Guest Blog – response to Mark Avery by Magnus Linklater

Magnus Linklater is a former editor of The Scotsman and Scottish Editor of The Times. He is trustee of an estate in Perthshire, and a regular commentator on rural affairs.


I knew that taking on the RSPB would be nothing but trouble. But I was not quite prepared for the volume and ferocity of the attacks. A howitzer from George Monbiot, derision from Mark Avery, and more than 300 online counterblasts, most of them abusive, a few of them unprintable (“removed by a moderator”) some of them verging on the actionable, have demonstrated that ruffling feathers is a high-risk activity.

Actually, the sheer intensity of the responses convinces me I am onto something. “When everyone is against you, it means you are either absolutely wrong or absolutely right,” wrote a 19th century French journalist. I incline to the latter point of view. Far from wanting to retract, I am determined to pursue my point.

The exchanges, however, are not for the faint-hearted, and they demonstrate why so few critics of the RSPB – farmers, landowners, gamekeepers, even bird-lovers – are prepared to raise their heads above the parapet. They know they will get them blown off.

I want to make one simple point, and then add a few riders. I should certainly have mentioned, in my original article in the Observer, that my interest in this subject stems from the fact that I am a trustee of a Perthshire estate, and have been for 30 years. That is a point in my favour. It means I know a bit about the subject. I am also a journalist, and have been for 40 years, which means I know a bit about investigation.

I know therefore that relations between the RSPB and landowners are very poor, and need to be improved — in the interest of both sides. At its most basic, that was the argument I was trying to advance.

Here’s an example, drawn from my own personal experience. Where we live, in Perthshire, we are in the middle of a Special Protection Area, where the main species of interest is the hen harrier. Over the past 12 years, landowners have co-operated with Scottish Natural Heritage and the RSPB in attempting to improve moorland conditions which will encourage more harrier breeding – principally heather burning and vermin control. This is carried out, in our particular area, by a part-time gamekeeper, salary paid by a stalking tenant.

Despite his efforts, the last RSPB report makes depressing reading: a hen harrier population which was once as high as 12 breeding pairs, has slumped to 0.67. I am not sure what that figure means, but it’s not good news. The reasons are manifold: the decline of grouse, the harriers’ principal food source, a series of rain-soaked breeding seasons, the growth of the tick population, and the presence of various predators, are mainly responsible. No one, not even the RSPB, is suggesting that harriers have been persecuted by humans. Their enemy is either four-legged or two-winged: last year, the only hatched harrier chicks on our bit of hill were “predated” – that is, eaten, probably by foxes, possibly crows.

The only person who is going to control foxes and crows and allow hen harriers to nest and breed is the local gamekeeper. The only way he is going to earn his keep is if he maintains (or restores in our case) a grouse population, because that is the only source of income. When Mark Avery scoffs that landowners are only interested in “delivering lots of grouse to shooting parties in the autumn,” he is actually mocking the very means by which harriers might recover.

My point is that, in this respect, the interest of the shooters and the conservators are the same. They should be talking to each other, not knocking lumps out of each other. My criticism of the RSPB is because I believe they are dishonest on this central issue, that they suppress much of the evidence that supports the case for dialogue, and that they vilify those who advance it. The experience of the last few days has confirmed me in that view.

I am particularly disappointed in Mark Avery’s response, because I know he shares the view that there should be far greater co-operation between the two sides. He has written as much in the Field, and I applaud his position on that.

But there is another Mark Avery who prefers snide insults, sarcasm, and distortion to genuine argument. His response is littered with remarks about the fact that I am an Old Etonian (why is that more relevant than that he went to Cambridge?), that my wife owns a grouse moor, (she doesn’t) that I live in the New Town of Edinburgh (better, or worse, than Avery in “Northamptonshire and Cheltenham racecourse”?) and that I write “lazy, clever journalism.”

Take this example of the Avery style:

“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.”

What kind of a facile argument is that?

There is a saying in football, about going for the man, not the ball. I prefer the latter. Mark Avery knows perfectly well that there is a serious case to be made about the lack of trust that exists between the RSPB and those who live on and manage the land. He should be prepared to engage in that debate rather than scoring cheap points.

I stand by everything I wrote. The response of people like Monbiot and Avery, who avoid argument in favour of insult, convinces me that I am right.


188 Replies to “Guest Blog – response to Mark Avery by Magnus Linklater”

  1. Magnus – thank you for writing this Guest Blog. I wouldn’t normally comment on Guest Blogs but then they don’t normally comment on me as much as yours has.

    To use your football analogy, you seem to have forgotten that you spent 3000 words hacking at the shins of what you had decided was the opposing team. Norman Hunter never complained if he got a few harsh tackles back.

    Your original Observer piece contained many innacuracies which you have neither admitted nor addressed here. Instead you trot out another howler – the myth that hen harriers need the help of the upland gamekeeper to make their way in the world. There are scientific papers which debunked this myth years ago. Today they are not needed as harriers do quite well away from keepers and very badly where keepers predominate – doesn’t quite fit your description of what harriers need, does it?

    And you continue to misrepresent, or was it just laziness, what I wrote? Nowhere did I write that grouse moor managers are ‘only’ interested in delivering lots of grouse to shooting parties in autumn. I didn’t use the word ‘only’, did I? And inserting it changes the sense of what I wrote, doesn’t it?

    The need for an autumn surplus is fundamental to grouse shooting and the need for that is, biologically, what makes such a difference between nature conservationists and grouse shooters. Whereas I am interested in the long term survival of red grouse populations from one year to the next (best indicated by spring densities) the grouse moor manager needs that to happen AND there to be lots of grouse in autumn so that grouse shooting can persist. A fox or hen harrier that eats a dozen red grouse on 11 August reduces the shootable surplus by 12 even if this makes no difference to the spring densities (because lots of grouse die through the winter whether they are shot, eaten, starve or are diseased).

    I haven’t seen a response from the RSPB to your article – have you? If not I wonder why you write here that the RSPB ‘suppress much of the evidence that supports the case for dialogue, and that they vilify those who advance it. The experience of the last few days has confirmed me in that view.’. I don’t understand that at all.

    This blog gave you the chance to create any impression that you wished. Let’s see from others’ comments how they have taken it (no abuse will be published).

  2. I should certainly have mentioned, in my original article in the Observer, that my interest in this subject stems from the fact that I am a trustee of a Perthshire estate, and have been for 30 years.

    For ‘I should certainly have mentioned’, read ‘I deliberately chose not to declare an interest that would undermine my entire article’. That would make you a liar in most people’s books.

    … That is a point in my favour. It means I know a bit about the subject.

    That’s as may be. If you genuinely believe that it is a point in your favour (which I seriously doubt), you must be kicking yourself for having neglected to to mention it.

    1. Why on earth does the fact he is a trustee of a grouse moor undermine his whole article? Does the validity of statements and claims made in an article depend on who made them? That sounds like preposterous nonsense to me and a classic example of how this whole debate is contaminated by bigotry.

      Maybe someone who went to a comprehensive school and is not a trustee of a grouse moor could publish the same article and it would suddenly become ‘valid’.

      1. Giles – you cannot avoid the validity of the observation that, if you went to Eton, you are VASTLY more probable (in strict mathematical, scientific terms) to be the trustee of a grouse moor than if you went to a comprehensive. It is a sociologically, scientifically provable fact. And that is why your defence and apology is as pathetically weak as that of Magnus. You will not admit to yourself that this this argument is about science and conservation – and that in the interests of a very, very specific minority, you want to distort the pattern of the ecosystem and be allowed to continue committing a criminal offence. I am insulted by your suggestion that the social position of the owner of a grouse moor is not “valid”. Of course it is valid”. The position of the owners of grouse moors IS an issue – and if they want to keep those moors they had better get used to the idea that they will not get way with breaking the criminal law as laid down by the Parliament of this country (Scotland OR the UK) much longer. The persecution of birds of prey must stop. If it doesn’t stop soon, I for one, will be turning my attention to serious land reform here in Scotland. If you want to own our hills and moors, you will bloody well look after them properly.

        1. If you want to own our hills and moors you will bloody well have to pay for them and the last time I looked the gap between rich and poor in this country has been ever widening under successive governments Tory, Labour Coalition SNP – whatever, so somehow I don’t think there is much chance of that.

          I also very much doubt that the state will step in any time soon and buy 40% of the UK’s land area so short of seizing the land which would be highly unlikely I doubt much will change on that front.

          1. “short of seizing the land which would be highly unlikely”

            But there would be a nice circularity to it …

      2. Hello Giles, as someone who was not allowed higher education, in the 50s if you lived in a pit village you were expected to work there, we did not even take O levels. The attitude of Government in those days was you do not need a University education to shovel coal. As a result we were sent to the local Secondary Modern. Does this mean, I wonder, that without any paper qualifications, we are more, or less qualified to comment about wildlife issues? I have for many years attended the Outdoor University and consider that I am still a Student.

  3. I have walked on the same local West Yorkshire grouse-shooting moor about once per week for the last 20 years. I am currently writing a book about it. In all that time I have seen:

    0 hen harriers
    1 merlin
    1 peregrine
    2 short-eared owls
    2 buzzards
    innumerable red grouse

    The raptor numbers seem rather low to me. I cannot begin to imagine why.

  4. I am the editor of the Observer Magazine and published Magnus Linklater’s piece on the RSPB. I am grateful for Mark putting up Magnus’ response to his blog here and hope we might get a better debate than we did under George Monbiot’s blog on CiF. I’ll let others debate the merits of the piece itself but I wanted to set out my reasons for publishing it, beyond that it is an interesting argument put forward by one of the country’s most respected journalists. Mark asserts that unhappiness with the RSPB is confined to a few grouse shooting dinners. That in my experience is just not the case. I was struck by a story my sister told me recently. Her 7 year old boy is a keen twitcher so last Christmas she bought him membership of the RSPB. She was visiting a farmer friend in the Highlands – certainly not a man who lets out shooting – who nearly threw her out of the house on hearing this. Now, this is not a response you get with the National Trust, the John Muir Trust or the BTO (although I am not sure you can join that). And the farmer’s attitude is one that chimes with many such opinions I and others have heard in Scotland. There clearly is a story here and the RSPB is being blind if it doesn’t address it.

    1. Ruaridh – thank you for your comment and welcome to this blog. Did you think that the content and tone of Magnus’s piece was likely to win over the RSPB? Or was it more likely to turn more landowners against the RSPB? But thank you for your comment and yes, you can, and maybe should, join the BTO.

      1. Thanks Mark. Much as I hope landowners pore over the Observer, I fear the majority think as much of the Guardian News and Media as they do of the RSPB.

    2. Ruaridh,

      The Guardian/Observer has a commendable practice of publishing corrections/clarifications to potentially misleading articles.

      In the above post, Magnus Linklater states:

      I should certainly have mentioned, in my original article in the Observer, that my interest in this subject stems from the fact that I am a trustee of a Perthshire estate, and have been for 30 years.

      I just checked the original Observer article to see if a clarification had been posted. At the bottom of the piece, it now states:

      The standfirst to this article was amended on 16 August 2012 to clarify the author’s position as a trustee of a Highland estate.

      However, the standfirst of the article still makes no mention of Mr Linklater’s being a trustee of a Highland estate.

        1. Ruaridh,
          I gathered that was the change. I know plenty of landowners, but I don’t know anyone who is the trustee of a Highland grouse-shooting estate. In the context of Mr Linklater’s piece, I think that’s a pretty important distinction.

  5. A chance to explain your piece in the observer and why you left out key points like being a trustee of an estate, but all we have here is a cry about being a victim of online abuse after writing a deliberately provocative and biased article .

    “When everyone is against you, it means you are either absolutely wrong or absolutely right,”

    If you actually read the comments on your original article referring to truly scientific studies you may find its a case of the former not the latter.

