and Willie Peel had many a robust disagreement about various aspects of RSPB policy, but your own portrayal of him is a gross caricature. The truth is that he has a wealth of knowledge and experience of upland ecology and was acknowledged across party lines as a genuinely enlightened countryman when he was sitting in the House of Lords.

    1. Lazywell – many thanks for your comment. I have numbered the paragraphs so that I can reply to each in turn. As you know, you have always been welcome on this blog.

      I have corresponded with Magnus offering him a guest blog here and I’ll also make the same offer to the RSPB. I wonder whether either will accept the offer.

      1. Of course your and Magnus’s schooling has no great relevance to the debate – but the fact that you are both grouse moor owners does. Much more so in the case of Magnus’s article in the Observer than your comments here but thank you for being so open. Writing a 3000 word article which strongly supports (in what I would still maintain seems to me to be a clever (I notice you didn’t object to me calling your friend clever) but lazy (actually – you didn’t object to that either) way) one side of an argument without owning up to having a very clear vested interest on that side of the argument is a bit rich. In such circumstances mentioning a few facts about the author’s background seems OK to me – and I provided the reference to Wikipedia too. ‘A posh boy who doesn’t know the price of milk’ are your words not mine and I didn’t mention David Cameron once – thank you for bringing him into this discussion.

      You did ask a question about goshawks at the RSPB AGM (by the way, have you ever seen Magnus at an RSPB AGM?) but I wouldn’t accept that the research to which I think you refer showed anything like what you have claimed here.

      2. Again, you and Magnus can hold whatever views you like about raptors or anything else – and you can express them here on this blog pretty freely too – but please get the facts right and disclose what might be a pretty big vested interest, or be relaxed about them being challenged.

      My views about grouse shooting do vacillate a bit. I have no fundamental objection to red grouse being shot (although it wouldn’t be what I would want to do myself) and so I don’t really want to go for the nuclear option – I am reluctant to press the button. However, the almost complete absence of hen harriers and golden eagles from most of the grouse moors in the UK makes my blood boil, and when that biological fact is accompanied by such nonsense (in my opinion) as your friend Magnus’s Observer article then there seems little point in carrying on talking about this issue when grouse moor management is so inimicable to protected wildlife and (closet) grouse moor managers write such tosh about the subject. At such times I think ‘if sporting interests can’t stick to the law then why should I be bothered about being tolerant?’. But I want to be tolerant – and hence the vacillation.

      3. You are very welcome to use the terms snide, grudging and supercilious about my remarks – I can tolerate it. When Magnus described something I had written as facile I felt that he misrepresented it – and so I quoted the whole of what I said and provided the links to it. I’m happy for anyone to judge for themselves.

      Fighting for Birds has quite a good account of the Joint Raptor Study – don’t you think? That study actually changed everyone’s views. Oh hang on, maybe it didn’t, as Magnus wrote in his Observer article that in the five years of the Langholm Study ‘grouse were all but eliminated’. That is not remotely what the study found. After all these years a grouse moor owner (who hasn’t disclosed that fact to his readers) doesn’t know what the Langholm Study found and gives an account of it that is way off beam – why would anyone take those views seriously after such an error? I have looked on both the RSPB and GWCT websites (briefly) for that useful document which sets out the agreed facts on the Joint Raptor Study but without finding it on either – can anyone find it please?

      4. Magnus wrote many things about the RSPB without backing them up. It’s hardly underhand to point people to the organisation’s own words so they can judge for themselves.

      You write ‘in fairness to Magnus, he was quite open in acknowledging that Geltsdale has bucked the trend with its recent increase in blackgame numbers.’. But that isn’t actually true. Magnus wrote ‘The RSPB vigorously defends its record, claiming that black grouse at Geltsdale have shown a marked improvement, from six males in 1996 to 45 in 2011.’. Claiming? Does Magnus doubt the figures? It sounds as though he does. And he doesn’t say that this is bucking the trend – as you are accurate enough to do. Maybe Magnus should have written ‘It seems that the RSPB can certainly teach the grouse moor managers of the north Pennines a thing or two about management for black grouse having achieved, completely against the trend elsewhere, a remarkable long-term six-fold increase in the numbers of this declining species.’.

