Grouse – various

Strongyle worms.  Photo: Tim Melling
Strongyle worms. Photo: Tim Melling

Isn’t nature wonderful – the image at the head of this post is of strongylid worms (the white things) crawling out of some red grouse poo.

It’s possible that quite a few people and organisations feel like they are in the ‘grouse poo’ at the moment but, on the other hand, maybe they are all as oblivious as are those white worms above.

Marks and Spencer had their lingerie Q&A interspersed with questions about red grouse, lead and hen harriers that were not answered.  It’s just possible that Ms Rosie Huntingdon-Whitely was a bit bemused about all that. M&S looked as exposed as the scantily clad Ms Huntingdon-Whitely as they avoided question after question from Alan Tilmouth, Charlie Moores, Mark Skevington and many others.

The email replies that M&S send out haven’t changed over the last few days and don’t answer the questions they have been asked.  They are dealing with public/customer opinion appallingly.

Countryside Alliance: the arrival of the CA on the scene dramatically changed the politics of this debate several years ago.  In the more distant past there were quite a few, quite reasonable people on the scene.  They would admit that grouse moor managers did bump off quite a few hen harriers and they weren’t proud of it.  These days the CA has dragged the debate to the extremes – let’s call it the right – through denying any problem anywhere in anything to do with shooting, and slagging off anyone who dares to differ.  I’d love to see who writes the cheques for the CA and what their record is on wildlife crime.

It’s very difficult to love the Countryside Alliance.  I, and this might shock some readers of this blog, might have (privately – as I was working for the RSPB at the time) supported them in their aim not to ban fox hunting (because I was never convinced that this was a big enough issue for the parliamentary time it took up) but any possibility of this was dashed by their tactics and their complete, it seemed to me, disregard for evidence and facts.

The CA always strike me as a nasty bunch, getting nastier all the time. And as they have dragged the argument to the right then the reasonable guys (the GWCT in the old days but not now, and BASC (still reasonably reasonable)) have been dragged that way too.  I would be very surprised if GWCT did not get a chunk of their funding from some of the more extreme elements of the CA membership.  I’d love to know for sure.

It’s a bit like UKIP dragging the Conservative Party to the right – the CA drags GWCT and BASC to the right too.  And that makes the RSPB and others, sitting reasonably in the middle look as though they are on the far left of the debate.  How unreasonable to expect people to stick to the law!

And so, right now, because of the CA more than anything else, I feel it is necessary to move the debate on these issues to the left.  Only by creating a more extreme view against grouse shooting – and there is so much ammunition to do so – will the move to the right be countered.  I find myself more and more talking to animal welfare groups in a way that I never would have done a few years ago.  And many other formerly tolerant birders will do the same.  With the impending extinction of the hen harrier in England, and its almost complete absence from grouse moors in Scotland too, many at the Bird Fair at the weekend were saying that they had lost patience with the shooting community and it was time to take off the gloves.

If that happens then the Moorland Association, GWCT and BASC will rue the day that they allowed their organisations to be dragged to the right and create the right climate for a powerful  counter-campaign to be launched.

The RSPB: my former colleagues in the RSPB aren’t in a great position either.  The Royal Charter makes it difficult for them to oppose grouse shooting – but not impossible.  But the RSPB is in danger of looking a bit limp these days in its public pronouncements on the subject of hen harriers and grouse shooting. Maybe they will take a step to the left too – maybe later this autumn – but maybe they will still look a bit limp.  We’ll have to see.

But a really great thing is that birders are getting very energised and active about this issue.  Twitter has been really fantastic with the comments that have been made.  I’d love to see even more of this – ‘ordinary’ birders speaking out.  Birders of the UK unite! You, we, have nothing to lose but your hen harriers – and they are going pretty quickly already.

And do, please, sign up to this epetition which seems to have gathered a little bit more momentum over the last few days – it’s all those disgruntled M&S customers, and, of course, the scantily clad Ms Rosie Huntingdon-Whitely.


By Andreas Trepte (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-2.5 (], via Wikimedia Commons
By Andreas Trepte (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-2.5 (], via Wikimedia Commons
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78 Replies to “Grouse – various”

  1. Mark, you don't have listen too hard to hear the sound of feet being dragged at the rspb and amongst my local circle. A simple request to simply email the million voices for nature with a link to John Squire Armitage's ePetition on the Martin Harper blog meets with a limp attempt at confusion with its Vicarious Liability initiative. Just when I start to warm toward toward them again, with their TV ad and other signs of being ready for a bare knuckle fist fight with persecutors of Hen Harriers and the planet in general, they appear to be backing off. NOT GOOD ENOUGH!!

    What will it take to wake up the world of the nature lover. Loss of the Song Thrush perhaps, long term down by 49%, short term up 24%. Lets hope the short term trend continues but don't count on it with this level of timidity. I could have chosen far worst illustrations.

    Elsewhere my circle displays the same reluctance. I put everything I'd got into producing maps and fact boxes for a soon to be published county Bird Atlas and in return I ask the authors to simply highlight an ePetition and let others decide whether they want to sign or not. These are people in positions of influence with 100's of fellow birders locally, yet so far no signs of action. Maybe I should demand my contributions be withdrawn from the Atlas? Please advise.