  6. It’s a long time since I’ve read such arrogance and conceit from one so ignorant as you, Mr Linklater.

  7. Given that Marcus only wanted to make one point, I think his original tirade, sorry article could have been much shorter. It may well be true but then I wonder if he then isn’t opening a can of worms. If landowners do not like the RSPB could it be that they don’t like criticism on the way they run the land for nature? If so, as Marcus says, perhaps they are onto something and should therefore pursue the point?
    As for the comment on hen Harriers, can he really be that naive? People do talk,as one commenter rightly says…

  8. As a relative newcomer, I am by no means an expert in conservation issues and still hope to see a Hen Harrier in my lifetime but as far as I understood it their diet is very similar to owls; consisting of small mammals, meadow pipits and other small birds while sometime taking grouse (when it’s particularly abundant and easy to catch – like on grouse moors).

    I am thus confused by Mr Linklater’s commet ” the decline of grouse, the harriers’ principal food source “. Could anyone point me to some scientific publications on the diet of hen harriers, obviously as published scientific research this would be unbiased and thus avoid any slant for or against a particular argument.

    1. EcoMathsLass – welcome to this blog, and you are right. Maybe I should have pointed that out. Harriers eat lots of things but red grouse not their ‘main’ prey. However, no argument that harriers can eat into (literally) the number of grouse available for shooting in the autumn. Not good if you want to shoot those same grouse.

  9. Have I woken up this morning in a parallel universe or has the world gone mad?
    “No one, not even the RSPB, is suggesting that harriers have been persecuted by humans.”

    I find such arrogance and myth inflamatory to this debate – hen harriers need gamekeepers for their survival? – laughable if only it were funny.

    1. Robin – I assume that those particular words referred to those particular harriers – but Magnus does seem to suggest that gamekeepers are the harriers’ best mates!

  10. Magnus
    You are quite correct that arguments about where exactly people live should be beside the point but I believe that Mark’s comment about your address in Edinburgh’s New Town was a response to your assertion in the Observer article that the RSPB’s membership is largely urban. Your clear implication was that such people are less qualified to have a view on the management of the countryside than ‘country folk’, an argument that is often explicitly put forward by supporters of the shooting community. I would suggest that it was therefore fair enough for Mark to point out the facileness of that argument by his reference to your own urban residence.

    You are also correct that it is ultimately in everyone’s interest that relationships between the RSPB and landowners should be positive and cooperative but does that mean that the RSPB should turn a blind eye to raptor persecution? Poisoning and trapping of raptors is a significant issue that has virtually eliminated the Hen Harrier from England and it would surely be a dereliction of duty for the RSPB not to combat the issue as vigourously as it is able to. In order to close the gulf between the RSPB and the shooting community you seem to feel it is up to the RSPB to change its position but maybe it is the grouse shooters that need to make the concessions. As long as poisoned and shot raptor carcasses continue to be found it is hard to detect much goodwill on the shooting side. I am not personally in favour of banning shooting (if it is conducted in a responsible manner and does not assume the right to eliminate competing predators) but adherents of the sport would do well to bear in mind that from democratic point of view more people would probably favour such a ban than oppose it.

    It is always surprising how those in favour of killing raptors seem to think that they know what the ‘right number’ of these birds should be (“none” is actually the view of many gamekeepers and their employers I suspect). You refer to the massive increase in the numbers of sparrowhawks and buzzards and suggest that this endangers song bird populations but you fail to mention that these increases have taken place from extremely low levels after the species were virtually wiped out in many areas in the 20th century. Oddly enough (well not really if you think about it carefully) these species failed to wipe out any species of song bird when they were at high population levels prior to the crashes of the 20th century.

    The continual suggestion that the RSPB is only concerned about birds of prey is an absurd notion that is easily rebutted by a quick look at what the society actually does. Through its reserves, policy work, research and so on there really is no group of birds that can be said to be disrgarded by the Society although naturally and correctly its efforts are focussed particularly on those that are most at risk, including but certainly not exclusively, most raptors.

  11. Thanks Mark.
    perhaps Magnus can provide answers to one or two questions relating to his own estate in Perthshire of which I am unfamiliar. How many breeding Hen Harrier does he have and what steps has he taken to ensure this reaches that which conservation bodies might deem as acceptable? If he doesn’t have any, why exactly is this?

    1. Robin – maybe Magnus will respond but I will too. The thing is that, at a local scale, absence of hen harriers on a piece of land does not prove that those birds are persecuted on that piece of land or by the people that manage that land (although that might be the case). But when you look at the whole of northern England or southern Scotland or eastern Scotland and see that there are practically no harriers present then something must be going on. And that is what the science shows – Magnus and many others from his side of the debate are a bit coy about admitting that.

  12. Thanks mark and I do agree.
    I place myself for a moment in Magnus Linklater’s position of owning an estate in Perthshire. In so doing I would want to ask myself what biodiversity does and should exist inclusive of birds of prey and if numbers were for whatever reason unnaturally low, I would want to know why?

  13. There is one thing that I agree with Magnus Linklater on, which is that shooters and conservationists “should be talking to each other, not knocking lumps out of each other.” I don’t think that the original article, the majority of comments that followed and this blog is going to make any real progress in this regard.

    Unfortunately everyone has been going round in circles for years with no resolution being any nearer. I suspect it will be the same intractable problem until climate change forces grouse out of our uplands.

    1. Mike – welcome! There have been years of private, and quite friendly, talking. Years and years of it. But little progress has been made.

      1. Quite. And is this debate helping? Are relations improving or getting worse? Or are we just hammering home the fact that both sides need to shift in some regard, or the situation for upland ecosystems is not going to improve anytime soon.

        1. Mike – can’t resist saying that Chapter 11 of Fighting for Birds has some of the background to all this.

  14. As a former staff member of the RSPB who left due to the lack of protection for Hen Harriers as far back as 1991 I would like to add a few questions. This hatred is not just farmers and land owners. The number of people leaving the membership of the RSPB over the years is a figure that should be turned into new members. The first question – Why has the RSPB so many members leaving?
    The money spent on gaining new members is money wasted and should have been spent on reserves and conservation. Why has the RSPB not looked at this and tried to turn it a round?
    Today’s blog quotes 12 pairs of Hen Harriers falling to none. What is going wrong with this SPA? Is the management wrong like at Langholm where Black Grouse habitat is being destroyed to make way for Red Grouse? Many of our uplands are being destroyed for Red Grouse. Debate is a great thing as long as you keep speaking!

  15. Surrounded as I am here in France by Hen Harriers galore, (along with the full range of other raptors) in an intense agricultural area, I wonder how much debate is actually sustained due to the lack of research (beyond the actual numbers of birds) and if so who should be carrying out neutral research?

    When I worked in Scotland a new field sports model was greeted with a lack of enthusiasm by many gamekeepers and stalkers. To quote one stalker I knew “we are now having to cater for the unfinished”. New money = new rules and as I saw in Cornwall and presumably many other places this led to breeding birds to an excess making ‘shooting fish in a barrel’ seem stupidly difficult in comparison. To continue to ignore this fact and hope to use a ‘traditionalist’ argument when the tradition has largely disappeared is disingenuous at best.

    The UK has long since dropped out of the top ten for research into its immediate natural world and its students continue, understandably, to seek study of sexier animals in more exotic locations. With little money in the pot from government and that which there is in just two pockets; the landowners or the NGOs, I cannot see any progression unless Defra in particular stops trying to make their own mark based on the strongest lobby voice and / or the very unscientific drivel spouted by thinktanks and works to simply fund proper research and the PR it needs to stop it being mistreated by the frankly disgraceful UK media – which would surely cost much less than the bills resulting from their own mistakes (such as the £700,000 price tag of the independent forestry panel).

  16. Many years ago, on a night out in the Aultnamain Inn, I admitted that I worked for the RSPB. A tweedie keeper and his pals were very keen to give me a kicking on that basis. I thought it said more about them and their ilk than the RSPB.

    Magnus’ original article is his more civilised version of giving the RSPB a kicking – but no more valid.

  17. I would like to apologise to Magnus for the offensive / poorly constructed comments he received in response to his work

    It would appear that the great unwashed have a misplaced sense of entitlement to what happens in large areas of the countryside.

    My faith has been restored in the current system through his balanced views. I feel that the he and his ilk should be allowed to continue to manage their land as they wish – because they have done such a good job of it so far !

    It’s a shame that my children probably wont see a Harrier …. but with some luck and a proper upbringing – I hope they will be able hit bushes with sticks so that the learned can shoot what flys out

  18. I applaud the quality, balance and reason of Magus Linklater’s prose in his article. I applaud his determination and bravery to continue his journey to bring reason and balance to this fractious debate which has disengaged so many.

    1. And I would say Daye that addressing the balance as you put it will require Magnus and others challenging their position of denial and listening to some hard facts. The RSPB and it’s membership are not the bully-boys they are being betrayed as, but are caring people who want to avert the local extinction of the Hen Harrier. Fractious debate and applauding bravery remains cmpletely irrelevant if estate owners and their paid keepers fail to take responsibility for crimes against birds of prey.

    2. Well that’s a surprise Daye, however I don’t think many would agree with your comment that Mr Linklater brings “reason and balance to this fractious debate”. And as for “quality” well that really is having a bit of a laugh.

      Mr Linklater and the rest of his landowning and shooting chums will continue to see things through the barrel of a shotgun, and no reasoned argument will ever make them see differently.

      Here’s the snippet of science for you Daye that suggests Hen Harriers don’t seem to fare too well on Grouse moors.
      “Recently, some important reviews have quantified the magnitude of hen harrier persecution. For example, Redpath et al. (2010) found that there were records of only 5 successful hen harrier nests on the estimated 3,696 km2 of driven grouse moors in the UK in 2008; an area of habitat estimated to have the potential to support about 500 pairs”. Source: A Conservation Framework for Hen Harriers in the United Kingdom. Fielding, A., Haworth, P., Whitfield, P., McLeod, D. & Riley, H. 2011. JNCC Report 441. Joint Nature Conservation Committee, Peterborough.

      Personally I would either start putting those responsible for raptor persecution in prison or ban driven grouse shooting.

  19. I wonder what would convince Magnus that he is wrong. In my article I suggested that he was suffering from confirmation bias: searching for or interpreting new information in a way that confirms one’s preconceived opinions. Mark and I demolished the fake facts and outright falsehoods with which his article was filled. In reply he tells us that “The response of people like Monbiot and Avery, who avoid argument in favour of insult, convinces me that I am right.”

    So what would it take? How much solid refutation is required before he concedes he has got it wrong? Or do all roads lead back to the same point: the conclusion that he’s right about everything?

    1. Guardian contributor and green totalitarian George Monbiot today wishes for the worst on his political enemies:

      If #Republican convention – mostly #climatechange deniers – is flooded, there is a God. But not the one they envisage. #gop2012—
      (@GeorgeMonbiot) August 28, 2012

      Well – George M – what an utterly disgraceful comment!

    2. Having read a number of your articles it appears to me that just as salient a question might be ‘what would convince you that you are wrong?’, or is that something which doesn’t even enter your consciousness?

      You seem to be so fervently anti countryside and anti fieldsports that it makes one consider if there are deeper motives. Might it be that your dislike goes beyond welfare and habitat concerns and is set against dislike for a type of person, I wonder.

      1. Be honest, for a change: In your mind, “anti countryside” and “anti fieldsports ” are the same thing, aren’t they?

  20. So here I am just in from walking / training my dogs on ‘my’ grouse moor at 1,800 feet following a good Bank Holiday – “I’ll just dip into Mark’s blog” I say – haven’t done that for a bit! And listen to Handel’s Oboe concerto No 3 in G Minor.

    Well – some things never change – the same bias and lack of knowledge demonstrated by those who really should know better: Mr Linklater is correct – Gamekeepers should be recognised as the HH’s best friend – for if he is not who will be?

    “Conservationists and the gamekeepers should talk” – there you go again – mutually exclusive! Divisive!

    Back to basics – methinks!

    BTW – I’ve given up taking the Guardian / Observer – getting more like the RSPB and BBC by the day!