      5. I honestly don’t know whether your figures are right – I don’t work for the RSPB any more. But I would like to see the figures compared with nearby areas – as you have been kind enough to do with the black grouse Geltsdale example. It is no secret that the species that you have named have declined generally in Wales and I’m fairly sure you wouldn’t say that they hadn’t. Such comparisons are well worth doing – as is the comparison of wader numbers at Geltsdale with those on other areas nearby.

      6. Yes, I miss chats with Lord Peel, and I will admit that my characterisation was ‘sniffy’ as you put it. No worse than that though! Magnus wrote ‘For a measured response to a serious scientific paper this borders on the facile, but highlights the yawning gulf between the two sides. And it infuriates conservationists such as Lord Peel, a former member of English Nature, and past president of the Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust.’. So Magnus mentions the two ‘sides’ but shies away from disclosing which side he himself might be on as a grouse moor owner and even fails to mention that Lord Peel does a bit of grouse shooting, but instead chooses to describe him as a conservationist. So it was only a bit ‘sniffy’.

      That’s enough from me – maybe more than enough. It’s still my instinct, but no longer my job, to defend the RSPB. The RSPB is very capable of defending itself, and I don’t get paid for doing it. Magnus really won’t have come across very well to many people through writing this article. A more accurate and considered article would have been very interesting – and it ought to have been one which disclosed his potential vested interest too. But you are clearly a good friend.

  21. You asked for “well penned” comments, Mark. Sadly, all we get is the puerile trash you’ve just replied to. The word “blackgame” to describe Black Grouse says it all regarding the mindset of these people.

    1. It seems to me that Lazywell has taken quite a long time to respond in a civil and thoughtful way. It’s a shame you are quite obviously either incapable or unwilling of showing the courtesy to do likewise.

  22. Thanks very much POB. What I like about this blog is that most followers are pretty tolerant about alternative points of view, and Mark himself is prepared to accept (and publish) all manner of criticism.

    So thanks to you too, Mark, for a characteristically thorough and thoughtful response.

    I’ll just come back quickly about Lake Vyrnwy if I may. I’ve dug out the reference to the scientific paper I mentioned:
    I’ll leave it to others to decide whether I accurately summarised its findings or not.

    As for curlews at Lake Vyrnwy, the record really is as dismal as I set out. I take your point about the desirability of comparative figures, and it may well be that our mutual friend Ian Coghill can oblige. But in the meantime there are two things that I find particularly disappointing: one is the fact that there has been a curlew recovery project in place since your day which expressly provides for predator control to be undertaken. But despite the obvious lack of success so far in turning the situation around, you twice told me by another medium that you had concluded that predator control wasn’t necessary. How much more grave does it have to get before the RSPB takes the requisite action, I wonder? Martin Harper, if you read this, I do hope you heed my Cassandra-like warning before the curlew too becomes extinct on that reserve. At least if the RSPB does succeed with the land purchase, it will obviously have more direct management control, which I know has been tricky to date.

    My other grievance, which again I used to canvass with you repeatedly, Mark, is the fact that the relevant page on the RSPB website is both out of date and seriously misleading:

    It dates from May 2008, soon after the beginning of the recovery project. At that stage there had been an increase to 5-6 pairs, and reasonably enough the tone was very positive. However, four years on, the numbers are back down to their lowest level, and yet the page has still not been updated to reflect that. I recognise of course that it’s no longer your responsibility, Mark, but for an organisation that prides itself on both its science and transparency, I regard it as a serious failing for which I really can’t see any excuse.

    1. Lazywell – thank you for your kind words about this blog and its followers. You may be a little too generous to me, not in itself a bad thing, when you write that I am ‘prepared to accept (and publish) all manner of criticism’. Perhaps that should be that I am ‘prepared to publish (and accept – who knows?) all manner of criticism’ – and in that spirit I welcome your recent comment here.