  2. Mark, I am really interested in the thought that political positioning is being automatically influenced by the stance of the CA. Odd as it may seem to claim this now, I had exactly the same feeling well over ten years ago and before I worked for the RSPB. Yet the reason it happened for me was that I have always had an anti-fox hunting view although I stress that I am not against careful and selective culling if it is needed. An ex-girlfriend (and sadly now late) was opposed to fox hunting for emotional grounds and mostly because her life had been taken up in animal welfare activities although she had been a member of the YFU. My main reason for opposing fox hunting was the poor science and contradictory arguments being used to support it. I have always felt (and I still do) that I had to work hard (and pay) to earn my degree and I deplore anyone making up facts that are apparently persuasive to the public but are unsupportable by science. We both posted comments on the then good, BBC Forums and it was noticeable that the pro-hunt faction attacked her directly and left me alone albeit that they often set themselves up for attack in turn because of the arguments used. I am seeing all the same patterns fro the CA now as I did back then but the major difference is that there is support from within government.

    The other thing that strikes me about all this is the insidious threat coming directly from the government. The stealthily applied buzzard cull was evidence that this government is not going to listen to or encourage debate by the great unwashed despite ensuring more of us are educated to keep us off the dole. It is amazing how many have been dragged along for the ride too...the best example being the Liberal Democrats. We have a local self-appointed satirist called Derek Brooks who regularly sends in letters to our local paper. A few weeks back, the subject was fox hunting although needless to say, I destroyed his arguments in the next issue and killed any chance of the debate re-surfacing. However I am waiting for the letter covering country sports to appear because there is absolutely no question of where Mr Brooks' sympathies lie.

  3. Mark,

    Why don't you just adopt an honest position that reflects what you actually think rather than one which is dictated by the position that you perceive some other party to be taking?

      1. I'm not sure you have Mark. You've said that you want to 'move the debate to the left' and 'create a more extreme view'. But you say you want to do this in response to what you see as an extreme view from the other side. That's political posturing.

        My personal; view - and I get called an extremist - is that activities like shooting have pros and cons and depending on how they are conducted will result in a different balance between pro and con. - Would you agree in principle with that?

          1. I'm very glad you do Mark, it's awful when these debates get so polarised that people can no longer own up to what they really think. I have huge respect actually for your honesty and willingness to foster and engage in meaningful debate - in my opinion that is very much in the interests of the issues you care about.

          2. How the hell do you square 'fighting for birds' with support for an industry that rears birds, often in pretty awful circumstances, to be targets for people who take pleasure from killing birds? Regardless of the fact that these birds are almost never 'cleanly' killed when shot and so suffer either a lingering death or a terrifying plummet from the sky.

  4. So you think the GWCT are (now) unreasonable Mark?
    This isnt twitter (we have more than 140 characters to play with), so have you any evidence on which you base that assertion to share with your readers?
    I ask primarily because I was once a proud member of the GCT but have grown a little disillusioned of them over the years and wondered if it was just me and my experiences of them. Perhaps not it seems.

    1. Doug - in the days of Dick Potts then I thought that the GCT (as it was) was admirable. It was possible to discuss the problems we all faced openly in private and try hard to find solutions. That's how the RSPB got into the first Langholm study - as described in Fighting for Birds. Then one would often hear GCT staff condemning raptor persecution and I felt, then, that came from the heart. I don't feel that these days.

      GWCT now works with Songbird Survival (but then, so has the BTO, I know) which is a strange befellow - although not so strange when you see who has been involved with Songbird Survival perhaps - see gain Fighting for Birds.

      GWCT needs the money to keep coming in like any other NGO. Since its money base comes from a relatively small number of rather rich people (cf the real wildlife conservation organisations), some of whom own or manage grouse moors, then GWCT have to keep in with them (I imagine). When the CA moves things to the right then GWCT 'has' to move that way too or appear to be a bit wimpish to its supporters. The RSPB is often accused by the shooting press and shoooters generally of pandering to its members. This is quite difficult to do when you have around a million members like the Wildlife Trusts and the RSPB but rather more necessary when a small number of people write out big cheques. So it is actually the shooting press and the shooting organisations who have to do the pandering.

      That's my analysis - I may be completely wrong, of course.

      1. Thanks Mark.
        I fear you are correct about songbird survival and GWCT (although as you've pointed out, the BTO have done similar).
        The GWCT magazine "gamewise" has some errr... creative star letters and that's for sure. ...
        I think Andrew Gilruth has a big battle on his hands in his task to (and I quote) "retain members".
        A real shame.

      2. Morning Mark,
        My first venture onto this forum (which I have followed with interest since you forwarded me the link).
        Why on earth wouldn’t the GWCT work with SongBird Survival (SBS) or any other body for that matter. The GWCT can speak for itself, but SBS will work with anyone in furtherance of its aim - to improve, sustain or halt the decline of song and other small bird populations across the British Isles. In the past it has worked with the BTO, GWCT, and the Universities of London, St Andrews and Reading. Strange bed-fellows? I think not. Moreover, it is currently in the process of exploring its next research projects with other equally respectable and prestigious research partners. And it is happy to entertain any proposals from other organisations for future collaboration in such endeavours.
        Polarisation of the conservation world into separate ‘warring’ factions - ‘Heroes & Villains’ 19 August 2013 – will not help conserve UK’s birds (or other wildlife) one iota. I applaud and support Martin Harper’s efforts to reach out to others in the common cause of conservation. Only through continued and intensified dialogue from all interested parties - taking into account all shades of opinion - will lasting and effective solutions to the current bleak outlook be found. Throwing rocks at each other will only prolong and potentially deepen the crisis affecting some of our birds and damage further our natural resources – surely something no-one wants?

        1. Keith - welcome! And if you, as the new Chief Executive of SongBird Survival, would like to write a Guest Blog setting out your thoughts then it would be very welcome here. I know you are a birdwatcher and photographer, so you'd probably be off to a good start with this audience. The offer is open. As you know, I think SBS (or SS as I tend to call it, for some reason) has some living down of its past to do in terms of throwing rocks. Thank you for your comment.