    Best regards – Peter

    1. If I have the good fortune to see a stoat in ermine this to me is one of the highlights of my year. But the difference between myself and grouse moor owners is that, you I would presume want to see them dead. I was on a botany course in the cairngorms this year and saw a good number of traps set for ground predators and some actually containing decomposed remains of carnivores, how cruel is this? It must be a horrendous way to die. I have also in the past found a buzzard croaking it’s last gasps on one of the most productive grouse moors in the Glen Shee area and I could only presume it was poisoned. I did a university project on a grouse moor and found many many poisoned eggs which I destroyed. It has been said that the gamekeeper is the hen harriers friend, what a load of twaddle !!

  21. The thing I always ask myself during this kind of debate (or at least in any controversial conservation issue) is why target ‘just’ the RSPB? It was the same with Animal Aid – rats on Lundy, ruddy ducks and hedgehogs on Uist. There are other conservation organisations out there that have a comment on these subjects yet is it that the RSPB has a membership of 1 million and that will always be a significant percentage of the people who are likely to be interested in these subjects. There are a lot of things I do not agree with the RSPB but one very good thing is that they use the 1 milion as a superb bargaining chip to lobby government (irrespective of who is actually in power). It seems to me that everyone who has had a negative word to say against the RSPB has always tried to target the membership. I am sure some would call this appraisal cynical but it is equally cynical to try to create artificial disenchatment amongst the community of another organisation. Indeed, this would probably be illegal if it was conducted between commercial organisations. IMHO, Magnus Linklater is trying to widen the urban v rural gap or if not, that an urbanite like me cannot possibly understand the relationships between landowners and the RSPB. However, I worked for almost six years in Wildlife Enquiries and despite often negative press opposition from shooting, farming and fishing, I recall only ever having one (a farmer in Wales) truly irate query to deal with out of all the so-called disaffacted people that could have contacted the RSPB under the above subject. In reality, many more people called, emailed or wrote to express strong feelings but they were reassured after being able to discuss their misgivings. It is only when we get one-sided articles where no discussion or debate can take place that we see this kind of situation arising.

  22. In all the furore some quite important facts seem to have gone missing.

    Killing raptors – including Hen Harriers – is against the law. From reading what Magnus has written I don’t believe he is personally guilty either directly, or more likely, by proxy of breaking the law: so why defend those who do ? I’m also surprised that someone of Magnus’ huge experience isn’t more sensitive that in this area there is a very real problem of ‘one law for the rich’ – when are we going to start treating burglary and benefit fraud with the same flexibility and tacit acceptance with which raptor persecution seems to be treated ?

    It’s hardly surprising RSPB isn’t always very popular – I suspect the same applies to the police amongst those resident in Her Majesty’s prisons !

    It’s particularly relevant in 2012 because the whole of England’s Hen Harrier population seems to have gone missing and noone is seriously arguing there is any other reason than illegal persecution.

    Who should be worried (other than the poor Hen Harriers which might be better off staying with Pip in France) ? There’s no doubt in my mind: the big risk here is to shooting, of Grouse specifically but shooting as a whole in the longer term. We live in an urban society and a democracy and whilst people may not know a whole lot about all this they don’t like it and they are in the majority. And what may surprise many people is that the thinkers in the shooting world understand this perfectly – a few years ago when I took action to rein in the excesses of a heavily overstocked, very commercial shoot the view was it would be very unpopular with shooting people – the exact opposite was actually the case with a number of responsible shooting people quietly congratulating me on checking something they themselves had been watching with growing alarm.

    1. Is Marcus defending people breaking the law? I’m not sure that he is! He’s defending gamekeeper’s and their role in nature conservation.

        1. I presume he was referring to the following part of Linklater’s original piece:

          (In reference to the RSPB) “An organisation that once prided itself on its close links with countryside affairs and its working knowledge of the land now finds itself at a distance, assisting the police in exposing landowners whom it accuses of wildlife crime, and heaping blame on farmers for agricultural practices which it says have led to a dramatic fall in the numbers of once-common species.”

          While not defending those breaking the law, he is complaining about the RSPB complying with the law and co-operating with and aiding the authorities in the investigation of wildlife crime. It suggests that Linklater doesn’t think the RSPB’s role includes this kind of work. Although I would have thought stopping the illegal persecution of locally endangered birds falls perfectly under the meaning of the last two letters of RSPB.

  23. You’re quite right, Mark; discussions on this topic – both private and public – have been continuing for years. But that is not altogether surprising in light of the fact that the complex science that underpins the debate had to be established (Langholm 1) and due regard has had to be paid to the overarching and strictly worded European Birds Directive.

    There is currently a conflict resolution process in place, facilitated by a charitable body called the Environment Council, which I have referred to before both on this blog and Mark’s earlier one when he was still at the RSPB (and used to attend the meetings on behalf of the RSPB).

    It has been a slow process, but it is making genuine progress, most recently considering Professor Steve Redpath’s brood management scheme, an idea which I was delighted to see that Mark effectively endorsed both here and elsewhere last year.

    But guess what? The RSPB has recently walked away from the process. Fortunately the Raptor Study Groups have remained, as have the Hawk and Owl Trust.

    It reminds me of a conflict resolution workshop I attended way back in 2002, hosted by the ubiquitous Steve Redpath:

    During the course of the weekend I referred to the concept of a regional ceiling or quota scheme which would actually result in a significant increase in the number and range of harriers (something never challenged by the RSPB), without rendering driven grouse moors unviable (as had happened at Langholm). While the senior figures present from the RSPB said that they could not contemplate such a proposal, the two representatives of the Raptor Study Groups, who had not previously been aware of the idea, recognised that it could represent a win-win solution and asked why we were not implementing such a policy already.

    Ten years have now passed, and disappointingly the RSPB remains as intransigent in this regard as ever. I don’t want to rehearse what I said in my earlier response, but there is more merit in what Magnus has written than he is being given credit for.

  24. Magnus Linklater feels hurt by the online vitriol – oh please. It’s a sign of our times. Hopefully one day everyone will know how to behave better, but for the time being, it’s part of the online commenting culture, and surely a seasoned journalist like Linklater knows better than cry these crocodile tears.

    It was so phony, it took the wind right out of the rest of his text. Not that there was any wind to begin with. If Mr Linklater is indeed, as Mr Nicoll puts it, one of the country’s most respected journalists, then judging by the original article and this guest blog piece, I would despair, if I was British.

  25. like you very true words mark a lot of landowners are only botherd about how many game birds they have to shoot and the money they get

  26. A fascinating piece of online journalism; both Mr Linklater’s frankly astonishing intransigence, and the comments that have followed thereafter. Others have done Mr Linklater to death, as it were – I’d like to examine the editor’s motivation in publishing the original piece in, at first glance, as unlikely an organ as the Observer.

    As Ruaridh Nicoll, the Observer Magazine’s editor, has engaged with the debate here on Mark’s blog, some questions pop up for me. Mr Nicoll is the man who, ultimately, commissioned and/or sanctioned Mr Linklater’s piece. Some responsibility for the content must rest with him too. What do I know of Mr Nicoll? Hitherto, only that he was the author of a dark and disturbing novel “White Male Heart” I enjoyed very much some 10 years ago – as a piece of fiction, it was unsettling and a decent page-turner. Perhaps, with hindsight, that first novel reveals something of Mr Nicoll’s background and sentiments. It’s set in the Scottish Highlands, and examines the tensions that develop between the Scottish land-owning and working classes themselves, and between the Scottish protagonists, English incomers, and those who have the temerity to use the countryside for such unworthy recreational pursuits as walking or biking. There’s plenty of shooting and stalking and country-sport-related badinage. In a nutshell, it contains a lot of pent-up (and ultimately with tragic consequences, released) resentment – directed towards anyone who isn’t part of the Scottish shooting fraternity.

    Of course, this was a work of fiction, and as such I enjoyed it. But what an interesting subject choice for a first novel. And how revealing, perhaps, about Mr Nicoll’s underlying sentiments. After all, we writers are encouraged to ‘write about what we know’. I suggest that Mr Nicoll may be somewhat sympathetic to the views expressed by Mr Linklater. Indeed, I wonder if he might be kindly disposed towards the sympathies of the field sports set as a whole. Perhaps he can put me right if I have this very wrong. However, a scan through some of his output on Journalisted suggests that here’s a man as at home with a rod or rifle in his hand as his journalist’s pen.

    How fortunate for Mr Linklater to find an editor outwith the traditionally kindly-disposed-to-fieldsports broadsheets prepared to air his gripes with a unashamedly conservation-focused charity.

  27. Mark, what a coup to get Mr Linklater on here to ‘defend’ himself and continue pouring his vitriol over you, George Monbiot, and the RSPB. If any of your thousands of readers were in any doubt just how arrogant and out-of-touch he is with the way so many of us feel about Hen Harrier persecution, your provision of enough rope to hang himself has surely done the trick.
    I’ve been saying for months that if I could only get Malta’s fumbling hunting lobby, the FKNK, on to Talking Naturally to try to defend their actions it would be far more effective in gaining support for their opponents than anything I could possibly say. I’m of the firm opinion that Mr Linklater’s words will have achieved exactly the same effect.
    Well done.

  28. I can’t speak for the RSPB but I can see why the apparent gain offered by a quota scheme could be viewed as the ‘thin end of the wedge’. How long before such a scheme would be used as a stick with which to beat other species such as Buzzards by those who see a problem with the healthy recovered population exists? Would the quota scheme be used as a model to apply to Red Kites or Ospreys when those species reach their natural carrying capacity too?
    The real issues in relation to the persecution of raptors are the embedded cultural traditions that have been handed down over the last 200 years in a business that can be marginal in its profitability on a small scale. I also wonder just how much of the persecution is also driven by the desire to ensure that the Gamekeeping profession (or at least individual jobs within it) is maintained.

  29. It’s clear from the quotes from Mark Avery in your blog that he was “calling up his hounds” in his hunt against moor owners and the upper classes. Everyone has his sport!

  30. I would suggest locking all interested parties in a large room with whisky & bread for sustenance. Only to be let out once a deal is done.

  31. Please can we stop perpetuating the lie that support for/opposition against shooting is a country v city thing? There are plenty of people living in the country who don’t support shooting.

    Nor do all farmers hate the RSPB. Far from it: a good friend of mine is very grateful for the incentives she receives from the RSPB for keeping her farm twite-friendly (even though she hasn’t a clue what a twite is).

  32. The benign retorts of Linklaters blog say it all and just about rubber stamp everything he writes in the blog. If the RSPB were a racehorse ‘blinkered’ would appear on the race card.

    1. In this case Mark I would suggest the later. The inane ability to deflect arguments that don’t reflect ones own opinions or an unwillingness to enter into constructive dialogue is the confines of a bigoted mind set.

      In my humble opinion it has no place in conservation. Unless shooting and conservation interests work together there will be only one loser, the very thing we all strive to protect.

  33. I’ve read this twice now, and I am stunned. It’s one thing to say that Gamekeepers don’t kill raptors, and we know that is a lie because they have been prosecuted for it (and there will now be a brief pause whilst the pro shooting lobby scream “one or two bad apples), but for Linklater to suggest that we need gamekeepers to ensure hen harrier survival! I’ll have whatever he’s drinking!

    I don’t know why I’m surprised, as Charlie mentioned earlier, the FKNK and hunters in Malta come out with the same stuff. Actually, they come out contradictory stuff, last year whilst monitoring with Birdlife Malta we were told by hunters that Raptors needed to be shot to conserve them, then later that they needed to be shot or they would be everywhere, then later still we had it pointed out that FKNK does not allow any shooting of raptors as that is illegal. Well this one didn’t just keel over with a heart attack.

    The reality that we need to face up to that in the majority of cases is that there is no positive association between shooting and conservation, the interests of one do not support the other. Conservation is most often long term, altruistic, and is done for the benefit of the environment as a whole. Shooting is a multi million pound industry.