      You didn’t respond to any of my comments on your last comment but instead chose to major on Lake Vyrnwy. That’s one of the things that I like about you – your ability to ignore (or accept?) all contrary evidence or views and move on to the next bit of stirring. You are incorrigible! And so we will be left to assume that you agree that Magnus should have been more open about his grouse shooting background, that you too have never seen Magnus at an RSPB AGM, that you agree that Magnus failed to grasp the details of the results of the Langholm Study and that Geltsdale is a huge success for black grouse conservation which outshines shooting estates in the north of England.

      Attacking the RSPB, which is how Magnus’s article was clearly seen by many readers (and by the sub-editor who may have written its title if Magnus did not provide it himself (Why the claws are out for the RSPB)) has become a fieldsport itself. Let’s have a pop at the RSPB! Magnus quoted the words of Philip Merricks in his article thus: ‘The recent slanging match between some landowners and the RSPB does nothing to improve effective co-operation, and meanwhile many birds continue to drift towards disappearance.’ which is highly ironic since Magnus’s article will be seen as a prime example of that very thing (particularly now, despite his own lack of disclosure, Magnus’s landowning and grouse shooting background is clear). Maybe we can accept that the RSPB is ‘more slanged against than slanging’ and move on to Lake Vyrnwy?

      Lake Vyrnwy is not only the most difficult RSPB nature reserve name to spell it is also the one most mentioned by yourself, Magnus and Lord Peel (that’s Lord Peel the landowner, grouse shooter and conservationist) and I see you say that our mutual friend Ian Coghill (I hope Ian and I are still friends) has a keen interest in it too. You all seem to think that Lake Vyrnwy is the weak point in the RSPB’s armour and you keep coming back to it looking for that chink, or claiming to have found it. Maybe it is, maybe it isn’t, I don’t have the data to hand (either in my head or on paper) but it is one reserve among over 200 and maybe the RSPB will respond here to your criticisms (that’s up to them, they may be busy saving nature, of course).

      It is fair for you (and Magnus) to ask questions of RSPB competence at managing its nature reserves and that’s why I’ve published your comment. The RSPB does talk about land management issues and so its own track record in land management is a fair topic of conversation. That’s why I was keen for the RSPB to own and manage a commercial arable farm, Hope Farm, to demonstrate competence (if possible) and to learn even more about the practicalities of farming. As you accept the importance of comparisons you will be as eager as I to see the results of the comparison between the delivery of the GWCT’s Loddington project and the RSPB’s Hope Farm. When will we see that, do you know? Don’t get me wrong, I think that both have been successes but I am fairly confident that the RSPB is not quaking in its boots over that issue. Funny that Magnus didn’t mention it but then you can’t mention everything in a mere 3000 words can you? And we are all likely to select examples that appeal most to us – Magnus did, you do and I do. That’s why it is admirable, but also important, that the RSPB published annually (there must be another one coming soon) within its nature reserves report, the population trends of priority species on its nature reserves. This is a warts-and-all summary of management success (and lack of it). I don’t know of another wildlife NGO that does anything quite as comprehensive or open. Here is the link to these documents and here is a link to what I wrote when the last one came out which does point to some lack of success

      So look across the RSPB reserve holdings as a whole to try to find those chinks in the armour, Lazywell. I’m not saying you will find any but if you do you will have a fairer point to make than by choosing one nature reserve at which to pick away. And if you can find evidence for failure of delivery in the RSPB nature reserves over the years then that will be partly my fault as that is something for which I had some responsibility for many years.

      However, I didn’t have much direct responsibility for the RSPB website (except collective corporate responsibility as a senior member of staff). I didn’t have to use the RSPB website that much as a member of staff but now being a keen and committed RSPB member I do find it very difficult to use. I often can’t find things that I know are there, let alone things that I think might be there. I do remember an article about Lake Vyrnwy, for example, but I can’t find it and so I have no idea whether it might cover some of your points – maybe it wouldn’t anyway.

      Thank you for your long detailed comment, I apologise for the length of my reply but not for its less-detailed and more general nature.