          1. Mark,

            Thank you. Nothing so grand as Chief Executive, Director is the actual job title. And thank you for the Guest Blog invite - as discussed elsewhere, happy to do so in due course.

            Reference the past, it is exactly that, the past. I have no intention of throwing any rocks, but would welcome and am happy to engage constructively with any and all.

  5. There is no left any more. Where is the Labour party these days. No where near the left. Who could vote for them at the next election. They had a great opportunity to come in with Buzzard gate. They could come in with no harriers. But they have joined the RSPB and prefer to sit on the fence. Even though Ed is a Leeds fan he has got start MOT [Marching on Together]

    1. "Who could vote for them at the next election? "
      Plenty will.
      And you can STILL get 20-1 on Mr.Balls up for next PM...

    2. Good point John, I agree there is no political Left anymore but it does not stop the ideology still existing. I think as I did, you may have detected an ephemeral note to Mark's comments and the best way of thinking of this is to think that the anti-shooting side of the debate is being pushed away from pro-shooting which is firmly rooted in Right wing politics and Right wing ideals. It does not necessarily mean those of us come from or take up a Leftist political position (my background is largely Liberal with slight nod to moderate Left), more that we occupy the position by default.

  6. As for a 'lack of science' in defence of hunting with dogs. Surely one of the chief arguments in defence of not banning hunting is that in the event of a ban more crueller albeit legal methods will be used more frequently and overall animal welfare will suffer. So how about conducting some scientific research into those methods? That's precisely what the Middle Way group did in conducting research into wounding rates while shooting foxes which was peer reviewed and published. This clearly suggested worryingly high rates of wounding especially in some perfectly legal circumstances and also , interestingly that 'expert' shots wounded as many foxes as novice shots.

    The response from the antis was simply to deny their was a problem with wounding from shooting - 'As far as I am concerned there are no wounded foxes'. Professor Stephen Harris. "there is no absolute proof that wounded foxes suffer" Jackie Ballard RSPCA.

    Now suddenly with badgers shot by trained marksmen using rifles wounding is a major issue. Are no foxes wounded people using shotguns in a pretty much unregulated manner whereas lots of badgers will be during the cull? I some how doubt it. What's the 'science' behind that?

    Or how about the concerns about the effect of the Hunting Ban on our native red deer in the West Country which were expressed by many parties including people like Graham Sirl - LACS sanctuary manager and an anti hunter? We have changed the management of red deer here (or at least attempted to) Should the government not have conducted some sort of monitoring on the ban's impact on red deer numbers? Especially on a key part of our regions natural heritage? Not a bit they steadfastly refused to. And when I asked my MP to copy a letter to the Labour shadow defra team about the deer count on the Quantocks which suggests red deer numbers have halved since the ban and which LACS claim are now threatened with local extinction they refuse to even respond - not only to me but to my MP.

    Surely in the wake of a ban some sort of monitoring should have been put in place around its effect both on animal welfare and on conservation issues - not a bit of it - Defra completely refused to do any such thing.

    1. As usual Giles, you make some very pertinent points (in my opinion anyway).

      I can only speculate that the difference between the foxes being shot and badgers being shot is that the other route (for those two animals at least) would be to rip foxes apart with hounds and leave badgers alone.

      That might explain my old zoology professor's (Prof SH) stance on that when he stated (and I think this is the quote?):
      " shooting [foxes] is humane and extremely effective.”
      Maybe I'm being a bit kind (to him).
      I don't know.

  7. Mark,

    Thanks for the honesty on the Hunting with Dogs issue - remember though that isn't a conservation issue it was cruelty, in all its forms. Over here on the left, grouse shooting is on the agenda for the same reasons. We, the League, have never hid the fact that we would be gunning for a change in the legislation around all forms of shooting live targets. Reading the piece you cited yesterday, from the Independent only reaffirms that:

    "I watched two labradors race each other towards a flapping, wounded pheasant, grab opposite ends and rip the bird in two."

    Last year the League’s shooting symposium brought together those who oppose cruelty with those who love birds. There were not a lot of differences between us. Yes we are looking at the issues with different perspectives, but that gives us a more strength, not less. It’s no secret that the League, who oppose all cruelty and the RSPB, primarily looking at conservation are talking to each other on a regular basis.

    At the birdfair this year I was lucky enough to be on the League stand and talk to many of the birders who stopped by, and there were an amazing number who came over and talked to us. In the past when the League was concentrating on the hunting with dogs legislation there may have been little discussion. But now we are signing up birders who want us to make a difference with regards to shooting. Charlie Moores, a great naturalist, birder and campaigner recently joined the board of the League and posted his reasons on his blog.

    The shooting industry, and it is an industry, should be under no illusion, the campaign just stepped up a gear.

    1. Lawrie - welcome! Thank you for your comments. I can absolutely confirm what you said about birders and LACS at the Bird Fair.

  8. I do wonder sometimes wonder whether when hunting and shooting are (eventually?) banned.... fishing will be next?
    Maybe I'm being preposterous.

    1. Doug - I suspect the banning of fishing is a very long way off - but would be brought forward, I would guess, if the CA were allowed to 'help' 'save' it!

    2. Doug,
      I understand and have empathy with the fishing issue and comment. And I'll be honest I am involved in banning shark fishing campaigns, and I support policies that keep commercial fishing to a minimum (but that is just common sense when you look at fish stocks).

      As someone who owns a canal boat and spends time removing discarded fishing gear from trees on the cut I also get annoyed at fishermen.