    1. Spot on Lawrie. The Countryside Areliars contradict themselves in the same way regarding Foxes. It’s hilarious to see these charlatans jumping from one foot to the other, attempting to defend the indefensible!

    2. Lawrie as a trustee of the League Against Cruel Sports – if you are so anti shooting why do you support the Hunting Act in making it illegal for me to manage the deer on my land in a humane and non lethal manner but legal for me to do exactly the same thing if I shoot them all?

      It seems to me that your position is a little hypocritical?

  34. I recently watched an ‘animal welfare’ programme (BBC?) where over 10 policemen ‘raided’ a 70-years old keeper of some 100 mostly licensed and mostly fine owls.

    Perhaps the final solution for ‘raptors’ lies in ‘captivity’

    Where’s the RSPB going wrong?

    It’s like trying raise £50 millions to buy a ‘painting for the Nation’ – who needs it?

    PS – if persons purporting to be sensible and balanced tweet nonsense (GM)– they are more likely to hold equally invalid opinions on other subjects.

    1. And Trimbush – with greatest respect doesn’t this also stand for you too with your contribution on this blog?
      In your analogy of a painting for the nation, well you might not want but the nation just might. In the same way the RSPB and many other NGOs will have many members who would disagree with raptors being in cages rather than over moorland. I would repsectively suggest your views are in the minority.

      1. Hi Robin

        Thanks for responding – I can’t think of many things more fantastic to witness than seeing a ‘falcon’ working over moorland. Even better (for me at any rate) would be to hunt the falcon with the aid of a working pointer. And so all this hunting can be achieved without the use of a gun. The quarry may even be grouse!

        I’m not suggesting that the RSPB sponsors falconry but you see – there are more ways to skin the cat – starting with captive birds and then working them over the moors – the rest doesn’t need explaining or does it? ; which comes first – the chicken or the egg?

        And yes – I am within the minority – having spent over 30 years in the Moorland at over 1,500 feet – so I too know a bit about it all – unlike – I suspect – Mr George (where’s the bandwagon?) Monbiot – bless him!

  35. Mr Linklater claims gamekeepers can help Hen Harriers by controlling foxes and crows. That could well be true – but why then have Hen Harriers vanished from all the heavily keepered Grouse moors of England where both crows and foxes are heavily controlled. I think the answer to that conudrum is pretty obvious.

  36. We all know that if we want to see Hen Harriers the last place to go is a driven Grouse Estate.Hen Harriers do really well on Mull where obviously there are no persecuting gamekeepers.
    How can anyone claim gamekeepers are Hen Harriers friend when so many have been convicted and of course most evade being caught.
    What we really need is for the Red Grouse to be made a protected bird.

    1. It would be ironic if protecting red grouse meant there end up being considerably less of them

  37. As a farmer and for the record I have nothing against the RSPB. I personally think that they are undertaking some very progressive work at Hope Farm and wish them well in challenging the perception from some that wildlife and farming do not mix. I also think that illegal persecution of harriers is a despicable act that deserves their action.

    1. Well said Sir! Those who falsely claim to represent “the countryside” would do well to read your views. 🙂

  38. Magnus wrote “The only person who is going to control foxes and crows and allow hen harriers to nest and breed is the local gamekeeper.”

    What Magnus Linklater stated in the above sentence is perhaps the only factual detail he included in all of the words he did write. Using Mr. Linklater’s own reasoning, the moorland gamekeeper is well accustomed to making such life and death decisions, that is the main reason no hen harriers are breeding on any of England’s red grouse moors today their presence was not ALLOWED.

  39. Reading the views of the subjects of this ‘raptor haters’ series in Mark’s blog I can’t help being reminded of the , (including the immortal line “I love animals – that’s why I like to kill ’em!”)

    But to be serious, three points:
    * There have rightly been many references here and in others in the series to golden eagles and hen harriers; I’m sure many readers will already know that . I find it truly shocking to read that illegal killing accounts for at least 40% of red kite mortality here (though other contributors will have presumably become sadly familiar with such statistics).
    * It needs to be said again and again that the continuing illegal persecution of raptors and their absence from large areas with suitable habitat, whether they be eagles, harriers, buzzards or anything others, is a national disgrace and shames our country. Inaccurant tirades against these species and the conservation organisations working to protect them are simply attempts to obscure this point and we can draw our own conclusions about the motives of those who wish to do that…
    * I read back to Mark’s blog last year when he felt buzzards were shortly to be in line for attack, and sure enough we had the attempt at ‘control’ proposed earlier this year. I have a feeling in my water that red kites, surely one of the most potent conservation success stories of recent times, will be next …

  40. A recent book on Black grouse written by a shooter claims that Black grouse are now rare due to shooting estates classing this game bird as ‘Vermin’ and doing away with them. The word ‘vermin’is the problem like ‘weeds’. If the shooting estates wanted to bring back Black Grouse they would have to give up an area which now contains Red Grouse so it will never happen. So the same for Hen Harrier. The shooting estate would have to give up a number of Red Grouse. Quota was mentioned but not license! To shoot on a Red Grouse moor should have a license which says how many species should be living on that area. If the species are not there then no license.

    1. Can you tell me the name of the book please, John? I know that historically capercaillie used to be treated as “vermin” for the damage they did to trees, but I haven’t heard the claim made about black grouse in the way you report. I agree, it would be seriously worrying if a lot of the good work being done on increasing black grouse numbers were to be undermined by such a shortsighted approach.

    2. My understanding is- that on the drive towards the guns, black grouse will fly early and take the red grouse away from the guns….ruining the fun. Therefore they are not encouraged… removed.

  41. I often find myself musing – How would I rescue the English Hen Harrier if I was “Supreme Dictator” whose word was absolute law? Would I ban Grouse shooting outright? If I did what would the consequences be for the ecology, the upland landscape, cultural heritage, and the rural economy?

    The answer tends to be that I would retain genuinely sustainable shooting under strict license conditions. I would ban the industrial scale Grouse farming that seems to be the dominant land use in so much of our upland. I would prevent the elevation of Grouse numbers to such unnatural levels that disease becomes their main threat. I would permit a moorland management regime that maintains the habitat in good environmental nick but with minimal predator control. I would enforce protection of Hen Harriers at their nest sites and roosts by use of Predators (and Reapers, and Global Hawks). I would also make some sigificant changes to patterns of moorland land ownership.

    The fact that Hen Harriers are being “disappeared” at roost sites sometimes many miles from their breeding ranges suggests, to me, an organised programme of eradication which might just have succeeded. For this reason Mark’s “nuclear option” sounds mighty attractive right now.

  42. Interestingly Martin, there has indeed been a recent call for a cull related to Red Kites. However, it was a call to cull the practice of unnatural feeding at one of the Red Kite Feeding Stations NOT to cull the Red Kites. Apparently the Kite project had been agreed in partnership with a group of environmental farmers carrying out measures to support various bird species. The agreement had been that the feeding station would gradually cease, allowing the Kites to disperse and spread outwards naturally once numbers had increased sufficiently. However the feeding station is proving popular with the public and the agreement has not been honoured in spite of unsustainable numbers. Whilst diversionary feeding appears to work in many instances, in this instance it is causing concern.

    1. It is an interesting subject Daye and one worthy of a separate discussion.

      I assume this is a reference to the Gigrin Farm kites although I appreciate there are other feeding stations around the country. In fact there are two sides to the red kite story although one leads neatly into the other…

      1. The Welsh kites are the last remnant of the native kites whereas all others have been introduced (some from the Welsh population. Up until recently, all red kites were taken from non-migratory populations although I should add this was one of practicality rather than design. Therefore, irreespective of the feeding programmes the kites would and do nothing more than wander around until they are ready to breed, when they return to the general area where they were fledged. Sadly, these populations never spread out to any degree although admittedly the Welsh kites are ‘surrounded’ by the topography. More recently, birds have been sourced from migratory populations and there is a hope that these will colonise new areas…assuming they are not persecuted.

      2. Unfortunately, there is a welfare side to the subject of feeding and it is possible that withdrawal of feeding stations/programmes could cause local crashes in numbers. These birds are at an admittedly high population density but there is no strong evidence to suggest they would disperse if feeding was withdrawn or reduced. I suspect that this is not the reason the agreement has not been honoured but I have to be honest, I am glad it is not a decision I have to make.

  43. Perhaps one species (us) should remove ourselves from many thousands of hectares of land and leave it to the hundreds of thousands of species that might live there.

  44. Pingback: Black and White Issue (warning: unpleasant images) « Lawrie : Converged
  45. Between the 1940s and 1980s, heather moorland in Scotland was reduced by 23% and it was reduced at a similar rate between 1990 and 1998.
    The main reason for this decline is the spread of forestry plantations and heavy grazing pressure and a decline in grouse shooting resulting in less moorland management by burning are also to blame.

    Heather moorland is the mainstay for Britain’s only endemic bird species, the red grouse, and three-quarters of the population of its main predator, the hen harrier.

    To say that gamekeepers are to blame for the demise in the numbers of hen harriers is verging on lies. Sure some (keepers) don’t help but there are very few harriers where there are very few grouse. There are certainly no harriers where there are blanket acres (hectares) of sitka spruce, but we don’t hear the anti shooting lobby chiming in on that conservation issue. Trees are good we are told

    Whether or not people agree with grouse moors and the attitude on them that grouse come first “come rain or shine” they would do well to look at the name GROUSE MOOR, there is a clue there to what is being produced. Sure some people don’t like shooting, just as some don’t like trees and others don’t like windmills, but the reality in many of these areas is that if there was no shooting the land would be used for something else, conservation doesn’t pay the bills but afforestation does as does the new fad for wind farms.

    Personally I am happy to see shooting interests owning large areas of land and what makes me even happier is when I do go walking in these areas and bump into a keeper that I can gain a little more knowledge of what actually goes on from a person actually doing it rather than reading about what might be going on from someone writing an article several hundred miles away in an air conditioned office

    I make no apology for being biased towards shooting, I’ve never been that keen on the actual shooting part of it myself (I’m more into working my dogs), but I do love rearing pheasants and partridges and puting them over a team of guns
    There’s a real skill in being able to put gamebirds over guns, just as there’s a real skill in being able to write well. I belong in the former camp, but unfortunately there are a lot in the latter camp who would love to see my way of life destroyed simply because they do not wish to understand it and presume to know what is best for areas of our country they have no understanding of.

    Magnus, you write well and you understand me

    1. Rural voltaire – thank you for your post.

      Red grouse is not an endemic British bird species. It is a race of the very common willow grouse.

      Hen harrier numbers are much higher away from grouse moors than on grouse moors.

    2. Here we go again, more “town v country” rubbish. Is opinion masqerading as fact the best you’ve got?

    3. The Forestry Commission are doing there bit to turn blanket forestry into more of a patch work quilt with frilly edges, they are making significant changes. Even restoring blanket bog which they now acknowledged should never have been planted. The conservationists dont shout too loudly because its an argument that has largely been won. We are waiting for private forestry to follow suit. The biggest concern has to be the current conversion of dead acres of Sitka into killing acres of wind turbines.

    4. “Sure some (keepers) don’t help but there are very few harriers where there are very few grouse”.

      Mull and the Isle of Man spring to mind!

  46. So Magnus you knew taking on, as you call it, the RSPB would result in this furore and that somehow proves you were right! Perverse to say the least.
    Surely the basis of most and certainly my anger at the drivel you wrote and yes I use the term properly is that it is all or largely about birds of prey and to be frank those things you put up as fact about raptors were nothing of the sort.
    They are all doing very well , well may be thats true in a general sense but lets examine grouse moors in a little more detail.
    1 Golden Eagle virtually excluded by persecution and that almost certainly has a great population effect by the constant killing of immatures looking for vacant territories

    2 Hen harrier no they don’t live on grouse. settling density is dependent on vole and pipit numbers, yes they eat some grouse but modelling work shows that 1pair per 5000 acres could be on all grouse moors with no damage to the shooting, but we have what, 5 pairs on all the grouse moors in the UK. Given that, your friends who manage moors are taking the p–s. All work shows they do not need burning and they’re greatest enemy is the bloody keeper. Langholm 1, the harriers did not reduce the number of grouse pairs, they just ate all the shootable surplus, which in ecological terms is not a problem.