  23. Only just read this thread so this post may be a little out of date – the figures might come in handy though as this debate is sure to be revisited at some point in the future:

    Whilst certain individuals criticise the RSPB for not undertaking the type of intensive predator control practiced on grouse moors on their own RSPB reserves (cue the usual arguments about Vyrnwy), I am not aware of any attempt by these same individuals to consider the financial costs of this form of intensive management – particularly in comparison to other conservation measures. Unless the financial costs of intensive predator control are sustainable to a charitable organisation then arguments about the benefits are erroneous.

    The benefits of predator control upon ground-nesting waders in the uplands are largely based on a single G&WCT study at Otterburn. The Otterburn study investigated the benefits of predator control over an eight year period at four upland sites; one site with predator control throughout, one site without predator control throughout and two sites where predator control was switched after four years. Curlews are reasonably long-lived birds, so arguably the timescales may be too short to reveal the true extent of the benefits, but this would have been known when devising the experimental design. The results from the four different sites are as follows:

    · After eight years of predator control curlew pairs remained constant at 21.

    · After eight years of no predator control curlew pairs declined from 4 to 1.

    · After four years control curlew pairs declined from 17 to 11 and then increased during the period of no control back to 17.

    · After four years no control curlew pairs declined from 14 to 4 and then remained stable at 4 following control.

    In summary, 16 years’ worth of predator control provided a total of 4 additional curlew pairs and 16 years’ worth of no predator control coincided with a decline of 7 pairs. Even taking into account the maximum net benefit of 11 pairs over 16 years if, for arguments sake, a team of gamekeepers costs approximately £100K per year to employ and equip, the cost per curlew pair is about £150K. Hardly excellent value for money. When managing a driven grouse moor this cost can be recouped by shooting the surplus of grouse the management simultaneously delivers at the end of each breeding season. Not so for a wildlife charity. So far from ignoring the results at Otterburn, a more holistic appraisal might be that intensive management at anywhere near this cost is clearly unsustainable tool for a wildlife charity to use in order to improve the curlew’s fortunes.

    1. That’s an interesting post and demonstrates surely how economic and conservation factors can be aligned to produce results

    2. So what’s the answer Rich? Simply let the curlew follow the golden plover and lapwing and disappear from the RSPB’s Welsh upland reserves? Does the RSPB really want to be responsible for that? Is that really in accordance with its charitable objectives; or for the public good?

      The RSPB has been warning about the grave decline in these species in Wales, and urging action, since the 1990s when Barbara Young was Chief Executive. Do you remember its excellent publication “Silent Fields”? So it has certainly given the impression that it cares.

      Besides, it’s not just the curlew and other upland waders that would be benefiting; other ground nesting birds, for example at Vyrnwy the black grouse, would unquestionably benefit too. Yes, there’s a stable population of black grouse at Vyrnwy, but over a period of 30 years it’s remained pretty static: in 1980 there were three lek sites with an estimated 15 males; last year there were 19 lekking males. At Ruabon, on the other hand, where more intensive predator control is undertaken, the latest count was something of the order of 200 males. I have no figures for fledging success at Vyrnwy, and rather suspect that such periodic increases as there have been over the years could be accounted for by immigration. When there were a few more curlew there I’m pretty confident that was the case with them too.

      As Philip Merricks has shown with spectacular success on the North Kent marshes in relation to lapwing, and explained on this blog and elsewhere, it is simply not enough just to have terrific habitat. One of the other necessary management ingredients is predator control. Otherwise, you are simply running the risk of managing a conservation sink.

      As regards the extra costs that would be involved, I wouldn’t deny that that the sort of management prescription I think is necessary would require a significant increase in expenditure. And I appreciate of course that it’s a question of priorities. I’m not privy to the RSPB’s detailed accounts for the management of its reserves, but in the case of one of its reserves which I do know quite well (and greatly admire), Abernethy, I bet the expenditure to support its particular management objectives would be wholly unsustainable for a private landowner.

      Furthermore, I note from the latest Reserves Review, which Mark is regularly encouraging us to read, that the RSPB aspires to double the area of land it manages as nature reserves by 2030. Again, it is a question of priorities, and I am not against the idea of expansion in principle, but not at the expense of vulnerable species on its existing reserves.