      As for being involved in an anti fishing campaign? I would not be on the board of any organisation that started down that route as there are so many other things that need doing first.

      50 years from now, who knows?

      1. Thanks Lawrie.
        Appreciate your honesty.
        You clearly (please correct me if I'm wrong) regard angling as not a cruel sport or at least not a high priority in terms of cruelness.

        1. There seems to be an issue as to whether fish can even feel pain I guess until and unless we fully understand the basis of conciousness we can't be certain of that. Moreover it would seem hard to justify someone taking a trout on the basis of animal welfare when we scoop up millions of wild fish with trawlers.

          Ecological considerations are something different again of course but I feel that in this respect what we get up to in the oceans is a much bigger issue.

          Fish nevertheless have the potential to feed an awful lot of people and it seems to me we need to urgently look at what kind of fish we catch.

          There's an interesting article on this here :

          1. Giles.

            Its fair to say I appreciated Lawrie's honesty in his original answer to me, because I tend to get very twitchy indeed about LACS and animal rights people in general who I often have felt are at best unscientifically hypocritical and at worst downright dishonest.

            I do know that there are lots (AND LOTS) of people from all walks of life who tend to shy away from LACS and their like, because they feel as anglers their pastime is next in line.
            How does one define cruel? Who decides in LACS where the "cruelty line" lies?

            But as for whether fish feel pain -depends on what we mean by pain eh?
            Distress might be a better word.

            By the way.
            I should point out that whilst I am no angler (or coarse fisherman), only because I regard it as dull beyond belief (each to their own though), I have game-fished in Scotland for trout, salmon and the pot.

          2. Hi Doug,

            To me LACS represent the end point of the "I'll move this way if they move that way strategy".

            They seem completely incapable of any form of constructive dialogue.

            I became very disenchanted with LACS after I approached them on the matter of non lethal deer management only to find that a picture they took of me had been put up on the internet with telescopic gun sights superimposed and labelled 'countryside terrorist'.

            I'm not a 'countryside terrorist' I don't ride to hounds and I don't kill wildlife.

        2. There are clearly cruel aspects - although the evidence is not as black and white as it is with mammals and birds.

          On a personal level, it's not at the top of my list of cruel sports. And I can't imagine a time in the near future when I'll be taking to the streets to ban it. But as I said, things change and my view is to constantly review and reflect on these issues.

          Were you at Birdfair?

          1. Sorry Lawrie some of what you say isn't accurate, for exapmle last year I seem to remember (although I did read it in the national press) that LACS members dirupted a national fishing competition....
            I have personally had to fight my way out of trouble with some LACS members here's my story......
            I was tasked (6 years ago) to pick up 4 greyhounds from a race track from an owner who was putting them into a "retired greyhound rescue" shelter, I was working as a volunteer on behalf of the rescue centre and as a grey hound owner (pets not hunters or racers) I had a suitable vehicle and cages to transport them. I turn up at the track outside was the NRG trust and seperated from them some LACS memebers, fair enough, I chatted to the NRG, good hard working/campaigning people, after a quick chat I walk into the race track met up with the owner and leave to go back to the van with the four hounds, on the way back I was approached by four individuals with scarves covering their faces. They then procede to try take the dogs off me pulling at the leads which, beacuse I was struggling back was choking the dogs, now I intially thought I was being mugged for the dogs, the dogs are panicked and stressed and I have to chuck not only the dogs but myself into the van, where these four individuals start to rock the van, banging on the side of the van (the dent is still there) and start shouting "ban greyhound racing" etc but it wasn't that polite if you know what I mean? Now I was fuming so grab the spanner that works the wheel nuts step out of the van, first bloke "come on then you w*****r", womans voice "murderer".... me "have you ever dragged a dead greyhound from a ditch, I have, have you ever had to recover a greyhound who was illegally used to chase hares and left in a field with broken legs? Have you ever had bricks and bottles thrown at you and spat on as you attempt to rescue a greyhound from a gypsy camp"...silence...."look at the stickers on my van you twats", "local" greyhound rescue sticker and some wildlife related stickers, however the mood doesn't change the women and one man (leaving two behind with me) walk over to where the NRG and LACS members where standing. i then start to ask the two left behind wether their actions were any good, stressing the dogs out, if the van had toppled over from the rocking (which I believe they were trying to do) would the hounds have been injured, these two were gagging for a fight and I know they were. Needless to say a fight did break out and yes as I had to admit to the copper I did throw the first punch and yes I was charged with assault but in my mind the actions of the LACS members that night were no better then the vast majority of greyhound breeder/racers....and that's my point about Mark's blog today, it's ok to say let's take the "gloves" off but sadly (I know Mark you probably mean verbally and written) some will take that literally and go down the route of violence or provaction aimed at causing violence and sadly the end result will only be factions forming and no real positive action/solution be reached, for example after my first contact with the LACS, an organisation I should on the face of it support, I refuse to have any dealings with because of the actions of just four members....perhaps this is why the RSPB is dragging it's heels as it's probably aware that if "hot-heads" join in it can detract from a campaign....if that makes sense!

      2. Hi Lawrie,

        I'm proud to stand up and be counted by breaking the absurd Hunting Act. The law is NOT based on cruelty "in all it's forms".

        A law based on cruelty "in all its forms" would ban just that - cruelty. Including the hideous cruelty meted out by your organisation to the wild deer on its sanctuary which managed - because of your appallingly wildlife management to record 85% of all the BTB cases in wild deer in the entire Exmoor National Park.

        Any farmer who caused as much suffering to his livestock as your organisation did to the animals it effectively farms would be in prison and so should your staff members that were responsible.