    3 Peregrines , just read Amar et al its the same as Eagles and Harriers.

    4 Buzzards and Sparrowhawks may be depressing songbirds because of their population rises . Sorry prey density controls breeding success of predators and hence numbers. Sparrowhawks numbers are stable or declining. Buzzards take few song birds and what happened before we decided on “balance” ie over the previous million or so years. The balance game mangement talks of is a value judgement and nothing to do with ecology.
    The fact that RSPB is the leading voice against raptor persecution is what makes many landowners dislike it and it is after all about protecting birds, why the surprise. That such people find they object to RSPB to raptor workers like me means RSPB is getting it right not wrong.

  47. I didn’t want to get drawn into a largely pointless debate with delusional individuals who will next be informing us that the earth is flat, clearly the Etonian education has not paid off well in some cases. I largely can’t hold my frustration and anger back as I’m a countryman living and working in rural Lancashire and Cumbria and don’t want to be lumped in with some of the fools that think this is some rural v urban debate.

    Let this countryman put it this way, hen harrier is hindered not helped by 99.9% of grouse moor estates. The facts are clear, they do badly grouse moors and are largely absent across the major grouse shooting areas because of actions of individuals acting beyond the law. Breeding birds are taken out and disturbed and wintering birds are removed, stemming the terminal decline of this species. The industry agreed figure for breeding numbers in the English uplands is 323 pairs yet we are far from that figure and NE are in total denial over what is going on. Harriers are the elephant in the room in any discussion about the uplands and grouse moor management, it needs to be sorted ASAP. There are many bad eggs out there and the only way forward for the industry is to oust these individuals or incur further distaste from the rural and urban majority that don’t agree with what is going on.

    Rural Voltaire – grouse moors are only named that because of the management practices that go on in those areas, sheep are often grazed there so they could also be called sheep moors. If you look at the SSSI, SAC or SPA designations covering many of these areas they are important for more than grouse, you need to remember that. Given that blanket bog is not called grouse bog perhaps you should stop damaging that with burning?

    For those in denial that raptors and other species can’t exist, I would suggest a trip to rural Extremadura in central Spain. Some of the highest raptor densities (numbers and species) in Europe, some of the highest numbers and densities of priority farmland birds, extensively managed game shooting, little predator control and a lack of millions of introduced non-natives such as pheasants yet raptors are not gobbling up every last bird resulting in massive declines.

    1. Gongfarmer – thank you, but have you been brooding about that all night? Sounded like you had to get it off your chest this morning! Thanks again.

      1. I hear these debates on a daily basis and thankfully those who I have them with can put forward more logically and factually correct arguments than Magnus and some others here. This has just frustrated the hell out of me with such ludicrous claims trotted out as fact and the whole polarisation of the debate to think those in the country know best – take it from me as a rural inhabitant that they don’t. Loving reading (one of the copies) of your book, think a few here should have a read for educational purposes.

    2. You dont need to go to Spain! If you go to Mull, Islay, Arran and a host of other areas where Grouse shooting does not take place, you will see an abundance of harriers…..along with eagles (golden and sea), buzzard, peregrine, short-eared owl, raves (in numbers that would be hard to believe a few years ago), other crows etc. You will also so see pipits, sylarks, plover, curlew and …..grouse! Why is the Langholm project not looking at these areas as a balance?

      1. No foxes or weasels on Arran (not that I am suggesting Marcus is either)

        and no badgers on Islay but I’m not sure about foxes.

        1. No foxes on Arran….but there are mink and badger….if that helps you construct some sort of point?

          1. yes it does! And that is that it is clearly a complex issue with lots of factors contributing to it.

  48. For every anecdote that Magnus has gleaned from his concerned land owners- I could also rebut with anecdotes from gamekeepers who still have the bravado to confess (on the quiet).
    Anecodotes dont get us anywhere, they are like “chinese whispers” or anglers boasts. What we need is statistically based, peer reviewed research. Now there have already been references to a significant body of studies and reviews which point at grouse moors and shout guilty. What evidence can Magnus rely on? None.
    Its simply a case of “if I say it with authority and a touch of gravitas, then it must be true”. Sorry but the emperor is in his bufty.

  49. Wow – what a response! I’ve thought long and hard on how to respond and have taken the time to read other’s responses before making my own. I don’t wish to reiterate (too much) others eloquent and more erudite comments on hen harrier ecology but I was interested, having read Magnus’ original article, to identify if the quality of his text in the guest blog would improve.

    Having read Magnus’ article in the Observer (on-line) and his guest blog, I initially dismissed it, other than a few comments via Twitter (@ecology_digest), as an aberrant tirade from an otherwise, seemingly, respected journalist. I was therefore pleased to read the other day that Mark has allowed him the platform as a guest blogger. I was interested to see, not if he chose to recant his opinions, but if he was prepared to strengthen his arguments and support them with independent references and research so others may cross-reference the sources – an argument put forward by George Monbiot I believe. Magnus, many may not share your views, but we would all respect them more if they were based on reasonably solid arguments, articulated intelligently. I suspect this was partly at least, the reasoning behind many of the strong objections from your Observer article so I was wondering (?hoping) if your response would provide us with the intelligent journalism that I am sure you are capable of.

    It is disappointing to read that this is not the case. In your opening gambit, you wrote, “When everyone is against you, it means you are either absolutely wrong or absolutely right,” wrote a 19th century French journalist. I incline to the latter point of view”; followed two paragraphs later by “I am also a journalist, and have been for 40 years, which means I know a bit about investigation.”. Surely, with the benefit of your 40 year career, some or much of it you infer was undertaking investigative journalism, you will have learned that issues are never either one end of the spectrum or the other; black-or-white but a shade of grey? To present this quote as your opening gambit, infers on the reader, a pre-conditioned bias. In other words, you are seeking the answers to support your view and not prepared to alter, amend or change your view as the evidence directs.

    The different sides of the debate are, from my perspective, seemingly entrenched but whereas the RSPB, British Trust for Ornithology and independent academics from various universities and other institutions undertake meticulous field-based research, much of it peer-reviewed, you and your supporters present either unreferenced and nefarious arguments without any credibility, rehash or mis-quote, or propagate falsehoods to support your arguments. For example, you state in your guest blog that, “My criticism of the RSPB is because I believe they are dishonest on this central issue, that they suppress much of the evidence that supports the case for dialogue, and that they vilify those who advance it. The experience of the last few days has confirmed me in that view.”. Where is your evidence that they suppress evidence; and what evidence in your opinion, is being suppressed? By making allegations, not backed up, you weaken your argument (and your cause). This is basic investigative journalism…surely?

    Like your first article, your guest blog is filled with inaccurate statements. You imply in your eighth paragraph that hen harriers need gamekeepers (to control foxes and crows) and to maintain grouse, which you claim are its principle prey. Assuming all of this was 100 % accurate, how did hen harriers survive before gamekeeping and/ or artificial grouse numbers were maintained? I’d be interested to hear your view on this very specific question.

    Furthermore, you alledge that Mark “prefers snide insults, sarcasm, and distortion to genuine argument.”. Really? In what way, where and when? The only snide insult has been written by you, an uncorroborated comment in paragraph 11 of your guest blog. Such comments are neither intelligent, constructive or mature.

    And finally, I return to your opening gambit. Albert Guinon (who I believe you quoted), was, as far as I can make out from some internet based research, known as a French playwright and not a journalist, writing ironically perhaps, comedies. He is also credited with the following “There are people who, instead of listening to what is being said to them, are already listening to what they are going to say themselves”. This, in my opinion, sums up your argument and your credibility on this issue.

  50. A chap from shooting times currently on the Jeremy Vine show on Radio 2 is defending shooting, his opening defence was to call the other speaker a townie. Says it all really, when will these plebs get it into their head that all folks in the countryside are not in agreement with shooting all those who oppose it are ignorant folk from the towns? It’s only a matter of time before they totally marginalise themselves more than they already are. The countryside alliance speaker recons 1 million people enjoy shooting in the UK and anyone who doesn’t agree is part of a tiny minority, is this true?

    1. Well Gongfarmer, I fully agree with your sentiments. I’ve lived in a village in the countryside all my life and can only smile at the recycled bigotry of the townie v countryman point which keeps being spouted. What I would say is that a large proportion of those that visit my village to shoot pigeon and pheasant actually live in the towns.

      1. That’s the impression I get Robin, maybe in order to make the image of shooting better they should stop the country vs town tired record and start mentioning the large number of ‘townies’ that enjoy shooting, may help prop up the over inflated figures? Do you become an honorary country person if you shoot the heather clad fells at the weekend and leave the city behind? To add extra insult to the equation, many of those who come to the countryside to enjoy grouse shooting are German, Italian and American tourists so can’t even claim to be British.

    2. Richard you have missed out the “meticulous field-based research, much of it peer-reviewed” undertaken by the GWCT in partnership with Buccleuch Estates, SNH, NE and RSPB at Langholm. Here indeed is an opportunity for serious investigative journalism seeking the truth. Scientific studies commissioned by individual organisations or governments with an agenda will always lack credibility. Studies undertaken by a partnership which includes the polarised factions seeking the truth may take longer but are more likely to produce data that is credible.

      1. What evidence from published research does either the original article or the blog response rely on? He does not rely on anything from the Langholm project.He alludes to an Rspb report on the Harrier breeding success in the Forest of Clunie SPA(? my guess), but there is no reference to the actual report?

        Magnus gained his renown as an newspaper editor and an editors main contribution to the paper is the opinion column,

        All he is offering is opinion and un-attributed anecdote

  51. Interesting that people mention Mull. I wonder what effect that the lack of foxes, badgers and squirrels has on the populations of other animals there?

    1. Mull is fantastic Giles. Its got stoats, foxes, common rat, otter, hooded crow, golden eagle, kestrel, buzzard, sparrowhawk and white-tailed eagle. In fact its got a fairly balanced mix of predators and prey, unfortunately its got pheasants but not everywhere is perfect. Extremadura in Spain is just as good as Mull, its also got lots of ‘vermin’, even top level ‘vermin’ like Iberian Lynx and wolf are making a come back. Im sure you are not trying to link good hen harrier performance with a perceved lack of predators are you, as why dosnt the North Pennines hold any – its devoid of hooked beaks, teeth and claws?

      1. I don’t regard any species as vermin however in my opinion having all species everywhere means you end up losing some. Mammalian introductions to islands are believed by many to have caused significant bio diversity loss and indeed extrinctions. It’s a major world wide issue. This includes red foxes, arctic foxes, feral cats, rats, rabbits and domestic livestock and yes pheasants! As for top level predators such as wolves and lynx – in my opinion they would have had a very positive impact on bio diversity because they help create areas where other smaller predators and also large herbivores are not present. It’s this ‘patchwork’ effect which is key imo. So having some areas where there are NO foxes or badgers is not a bad thing at all.

        I wonder are foxes an introduced species on Mull and what the effect would be of eradicating them there? There certainly would be one. Quite possibly you’d get a lot more rabbits – another introduced species.

  52. Certainly it was a fox that “did for” the wee HH chicks on Muirshiel Country Park this year. All caught on video by the RSPB video linked up for the school kids to watch the hatching and rearing. Last year the nest was abandoned by the parent birds due to over zealous video monitoring. Both situations avoidable. Third time lucky perhaps next year if lessons are learned?

    1. The Muirshiel fox video was recorded around 5 years ago……chinese whispers, fishermens tales etc…..the most remarkable thing about that particular video/nest was that smallest chick survived and fledged.

      I know of video evidence of mink, crows, foxes and keepers destroying harrier nests…. harrier populations seem to be able to cope with “wild predators” but are abandoning areas where there are keepers…. sorry but it is a scientific fact.