      Put it this way: if the RSPB can’t save the curlew at Lake Vyrnwy, it should not buy the property.

  24. Sorry I’m late, I’ve been away. I can’t add anything about Vyrnwy as I don’t go there these days as the birdwatching is hardly worth it but the same can be said for a lot of upland Wales. 150 pairs of lapwings for the whole country hardly gives much encouragement.
    I am constantly surprised by the vitriol unremarkable events generate. The basic premise of the offending article is that RSPB is not universally popular with farmers and landowners. Why is this so outrageous? The poor old RSPB suffers from being huge and powerful. It occupies the same position in UK conservation as the USA in geopolitics. Even as benign a figure as President Obama has found that being huge and powerful is not a route to universal popularity.
    You may be angry about something but if there is going to be any progress, is it really helpful to refer to a considered response, one that you had requested, as ‘puerile trash’, is a serious discussion advanced by ‘Rural Man Stupid’ and ‘Countryside Areliars’?
    When it comes to lazy language Mr Linklater is at the back of the queue. Keepers, farmers, moor owners, shooting people, landowners are no more uniform in their opinions and actions than any other monority. Attacking them as a label, as appears all too often to be the case would be characterised as bigotry if it was directed elsewhere. Worse than that it doesn’t work. The RSPB is trying to constantly improve its relations with those who, whether you like it or not, will always own, farm and manage most of the rural landscape, as far I am aware they avoid calling people puerile trash if they choose to use what they consider to be a slightly old fashioned term to describe a bird.
    I’m sure the RSPB is big enough and ugly enough to deal with the criticism it sometimes gets. Being accused of things that have nothing to do with you and/or which are wrong, exaggerated or simply made up is something which I and many others like me have had to get used to, without the power and resources available to fight back possessed by the RSPB, I am confident they will get over it without being further compromised by the intemperate language of their ‘friends’.

    1. I suspect that I am one of those you accuse of intemperate language and puerile arguments Ian, they are the product of over forty years of anger and frustration at what passes for management on grouse moors. As a teenager in the sixties I first ventured to the moors of Nidderdale where a keeper ( now long retired but a voice for victorian attitudes to raptors in the press) happily pointed out where I might see Ring Ouzel, which I did see. Of course one did not see Merlin or Peregrine due to the effects of DDT. As I grew more familiar with these moors I realised often due to the conversational statements of keepers and owners themselves as to the other reason predatory birds were largely absent, quite simply they were killed. If anything as raptors have recovered from pesticide poisoning and past blanket killing in the Victorian and Edwardian eras the tolerance extended towards them when they were genuinely rare has evaporated. Example when one moor changed hands due to death and was taken over by another unseen, on that mans first visit to the moor a pair of peregrines were seen and the keeper previously instructed to protect them was told “If they are still here next time you will be looking for another job!” Now in the “modern era” we have the Amar et al paper showing that grouse moor peregrine populations are sinks where they breed so infrequently that they rely on young from elsewhere to maintain population, here in the Dales successful breeding by grouse moor peregrines is very much a thing of the past!
      I have on shoots, yes I have beaten and shot on grouse moors , but not for a long time I overheard an agent on a moor where as tenants they were instructed to obey the law say in conversation that the keeper ( who is now elswhere and still a friend)was told to obey that injunction when it came to peregrines but to kill every harier at every opportunity. The very fact that Hen Harrier is so rare as a breeder in England is due to the widespread nature of that attitude of total intolerance and disregard for the law.
      I hear and see landowners described as conservationists yet peregrinessites on their land were and are rarely if ever allowed to breed unmolested and harriers, short eared owls and buzzards are totally absent from good habitat they own or owned. I heard people from the CA and MA deny there is any persecution yet in other contexts have heard the very same people admit that it happens and even heard one of them explain how to poison badgers to another without the risk of being prosecuted. I could go on for days with similar examples.
      Yet we are expected to respect these “conservationists” and accept they have a valid point of view. Sorry no, they are criminals , apologists for criminality and I feel quite, quite justified in the use of Coop’s Countryside Areliars. Like Mark a sway between the ” nuclear option” and not, but things have to change and very quickly as currently these people are almost signing the death warrant of their “sport” by their own intransigence.