        Having over 300 'wild' deer on 250 or so acres is intensive farming nothing more nothing less.

        In contrast to your horrendous cruelty my illegal dog based management is actually extremely humane and it's also great fun.

        At the end of the day actions speak louder than words. If you really thought what I do should be illegal then you would do something about it, but the fact is you don't.

        Breaking a deeply absurd law such as the Hunting Act is not a privilege, it's a right and I am proud to continue doing it.

        best wishes


        1. Giles, you entirely miss the point as ever. Cruelty is defined as the infliction of pain for pleasure, that's why it's the League Against Cruel SPORTS. The deer on the Baronsdown sanctuary became overcrowded because of the men with dogs on the surrounding land attempting to tear them to bits. LACS are not responsible for the welfare of wildlife on their land because they are not torturing it for fun unlike you and your blood junkie friends at the CA.

          1. I would say cruelty is 'causing unnecessary (or undue) suffering'. I would like a law which makes that illegal. So if one thinks someone is doing something that one thinks is cruel one has the opportunity, if one can convince a court that they are to make them stop.

          1. "Cruelty is defined as the infliction of pain for pleasure"

            A conveniently incomplete definition. It includes indifference to suffering

        2. As I pointed out above, I am not against the principle of controlling numbers but even the people involved in fox hunting admitted it was a pretty inefficient method of control. I am not even going to criticise the leisure side of things but I strongly object to some of the poor science that has been trotted out over the years. Not only that, there was the emotional blackmail about dogs and horses having to be destroyed and people losing their jobs, none of which, actually happened. Most hunts simply adapted to drag hunting and I applaud them for it but not the ones who flaunt the law and yet would denounce a poacher to hell and back for his activities, given it is also illegal to poach game (and rightly so). Part of the debate under Mark's blog has developed along political leanings so I have no hesitation in pointing out that law is not just for the hoi polloi and that is equally true of people who shoot raptors or people who use dogs to kill foxes.

          1. It seems a bit odd to argue that it's not 'efficient' enough - are we saying that they didn't kill enough foxes? Or that we object to the amount of effort they went to? I can't see the problem with going to extra effort to do something if one wants to.

            However also their is the issue of the quality of control. Hunting with dogs in some of its forms has the potential to tend to select weaker diseased specimens and also is generally non wounding. Shooting actually creates more wounded foxes.

            However #2 I am especially interested in the effect the ban has on red deer management in the south west. A large mammal like red deer needs landscape scale management because it ranges over a massive area. In scotland this can be done by individual estates because they are massive but in Devon and somerset where land holdings are very small it needs the co operation of many landowners. The hunt produced this co operation and without it it is hard to see how such co operation can be achieved without further regulation.

            In fact the situation is even worse than that - I am informed that due to the absurdity of the current law the QSH use up to ELEVEN guns when flushing deer to ensure that they kill them. This seems to me to be utterly crazy. However reasonable steps do have to be taken to shoot the deer asap after being flushed and as the courts have ruled just shooting one or two of a flushed of a herd does not comply with the law.

            It was widely predicted that deer numbers would suffer because of the ban as more and more landowners start controlling deer on smaller patches of land in an uncoordinated manner. It does seem that this might have happened with the latest count on the Quantocks saying numbers have halved since 2005.

            A pet subject I know but it does concern me.

          2. Giles, I read with interest your commnet about wishing for a law with regards to "causing unnesccesary suffering" need the original animal welfare act was changed (by one of the organisations you're no keen on...RSPCA) in 2006, section 9 of the act should interest you, however I'm not 100% sure how interested the RSPCA would be in reference to the deer and the conditions they're kept in however they do deal with wild animals and seeing as one of their mission statements is "need to be protected form pain,suffering, injury and DISEASE", sadly this would involve you becoming a NARK or a member of THE you called me for wishing to report what I thought might be a case of animal cruelty...boot on other foot.

          3. Giles, this is what I mean about contradiction, either it is efficient or it isn't but believe me pro-fox hunting people have used the counter arguments on the same Internet discussions. Personally, I doubt that it can be efficient in terms of numbers given most of the fox population is now urban-based but at a pinch, I suppose it could help control the spread of young urban foxes dispersing into the countryside. However, and this is where the pro argument falls down from the point you made about taking the sick and old, surely it would be better if the hunts were taking (and I am talking hypothetically here) young and fit animals as the best and most effective control of numbers.

            I am afraid the point about shooting with guns has never convinced me because again it breaks down when examined in detail. Landowners legally control rabbits, pigeons and Corvids without any difficulty and we even have someone round here who specialises in knocking off foxes by request. If you are telling me that the skill levels are not there then I am not sure how rabbit control can be either efficient or humane (yes, I know other methods are used but the gun is still important), which seems to be rather a sweeping indictment on a lot of landowners across the country.

            I am not sure I understand your point when applied to deer culls, they seem to manage in Scotland quite well without hunts and have done so for centuries. However, you probably know much more than I do about the dynamics of deer control in the SW so I concede that part of your post. The only point I can think of is that landowners and conservationists are in agreement about deer numbers generally and I suppose the key point is over what good target numbers for each deer species should be in a given area.

          4. "surely it would be better if the hunts were taking (and I am talking hypothetically here) young and fit animals as the best and most effective control of numbers." Better from what perspective?

            Taking out diseased old and weak individuals results in a healthier fox population and can improve welfare because they don't have long drawn out deaths. It all depends what you want to achieve. If you simply want a lot less foxes then use the most 'efficient' method but even then the use of dogs is often needed - for example with lamping to take out wounded animals.