  53. Giles,the biggest effect of anything on Mull by a long way is the level of human persecution of raptors is very very low or even none at all.

    1. I’m not really sure what the scientific basis for that assumption is unless maybe you are just saying it.

      What we’d really need is a Scottish island without foxes badgers and squirrels but with either a gamekeeper (after all we know they are all criminal raptor haters) or maybe someone that went to Eton (ditto). That way we could compare the two.

      Maybe if David Cameron holidayed on mull next summer someone from the RSPB could visit and monitor the inevitable decline in the raptor population.

      There are certainly some other interesting examples where islands have been created without apex predators to control the meso predator equivalents to foxes badgers and squirrels and they have undergone a documented and considerable reduction in bio diversity.

      I have no idea of the precise impact of the lack of foxes &c on the ecosystem on Mull but it would not surprise me at all if it was significant.

      I would however think that disingenuous to suggest that the Mull situation is evidence either way for the debate as to the relative effects of predator control vs gamekeepers and members of the British upper class on bio diversity.

        1. ah ok maybe it does – i merely googled it. As far as I am aware many scottish islands are lacking various predators and this is often held to have a considerable impact on other fauna.

  54. Just demonstrates that caution is required when regurgitating information! My source for the fox predation incident at Muirshiel was the Scottish Leader Programme Guide ( page 39 ) produced by Dumfries & Galloway Leader in 2011 with support from Scottish Government. It celebrates examples of Scotland’s Leader Projects. Discover Clyde Muirshiel Wildlife On Screen was a Renfrewshire Leader Project worth £16,436. This Leader Programme didn’t get underway until 2008 and as far as I remember Renfrew was one of the Leader areas added as late as 2009, but happy to be corrected. The Guide states that the Park “can on average support 10 to 12 breeding pairs which is around 2% of the national number”. One pair nested, 5 eggs were produced but the chicks were predated by foxes soon after hatching and the nest abandoned by the adult birds. “IT WAS A SAD END TO THE PROJECT BUT ONLY ADDED TO THE UNDERSTANDING OF HOW VULNERABLE THIS SPECIES IS AND HOW DIFFICULT IT WOULD BE TO INCREASE THEIR NUMBERS”. From the lack of information related to HHs on the website today it seems like the HHs are proving this statement correct. I guess if there had been a pair hatching or even nesting, it would have been celebrated on the Park’s website. So the question that must be asked is, if the Park is capable of supporting 10 to 12 breeding pairs, why the lack of enthusiasm from the HHs for this HH SPA.

  55. There is very little point in my taking this argument any further, since the criticisms of my piece range so wide and are so virulent, that almost anything I say is bound to be shot down. I am accused of class bias, prejudice, self-interest, arrogance, ignorance and many other things besides. On this basis, there is so little common ground between my position and those who attack me that there seems no point in further defence. And yet these are critical to the future health of our upper moorland. My central point was a simple one: that those who manage the land and those whose interest is conservation share a common interest, which is a deep concern for wild life. They should be working together rather than against each other. In Perthshire each spring I see the number of lapwing, curlew and other waders diminishing, while the number of buzzards, crows and ravens increase. Is there a correlation? I believe there is. There are six crows that wheel around the hill in front of our house. I see them raid the nests of our beautiful curlews, whose numbers decline every years. Should one leave all this to what Mark Avery and others consider is the balance of nature? No, one should not — and of course neither does the RSPB, which assiduously controls foxes and crows on some of its reserves, like Abernethy (but not assiduously enough on others, like Lake Vyrnwy). Our only defence is legal trapping of crows. I wish we could do more. In answer to Richard Wilson, my point about the RSPB suppressing some evidence at the expense of other, is based on long study of their press releases, their web-site and their publicity. They are, inevitably, drawn to research that is pro-raptor, and equally inevitably, cold-shoulder reports (from organisations like the GCWT) which put another point of view. I have been writing about this with interest ever since the famous Langholm report, where the RSPB claimed initially that the increase in harrier numbers had nothing to do with the decline of grouse, and that habitat decline was mainly responsible, only to concede later that something had to be done to restore the balance (hence the present laudable exercise in which buffer feeding is being used).
    But I accept that anyone who ventures criticism of the RSPB will be exposed to this kind of barrage. My former colleague Simon Jenkins (whom Mark Avery will presumably also accused of “lazy clever journalism”) was equally lambasted in 2008 when he ventured to suggest that the unfettered introduction of raptors was having a devastating effect on songbirds. He wrote: “I accept that the sight of kites and buzzards wheeling in the sky over the Welsh mountains is thrilling. But the arrival in British towns of these cannibals, however majestic, is a heavy price to pay for the loss of songbirds. I also loathe the uncontrolled seagulls, magpies and Canada geese that infest the places where I live. They are the grey squirrels of the air.” I didn’t use language quite as emotive as that. But the response has been the same.

    1. Magnus – thank you again for your Guest Blog. As you and I expected, it stirred up quite a storm of comment. Remember Norman Hunter.

      Neither your Observer article nor your blog here were well grounded in science – and you keep avoiding that issue. You have demonstrated a poor grasp of the science of the issues about which you have written: the fate of the hen harrier, the diet of the hen harrier, the impact of hen harriers on red grouse at Langholm, the impacts of predators on songbird numbers etc. While you can be spotted as making important factual errors about the subject about which you write then you cannot expect much of a reception for your views.

      I don’t expect to find the GWCT coming on to this blog to contradict me on my assessment of your science – but they would be very welcome to do so if they wish. Perhaps, instead, they might have a quiet word with you to improve your grasp of the science of the issues.

      Thank you again for daring to write the Guest Blog.

      1. I’d have thought that any discussion of the impact of predators on the ecology would have as its basis the simple fact that we don’t really know.

        1. edit to above there’s an interesting correlation between the songbird issue and the turtle doves blog above.

          We know that hunting isn’t the chief cause of the decline – it’s habitat loss/farming practices &c however given that they are declining there may well be a strong argument not to hunt them.

          In a similar vein we know that the prime cause of songbird decline is loss of habitat however given that they are in decline increasing predation may well be having a proportionately higher effect on the remaining population.

    2. Good god! He even quotes some idiot who refers to raptors as “cannibals”! He just keeps on digging, doesn’t he?

      1. Yes. If raptors are cannibals for eating other birds, then I imagine most humans can also be called such for eating other mammals. I would have hoped that as ‘respected journalists’, Simon Jenkins and Magnus Linklater might have had a better grasp of English vocabulary.

      2. That piece Coop was written by the now Chairman of the NT and the comments he made at the time that Magnus has restated here, and others, resulted in some loss of membership including myself.

        I am not surprised that the gulf between sides is as wide as it has been demonstrated on Mark’s guest blog but I cannot see two sides sitting down and agreeing a compromise and that the earth maybe is somewhere between being flat and being a sphere, when those that believe it is flat react to any challenge to thier viewpoint as unreasonable as Magnus has shown here, irrespective of the rational arguement put forward.

        1. Yes, of course Robin; I remember him now, thanks. As for compromise: I don’t believe there’s room for any. Why should these ignorami hold any sway with the law? Their complete disregard for the truth, their bizarre arguments, and foremost, their wilful damage to ecosystems, show them as unfit to to be trusted with our natural heritage; let alone a firearms certificate! 🙂

          1. “the now Chairman of the NT”

            “Now” is not “Forever”, and it’s later than you think

    3. Mr Linklater – I actually challenged Sir Simon about this via email and he had the good grace to reply, saying he had been rather flippant and subsequently apologised.

      I can’t imagine for a second that your bigoted and pompous self would do the same.

  56. Thank you Magnus for taking the time to write your Guest Blog. I suspect no amount of science or reasoned argument will alter your view of the RSPB, raptors and conservationists in general.
    You may not agree with the RSPB’s views on habitat management and predation, which is fair enough. However writing an article in a major newspaper which questions the integrity of a charitable organisation that exists purely to conserve birds and other wildlife is definately not. Particularly when no substantive evidence is provided to support your insinuations.
    A word to the wise, if you wish to be taken seriously on ecological issues then you may wish to consider the wisdom of quoting Simon Jenkins. Would you quote Dick Potts or James Fisher on historic architecture ? I think not.

  57. Mr. Linklaters you are a strange creation are thee not?

    You may stand by what you write, that does not make it any more true or correct. Infact it just makes you look a bit silly and surely as so many facts in your original article are proved wrong then surely your investigative experience of 40 years (to quote yourself) must be called into question. What other articles have you commented on, hopefully not wars?

    Leave the raptors alone, it is illegal to kill them and no there is not one law for you and others. Perhaps you should think of the tourism that these animals will bring in, but then I suppose a humble B&B owner or shopkeeper of farmer renting a cottage is below what you believe you are? So what are you Mr. Linklaters? I’m curious to know, but I do know a good journalist you are not.

    Oh and people read the Guardian because they have an environment section, non of the other papers seem to have much more than the latest celeb rubbish or sport. Maybe they might publish a photo of an animal, but that is it.

  58. Mr Linklater wrote that the RSPB is powerful. Why is it powerful? Because it has a big base of public support. He is arguing with public opinion. The public isn’t always right but running counter to popular opinion does suggest that someone is out of touch. The problem of Magnus and his ilk is that they have spent generations being unchallenged and being able to do what they like. Those days are over. The world moves on. I’m sure Magnus was once a good journalist who understood what relevance means. He has blown his credibility with these piece and compounds this by continuing to argue the toss. I’ve enjoyed reading his work in the past – but the article, and these petulant, arrogant follow-ups have made me conclude that he is a man whose output is not to be trusted.

    Time to retire, Magnus old fruit.

  59. Interesting that no one comments on my point about the decline of our curlew/lapwing numbers. Is there a correlation between that and the escalation in crows/ravens and buzzards? If the RSPB needs to control crows and foxes at Abernethy, why is it wrong for me to tackle the same issue here in Perthshire?

    1. I suggest that you know full well (you would if you’d bothered to research) that the control at Abernethy is undertaken as a last resort to arrest population declines in Capercaillie. I also suggest that you’re aware that these declines have been driven by a number of factors (including habitat changes, deer fencing strikes, and climate issues) and that some local poulations are at a level at which they can no longer absorb natural predation. Furthermore, In some areas, densities of breeding females have continued to decline, in spite of predator control. It’s apparent that predation is only a proximate factor, not the ultimate. You continue to twist fact, and cherry pick to bolster your uneducated, bigoted claims; which have been utterly laid waste by those who understand and respect our countryside far more than you obviously do. Your baseless rants would be highly offensive if they weren’t so risible.

      1. But Magnus hasn’t claimed that predation is a prime factor. he is merely saying that just as the RSPB controlling predators may have a role in saving species so may it be the case if he does. That isn’t ‘baseless’ at all – it is entirely logical.

        In fact the more logical it is the more fervent the rants are against him.

        Some of the comments on this blog are appalling and are portraying conversationalists as little more than narrow minded bigots.

    2. Dear Magnus
      In relation to your specific question above – you may like to look at the following two papers, which address your concern over the impacts of 1) Ravens and 2) Crows on wader populations. Both are peer reviewed published papers in international scientific journals.

      Raven and waders paper

      Crows and waders paper

      1. Here’s a reference to a study by the RSPB:

        ” It found that where declines had occurred, they were linked with factors such as habitat cover, forest edge exposure, grouse moor management intensity and crow abundance.”

        What this suggests to me is that it is a highly complex issue there is a interplay of many different factors in many different places. Ecology is the study of incredibly complicated systems that we clearly do not fully understand.

        Anyone who points to the ‘science’ regarding these issues as a body of irrefutable fact holding true at all times and all places does not know what they are talking about. Doctrinal ideologues are more at home in the middle ages than in the 21st century.

        What we need is sensible dialogue and discussion not rants!