      1. Paul – interesting comments. By the way I checked the OED definition of ‘conservation’ and it says “preservation, protection, or restoration of the natural environment and of wildlife”. The notion that shooting birds for pleasure and/or financial gain = conservation conceals the fact that for many in the shooting industry some species are seen as worthy of conservation and some of obliteration.

        Mark – thoroughly enjoying ‘Fighting for Birds’. Wish I’d read a book like this 40 years ago!

        1. Thank you Little_Terns, we all still need to be alert and keep the pressure on, the very fact that this people are having a go at RSPB and other critics means they are ” on the run” but it will still be a hard and at first unrewarding struggle to get moorland management right and law abiding with or without the continuation of driven grouse shooting.
          That same keeper who kindly told me about Ring Ouzels and allowed me to trespass to see them some twenty five years later was very forthright in the local press when he thought Red Kites were to be released in Nidderdale. when asked on the moor how he really felt about kites the answer was chilling” they are like harriers and peregrines protected as long as they are out of gunshot” As I said he is long retired but I recently found a dead kite in that area that had been poisoned. Now of course its all open access but if we as birders drive the green road tracks across those moors to look at birds we are closely followed everwhere by keepers vehicles, I think its called intimidation.
          The waders that they claim are doing well because of their management, and that may be so, but some here are declining due probably to over drainage, are an irrelevance they would rather direct discussion to than the lack raptors. One cannot be used to justify the other. The discussion might go –look at all the thousands of pairs of curlew in the Dales, yes but where are the harriers? look how well the goldies and lapwing are doing, yes but where are all the harriers and peregrines? yes but the waders are doing well, I agree but they would do better if you hadn’t drained everything, oh and where are all the harriers? We should not let them off the hook

  25. Sorry, I’m late too. I was chatting to a friend today who had read the Observer piece and said it has really changed his view of the RSPB. He hadn’t realised it was a “hard-hitting campaigning organisation” and the article had made him want to join. People like Magnus Linklater should keep writing this drivel as it seems to be a good way of increasing the RSPB’s supporters. Do people like Magnus realise how out of touch they are? Maybe they spend too much time at dinner parties talking to each other. They seem to be obsessed with the RSPB. I wonder if the RSPB is equally bothered about them?

  26. If those here, who seek to justify the abuse of our natural heritage, wish to be treated with “courtesy”, might I suggest that they do likewise, by not insulting our intelligence by wrapping themselves, and their activities, in the banner of “conservation”.
    There is a world of difference between “last resort” predator control, undertaken by conservation bodies, and the systematic sterilisation of ecosystems, as practised by the shooting industry. Healthy ecosystems include a full complement of native avian and terrestrial predators. Largely thanks to popular wildlife television programmes, even a significant proportion of the lay public are fully aware of this undeniable fact. The “game” is well and truly up!
    In my previous life as a Countryside Ranger, my duties included protecting Local Nature Reserves from airgun toting youths, who targeted a wide range of species, from Blackbird to Turtle Dove. The majority came from nearby housing estates, where class A drug abuse, violence and antisocial behaviour were commonplace. These kids were largely unaware of wildlife legislation, and the majority had neither the education or intellect to understand the motivation behind the law.

    What, pray tell, is your excuse?

  27. The only thing I would agree with in the Linklater article is that farmers do still feel got at by the RSPB, although things have improved in recent years. I am a keen arable farmer in his thirties, but also keen on conservation. When I see raptors on the farm I see that as a sign of the health of the farm ecologically, as they wouldn’t be there if there wasn’t prey. My fathers generation struggle to see that unfortunately, and when they feel farming is getting blamed for falling numbers of small birds, it is understandable that they wish to blame predators. I think the RSPB should just be careful about how it approaches the subject of falling bird numbers, and be careful not to antagonise farmers. We do indeed need to work together.

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