            As for shooting being humane, the fact is that in some situations it simply isn't. I have a picture somewhere of a hind with it's face blown off which lived on for a week or so. That's not humane!

            The difference I was trying to point out is that Scottish Estates are massive and hence one estate can practice landscape scale deer management. Individual small farmers in the southwest cannot do that unless they club together. They currently do just that through the hunts.

            It may be that some kind of co operative communal deer management would eventually replace hunting however that isn't necessarily so.

          5. ps this guy puts it quite well

          6. Giles, the points I have put forward are the same ones used by pro-hunt people and I am merely pointing out the scientific flaw of one argument over another at a logical level because my great love is population dynamics and predator-prey relationships. If you want to state here and now that you enjoy chasing a relatively small predatory mammal across the countryside to let your dogs tear it apart then I am really and honestly not going to criticise you...each to their own. I want no part of that in truth but it means nothing from a conservation perspective. However, the mangling of claimed scientific backing gives me great concern because these are compelling ideas when presented to a wider audience and that spins on into legal areas that are much darker.

            I am not sure that trotting out individual examples of inhumane shooting works. Are you saying that a fox chased for half an hour and then torn apart is humane? I have seen pro-hunt people saying that chases rarely last more than a few minutes but again, this is a contradiction (this time from a logic perspective) that belies the idea that this is an evenly poised sport. Also, how do you square the idea of digging out a grounded fox or flushing it with a terrier against it being sporting?

            I cannot stress enough that these are all arguments forwarded by pro-hunt people and from a conservation perspective they are meaningless.

  9. John, I agree that there is no left and right in politics any more: like a tug-of-war there is just an unpleasant bunch who used a slightly less unpleasant bunch to gain the upper hand, and a rather bloodied and muddled bunch grimly hanging onto the rope trying to pull them back towards the middle. In real terms though there is left - it is just the opposite of right. Perhaps when we discuss tackling the arrogant and smug grouse industry we shouldn't think in terms of a left/right political division, but more of battle lines. If we assume that Mark is putting the 'nasty', non-empathetic, shooting industry and the CA on the right then those that oppose them quite naturally line-up opposite them on the left (no matter who they vote for in elections). Speaking personally, when it comes to nullifying the grouse industry I don't care who anyone votes for - all I care about is which side of the valley they're on.

    1. The Left-Right spectrum is usually assumed to be linear, with "Moderate" as the mid-point. I prefer to imagine it as circular - again with "Moderate" as the visible mid-point - while the invisible, seamless junction round the back is "Fascist"

      1. filbert - although, of course, it's rather difficult to know where the back is if it really is a circle. I guess everyone says, 'Over there!'.

        1. It's where the extremes meet (and(L,R,"=F")), at 180˚from M.

          BTW, thanks for using my new lower-case username - I can't make WordPress comply. This brand refresh was implemented after a long and hugely expensive consultation costing absolutely nothing and reflects my new cool trendiness however I won't be discarding my sou'wester and oilskins unless Uneeda Biscuit Boy is a still a ™.

        2. I cannot think there is anything circular about political leanings, after all there is a Far Left and a Far Right. It would mean that if we were to go to further extremes than Adolf Hiltler or Josef Stalin that we would hit a point that is Moderate again and I find that hard to believe.

          1. If there are further extremes you just increase the circumference.

            In a spectrum you can't really have duplicates - a circular model keeps all the fascists in one place.

    2. Charlie,

      I gather you have recently become a trustee of LACS. I appreciate that you post here as Charlie Moores and not on behalf on LACS but I am keen to canvass your opinion on angling ? In particular, do you wish to have it banned ?

      Many thanks


      1. Joe W - Lawrie Phipps has had a go at answering that from his perspective further down/up this line of comments. But Charlie's take may, for all I know, be different.

        1. Yes I read it, I thought he gave a refreshingly honest answer and didn't hide the fact there is an element of political expediency behind his thinking.

          As an angler the thought that an organisation could try to deny my grandchildren the opportunity to catch a trout for dinner on a dry fly, run a stick float down a chalk stream on a crisp winters day after a grayling or two or catch a tench from a Cheshire mere on a June dawn, sits very uncomfortably with me. But I do appreciate honesty.

          1. And I have nothing but respect, and wouldn't want to stop you catching and humanely killing a trout to eat. In fact I'd rather you did that than buy something that's been farmed. As I have said elsewhere, anglers don't tend to kill for fun, thousands of trout aren't dumped in lime pits after a corporate slaughter.

            My ecology / environment views are based on Carson, Odum, Leopold. All of them talk of the importance of the watershed ecosystem. Anglers (the decent ones, not the muppets who wreck the river bank, or dump tackle) are on the frontline for identifying pollution and the health of the countryside. I don't like angling, but I understand that you can make a positive impact. That argument doesn't apply to the shooting industry, who pump lead and thousands of factory farmed pheasants into the countryside.

  10. Sadly cannot see any help coming the Hen Harrier's way as the only ones with any possible clout to organise anything would be the new rspb and they are so pathetically weak on this issue they almost need to have a clear out of top brass and get others in who do really care as opposed to just saying things as if they care.
    Go on rspb call yourself something different altogether and take the words out Protection Birds.That just leaves you Royal Society which at least may be a better description.

  11. It is worth pointing out that under their Royal Charter the RSPB are not able to criticise or attack shooting. I have never seen the document but understand that to be the case. It would not matter who was running the show that cannot change. One cannot help thinking that during discussions of the new corporate image for RSPB that some thought was given to dropping the Royal Charter. Would losing it make much difference today?

    Of course killing or interfering with the nesting of raptors is illegal and you would have thought that RSPB even with a Royal Charter could and actually do have much to say on this matter.