      2. Hi Arjun

        Yes, for some of us in the uplands the results of your correlative analysis on the impact of increased raven numbers on wader populations were surprising. That said, you did note that “the lack of any negative relationships at this large scale does not mean that ravens could not have an impact at a smaller scale or at some individual sites.” You also highlighted the urgent need for further research, but the sort of Otterburn experiment that would be necessary to determine cause and effect would of course be very costly.

        Turning to the harrier/grouse issue, as a highly respected raptor ecologist who has worked for both the GWCT and RSPB but can now speak independently of both, do you agree that there is a genuine conservation conflict between driven grouse moor management and raptor protectionism?

        If so, would you agree that that conflict can only be resolved by some kind of managed solution, such as that originally mooted by Dick Potts and developed more recently by Steve Redpath? In other words, would you endorse the idea of a brood management scheme or even a regional ceiling approach?

        Having participated in the Tarland conflict resolution workshop some years ago which I referred to earlier in this blog, would you agree that there is not only merit, but a genuine need for stakeholders from different sides of the argument to engage in dialogue, such as that which is currently being facilitated by the Environment Council?

        1. “do you agree that there is a genuine conservation conflict between driven grouse moor management and raptor protectionism?”

          In trying to frame this question up you have left things fairly open to interpretation…help us out by providing some explanations…
          What is a “genuine conservation conflict”?
          What is a full description of grouse moor management?
          What is raptor protectionism?

          1. I am confident that Arjun Amar would understand every ingredient of my question. I dare say you do too, but for some reason prefer conflict to resolution.

          2. You lay a vague loaded question, I would not attempt to answer it without seeking clarification. Well if you want my interpretation of your terminology:

            “Genuine conservation conflict”:- where limited space causes a direct conflict in conservation outcomes. ie, this area of land is currently a diverse, moorland the only example for a hundred miles, but it is naturally becoming a caledonian pine wood, also a rare habitat. Habitats are naturally dynamic and self sustaining if there is the physical space, the conflict is caused by the lack of space.
            This type of conservation conflict does not come into play in the grouse moor situation where there the conflict is between conservation and farming. There is no clash of conservation objectives because the grouse are being farmed not conserved.

            “Grouse moor management”:- Systematic destruction of natural habitat to produce regularised monoculture of Calluna, optomised for the intensive production red grouse. All other species which potentially conflict with grouse to be culled. The current status quo re grouse moor management includeds the gripping of bogs and the destruction of all predators include protected species.
            The destruction of the bogs presents as great a problem as the killing of the protected species because the UK government has international commitments to conserve and enhance these habitats. (The entire area of the habitat not just the patches in protected sites).

            “Raptor protectionism” There is no such category, raptors do not have a special “raptors only” clause in any act. Generally they are simply rare birds which tend to sit at or near the top of the web for their habitat. A healthy sustainable population of raptors indicates that the habitat is in good health. When I visit a moor I am just as concerned about the cover of sphagnum moss as I am about the presence of harriers. Grouse protectionism is a single interest policy.

            I think that you are trying to suggest that really there is no need for conflict….I think that you are suggesting that total control is given to keepers and as long they leave a few token raptors…hey presto problem solved.
            Such a solution would not address any of the wider questions and would be completely untennable with the public or on an international scale.

    3. Magnus,

      This paper would appear to support your thoughts: [url][/url]

      I, for one, do not rule out the use of legal predator control as a conservation tool. As you point out, the RSPB themselves control predators and are fairly open about this. However, predator control is a tool to be used in very specific circumstances and only when all other options have been exhausted. Better to spend time getting the habitat right first.

      The last Perthshire sporting estate I visited, stocked thousands of artificially introduced red-legged partridge. If this is widespread practice, perhaps this is drawing in crows, ravens and buzzards from the nearby area? The curlew and lapwing could then simply be the victims of this artificially high predator population.

      1. I totally agree, Pete.
        As I’ve stated in other threads here: the difference between intelligently used, study based predator control, for the conservation of a threatened species, and the blanket approach used by the shooting industry is there for all to see. However, time and again, the self-styled “countryside lobby” and its apologists, trots out the same discredited excuse that “the RSPB controls predators, so what’s wrong with us doing the same?” This is dishonest in the extreme.
        Throughout this thread, Linklater, and his defenders, have consistently, ducked all challenges to provide evidence in support of his inacuracies and falsehoods. Of course, all this has achieved is that more people are now holding a magnifying glass to their activities which, day by day, reveals them, and their underlying motivation, for what they truly are!
        They may take us for fools, and even “narrow minded bigots”. But no amount of dodgy analogies, distortions and smokescreens can hide the truth. The whole, shoddy scam of masquerading as conservationists has been completely exposed, and they don’t like it one little bit!
        Well, as Shylock said to Antonio: Tough titty!

        1. Coop I think you are almost entirely missing the point. All human land use has some impact on the ecology. Some species benefit and others lose out. You can say this about farming, forestry, towns and gardens. There are certainly aspects of some forms of agriculture and forestry and management for country sports and urban development that create and enhance certain habitats. However there are also very negative aspects. It simply is not a black and white issue.

          Many people care about the countryside in different ways. To say that people who have different views about a complex issue can’t join your little club of dedicated conservationists is puerile nonsense.

        2. 1. An 8-year-field experiment on moorland in northern England manipulated the abundance of legally controllable predators whilst maintaining consistent habitat conditions. Subsequent changes in both the breeding success and abundance of five ground-nesting bird species were monitored: lapwing Vanellus vanellus, golden plover Pluvialis apricaria, curlew Numenius arquata, red grouse Lagopus lagopus scoticus and meadow pipit Anthus pratensis and the abundance only of snipe Gallinago gallinago and skylark Alauda arvensis.

          2. Control of fox Vulpes vulpes, carrion crow Corvus corone, stoat Mustela ermina and weasel Mustela nivalis reduced the abundance of fox (−43%) and crow (−78%); no changes were detected in already low stoat or weasel abundances.

          3. Reductions in foxes and crows led to an average threefold increase in breeding success of lapwing, golden plover, curlew, red grouse and meadow pipit.

          4. Predator control led to subsequent increases in breeding numbers (≥14% per annum) of lapwing, curlew, golden plover and red grouse, all of which declined in the absence of predator control (≥17% per annum).

          5. Synthesis and applications. Controlling predators is a potentially important management tool for conserving a range of threatened species. Considerable sums of public monies are currently spent on habitat improvement for conservation and some of these public funds should be used to underpin habitat works with predator removal.

          1. When I go out on the hills I want to see crows, stoats, weasel’s etc, I want see scrub woodland and a diverse flora of moorland specialist plants….pleasures which I am denied on a regular basis because of destructive grouse moor management. There is nothing more enjoyable than watching a harrier quarter a healthy moorland….but….and its a very important point….I dont just want to look at the harrier, its the bird in its environment.
            All of the species which live on our moorlands from the most unattractive leafy liverwort to golden eagle have evolved together and lived in each others company for tens of thousands of years. They are well capable of managing each other and avoiding extinction- further than that they are dependent on each other. Of course that does not mean that the numbers of all species are stable/constant, but it does mean that they are sustainable.

            Intensive single species grouse moor management is not sustainable.

            Considerable sums of public money are already being spent on habitat improvement/management in tandem with predator control via the rural development programme. Sadly the results of this effort are not being monitored.

          2. I don’t believe I’m the one who’s missing the point, POB. I put it to you that Predator “removal” in order to artifically increase densities of quarry species to levels which would not naturally occur, in order to provide an excess of targets for country “sports” and an excess of profit for the landowners concerned, is preservation, not conservation.
            It is unquestionable fact that in the absence of predators, other mortalty agents (disease and resource depletion) become more important, and increase along with said densities. This, of course is why disease is common in Red Grouse; causing a boom and bust effect. This stands for all organisms on the planet. Vis-a-vis, predation can regulate, or limit given populations. What predation does not, and cannot do, is drive long-term declines in prey, unless predator numbers are themselves artificially enhanced.
            The Langholm report showed that driven grouse shooting is rendered “unviable” by predation from Hen Harriers. In other words, driven grouse shoots can only continue by modifying (damaging) upland ecosystems by removing important, naturally occurring components i.e. Hen Harriers.

            Let me tell you a fairy story:

            One day a hansome prince wished to run an open-air butterfly farm, in order to profit from selling specimens to collectors. He subsequently wished to boost that profit by “removing” Spotted Flycatchers, which prey on “his” stock, thereby limiting his profits. Despite constant bellyaching (and covert killing of his particular “vermin”), the law of the land wouldn’t permit him to “control” this destructive pest. He thought long and hard. He could, of course admit that Spotted Flycatchers were an important, and threatened part of his local ecosystem, and either find other less damaging ways to ensure a “collectable surplus” for his customers. On the other hand, he could attempt to curry favour with what he saw as an ignorant, gullible public, by dishonestly claiming (without a shred of evidence) that Spotted Flycatchers were directly responsible for national declines in many species of butterfly, and that if something wasn’t done these ravenous demons would wipe the lot out!
            Of course, the public wasn’t as stupid as he thought, and could see through this “cunning” plot, despite the formation of a cover organisation, Save Our Butterflies (SOB) of which, unbeknownst to them he just happened to be the chairman. But, he just carried on and on making a pretty good profit, despite Spotted Flycatchers, (non of which was ever been killed by him or his employees, honest!) every so often regurgitating the same old lies in the hope that his pals in government would, one day, get a big enough majority to change the stupid law!
            Then, one wonderful, sunny morning, his knight in shining armour appeared, in the form of a “respected” journalist, who also owned (sorry, was a “trustee” of) a butterfly farm. Conveniently omitting his vested interest, he painted a wonderfully vivid picture about how Spotted Flycatchers wouldn’t exist without the help of butterfly keepers, and that those “ignorant townies” who said otherwise were actually suppressing evidence of the havoc wrought by these birds.
            Woe! Woe! it all went pear-shaped! His entire article is shown to be not worth the paper it’s written on, and he turned from a “respected” journalist into a laughing stock!
            Our “hero” saw the error of his ways and used his, by now substantial wealth to educate children on his nature reserve (on the site of the butterfly farm) and they all lived happily ever after….

            Nighty night 🙂

          3. I want to see as much diversity as possible both biological and human. So I am happy to see intensive grouse moors but also less/differently managed areas too. That to me is the beauty of the British landscape – thousands of years of human endeavour + one of ther most diverse geologies in the world. Travel from west to east and you go over rocks from every age except one. Apparently we are the only country in the world where that is true.

            I dont want to see grouse moors everywhere but I also dont think we should throw the baby out with the bath water. Imo it’s a good thing to have areas from which some predators are eliminated and others where they are not. Just as it would be a good thing to have predator free islands. It’s all about variety. And in actual fact if we still had the key apex predators that have been eliminated we would have a lot more variety without our interference because of their controlling/dispersal effect.

            To say just leave everything alone and it will find a natural balance is a truism but that natural balance may not be a biodiverse eden because a) we have removed some species b) we have introduced others c) We are using ever more resources.

            Lawrie above made the statement that conservation is altruism. The fact is that most of our ‘natural’ habitats are there because of economic forces. Much of Southern England was managed woodland until our iron industry switched to coal using coal and our patchwork of hedges and fields is not there because of altruism but hard nosed farmers following the dictates of economic reality.

            Relying on atruism for conservation is a non starter in fact I’d go one step further relying on ‘true conservationalists’ for conservation is a non starter. You have to involve those shoddy people Coop above accuses of masquerading as conservationalists – gentiles – muggles the impure or whatever you want to call them because in truth it is they not the chosen few who have shaped and will continue to shape our environment.

            That’s why I agree with Linklater – conservationists have to reach out to land managers in all their guises. An us and them mentality gets nobody nowhere.

          4. “It is unquestionable fact that in the absence of predators, other mortalty agents (disease and resource depletion) become more important”

            I wonder whether that’s a cause of Btb in badgers. We’ve lonmg ago removed their natural predators so whern we stop ‘predating’ them ourselves they become overcrowded and disease outbreaks follow.