    In my opinion if we are ever to halt the decline of Hen Harriers then RSPB bashing is unlikely to be productive.

    We should concentrate our wrath on the land owners responsible for carrying out these atrocities and the slippery politicians who give them every support.

    1. I would imagine that getting rid of the Royal Charter would be something that would take some time to actually happen, during which time the position of birds of prey on shooting estates will continue to deteriorate. But surely, as Derek suggests, a requirement to adopt a neutral stance with respect to shooting does not preclude it from taking a very robust line against illegal activities carried out by shooting interests. If the RSPB speaks out strongly about, say, the effects of modern agricultural methods on farmland wildlife, no sensible person understands that to mean that the RSPB is opposed to farming per se - rather it is arguing for changes in the way farming is carried out. By the same token I see no conflict with the Royal Charter if the Society takes a very strong line about the way in which shooting estates are managed and the harm this does to other wildlife. It has previously shown it is prepared to do this - taking a complaint to the European Commission over the Walshaw Moor debacle for example, so there is no reason I can see why it should not be able to take a much stronger line on Hen Harrier persecution. Hopefully it still will. Decisions about the Royal Charter can be taken in due course but meanwhile it is important to act now for the Hen Harrier.

  12. Mark,You bet but Hen Harriers are the ones that count and they feel worse.If only the new rspb showed with actions instead of shallow words then there could be a chance of some success.Who else can do anything at all as for sure the shooting community cannot be bothered to bring any pressure on the culprits,for sure the Government is not going to do anything at all,ironically the rspb I see would like the Government to do things,that is naive in the extreme for intellectuals to think that.

  13. "...the reasonable guys (the GWCT in the old days but not now...)"

    Others have commented on this above, but are you really saying that not only is the science not as good as it used to be in Dick Potts's day (I remain a huge fan of his, incidentally), but the Trust has become drawn to the "right" by the likes of the CA and Songbird Survival?

    I am proud to declare an interest, as I have before: I have been involved in the GCT/GWCT at quite a senior level since around 1989. I simply do not accept your earlier comment regarding the alleged diminution in the quantity and robustness of GWCT science. Nor do I recognise your curious political categorisation. Apart from anything else, the GWCT has been probably more actively engaged in seeking a practical solution to the raptor/grouse conflict than any other comparable conservation organisation.

    Do you want to name the "unreasonable guys" and possibly gals at the GWCT that you find so disappointing now? Indeed, do you regard them as "villains" now, in the context of your earlier blog?

    1. Lazywell - am I really saying that the GWCT science is not as good as it used to be? Yes. If you insist I say it again, then Yes! See blogs of 15 November 2012 and 20 November 2012 (and the defensive comments from GWCT) for some evidence. I only mention it because you asked. I didn't refer to it in my blog.

      Am I really saying that the GWCT has been drawn to the 'right' by the likes of the CA and Songbird Survival (in the past)? Yes - you have understood me correctly. Maybe GWCT wasn't influenced by those organisations - but I was giving you the benefit of the doubt in being led astray rather than choosing your own path.

      GWCT has been pretty silent on the subject of lead ammunition despite the nonsense talked by CA on the subject (remember the chocolate scare?). What are the views of GWCT? This is what you say on your website - practically nothing. And, to anticipate what you might say, it is no good hiding behind LAG - GWCT's coy silence on the subject started long before then, and a working group reviewing the science is no reason for scientists not to correct errors. The science-led GWCT has been silent and left the airwaves to the unscientific CA.

      Look through the GWCT's press releases and you don't seem to say anything these days. Is it because GWCT is a bit worried about upsetting the CA? GWCT was once an important voice for the reasonable side of shooting but seems to have lost its voice. That's a shame in my opinion.

      Which 'comparable conservation organisations' did you have in mind?

      You didn't comment on the funding of GWCT by prominent CA members - you don't have to (obviously). I just point out that you ignored that little bit.

      Do I want to name names - no thanks? Had I wanted to, I probably would have, don't you think?

      How about dinner in London sometime in the autumn - my treat? Let me know when your barrels have cooled down.

      1. First of all, Mark, your critique of the GWCT’s science which we have touched on here before. I don't want you to get it into your head that you somehow guide or dictate the GWCT's agenda – you most certainly do not – and in any event I contribute here in a personal capacity. But what I can tell you is that earlier in the year a number of senior trustees reviewed the Trust's scientific output, and were satisfied that the quantity, quality, range and influence of its published work remain consistently strong. It was concluded, to put it mildly, that your criticisms were without foundation. Indeed, in material respects (eg the weight attached to the frequency of citations in other papers) the methodology of the comparative survey you relied on was flawed.

        As for your curious claim here that the Trust has drifted or been drawn to the “right” by other organisations that you find inimical, that is frankly preposterous.

        Yes, the Trust has received funding support from the Countryside Alliance. As you know, (it was hardly a secret), the CA helped to fund the Upland Predation Experiment at Otterburn; probably one of the most significant pieces of ecological research of the past generation. It has even contributed, I suggest, to the more pragmatic and realistic policy that is evolving within the RSPB in relation to the impact of predation on ground nesting birds and the need to do something about it. Furthermore, far from being overly influenced by right wing funders, you will recall that one of the RSPB’s most respected scientists, Rhys Green, was on the steering committee, which itself was chaired by Professor Ian Newton, the RSPB’s former Chairman, who you rightly acknowledged as one of your “heroes” in a recent blog. So what is all this nonsense about moving to the right?