            Another crucial factor is that once we remove some predators such as wolves lynx bears etc other lesser predators such as foxes etc become far more numerous. In a three layer system removing/depleating the top layer also diminishes the third layer – their are quite well documented examples of this. Of course mankind is the only remaining ‘predator’ of foxes etc. So if getting rod opf wolves is bad because they stop controlling foxes would us stopping controlling foxes also be bad?

  60. Whilst we are all banging on about raptors etc. let’s spare a thought for the common or garden pussy. Possibly the worst predator of them all. But I never hear anyone moving for control of this species. I believe in Australia it is illegal to let a cat roam free. How I wish that was the case here. I am not against cats, just against their owners who ‘put the cat out’ to cause havoc. About time the RSPB et al started a campaign for their better control. Many would support it.

  61. “… from the most unattractive leafy liverwort …”

    There are no unattractive leafy liverworts

  62. I’ve been thinking about the issues raised by this blog and comments and I wonder if there are parallels with policy over illegal drugs and deer management in the West Country. In my part of the world there are three main stag hunts that manage red deer over many hundreds of square miles. It strikes me that they have to balance two interests which are maintaining a good stock of healthy wild deer for sport and keeping the deer population at a level so they are not causing too much of a nuisance to the landowners over whose land they hunt. The knock on effect of this is that the deer do not become so numerous that they start causing a lot of damage to woodland or falling prey to disease outbreaks.

    One might contrast this landscape scale management with a situation where individual landowners take the management into their own hands. In this case my neighbour might be bothered by a herd of deer and shoot as many of them as they can, then when they are on my land I might (or might not do the same). Because deer are wide ranging before we know it we might end up killing all the deer.

    Maybe the same situation arises with hen harriers. No one really wants to eliminate them but no one wants ‘too many’. So the end result is that uncoordinated management ends up with their virtual elimination.

    The parallel with drug policy is that just because drugs are illegal doesn’t stop people taking them and there is an argument that uncontrolled illegal drug use is more damaging than if they were legal but regulated.

  63. I certainly never mentioned any “balance”. Such pretensions seem to be the exclusive property of those who claim to maintain them.
    As for conservationists having to “reach out to land managers in all their guises”? They’ve done just that for decades; compromise after compromise has been made. The RSPB has bent over backwards to accommodate the wishes of the shooting industry (or aren’t you aware of the prerequisites of its royal charter?) The line must be drawn right here.
    What if the much-cited waders conflicted with shooting interests? Would they be tolerated, or conveniently tagged as “vermin” and given the chop like the rest?

    “our patchwork of hedges and fields is not there because of altruism but hard nosed farmers following the dictates of economic reality.” As then, are the empty, hedgeless, wildlife free deserts of the subsidy-addicted barley barons. Should we just timidly accept this as well?

    1. I think there is a balance but it’s a wobbly one a bit like my bathroom scales and sometimes the wobbles are rather alarming.

      And yes those barley fields are there because of economic reality too. Can we improve the situation – yes of course we can. Interest and engage farmers in conservation issues and work to change the economics to encourage more varied land uses. Game shooting and hunting are twon examples but there are many others.

      Another alternative is to decry any attempt by the barley barons to discuss conservation issues because they are not ‘one of us’ – sneer at the points they make and ignore the complex science on the issues they raise when it does not favour our point of view – oh and let’s throw in a few class based stereotypes too for good measure. Mark can press his nuclear button, we can take the land off them and it will all become an eden like conservation utopia.

      1. Giles – there is no industry as subsidised and supported from the public purse as farming. And there is no industry which has as many customers as food production. We all have a right to comment on how our money is spent and how our food is produced. You should read Chapter 7 of Fighting for Birds – a chapter that frequent commenter here and ex dairy farmer, Dennis, liked enormously.

  64. Mark
    Thank you for allowing me onto your “guest blog.” I think, if you don’t mind, I’ll sign off now. I’m going walking in the Dolomites for the next three weeks, where, sadly, I won’t see much of any wild life at that altitude.
    It’s been instructive. A lot of the comments have been worthwhile and informative. Thanks, Arjun Amar, for instance, for pointing me in the direction of two important bits of research into corvids. Both, I think, bear out my point that, where populations of waders reach the fragile stage (as ours have) the presence of ravens and crows can be damaging. I note the phrase “merits further investigation.” I fear that may come too late for us.
    I’m sorry, Mark, that you think I have such a poor grasp of science. Actually, I’ve read an enormous amount of the research from both sides on this issue, and find much of it useful, some contradictory, others misleading. You seem to dismiss the conclusions of anything that conflicts with RSPB research. No one, not even scientists, are that perfect!
    But at least in arguing with you I am arguing with a real person. With people like “Coop,” whoever he or she is, it’s hard to know where to start. I am sorry you think my arguments are “baseless rants,” “uneducated, bigoted claims,” which have been “utterly laid waste” etc. It’s the kind of language that reduces sensible argument to the level of a rammy in a Glasgow pub.
    Interesting, however, that you admit there has been control of foxes and crows at the RSPB’s reserve at Abernethy (and, yes, I have been there), and that you say this is “undertaken as a last resort to arrest population declines in Capercaillie.” Well, strangely enough, that’s what I’ve been arguing too. There are places where populations of certain specie are fragile and under threat from predators, and deserve protection.
    Glad we agree on that — and perhaps you can come out from under your pseudonym and tell us who you are. The rest of us do — and take the flak.
    Mark, I think I’ll have to leave the debate at that — I hope you think some at least of it has been constructive.

  65. ” … perhaps you can come out from under your pseudonym …”

    Don’t do it, Coop!

    Why is it that the use of webnames or pseudonyms bothers some people so much? Apart from the well-rehearsed reasons, such use makes it less likely that the commenter will argue from authority, and it possibly (though not always) discourages ad hominem remarks against them. Or is it because persons in senior positions of authority – like newspaper editors or chairmen of charities – feel demeaned if they have to speak to a cipher.

    Speak to the argument, not to the man …

  66. Given that his unmitigated nincompoopery published in The Observer, obviously included his own name, it would have somewhat defeated the object had he appeared on his own guest blog under a username! Yet Mr Linklater seems to be under the impression that his actions are somehow courageous, while he hides under the defence of lawyers; a luxury that most of us can’t afford, as we’re not paid large sums of money for our opinions.
    Of course, if his “terminological inexactitudes” alluded to a person/s, rather than a species, he would have found himself on the end of a libel action quicker than he could pull the trigger of his purdey!
    It takes real courage, however, to get involved with a raptor protection group; sometimes facing direct threats from armed thugs when out monitoring Hen Harriers in our uplands. Or, manning an RSPB stand at a country fair, where verbal abuse from raptor hating malcontents also occurs. I add that I’ve not been involved in either.
    I have, however, patrolled local nature reserves as a countryside ranger. And, along with my former colleagues, experienced both verbal and physical threats on a regular basis. Fortunately, I’m a big lad for my age, so I’ve never come out particularly worse for wear. These experiences have taught me the lengths that some individuals involved in illegal activity are prepared to go to, especially if they know your indentity. In many cases, it’s a thin line between violence to animals, and violence to humans.
    So, I’ll not rise to Mr Linklater’s bait. I would, however, suggest that if he wishes to show the world how brave he is, why not take his gun out to a place where the targets shoot back!

    1. Oh come on let’s just have a civil debate. We really don’t have to suggest that people involve themselves in gun battles do we?

  67. POB,

    “Maybe the same situation arises with hen harriers. No one really wants to eliminate them but no one wants ‘too many’”

    By too many, do you mean a population which has exceeded the carrying capacity of it’s environment and drives long-term declines in it’s prey (an impossibilty)? Or a healthy population which might conflict with you own activites?

    1. “do you mean a population which has exceeded the carrying capacity of it’s environment and drives long-term declines in it’s prey (an impossibilty”

      That’s a vast simplification of predator -prey relationships imo. The crucial effect of predators is to prevent other species reaching the ‘carrying capacity’ of their environment. That’s why top down control is so crucial and why some animal populations need to be controlled by man. If you allow meso predator populations to reach athe artificially high level represented by the carrying capacity of the environment then long term declines in some prey species are exactly what may well result.

      Ta pretty good scientific basis for that argument.

    2. Coop I deliberately put “too many” in speech marks. None of my activities conflict with hen harriers. The point I was making is that if the problem is down to illegal killing then maybe uncontrolled illegal culling of Hen Harriers is a worse outcome than a legal management plan. Just as there is an argument that people on illegal drugs have worse outcomes than if those drugs were legal. I don’t know the answer to that but I do think the situation with a wide ranging animal such as a hen harrier is different to an animal like a fox. If my neighbour shoots all the foxes on his land it doesn’t massively reduce the fox population on mine. I’d imagine the situation might be different with hen harriers – you might have some thoughts on that.

      1. POB,

        I noted your speech marks at the time. You were quite correct in including them. I also retract “your activities” and replace it with “driven grouse shooting”.
        I don’t really think the analogy with drug law is a very safe one, due to the complexity of that particular issue which may sidetrack us to some degree, and the natural conclusion of such argument would be to simply legalise all “crime”.
        Your second point: In the case of Hen Harriers, the grouse moors on which persecution takes place act as “sink habitats”, which drain the population from areas beyond their immediate boundaries.

        Whether this applies to Foxes (given the dispersive nature of males), I honestly don’t know.
        Any “quota system”, in my opinion, is unacceptable. Not only because I believe that killing native predators, in any number, simply to maintain artificially high numbers of quarry individuals (above their carrying capacity) is unjustified, but also because I think it constitutes the thin end of the wedge.
        This, is my argument in a nutshell; Irrespective of the pros and cons of game shooting (a side issue, in this particular debate). What I take issue with, is the dishonesty of many in the shooting industry; who, in the knowledge that the above practices, don’t stand up to close scrutiny, attempt to justify their actions by cynically resorting to highly emotive falsehoods such as the “songbird” issue. It’s this dishonesty, that drives a wedge between the the two factions. For any productive dialogue to take place, shooters must accept biological fact, and abandon such subterfuges.
        I thank you POB, for the civility of your previous post, and hope that I’ve responded in a similar fashion. By the way, my father was a shooter, and, at one time, a part-time gamekeeper. 🙂

  68. I have often wondered at the fact that these people who go game shooting are better armed than our lads in the army abroad!

  69. oh and you can guarantee its a lovely lazy sunday afternoon, suns out and I’m chilled …and then BANG BANG BANG! for the next 3 hours.

  70. I thought I would have a wee look at Magnus’s estate from the google maps… however on the way there I found one his neighbours and was astonished by the scale of the damage. Go to google maps, search for “Glasclune burn” and turn on the Satellite image.

  71. Dear Lazywells
    You should find all the answers to these questions in the following two papers.
    In this paper you will see that not only I, as an author, but the RSPB as the authoring organisation suggest that there may be some merit in a brood management scheme. I quote :

    “ there may be merit in exploring whether a trial brood management scheme could assist in reducing harrier predation on grouse with the objective of achieving a rapid improvement in harrier conservation status on grouse moors.”

    In relation to your other question, about stakeholder dialogue, I would refer you to the following book chapter authored by myself and others from a variety of organisations:
    Redpath, S., Amar, A., Smith, A., Thompson, D. & Thirgood, S. (2010). People and nature in conflict: can we reconcile raptor conservation and game management? In: Species Management: Challenges and Solution for the 21st Century. (Eds J. Baxter & C. A. Galbraith). The Stationary Office, Edinburgh.

    This paper describes the importance of dialogue between all the key stakeholders to resolve the harrier grouse conflict.

    Ps. I will be unable to reply any further on this blog as I am off on a fieldtrip to the Cederbergs, where there are lots of raptors (incl. black and booted eagles), but no internet access!

  72. What an appalling and corrupt land-owning oligarch this man is. Utterly bereft of morality or self-awareness. For “trustee” read “owner avoiding tax”. Scum.

  73. Pingback: The real enemies of press freedom are in the newsroom | Hihid News

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