        Ah, you might say, the Trust takes the money of wicked grouse moor owners via the Moorland Association. Yes, indeed. And that donation helped to fund another hugely important piece of work analysing trends in upland bird populations in the Berwyn SPA in North Wales. The catalogue of chronic decline it charts is deeply depressing: between 1983 and 2002, not only did red grouse decline by 54 per cent, but lapwing became extinct, golden plover declined from ten birds to one, and curlew declined by 79 per cent. It is pretty clear that those declines are to a large extent attributable to poor or misguided management. Certainly it is telling that today over 75 per cent of the entire Welsh black grouse population exists on the only moor that is still keepered.

        The facts and figures speak for themselves. But for those who want to hear it set out in more passionate terms, just listen to Iolo Williams’ powerful speech at the launch of the State of Wales publication in Cardiff a few months ago:

        Amonst other things Iolo highlighted the woeful decline in curlew numbers at Lake Vyrnwy:

        “The curlew have gone. Twenty four odd pairs when I used to live there. Three now. I was talking to the warden. I was up there just yesterday. Three pairs left. The valleys are quiet.”

        Without identifying his former employer, he offers a truly damning indictment of the RSPB’s management of the Welsh uplands. And it gives me no pleasure to point out that the decline he excoriates took place under your stewardship, Mark, when you were one of the most senior Directors in the RSPB’s executive. Indeed I recall you brushing aside the contents of Iolo's and Roger Lovegrove’s seminal and prescient paper, “Silent Fields”, in the 1990s as “finger in the air stuff”. If only you and your colleagues had heeded their warnings then, rather than trying to suppress the publication.

        Finally, your bizarre fixation with that noble charity, Songbird Survival. Just because the GWCT has taken its shilling doesn’t make it complicit in whatever dark conspiracy you think its office holders are engaged in. Nor, surely, could the project they have funded – the corvid removal trial – be categorised as “right wing”. Rather it is both highly topical and of genuine conservation interest. Besides, if the GWCT’s research establishes that there is no quantifiable impact on songbird populations as a result of corvid predation then not only will Songbird Survival be told the results, but so will everyone else when the findings are published in the scientific press. You would expect nothing less of an independent scientific research organisation, I trust. On the other hand, if a negative link is established I rather hope that you might feel bound to eat some humble pie. Now that is a meal I would really like to join you for.

        1. Lazywell - pheww! What a lengthy reply. thank you but I'm not sure I deserve it.

          How interesting that the GWCT did a secret review of its science and gave themselves a glowing report. I really wouldn't have brought this subject up - remember that you did! But now I can't help but express the opinion that you would have to be rather lucky in a random selection of senior GWCT trustees to pick any top scientists . And, again in response to you, not because I particularly wanted to get into this in the first place, it will come as a great surprise to the scientific community that the normal measures of scientific influence are, indeed , flawed according to the GWCT.

          But moving on. Yes, you pick an example of GWCT science to counteract what I claim is a general trend. Yours is a good example - but just an example.

          The decline in wader numbers in Wales - yes, it must all be my fault.

          SBS (I do prefer SS as songbird appears to be one word) - I'll look forward to the results. When will they be out? And when will that comparison of the predator-controlling GWCT Allerton Project and the RSPB Hope Farm be published?

          So, are you turning down my offer of dinner, then?

          1. 1. It is one of the fiduciary duties of a charity's trustees to ensure that it complies with its charitable objectives. Inevitably in the case of the GWCT that includes monitoring the quality of its scientific output. So no great surprise there.

            2. I gave a series of examples of projects undertaken by GWCT where regardless of the sources of funding the research is both independent and of conservation significance. You aver that there is a general trend "to the right" as a result of undue influence by supporters whom you condemn, but have still not offered any examples to substantiate the allegation.

            3. Waders in Wales. No, of course it's not all your fault. But you can't say with your hand on your heart that you helped a whole lot.

            4. I'd be delighted to accept your gracious invitation. I dare say we will meet in one cyber forum or another before then.

          2. a) SBS: Had a snoop at their website and it looks as though one year of fieldwork has been completed and a further two are proposed. Then writing up, peer review process - you know the form. Regret I've got no inside info to offer you.

            b) Loddington/Hope Farm: I have chased, honest...

  14. Just to be serious for a second. Tim Melling's accompanying photo to this blog doesn't half remind me of some dodgy keftedes I had in Argostoli last summer...

  15. I can just hear my grandchildren and yet to be born great grandchildren reading this saying 'no wonder the (insert your own preferred animal) died out if no-one can actually propose any meaningful solution and only criticise the other side'. This cannot be the way to get warring factions together. I would make that dinner a banquet, invite everyone and lock the door until an agreed plan was not only decided but some action taken.

    It is about time the Govt created another one of their hated quangos, called it the 'Kick them up the backside until they actually get something done committee' and let it loose on all the parties involved in this name calling exercise.

    Don't forget all wars however hard fought have to end in a Peace Treaty before moving forward.

      1. Joe W - but it does depend what you call extremism. Blandness is rarely the best way to combat extremism. And doing nothing is rarely the best way to combat extremism. 'The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing'.

        1. If taking a moderate position means being perceived as bland, then I'm happy to be be bland.
          To quote Dwight D Eisenhower "People talk about the middle of the road as though it were unacceptable. The middle of the road is all of the usable surface. The extremes, right and left, are in the gutters.”

          And I will always agree that doing nothing is never the best way to fight for what is right. Please do not think I do not appreciate all the hard work and effort that you put into fighting for nature. Enjoy the bank holiday, we are off to the North Norfolk coast for the weekend, can't wait.

          1. Joe W - thanks! I may see you there - or else I'll wave from the Lincs side of The Wash (not decided yet).


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